Guatemala History

Guatemalan culture is very diverse and what you could describe as “colorful”. I want to give you a brief History and explain a little bit of who inhabits this beautiful country. In Guatemala(previously known as Quauhtlemallan meaning the land of many trees), prior to the Spanish invasion, there lived many Mayan tribes; the country was divided into many cities or states at this time. These territories were involved in a conflict over land and crops with the goal to establish an empire. Among the powerful cities were the people of K’iche’, Kaqchikel, Tzutujil, and the Aztecs from Mexico. 

In Guatemalan, territory was inhabited by not only Mayan civilization but other cultures like Xincas who nowadays live in the south-eastern part of the country near El Salvador; on the other side live the Garifuna people. This culture is derived from a mixture of African/Caribbean peoples who, at one point slaves on English explorer ships, escaped and settled in the caribbean islands later to settle on the north eastern coastal part of Guatemala.

In summary these are the different ethnic or cultural groups that lived and still live in Guatemala: Mayan, Garífuna, Xincas, and Ladinos. An estimate of a little over a half of the Guatemala population has a percentage of Mayan in their DNA. The Mayans are concentrated mostly to the north and north west of the country, specifically in the rural areas. Currently in Guatemala there are 21 different Mayan communities distinguished by their traditions, culture, language, gastronomy, and even the authenticity of their clothing. Most of them come from the K’iche people which is an estimated one million people, their dialect is the most spoken language of the Guatemalan Mayan languages; spoken in five of the twenty two departments. 

The Xincas and Garífunas people make up the lowest percentage of the population but they’re rich in culture, traditions, and language. Ladinos culture is the last ones, most of them are mixed-race, that is to say a mix of different cultures, and a small number of people purely of spanish descent, in other words, they have Spanish heritage. This culture has its own traditions and speaks Spanish. They primarily inhabit the eastern and central part of the country, which make up the larger cities and urban areas. 

In Guatemala there are twenty four languages (twenty one Mayan, one Xinca, one Garífuna, and Spanish), four completely different cultures and twenty one races with their traditions. That’s why if you travel to Guatemala you’ll find a richness of cultures, language, and traditions that make Guatemala a unique country. In every community you will find a reason to love and enjoy their beautiful colors.

With this short introduction to the different cultures of Guatemala, you can now understand a little more about how diverse the country is and how our program of art can be used in collaboration with the many art forms that are present due to many cultural traditions and practices that make up every day life. Traditional art is well practiced however the application of art being used in a transformative way is a whole new chapter for many. Join us on this journey!  Our next “colors of Guatemala” journal entry will explore some more in depth those cultures and traditions, so stay tuned for more…