In December of 2015, Positive Legacy Awarded Santa Cruz, Belize with a $13,750 Grant to Conduct the Deer Dance Festival.
The 4-day Deer Dance Festival was performed in Santa Cruz, Belize the from Jan 6-10, 2016. The grant provided education and technology to Maya teens in order to integrate students in the video production of a documentary about Maya heritage and the traditional practice of the Deer Dance. This project funded both the Deer Dance Festivities in Santa Cruz and the documentation of the dance, in audio and video and in the form of a workbook to enable this Maya tradition to be passed down and taught to the youth for many years to come.
The Deer Dance is an important heritage practice of the Maya communities of southern Belize. The Maya are intimately connected to the rainforests where they have made their homes and livelihoods for hundreds of years. This connection is reinforced through the ecological practices of daily life, as well as through the celebrations and rituals that mark the changing of the seasons, the passing of time and the traditions of Maya heritage. The Deer Dance tells the story of the relationship between Maya people and the land, and is traditionally danced during the Christmas/winter solstice week. Maya heritage practices are not simply important for telling the story of the past, but they are also critical to maintaining well-being in communities today.
The people of Santa Cruz, Belize applied for a grant to help keep tradition alive for the younger generations. Santa Cruz is the site of the ongoing struggle to maintain customary land rights by the Maya communities. This struggle is complicated by an ongoing history of environmental degradation through the extraction of hardwoods, cattle and citrus farming and oil prospecting, all of which threaten traditional Maya land use and livelihoods. This project addresses the maintenance of Maya environmental and cultural heritage traditions against this backdrop of multiple threats. It grew from the community’s desire to both maintain complex skills and traditions, including the playing of the marimba and learning the complexities of the dance, and to both make these skills relevant to the community’s youth and teach them the new and complimentary skills of documentation and dissemination.
This $13,750 grant from Positive Legacy allowed for the training and rehearsal of a newer generation of Deer Dancers and musicians, as well as the training of the video production team. Having the video, audio and workbook as tangible results of this project will allow the community to document and demonstrate their skills for future generations to learn and experience, and for potential funders including both local and international organizations interested in supporting environmental and cultural heritage preservation, the arts, capacity building and education.
The project will culminate in the creation of an educational workbook and a documentary which will be shared on the Positive Legacy website in the near future. This project supported the vision of Mopan Maya leaders in Santa Cruz to preserve their sacred tradition for generations to come. Check out the Maya Deer Dance, a Cool Anthropology Presents and Daniel Velazquez documentary.