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Language, Religion, Education And Culture
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ABOUT GUATEMALA

LANGUAGE

Although Spanish is the official language, it is not universally spoken among the indigenous population, nor is it often spoken as a second language. Twenty-one distinct Mayan languages are spoken, especially in rural areas, as well as several non-Mayan Amerindian languages, such as the indigenous Xinca, and Garifuna (an Arawakan language spoken on the Caribbean coast). Twenty-three languages are recognized as National Languages according to Decree Number 19-2003.

The Peace Accords signed in December 1996 orders the translation of some official documents and voting materials into several indigenous languages and mandate the provision of interpreters in legal cases for non-Spanish speakers. The accord also sanctioned bilingual education in Spanish and indigenous languages. It is common for indigenous Guatemalans to learn or speak between two to five of the nation's other languages, including Spanish.

RELIGION

Roman Catholicism was the only religion during the colonial era, and remains the dominant faith with about two-thirds of the population as adherents. However, Protestant denominations have increased markedly in recent decades, especially under the reign of dictator and evangelical pastor General Efraín Ríos Montt. Around one third of Guatemalans are Protestant, chiefly Evangelicals and Pentecostals.

The practice of traditional Mayan religion is increasing as a result of the cultural protections established under the peace accords. The government has instituted a policy of providing altars at every Mayan ruin found in the country so that traditional ceremonies may be performed there.

There are also small communities of Jews (about 1200), Muslims (1200), and others. Guatemala was visited by Pope John Paul II three times, the last being in 2002, when the pontiff canonized Pedro de Betancourt, the first Guatemalan saint, as well as the first saint from Central America. The current Roman Catholic leader of Guatemala is Cardinal Rodolfo Quezada Toruño, Archbishop of the Guatemala dioceses, and Mons. Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini Imeri is head of the Episcopal Conference.

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EDUCATION

The government runs a number of public elementary and secondary-level schools. These schools are free, though the cost of uniforms, books, supplies, and transportation makes them less accessible to the poorer segments of society. Many middle and upper-class children go to private schools. The country also has one public university (Universidad de San Carlos de Guatemala), and 9 private ones (see List of universities in Guatemala). Only 69.1% of the population aged 15 and over are literate, the lowest literacy rate in Central America.

CULTURE

The Guatemala National Prize in Literature is a one-time only award that recognizes an individual writer's body of work. It has been given annually since 1988 by the Ministry of Culture and Sports. Guatemala City is home to many of the nation’s libraries and museums, including the National Archives, the National Library, and the Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology, which has an extensive collection of Maya artifacts. There are private museums, such as the Ixchel, which focuses on textiles, and the Popol Vuh, which focuses on Mayan archeology. Both museums are housed inside the Universidad Francisco Marroquín campus. The Colonial Museum, in Antigua Guatemala, has large exhibits of colonial artwork. Almost each of the 329 municipalities in the country has a small museum. Tikal National Park has fine local museums, as well as the Dolores, Petén, "South Petén Regional Maya Museum". Two theaters in the country are the most famous, the "Teatro Nacional de Guatemala", a 1970s architectural structure, in Guatemala City, and the Quetzaltenango National Theater, a Neo-Colonial style building. Miguel Angel Asturias, won the Literature Nobel Prize in 1966. The Rabinal Achí, a Maya-Achi play was declared in 2005 a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of the Humanity, by the UNESCO.

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