People and Places
Archaeological sites of the Southern Coast of Guatemala lack the monumental stone pyramids and palaces of El Petén and Mexico. Nonetheless, the Coast along with the Western Highlands of Guatemala (i.e. Kaminaljuyú) was the birthplace of the Maya culture.Indeed,trade with Central Mexico provided the impetus for the growth of the Maya civilization. Thus, in the era of cacao (the source of chocolate) a powerful pre-classic Maya city and ceremonial center developed near El Asintal Retalhuleu. Today we call this city Takalik Abaj, or Standing Stone, although its original name may have been kooja.
Whether the Maya there spoke k’iche’, mam, or a common ancestor of both, is uncertain. Takalik Abaj represents a mix of cultures, however. From its earliest stages, 1,000-800 B.C. stone monuments of Olmec origin appear. Similarly, archaeologists recently excavated an Olmec ball-court at Takalik Abaj. The four cardinal points were important to both the Olmec and the Maya. However, the Olmec oriented their world south to north.Thus they built their ball-courts with this orientation in mind. In contrast, the Maya orientation was east to west. Therefore, their ball-courts faced east to west.
In addition, the earliest Maya representation of the corn god is at Takalik Abaj. Like the later image of the Aztec earth mother Coatlicue he wears a skirt made of serpents, thus representing fertility. Likewise, the oldest extant Maya calendar date is on a stone monument at Takalik Abaj. In addition to Olmec and Maya monuments there are others of a style called Monte Alto..
Monte Alto is an estate near la Democracia, Escuintla. However, its monuments are not Olmec as previously believed. They are instead pre-classic Maya from around 200 B.C.-100 A.D, and contain Mexican influence. The pre-classic Cotzumalguapa culture of Escuintla further bears the influence of Mexican immigrants. Therefore, among its monuments are representations of Tlaloc (god of rain) and Xochipilli (god of laughter, the arts, drama, and dance), both gods of ancient Mexico.
Traditionally, the Maya of the Southern Pacific Coast were mostly k’iche’. However, Chicacao is populated by tzutujiles from Santiago Atitlàn and San Pedro la Laguna. Aldea Nahualate, Chicacao, however, remains k’iche’. San Miguel Panan was also once a tzutujil town. However, near the end of the 17th century, k”iche` speakers from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán burned Panan. Therfore, k’iche’ predominates in Panán in the modern era.
The Coast is the center of sugar, rubber, and sesame production. Coffee and mangoes likewise are major crops in the region. Therefore, the Southern Coast has some degree of economic prosperity. However, most of the land and wealth remain in the hands of a few powerful families.. The very richest still control the original properties of their conquistador ancestors. In smaller communities, however, extreme poverty exists alongside wealth.