The Preconquest Picture
Toltec-Maya Yucatán cities, such as Chichén Itzá and Uxmal, finally gave out sometime in the late 13th century and were abruptly abandoned. At about the same time, the Guatemalan highlands were invaded by groups of Toltec-Maya, though it is uncertain whether they are the product of a mass exodus from the Yucatán cities or a new group from the Toltec heartland in the Gulf of Mexico.
In any case, their arrival in the Guatemalan highlands signaled a transition from the existence of relatively peaceful, religious village societies to ones increasingly secular and warlike.
Quickly establishing themselves as a ruling elite, the Toltec invaders founded a series of competing empires including the K’iche’, Kaqchikel, Tzutujíl, Mam, Ixil, Achi’, and Q’eqchi’, among others. Interestingly, these and other tribes encompassing the highland indigenous groups continue to form the basis for today’s cultural landscape, with differentiation based on their individual dialects.
Among these tribes, the K’iche’ and Kaqchikel emerged as dominant forces, a rivalry the conquering Spanish would later use to their advantage. Prior to the arrival of the Spanish, the highland region was engulfed in a widespread power struggle between rival groups for cultivable land to feed an increasing population.
© Al Argueta from Moon Guatemala, 3rd Edition. Photos © Al Argueta www.alargueta.com