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What Should I Know About Guatemala?

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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 30 March 2014
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The Republic of Guatemala, located in Central America, has a long and illustrious history. Here is some background on the country, as well as some basics of life today in the country.

Some of the earliest evidence of settlers in the region goes back thousands of years, with some archaeologists claiming to have arrowheads and other items that would place civilization within the region as far back as 18,000 BCE. There is general agreement that the date for the first settlers can be traced back at least as far as 10,000 BCE and that the early Guatemalans were hunters and gatherers, relying on the fruits of the land to provide for their needs.

Slowly, the creation of agrarian communities began to take shape. There is some evidence that corn or maize was cultivated in the area as early as 3500 BCE. With the rise in agriculture, the formation of villages, then towns and finally cities became common and a society based on a fixed location began to emerge.

The arrival of Spanish expeditions to Guatemala beginning around 1518 made a profound impact on the culture of the region. They brought with them infectious diseases which claimed the lives of many Guatemalan natives. With the fall of the Quiche, Quetzales and Cakchiquel cultures, little remained of the indigenous society to hold the country together.

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For many years after the country became independent from Spain, it continued to experience internal turmoil, although it has enjoyed a fair amount of stability in recent years. Several important centers of commerce have emerged, with Guatemala City being one of the most important. Considered a seat of culture as well as commerce, the city boasts a number of museums that capture the history of the nation, as well as a number of libraries and performing arts centers. It is also home to the National Library, the National Archives. The Museum of Archeology and Ethnology helps to preserve Maya culture and arts, with exhibits and archaeological finds that help to tell the story. Museums play a huge role in the country, with over three hundred of the municipalities in Guatemala having at least one museum.

Spanish remains the official language in Guatemala, although there are a number of different tongues used by various groups within the population. Over twenty-one Mayan dialects are spoken, as well as a unique blend of local dialects and English that is collectively referred to as Amerindian. Within the family of Amerindian dialects, there is the Xinca and Garifuna tongues. All in all, there are twenty-three recognized national languages in the country, with many others used on a regional basis.

Exports go a long way in keeping the country's economy going. Since colonial times, it has been known for the production of cocoa and sugar cane. In recent years, it has gained attention for its exports of industrial supplies to other countries in the Western Hemisphere. Traditional red and blue dyes that have been popular since the colonial period are also important export products for the country.

In the matter of religion, Roman Catholicism is easily the largest faith represented among Guatemalans. As in several other cultures, many blend Mayan religion into Roman Catholic practice. Several Protestant faiths have established a presence in the country as well, especially in the metropolitan areas of the country. Small Jewish and Muslim populations have appeared in Guatemala in recent years, adding to the cultural diversity of the country.

Although it has a lush tropical climate, Guatemala has a relatively small tourist trade compared to other countries in Latin and South America. However, with continuing political stability, more people are finding their way to resorts there.

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