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Xinca, the Roots of a Culture

After several researches into the history of indigenous in Guatemala and the help of Roberto Arana Arreaga a Guatemalan communicator and publicist, lover of art, books and travel, we had been able to go back to one of the first indigenous communities that inhabited territories of what is now known as Guatemala.

Guatemala is a country rich in diverse flora and fauna throughout the entire region. The southeastern region of the country is a good example of the country’s geographic variety, presenting semi-arid and mountainous features with volcanic sand beaches and tropical forests. Its climate varies from temperate to warm in the lower parts and cold in the higher altitudes.

The Xincas live predominantly in the departments of Jutiapa, Jalapa and Santa Rosa.

It is the region with the least amount of original Mayan population registered in the entire country, predominantly the Xinca indigenous and the mestizo population, better known as “ladinos” which is a mixed Spanish and indigenous descent.

Their History

It is a native ethnic group of Central America, which almost disappeared. Probably in pre-Columbian times they emigrated to Guatemala through the Chiquimulilla channel, and may have arrived during the Archaic period (600 – 200 BC) in their migratory passage from Mexico to Central America.

“According to the chronicler Bernal Días del Castillo, it was one of the towns that offered the greatest resistance to the conquest”

The Xincas were the first people in Guatemala to be enslaved, banned from using their language and traditional clothing and forced to adopt Spanish culture. For years, this culture has been recognized but made invisible, making it difficult to rescue it.

Xinca's Language

Due to Hispanization, today the Xinca ethnic group has almost disappeared… And their language has been gradually lost. A study carried out in 1997 reports that this language was only spoken by just 100 to 250 people. That is why it is mostly spoken by the elderly.

The Xinca language is recognized within the Constitution and the Law of National Languages, in addition this language does not have its roots in any of the linguistic groups of Mayan languages.

Xinca's Traditions

The Xincas are characterized by having different dances as rituals with specific purposes that vary according to the region and its objective, ranging from religious approaches to holidays. Among the main dances we can find:
Dance of the request for Water: This dance is performed with the purpose of asking God for something specific and generally the participants are the elders of each town.

Moon dance: It is a dance that is almost extinct, it was performed for birthdays or wedding celebrations. It consisted of 6 couples holding hands or waists turning in a wheel with small jumps. The entire community participated in this dance regardless of age or gender.

Tustle dance: This elegant dance was used for birthdays celebrations, parties and weddings. In it, couples hold hands and turn slowly to the rhythm of the music.

Dance of the transfer of authority: This dance is performed as part of a rite of change of community authorities that usually happens every two years. To perform it, the person in charge, who will be retired, hands the authoritarian role to the new leader, symbolically handing over a “guacal” with hot water inside, with the aim that the new president will distribute this “guacal” to all his companions as a sign of leadership.

Xinca's Traditional Food

The basis of their diet lies in the use of the natural resources that surround them, it is common to use fruits and plants in abundance in the region.

One of the dishes that stands out the most is the traditional chipilín broth, in which these herbs are cooked, accompanied by vegetables, flowers and other herbs, providing a special flavor typical of the culture. Other important dishes are the cooked masa tamales, without forgetting the delicious Kamawa beans, which is a very particular ingredient of Xinca cuisine.

Xinca's Traditional Outfit

Part of the distinctive features of this ethnic group is their clothing, made mostly with cotton fabrics. The masculine garments are usually white, the shirt with sleeves up to the forearm and the pants up to the knees.

For their part, women use long skirts of the same material that reach their ankles. Formerly they wore bare chests, but today they can be seen wearing loose-fitting blouses also made of cotton.

In the past, they used to make their own fabrics

Art and culture

The most common practice among the Xincas is deeply rooted in the ethnic identity of their people and conversion essentially amounts to cultural assimilation.

According to their legends dating from before the conquest, this ethnic group has sacred books in which their spirituality is reflected, which is manifested through various celebrations that are carried out by the so-called “spiritual guides” through. This is able to establish a way of communicating in a spiritual realm from heaven to earth.

Much of their culture is directly related to art, expressed in a unique approach that ranges from unique songs, dances and music, which makes them different from all other Native American cultures.

The Handicrafts

The diversity of natural resources in the departments of this region means that the artisanal raw material varies from one place to another, especially with regard to basketry, where the types of palms can vary from one community to another at the time of their elaboration…

The main items:
Maicillos brooms
Clay pots and jars
Bamboo baskets
Cibaque bowlers

Alexandrine Michelas

Founder and Artistic Director