Few places on earth possess the cultural and linguistic diversity of the Guatemalan highlands. The region is home to a majority of Guatemala’s twenty-two Maya idioms. The highlands likewise possess a rich variety of colorful attire. Men in most towns, however, no longer wear native clothing. In certain municipalities only a few very old men still wear traditional clothing.
There are many municipalities of the highlands where almost all adult males wear their town’s traditional clothing. This is the case for Sololá and Santiago Atitlán in the Department of Sololá, as well as for Joyabaj and Nebáj in El Quiché. There are also a few towns, for example Todos Santos Cuchumatán and San Juan Atitán, both of Huehuetenango, where even school boys wear their town’s clothing as an expression of identity..
Although Maya women generally wear native clothing, things are in transition. Many women are switching to American clothing, Some do so for comfort; others, for social prestige. Others, however, simply cannot afford good hand-woven or embroidered clothing. Keep in mind, a quality outfit of Colotenango or San Ildefonso Ixtahuacán in Huehuetenango may cost 7-8 hundred dollars. Just huipiles (blouses) from San Antonio Aguascalientes, Sacatepéquez or Nebáj, El Quiché can run five hundred dollars. Many Maya women therefore switch to computerized machine-made clothing or, still worse, serigraphs stamped on material. The weavers and culture are in danger.
However, at its best the hand-crafted clothing of the highland Maya is fine art.. The aforementioned towns of Colo, Ixta, San Antonio, and Nebaj produce some of the world´s most exquisite woven clothing.. Maya women in those towns dress in traditional fashion. The variety and creativity of certain town’s clothing is astounding. Blouses from San Pedro Sacatepéquez and Chuarrancho, Guatemala, and from Santo Domingo Xenacoj, Sacatepéquez are among Guatemala’s most extravagant.
Symbols akin to language cover the blouses’ surfaces. At times, these symbols precede the Spanish Conquest. Tiny bird and animal figures adorn the blouses of San Juan Cotzal, El Quiché and Santa Catarina Palopó, Sololá. These figures are at times so intricate that it seems impossible that someone wove them.
The ceremonial life of the highlands is as colorful and diverse as is its clothing.
The highlands also contain a high degree of environmental diversity. Along with rich soil and some of the world´s earliest farmers, the highlands are home to an abundant agriculture and a variety of crops. Still, much of the highlands remains desperately poor. Sololá and Totonicapán for example are statistically the second and third poorest departments within the Republic.