Lesson 610 – Chiapas Highlands: Mexico’s Indian Empire

In the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, we find nations apart from mainstream Mexico. Populated for centuries by people speaking Mayan languages, they retain their customs and dress- while struggling to protect their homelands. Their towns and villages retain traditional pre-Columbian governments. They have invited us to one of their annual ceremonies.

Learning Objective

Students will learn about the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico’s southernmost state, its traditions, and its pre-Columbian government.

Social Studies Standards

Individuals, Groups, & Institutions: A, B

Discussion Prompts

  • How might someone befriend and respect a river? What does it mean “to live in concert with the river?” Explain this type of relationship. 
  • Sumidero Canyon became a National Park in 1980 and its future looks promising in terms of preservation for future generations. What are the locals trying to preserve? What is there that deserves preservation? Justify your answer.
  • Pozol drink is made of fermented corn dough and cocoa with origins in Pre-Columbian Mexico. Talk about drinks, local or not, from Pre-Columbian origin that people still enjoy today.
  • Discuss the ceremony in Tenejapa for San Sebastian. Elaborate on the elements, symbolism, and community involvement. What ceremony in your region could be compared to this one?

Lesson Activities

  • Draw a map including Guatemala, Mexico, highlighting Grijalva River along both countries. Name the major towns along the river and local cultures. 
  • Rio Grijalva starts in Guatemala and travels to Chiapas. Research how the fauna and flora are similar or different in both countries. Show the results of your research of that ecosystem in a graphic organizer of your choice. Share pictures of your findings.
  • Imagine you were bestowed the honours to be a mayodorno in a local ceremony and your job, like the mayodorno in the video, is safekeeping important articles for the ceremony. Pick a ceremony that is important to you and your culture, describe it, list what you would be keeping safe and create a backdrop that would complement your ceremony.
  • Although saints and churches are inheritances of the Spaniards, indigenous people kept this part of the Spanish culture. However, during your research you found out that the saints are a cover up for their gods. Explain in an essay this juxtaposition and clarify the saint cover up.


  • array
  • expedition
  • fauna
  • fiesta
  • mayordomo
  • profound
  • rugged
  • staggering
  • supreme
  • unequal


In the Americas Season 6 Lesson Episode 10