Chuj - Orientation



Identification. The Chuj are a Mayan people living in northwestern Guatemala, in the department of Huehuetenango. They prefer and use names based on the name of their municipality: "ajSan Matéyo" (San Mateo Ixtatán), "ajSan Sabastyán" (San Sebastián Coatán), "ajNenton" (Nentón). In 1993 the Chuj Committee of the National Academy of the Mayan Languages of Guatemala was established and began looking for a new name. The term "Chuj," in folk tradition, was first applied to the group by the Spanish on the advice of Tzeltal conscripts for whom " chuj " meant capixay , the loose wool overgarment worn by Chuj men. In modern Tzeltal, "chuj" refers to brightly printed cotton cloth. In Chuj, "chuj" means "sweat bath."

Location. The municipalities of San Mateo Ixtatán and San Sebastián Coatán, which straddle the backbone of the Cuchumatán Mountains, are Chuj. Nentón, which is the coffee-planting piedmont area of Guatemala, is about one-third Chuj. Some Chuj also live in neighboring areas of Mexico. Political violence in Guatemala, particularly during the early 1980s, forced many Chuj to abandon town centers and established villages and to live in isolation in mountainous holds or leave the country altogether. The Chuj population of Los Angeles now rivals that of San Sebastián.

Demography. The population of San Mateo Ixtatán is about 16,000; that of San Sebastián Coatán is about 9,000; and the Chuj-speaking inhabitants of Nentón number nearly 4,000. Counts of the Chuj population in Los Angeles are hampered by their irregular immigration status.

Linguistic Affiliation. Chuj is a Mayan language of the Q'anjob'alan Branch. It is most closely related to Tojolab'al, spoken in Mexico. These two languages constitute the Chujean Subgroup of the Q'anjob'alan Branch. Most Chuj men are multilingual. Almost all are bilingual in Spanish and Chuj; many can carry on basic commercial transactions and conversations in Q'anjob'al and make some further adjustments for interacting with Jakalteko as well. Since about the 1970s, Chuj women have been bilingual in Spanish and Chuj.

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