Save the Endangered Peoples

Guatemala is one of the most beautiful countries in the world, the quaint rural Mexico that you always wanted, but it changed before you got there.  Guatemala City is nothing much more than a pit stop, but the western highlands are breathtaking.  Long inhabited by the highland Mayas from the ‘City’ west all the way to Chiapas in Mexico, the area is a piece of living history.  Emerging from the mists of history as descendants of the classic Mayas possibly inter-mixed with central Mexicans, they nevertheless maintain their ancient traditions to a degree seldom matched anywhere else in the world.  Numbering dozens of ‘tribes’ (i.e. linguistic groups) and millions of people, these are a proud people who never changed their names to fit Spanish fashion and who only reluctantly give up their own clothing styles to fit Western fashion.  Most Indian women never do, and this becomes a point of identity and pride in their ‘Guatemalanness’.  Though there is increasingly a stratum of ‘generic’ Indians whose females wear non-distinct, though very striking, Mayan garb, traditionally a woman would wear the style of her particular village, and were identifiable as such.  The related Quiche’, Cakchiquel, and Tzutuhil Mayas reside in the central area around Lake Atitlan and Quezaltenango, and are generally relatively prosperous, with tourist income, though a far cry from their former glory.  Increasingly they are fragmented culturally and their languages are mutually unintelligible from one hill to the next, forced to rely on the Guatemalan government and the Spanish language for their unity.  The Ixils and Kekchis to the north and Mams and other related groups to the west are in worse shape, maintaining traditions in a world that increasingly doesn’t care.  You can protect an endangered species from extinction, but what can you do for a culture?  I guess we should print bumper stickers that say: “Save the people!”

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