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Cajola, Quetzaltenango

The vast majority of Cajola are Mam people. The Mam people are the oldest of the Maya culture, dating back to 1500 years BC. Today they are the fourth largest of Guatemala’s 22 Maya ethnic groups. They speak their mother language, Mam. Throughout their history, the Cajola people have defended their culture and their rights to their land. For example, they were one of the first towns to rise up and defend their land with a well known demonstration in 1992. Although they were granted land at the time, the struggle for land still continues, along with a struggle for the right to clean water.

The arrival of western culture over 500 years ago, migration to the U.S. beginning in the mid 1980’s, the arrival of the Evangelic movement during the 36 year war, and on-going poverty have put pressure on much of the culture. However a good portion of the community still practices the traditional culture and the entire community speaks Mam as their mother tongue.

The tradition of gathering to build each other’s homes has given way to construction labor paid for by migrants’ wages. But the community still practices traditional justice with a volunteer community police force supervised by the elders, and monitors their communal lands with a volunteer force. (The volunteer indicates not paid, because service in these groups is required by the community.

The women wear their traditional clothes, a woolen güipil, or blouse, and a heavy cotton corte, or wrap around long skirt. The clothes are woven in Cajola by many weavers, primarily men, on foot looms. The traditional belt, headpiece, and accompanying cloths are woven by local women on the traditional backstrap loom. The men wear western clothes for the most part, although the traditional white pants, white shirt, and red belt, accompanied by a straw hat, might be worn for special occasions.

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