Awakateko - Orientation

Identification. The Awakateko are an indigenous Mayan ethnic group residing in the municipio of Aguacatan in the northwestern highlands of Guatemala.

Location. The traditional home of the Awakateko is the southeastern corner of the base of the Cuchumatan Mountains, a volcanic range parallel to the Guatemalan coast, in a lush valley along the Río Buca. The township of Aguacatan is located in the department of Huehuetenango. Elevations range from 1,500 to 3,000 meters, and the annual precipitation averages from 80 to 100 centimeters. Conditions in northern Aguacatan extending into the high Cuchumatans are humid, whereas in the south, conditions are subhumid. Aguacatan falls into an ecological zone known as the Intermediate Highlands, which is characterized by areas that range from wet to dry; it is heavily forested with pines and oaks at the lower elevations, rain forest at the higher.

Demography. Extending over about 300 square kilometers, Aguacatan, the fifth-largest municipio in Guatemala, is divided into twenty-six aldeas (hamlets). Rural Indians constitute 87 percent of the population and Spanish-speaking non-Indians the other 13 percent. Four distinctive ethnic groups—the Awakateko Easterners, the Awakateko Westerners, the Ladinos, and the K'iche'—make up 99 percent of the population of Aguacatan. Both the Easterners and the Westerners are found in southern Aguacatan; the K'iche' live in the north, and the Ladinos populate towns and hamlets that adjoin the other groups. A census conducted in 1973 of individual ethnic groups indicated that, of the 2,964 households that were interviewed, 41 percent were Easterners, 31 percent K'iche', 14 percent Westerners, and 13 percent Ladinos; an additional 1 percent were Mam Indians (Brintnall 1979).

Linguistic Affiliation. The four distinctive ethnic groups speak four distinctive languages: the Ladinos speak Spanish, the K'iche' speak the K'iche' language, and the Easterners and Westerners use different dialects of Aguacateca, collectively called kayol. Differences in grammar and vocabulary linguistically fragment each ethnic group.

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