The Mopan Maya originally inhabited parts of central Belize and the Peten in Guatemala. In the 1600's some were converted to catholicism by the Spanish while others resisted. Many were struck by white man diseases such as small pox and all were driven out of Belize by the British in the 18th and 19th centuries.
In 1886, the modern Mopan began migrating back to Southern Belize from the village of San Luis in the southern Peten, Guatemala escaping forced labor and taxation and searching for a place with fertile soils and clean rivers. These Mopan first settled near present day Pueblo Viejo, and eventually founded the modern village of San Antonio in the Toledo District, which continues to be the largest Mopan settlement in Southern Belize.
The Kekchi Maya are originally from the Verapaz region of Guatemala. They migrated to Belize in the late 1800's after losing their land and freedom to German coffee growers.
The Kekchi settled in the lowland areas along rivers and streams, forming small isolated villages throughout Toledo. Because of their isolation, the Kekchi have become the most self reliant ethnic group in Belize. They are also peaceful people known for their cooperative practices in farming and cultural development.
While over 30 distinctly Kekchi communities exist in Toledo, over the years the Kekchi Maya have mixed with the Mopan communities. The largest village of Kekchi Maya is San Pedro Columbia.
The ancient words spoken by the Kekchi and Mopan Maya were probably a dialect of Cholan, the language of the Classic Maya heartland. This ancient way of speaking has developed into several distinct languages. Linguistically, the Mopan are separate from the Kekchi. The two groups even have different words for such common entities as "sun" and "tortilla". Because of the language differences, and the mixing of the two cultures, most Maya in Toledo are tri-lingual in Kekchi, Mopan, and English. Many Maya also understand Spanish.
The mainstay of the Kekchi and Mopan diet is corn and beans. A wide range of fruits (bananas, citrus and mangoes) and vegetables are grown in the family milpas. Wild game such as guan, wild pig, deer and gibnut supplement meat from a number of domestic animals such as chickens, turkeys, and pigs.
Morning and evening meals usually consist of corn or flour tortillas, and eggs or beans with coffee. Preparation of corn known as "poch" is made by leaving the massa (corn mush) to ferment. The massa is then placed in a large waha leaf (a large, flat leaf), boiled like a tamale and eaten with a soup made from chicken or pork.
A traditional midday meal,"Caldo", is made of local chicken and broth with fresh tortillas. Cacao are dried, roasted, ground and used to prepared hot or cold, sweet or unsweetened, drink resembling a richly chocolate-flavored coffee.