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All About Guatemala: (FSF Cultural Exploration)

Guatemala Overview

Guatemala is a central-American nation bordering the Pacific Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, and Mexico. Guatemala is divided between Spanish culture and the native Mayan traditions. However, as indigenous families increasingly move to urban areas in search of opportunities the native and western traditions have begun to blend.

A Brief History

The Olmec civilization came from Mexico and was in Guatemala from around 1,500 BC. The Mayan culture eventually took over in the region. From 250 AD to 900 AD, the Mayans were in their Classic Period, and the whole of Guatemala was under their influence. During this period, the civilization grew massively and built massive temples. However, this golden age abruptly ended when the Mayan empire collapsed, forcing those who remained to make their living in the countryside as farmers. The Spanish arrived in the 1500s and conquered the native populations, making Guatemala a sovereign territory administered by officials in Mexico City.

This worked until the end of the colonial period led people to grow restless for greater freedom, gaining total independence in 1823. They and other Central American powers attempted to create a union governing the region but it soon collapsed, exacerbating tension between Guatemala’s conservative and liberal factions. This led it to be ruled by several dictatorial regimes over the next century, ending in 1944 when protests ousted Jorge Ubico to establish a presidency. In 1951, President Jacobo Arbenz came to power and had all unused land be redistributed amongst the country’s peasants. Due to this harming a US-based fruit company, the CIA secretly trained exiles from the previous regime. This led the country to be ruled and fought over by dictators until the 1980s when the US cut off military assistance. However, true peace did not come to Guatemala until Álvaro Arzú took power in 1996 and negotiated with the four major guerrilla groups to sign a peace treaty. Today Guatemala is slowly developing into a modern society.

Guatemalan Culture and Traditions

The family is central in Guatemalan life. For them, the family includes friends, household servants, and others in addition to blood relatives. It is typical for mothers to have support from the wider community in raising children with god-parents and close friends being especially involved. Despite this, mothers are very protective of their children and often refuse to let them out of sight.

Religious worship is also significant. Much of the population is Catholic, though this has declined as Protestantism has spread through the country. Many Maya combine Christian practices with their ancestral practices and beliefs. Rituals may still be performed to ensure agricultural success, easy childbirth, recovery from illness, protection from the elements, and to honor and remember the dead. Many of the indigenous people believe in spirits of nature, especially of specific caves, mountains, and bodies of water, and their religious leaders regularly perform ceremonies connected with these sites. The Catholic Church has generally been lenient in allowing or ignoring dual allegiances while Protestants insist on strict adherence to doctrine and abandoning all "non-Christian" beliefs and practices, including Catholicism.


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