Guatemala Culture and Literature

By | October 15, 2021


The Spanish conquest and colonization of present-day Guatemala could not completely destroy the indigenous culture of the Maya, also because the great majority of the population did not undergo the process of annihilation practiced elsewhere, and managed to maintain their own language and customs. The Spaniards simply overlapped these; while the missionaries preached Christianity successfully, the conquerors built the capital, also providing it with some educational centers. At the beginning of the 2000s, national and religious holidays continue to be of great importance for all ethnic groups: women and men wear traditional clothes (of different shapes and often with precise meanings) they eat flanders, food based on fish and vegetables, or the widespread grilled meat, as well as empanadas, molletes, alfajor, and you can drink beer, rum and the typical quetzalteca liqueur . Among the handicrafts, in addition to the aforementioned costumes, in the markets of the cities or in the shops of the villages there are carpets, ornamental objects, jewelry. The musical traditions present in Guatemala are also different: from the Mayan one, with the characteristic wind and percussion instruments, to the cultured one, direct descendant of Catholic liturgical music, to the popular one, the result of the composition of Afro, Caribbean and indie sounds. The most popular sport is football.


A remote province of the Spanish Viceroyalty, Guatemala did not produce much in literature during the colonial period, although the birth of important institutions such as the College of St. Thomas Aquinas, founded by the cultured bishop Francisco Marroquín and subsequently becoming the “royal and pontifical University of San Carlos”. Only catechisms, grammars and vocabularies of indigenous languages ​​and some history of conquest, colonization and religious orders date back to this period. Some versifiers also flourished, such as P. de Liébana and J. de Mestanza. In the second half of the eighteenth century the Enlightenment also brought to Guatemala a beginning of critical renewal which necessarily had to lead to the idea of ​​independence. The philosopher Fra A. de Liendo, the jurist Miguel Larreinaga and above all A. J. de Irisarri, politician, military man and eclectic writer (1786-1868), who was even one of the leaders of Chilean independence, are the main exponents. But an exceptional case was that of the Jesuit R. Landívar (1731-1793), who in his Italian exile composed the poem Rusticatio Mexicana in Latin, a splendid song to the natural beauties of his native country. After independence, romanticism inspired poets such as the brothers J. and M. Diéguez Olaverri and D. Estrada (1850-1901) and narrators such as J. Milla (1822-1882), to whom remarkable historical novels are owed; but the strongest and most original personality was that of J. Batres Montúfar (1809-1844), author of love lyrics and of the brilliant Tradiciones de Guatemala.


According to thefreegeography, the modernism of the end of the century, on the other hand, had its most significant representative in the copious publicist E. Gómez Carrillo (1873-1927), who paved the way for twentieth-century literature. The discovery of the Mayan civilization and its surviving texts (the grandiose Popol Vuh, the Rabinal Achi, etc.) provided the writers with decisive indigenist stimuli. Thus a true pleiad of authors flourishes among which are R. Arévalo Martínez (1884-1975), prominent poet and narrator, A. Velázquez, F. Calderón Ávila, F. Herrera, C. Wyld Ospina (1891-1958), M. Monteforte Toledo, A. Monterroso, considered among the strongest and most original in all of Latin America, L. Cardoza y Aragón and above all MA Asturias (1899-1974), poet, novelist and playwright, Nobel Prize for literature (1967). Among the many writers stand out the playwrights M. Galich and C. Solórzano, exiled for political reasons, the essayist JJ Arévalo, the poets C. Brañas, R. Leiva, OR González, H. Alvarado, R. Solares Gálvez, C. Zipfel and several others, including the writer and essayist Arturo Arias (b. 1950), whose works include, among other things, some successful novels (Después de las bombas, 1979; Izam Na, 1981). The literature of the late twentieth century is just as rich as that of past periods, both in terms of authors and themes; among the many, the poet Juan Carlos Lemus (b.1964; Un rayo desordenado de mariposas, 2000), Adolfo Méndez Vides (b.1956), novelist and poet, awarded with several awards for his works including Las Murallas (1997), Ronald Flores (b.1973), essayist and novelist (Ultimo silencio, 2005), Hector Rodas (b.1963), poet. A mention should be reserved to Rigoberta Menchú (b.1959), Nobel Peace Prize winner in 1992, whose autobiography (I, Rigoberta Menchú, 1983) is among the most successful international publications for the touching descriptions of the indie populations inhabiting the Village.

Guatemala Culture and Literature