The Spanish Conquest of the Q'anjob'al began in the 1520s, when Pedro de Alvarado led soldiers through present-day Guatemala with the purpose of conquering the various Indian groups who lived there. Many forces contributed to the conquest of the Q'anjob'al by the Spaniards. European disease, military attacks, and missionary settlements all served to weaken and deplete the Q'anjob'al population.
During the colonial period, private landholders exerted their political power to subsume indigenous lands into their own personal estates. The private landholders used these lands to grow coffee, which was a lucrative cash crop during the colonial period. Because of government policies, Q'anjob'al Indians lost more than 70 per cent of their lands to Ladinos between 1880 and 1920. As a result of three centuries of colonial policy that rewarded large private landholders over the indigenous Q'anjob'al, the latter were reduced to peasant farmers and migrant laborers.
Q'anjob'al lands have been under continued pressure, and, as a result, many individuals have turned to left-wing political causes, which promise land reform. The government of Guatemala's response has been to repress the Q'anjob'al violently. Because of this policy, many Q'anjob'al began emigrating to the United States during the mid1980s.