Thursday, April 29, 2010

The Historic and Industrious Salcaja and Olintepeque

Let me begin by telling you that today  we are going to learn a little bit of history, except for the main photo above, the images we are going to see today are of the modern and industrious Salcaja.
From the historic-colonial times perspective, Salcaja is important because it was in this town where Pedro de Alvarado built the first formal base-camp and settlement for his soldiers, family and the rest of the people in his group while he continued exploring the territory in search for the right place to build the first capital city.
The ancient Saq'kaja, whose name, according to the Popol Vuh translates as "clear water" was already a prosperous village by the time the Spaniards arrived, and it was relatively easy for them to set the basis for a Spanish-style town, starting with the central square surrounded by a church, the governmental building, the multiple-uses building, and the governmental residence and that is why, Salcaja is home to the very first catholic church ever built in Central America.
The church is officially registered as San Jacinto; however, it is better known as Ermita de la Virgen de Concepcion-la Conquistadora (name that literally translates as Chapel of Our Lady of the Conception-the Conqueror). Obviously, "la Conquistadora" is an adjective added by locals who associate it with the conquest.
Another historic event is that in those days, Salcaja also witnessed the birth of the first mestiza, Leonor, the daughter of Pedro de Alvarado and Luisa Xicontencatl (a Tlaxcalan princess who traveled with Pedro de Alvarado from Mexico).
In addition to the beautiful la conquistadora church, Salcaja is known for being probably the most important of three towns where the ikat (jaspe) textiles are produced. This is a technique practiced mainly by men, using tie-typed threads woven in treadle looms. The threads preparation is a very complicated and time-consuming process that usually involves the whole family. Watch them working, wrapping, fastening, dyeing, and weaving, is quite an experience. Jaspe is the fabric women use for their skirts (corte) all over the country, and in a more elaborate designs, for their shawls (rebozo or perraje).
Salcaja is also known for the farming of peaches, apples, pears, nances (Byrsonima crassifolia), which they use to make the famous Caldo de Frutas (wine-like fermented fruits-based beverage), following the same recipe introduced by the Spaniards during the colonial times.
In Salcaja's neighbor, the municipality of Olintepeque, we also find El Pinar and the Siguila / Xequik'el River -this river changes its name under the bridge built in the place where in 1524, the K'iche warrior Tecun Uman, the National Hero, was defeated by Pedro de Alvarado. Olintepeque per se is not what we could say a touristic place, but that is just because it has not been discovered yet.
In general, I would say that most of these towns, if not all of them are flourishing, and amazingly, while working very hard to incorporate themselves into an inevitable modernity, they are able to maintain their rich traditions and culture. Certainly, a lesson about cultural identity that us, Guatemala City dwellers appear not to embrace.

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