I discovered the Southern Coast of Guatemala late in life. In my early years in Guatemala, I mostly traveled within the Department of Sololá. Once in awhile, I visited Chimaltenango or Quetzaltenango. When I launched my website twelve years ago, I dedicated it solely to the Department of Sololá and its people. At that time, I knew Sololá well. However, Sololá is a relatively tiny department. I had very limited familiarity with Guatemala as a whole.
At times, I had visited the entryway to the Southern Coast (Boca Costa) of Nahualá and Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán, parts of Sololá I also explored a bit the Boca Costa of Quetzaltenango, San Lucas Tolimán (Sololá), Pochuta (Chimaltenango), and Patulul and Chicacao (Suchitepéquez). The Boca Costa is hot; and its people, poor.
I had only traveled to the Southern Coast (Costa Sur), however to visit the ocean, archaeological sites, or the Mexican frontier. Finally, that all changed. I have now visited much of the Southern Coast..
In 2009, the indigenous queens of Guatemala began to invite me to their activities. Meanwhile, I began to attend fairs, cultural events, Maya ceremonies, and activities of religious brotherhoods throughout Guatemala. I got to know towns throughout the country, My invitations took me to the Orient, the Verapaces, and El Petén. However, I continued to concentrate my travels within the Highlands..
I always associated the Southern Coast with things modern. I had passed through Mazatenango several times going to Mexico. Mazate is a bustling city, full of shopping malls, department stores, and American junk-food restaurants. My only hint that traditional Maya lived at the Southern Coast, however, came when I visited the market of Mazate for the first time.
The women selling vegetables and fruits mostly wore native dress (traje). I already knew the trajes of Zunil and Almolonga which I saw there that day..Several of the women selling vegetables in Mazate came from these towns of Quetzaltenango. I was also familiar with the clothing of Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán and Nahualá. Therefore, I knew that those selling black beans, chili, bananas,and large leaves for wrapping food (maxán) came from the nearby Boca Costa of the Department of Sololá.
Most of the female vendors dressed in a fashion unfamiliar to me, however. Their skirts (cortes) were a bit shorter than those of highland women; their blouses, at times transparent. They wore no belts. Their cortes were tucked-in and tied within themselves, as is the style of the women of Santiago Atitlán. A piece of cloth called a chongo, hung from their hips. I supposed these women represented the original coastal culture.
Small Town Life
With time, these women began to invite me to their homes and to activities in their towns. Traditional life persisted in these smaller communities. Later I encountered Coastal settlements comprised of emigrants and displaced peoples from the highlands. Their cultural inheritance was so powerful that they continued to wear their heavy highland clothing within the heat and dust of the Pacific. Some had come to work in cattle ranching, or to pick cotton generations ago. They founded communities. Others were victims of the Guatemalan Civil War. Thus the government granted them land concessions as part of the Peace Accords.
The Pacific Coast has enormous cultural diversity.There are mam, q’anjob’al, ixil, k’iche’, and tzutujil living side by side. To illustrate that diversity, I offer the photos in the following four sub-chapters.