National Geographic : 1945 Jul
To Market in Guatemala BY Luis MARDEN GUATEMALA is predominantly Indian. Nowhere else in the Americas have the original Americans maintained so well their pre-Columbian culture, dress, and customs. Side by side with ladinos (mixed Spanish and Indian), peoples of Maya descent live harmoniously in the blue-misted high lands and humid rain forests.* The ancestors of today's Guatemalan In dian, the Mayas, were a people of great attain ments and strange lacks; they devised a calendar more nearly accurate than the one in daily use today, but had not discovered the principle of the wheel. Independently of the Arabs, they invented the zero symbol in mathematics, but were ignorant of the true arch. They left their descendants a mass of religious-astronomical rites, many of which are still practiced. When Pedro de Alvarado, red-bearded and impulsive, marched down from Mexico to conquer Guatemala for the Spanish crown, he found three principal tribes in the land: the Quiche, the Cakchiquel, and the Tzutuhil. Of these the Quiche, then as now, were the most powerful, and the country came under Spanish domination when Alvarado defeated Tecuim Uman, chief of the Quiche, in 1524. A Land of Volcanoes and Lakes A vast jungle area, the district of Peten, stretches to the north, and lowland strips lie along both coasts. But Guatemala is essen tially a mountainous land of quiescent vol canoes and lofty lakes (Plate II). Indian villages perch on the edge of ravines or nestle in the hollows of valleys (Plate XI). Old dress remains much the same. Span iards introduced the use of wool; before the conquest, Indians had worked only cotton. Adept at making pottery, wood carving, and other handicrafts, Guatemala's Indians excel also in the weaving of textiles. Each area, sometimes each village, has its own colors and costumes, and old-timers in the Republic can tell where an Indian comes from by the way he dresses. Women hand-weave most of the cotton and wool material for the wrap-around skirts, sashes, head coverings, and huipils (the loose blouses of the women), as well as coats, belts, and trousers of the men (Plates V, VIII, IX). In the interior, most dyes for the disappearing old costumes are animal, vegetable, and min eral: indigo for blue, cochineal for red, brazil wood for dark red, iron and copper sulphate for green and blue. Weavers seldom use a pattern; they work symbolic designs into the fabric from memory. Experts sometimes weave in signatures, as artists sign a picture. An unworked spot may be left in the design, to indicate man's im perfections and so avoid envy of the gods. Prominent in the textiles of many villages is the double-headed Hapsburg eagle of Charles V of Spain. Horsemen are represented as centaurlike beings with the man's torso sprouting directly from the horse's back. This practice stems from the early Indian belief that horse and rider were one strange animal. Because "hip" looms produce strips little wider than the body, wide articles such as blankets must be made of two strips sewed together. Some towns produce blankets and other articles in one piece on foot looms. Most villages of the highlands have a spe cialty: Momostenango for blankets, Totoni capan for skirt lengths, belts, and ceremonial bands, Chinautla for pottery, Solola for garlic and onions, Nebaj for apples. Men from these and other villages trudge for days to bring their local product to the market of another town or to the great mart in the capital. Usually the articles are packed in and on the cacaxte, a four-legged wooden frame covered with netting and carried on the back, with the aid of a tumpline around the forehead. When the bearer squats on his heels, the four feet of the cacaxte rest on the ground, taking the weight of the load. A staff helps the bearer to rise again. With a gourd of drinking water, a coffee pot, kindling, a leaf raincoat, and a sleeping mat, in addition to a load sometimes totaling a hundred pounds, these men walk tirelessly up and down the highlands, often traveling more than double the linear distance in an up-and-down direction. So overdeveloped have their calf muscles become, from constant climbing with heavy loads, that their short lower legs bulge like inverted brown tenpins. Some are bald from the rubbing of their carrying headgear. When Guatemalan Indians, men or women, come to a level place, they seldom walk. * The accompanying color plates depict the Indians of Guatemala just as the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE has described and portrayed the Indians of the United States in the articles by Matthew W. Stirling and their accompanying paintings by W. Langdon Kihn: November, 1937, November, 1940, July, 1944. Mr. Marden, of the NATIONAL GEO GRAPHIC MAGAZINE staff, now is making a compre hensive survey of Guatemala for an article on the country as a whole which will describe and picture the progress and modern aspects of the Republic.