mating patterns in colonial mexico: yucatec maya population size

here we go. from Maya Society under Colonial Rule: The Collective Enterprise of Survival [pg. 59], three sets of yucatec maya population size estimates/educated guesstimates (take your pick!) for the colonial period (click on chart for LARGER view):

i thought i could combine these numbers with restall’s info on mayan family/mating patterns, which are based upon census and testamentary records, and see, maybe, just how close the mating patterns were amongst the colonial maya. here’s what restall had to say:

– there were a total of 270 patronym groups (chibalob) in the yucatan living in 200 communities (cah).
– a typical cah would have had 30-40 patronym groups in it.
– a typical family would have marriage alliances with four or five other patronym groups.
– people generally didn’t marry outside of their cah (village, barrio, community).

you had to marry outside your patronym group, and it’s likely that a good number of marriages were between maternal cousins (i know – i haven’t posted about this yet – sorry!). it was probably the preferred form of marriage anyway, although that doesn’t mean that everyone married a maternal cousin.

how many individuals are typically of reproductive age in any given society? were in colonial maya society? i have no idea. let’s assume — and this probably wasn’t true — but let’s assume that they had a stable population — not expanding, not contracting (just for the sake of argument). if we divy up the population’s age cohorts by five — 0-5, 5-10, 10-15, etc. — going up to, let’s say, age 70, we’ve got 21.4% of the population in the 10-25 marrying age range. (the colonial maya weren’t polygamous, btw — the pre-columbian aztecs were though.)

so — 200,000 maya in 270 patronym groups = ca. 740 individuals in each patronym group. 21.4% of that gives you ca. 158 people of reproductive age per patronym group. an equal number of men and women? maybe, maybe not — but let’s say yes, so that’s ca. 79 reproductive men and women per each patronym group. and your patronym group was connected to something like five others according to restall, so that’s a potential 395 individuals you could marry. sounds pretty good!

but remember, the maya usually didn’t marry outside their cah. that’s 200,000 people across 200 cah, so 1,000 people in each cah. divided between 30-40 patronym groups — let’s call it 35 — so 28-29 individuals in each patronym group in each cah. 21.4% of those are in the marriage age range = six individuals (three men, three women). times the five patronym groups that your patronym group is allied to leaves you with just 15 possible spouses for you to choose from. that’s a pretty narrow range. generation after generation.

and chances are, people would’ve married one of their maternal cousins anyway.

colonial yucatec maya marriage patterns, over a three-hundred or so year period (1550-1850), were probably either quite inbred and/or very endogamous.

previously: mating patterns in colonial mexico: the mayans

(note: comments do not require an email. yucatec maya gentleman. (^_^) )

4 Comments

  1. “leaves you with just 15 possible spouses for you to choose from. that’s a pretty narrow range. generation after generation.”

    ancient vallies. always count the fingers.

    Reply

  2. @hbd chick “just 15 possible spouses for you to choose from” That certainly sounds biologically reasonable. The Icelandic study showed optimal fertility somwhere around third of fourth cousin, Which is I guess about what you’d get if you married one of those 15 at random. Isn’t it cool. Number of cousins goes up as a power of two, buy you always have to subtract yourself. 15 is one shy of a power of two. There’s something in there if I were only smart enough to figure it out.

    Reply

  3. @linton – “The Icelandic study showed optimal fertility somwhere around third of fourth cousin, Which is I guess about what you’d get if you married one of those 15 at random.”

    yes, absolutely. since it was four or five patronym groups marrying and re-marrying each other, they must’ve all been something like third or fourth or fifth cousins. cousins of some sort any way — not more distant than that.

    hard to tell from these population figures how well they did fertility-wise. the numbers certainly do seem to pick up towards the end of the 1700s/beginning of the 1800s. before that, it looks like the figures are all over the place. at the beginning of the period, the maya were faced with all the epidemics (diseases brought over by the spanish), of course. don’t know how long they had to struggle with those.

    Reply

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