Jakaltek people

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Total population
47,024[1] - 88,000[2]
Regions with significant populations
 Guatemala47,024 - 77,000[3]
 Mexicoapprox. 11,000[4]
Jakaltek (Poptí), Spanish
Roman Catholic, Evangelicalist, Maya religion
Related ethnic groups
Kanjobal - (Maya peoples)
Jakaltek Maya brocading a hair sash on a backstrap loom.

The Jakaltek people[pronunciation?] are a Mayan people of Guatemala. They have lived in the foothills of the Cuchumatán Mountains in the Department of Huehuetenango in northwestern Guatemala since pre-Columbian times, centered on the town of Jacaltenango.

Location and history[edit]

Located on a plateau overlooking Mexico, Jacaltenango is 1,437 m above sea level and its surrounding villages are located at both higher and lower elevations. The town of Jacaltenango is a governmental, religious, and market center of the region. In the Jakaltek language the town of Jacaltenango is called "Xajlaj"[pronunciation?], or “place of the big white rock slabs.”

On the path between Jacaltenango and San Marcos.
View of Jacaltenango and San Marcos beyond.
A Jakaltek holds a clay pellet between his lips as he prepares to insert it into his blowgun in Guatemala.

For many years, this area was physically and culturally the most remote from Spanish centers in the country. The 72-km trip from Huehuetenango, the capital of the department, was a two-day walk. Since 1974, when an unpaved road was built from the Pan-American Highway to Jacaltenango, it has been a five-hour bus ride from Huehuetenango to Jacaltenango. Electricity came to town in 1979.[5] This relative isolation has resulted in the preservation of many customs in the community which have been lost elsewhere. For example, a few Jakaltek people still use the blowgun[6] for hunting small animals and birds. The Jakaltek also maintain a belief system which involves Naguals and Tonals.[7]


  1. ^ According to the official 2002 census for Guatemala: "XI Censo Nacional de Población y VI de Habitación (Censo 2002) - Pertenencia de grupo étnico". Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas. 2002. Archived from the original on 12 June 2008. Retrieved 2008-05-27.
  2. ^ Estimates of Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) for 1998 "Languages of Guatemala". Retrieved 2008-05-27.
  3. ^ According to the official 2002 census: "XI Censo Nacional de Población y VI de Habitación (Censo 2002) - Pertenencia de grupo étnico". Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas. 2002. Archived from the original on 2008-06-12. Retrieved 2008-05-27. Note that the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) mentions a higher number of 77,000 for Guatemala in 1998 [1]
  4. ^ Estimate of the Summer Institute of Linguistics for 1998: http://www.ethnologue.com/show_country.asp?name=gt
  5. ^ Carol Ventura. Maya Hair Sashes Backstrap Woven in Jacaltenango, Guatemala, Cintas mayas tejidas con el telar de cintura de Jacaltenango, Guatemala, 2003, ISBN 0-9721253-1-0.
  6. ^ Carol Ventura. "The Jakaltek Maya Blowgun in Mythological and Historical Context", in Ancient Mesoamerica, 2003, 14.2: 257-268.
  7. ^ * Stratmeyer, Dennis & Jean , 1977,"The Jacaltec Nawal and the Soul Bearer in Concepcion Huista", in Cognitive Studies of Southern Mesoamerica, Helen L. Neuenschander and Dean E. Arnold eds.,Summer Institute of Linguistics, Museum of Anthropology Publication 3