Traditional Mayan Customs

What is the Leveling Mechanism?

The “leveling mechanism” of the Mayas took place during “potlatch” which is a gift-giving feast which is considered a cultural compulsion where members of the community give away gifts, host public feasts to demonstrate their wealth and generosity for the equal distribution of wealth. This brought great social prestige to the giver because he gave preference to collective well-being over individual well-being. Leveling Mechanisms have great value for the permanent survival of traditions in communities.

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Other Levelling Mechanisms

Other leveling mechanisms are found in contemporary Mayan societies in Mexico. In these societies, the most prestigious public offices such as judges, councilmen, and mayors are expected for pay for the food and other expenses incurred during festivals. These official title holders are known as “cargo men” and the titles only bring prestige and respect and no wealth or financial benefits for the cargo men. For some cargoes, the cost can be as much as four years of earning for the cargo man. This tradition of being the cargo man pressurizes members into sharing their wealth among the community instead of keeping the wealth for themselves or investing it to make more money.

This tradition also maintains a sense of community belonging to friends and relatives which ensure that the entire community benefits and that necessary services are performed for the entire community. It is a leveling mechanism for modern Maya society because it teaches the value of caring for others over yourself. It embodies philanthropy as practiced in other communities of giving to the less fortunate. Most religions teach that wealth is given by God to deserving individuals and if they are blessed, they should share their blessings and bounties with those who are not as blessed as they are. However, times have changed considerably since this tradition was introduced.

Mayans Ancient Traditions

Although Mayans may follow their ancient traditions, it is sometimes not possible for a public official to spend around 4 year’s salary on being the cargo man for some other person. When this tradition was introduced it might have been easy or simple for a person to give potlatch because only titled individuals or those belonging to the aristocracy could host such ceremonies and give away a portion of their wealth. Maybe they had the means to recoup what they had given away and become the cargo man another time or maybe more than one time. This was because their needs were simple, agriculture and trade were thriving and they could easily earn back what they had spent. During that time the person could give agricultural produce off his land and get back what he had given away in the next season.

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