Who Are The Kiche (Quiche) People?

1 in 9 Guatemalans belong to this subgroup of the Mayan people who speak their own K'iche' language.


One in nine Guatemalans belong to this subgroup of the Mayan people who speak their own K'iche' language. The word Kiche means “many trees.” There are about 14,636,487 Kiche spread across South America. The Guatemalan population is found mainly in the central highlands in El Quiche (622,163), Totonicapan (453,237), Quetzaltenango (205,228), and Sololá (151,992). There are also some Kiche population in the United States and Canada as a result of the Guatemalan civil war. The number of indigenous peoples in South America is about 2.4 million with 29% Kiche, who make up the most number among the 23 groups in Guatemala. These indigenous peoples live in 7 departments and speak 6 dialects.

Kiche History

In the almost three millenniums from 2,500 BC to 800 AD, the Mayan peoples developed into a powerful nation. The Mayan Empire encompassed the Yucatan Peninsula and at its height of power included Guatemala, Central Mexico, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, and Belize. However, in 800 AD, their empire started to decline. The Spaniards reached Guatemala at about the same time and defeated the Kiche people with the help of the Kacqchiquel. an adjoining rival kingdom. Unfortunately, they were also conquered after they rebelled against the Spanish conquistadors. Although Veracruz Maya people were converted to Christianity without bloodshed. Modern times brought more sufferings to the Kiche and other Maya indigenous peoples in Guatemala. The years 1944 to 1951 were years of leftist rule while from 1954 onwards, Guatemala was ruled by American-backed regimes. Civil unrest started in 1960 to 1996 as a result of these regimes.

Arts, Culture, and Cuisine

#3 Arts, Culture, and Cuisine

The Kiche people were and are still a religious people who allowed their native animism religion and Christianity to meld into their lives. These mixture of folklore, animism beliefs, and Christian beliefs resulted in a strange way of worship that remains today. The Kiche also believe in traditional medicine. The Kiche as a Maya people have similar but distinct cuisine form each other. There are sweets made out of fruits, nuts, and seeds sweetened with honey. Some familiar food names like enchilada and quesadilla are totally different from their Mexican version. Maize (corn) is their main staple dish, alongside another cereal called amaranth. Daily life was punctuated with xylophone marimba musical instruments. The daily wear of the Kiche is made out of colorful yarn weavings (pictured above) that are each identified with a village, making it easy to tell where the wearer hails from.

Habitat and Biodiversity

Guatemala has pine forests, mixed forests, cloud forests, wetlands, rainforests, mangroves, and littorals. The dominant trees include 17 types of conifers such as pines and cypress. There are also lagoons, rivers, lakes, woodlands, and swamps populated by about 8,681 species of vascular plants. Endemism is quite substantial in the primary forest areas. Wetlands number about 7 areas. The World Conservation Monitoring Center has established that Guatemala has about 1,246 types of reptiles, mammals, amphibians, and birds. About 6.7% of these species demonstrate endemism while 8.1% are listed as threatened. Ocelots, jaguars, howler monkeys, and scarlet macaws also inhabit the Guatemalan forests.

Environmental Threats and Territorial Disputes

Guatemala has the biggest area of territory dedicated to conservation of all Central American nations. The establishment of more protected areas has put Guatemala on the world map as an exemplary example. In 1955, Tikal National Park was established and declared a United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage Site. Other areas were also protected such as the Sierra Madre Volcanic Chain, Motagua-Polochic System, and the Maya Biosphere Reserve. The Nature Conservancy, A U.S.-based charitable environmental organization, pushed for the deal that made all those protected sites possible inside of Guatemala. The program was facilitated with the debt-for-nature swaps program that enabled the Guatemalan government to pay its debt towards forest conservation in their own country.

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