To be sure, the beautiful model in this fabulous blue gown in Antigua’s central park is there for a photo shoot. However, she emulates the contrast between the rulers and the people. The Maya Indian in her typical traje (dress) represents the caste and the past. The woman in leggings and the kids in shorts represent today in the big cities.
In the smaller towns such as Antigua, Chichicastenango, and San Lucas Toliman most women wear their traditional traje, colors typical of their particular local identity. There are over a dozen different groups clinging to their traditional clothing and customs and languages.
Apparently the Spanish colonial pattern of keeping the native population legally separate and subservient continued well into the 20th century. This resulted in many traditional customs being retained, as the only other option than traditional Maya life open to most Maya was entering the Hispanic culture at the very bottom rung.
Walking through the narrow streets we were comfortable saying “hola” or “buenos dias” as we passed these beautiful people. They would answer in kind. Occasionally a vendor would follow us, tempting us with their wares: masks, weavings, bracelets, souvenirs. Sometimes we would bargain with them, more often saying “no, gracias” and we would walk on. In the markets of San Lucas Toliman we were ignored for the most part-the items proffered were for the locals.
My most precious purchase, a roughly carved angel that I purchased for 25 Q, I didn’t bargain, handing over 30 Quetzal and expecting change. The wizened old man indicated that he was hungry and would buy food. That 5 Q was only 65 cents US. I didn’t argue. In my mind this was a win-win for both of us. We were in a restaurant and I placed the angel next to a candle on the table-the features highlighted as if a golden artifact.
Guatemala is a country of contrasts.