National Geographic : 1945 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine Leaning forward to shift the center of gravity, they dogtrot at a distance-eating pace. Often you will see an Indian bowed under the load of a big marimba, ancestor of the xylophone, heard everywhere in Guatemala (Plate VI). Old-time marimba makers fasten dry gourds under the resonant hardwood keys to amplify the sound, the biggest and longest under the bass keys, and so in diminishing size to the smallest under the treble. Of a man with a series of regularly spaced offspring Guatemalans will say: "Pascual has a regular marimba of a family." When several men, each with two to four mallets, pound on a marimba, they make a rattling din. The monotonous rhythm of a son, played on a marimba, usually marks the close of a market day in larger villages. While stony-faced, separated couples shift their weight from side to side in the ungrace ful dance, a woman with a plate collects coppers from the dancers, "taxi dance" style. Besides the marimba, the thin-voiced chiri mia-a sort of snake charmer's musette-and large and small drums furnish music for religious processions. Liquid names of many Guatemalan com munities mark the passing of the Aztecs: Totonicapan, Huehuetenango, Olintepeque. In contrast are the harsher, staccato Quiche names: Joyabaj, Patzite, Sajcabaji. Nominally all Guatemalan Indians are Christians. But their worship is at times such a mixture of Roman Catholic and pagan rites and witch-doctor superstitions that it takes an ethnologist and a theologian to unravel it. Copal incense is still burned, as in pre-Colum bian times, to the gods of rain, fertility, and corn. There is even a god, Tzijolaj, to look after the man who fires the rockets at reli gious ceremonies (Plates I, III, XII). At the other end of the scale is the pan theism practiced in the Momostenango area. Market day is the principal event of the Indian week. This may fall on any day, according to the village, and marks the occa sion for social exchange, church visiting, and perhaps dancing, in addition to the buying and selling. Some market towns are so-called empty towns; that is, most of the Indians live out in the surrounding countryside and come into town in mass only on market days or for celebrations. A Guatemalan market furnishes everything for the Indians' material and spiritual welfare: pigs and incense, chickens and ceremonial masks, flute and skirts, drums and chili pep pers, and the inevitable triumvirate of tor tillas, corn, and beans (Plates IV, V, IX). Surprisingly, despite the multitudes that concentrate in a market square, marketers make little noise. Bargaining goes on in low tones, and no one shouts his wares. In the early days of the Spanish colony, Guatemala was the seat of the captaincy general of Guatemala, which had jurisdiction over all Central America to Panama. The original capital was moved twice before it was established at the place now called Antigua, 15 miles from Guatemala City (Plate XIII). Many earthquakes shook Antigua until, in 1773, one demolished virtually the entire city. Two years later the Spanish king authorized the removal of the capital to its present site. Antigua's Colonial Culture In the latter half of the sixteenth century, Antigua became a miniature Florence of the New World. To Antigua came the first print ing press in Central America, in 1660. Here flourished artisan guilds of silver- and gold smiths, wood carvers, painters, and leather workers. Wood carvings by Antigua artists adorn many Central American churches and museums. The famous Black Christ of Esqui pulas was carved by Quirio Catafo of Antigua. In Antigua, too, Bernal Diaz del Castillo, soldier with Hernan Cortes during the con quest of Mexico, in his old age wrote the True History of the Conquest of New Spain, an account which for simplicity, vividness, and epic quality is matched by few other historical documents. The original manuscript, com pleted when the scarred veteran was over eighty, is still preserved in Guatemala City. In Guatemala City, most metropolitan of Central American capitals, brightly dressed Indians trot unconcernedly past plate-glass windows displaying the machines and finery of another age; in the highlands, amid the wailing of flutes and thumping of drums, kneeling Indians intone Maya chants. Guatemala today * furnishes living proof that white settling of the New World did not inevitably mean extermination of the na tive Indian and that the two races and cul tures can exist side by side in peace. * For comprehensive articles and many color and monochrome illustrations on Guatemala, see, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, "Guatemala Inter lude," by E. John Long, October, 1936; "Preserving Ancient America's Finest Sculptures," by J. Alden Mason, November, 1935; "Guatemala: Land of Vol canoes and Progress," by Thomas F. Lee, November 1926; "Unearthing America's Ancient History," July, 1931, "Excavations at Quirigua, Guatemala," March, 1913, and "Foremost Intellectual Achievement of Ancient America," February, 1922, all by Sylvanus Griswold Morley; "Shattered Capitals of Central America," by Herbert J. Spinden, September, 1919.