The Xinca

The smallest and most mysterious of Guatemala’s four main ethnicities is the Xinca, a non-Mayan indigenous group that dominated the southeastern part of the country between 900 and 1100 C.E. Before the arrival of the Spanish, Xinca territory spanned from the shores of the Pacific Ocean to the fertile highlands of Jalapa.

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Even though linguistic similarities have been demonstrated between the Xinca and Aztec languages, most scholars agree that the Xinca emigrated along the Pacific Coast from South America. Physical evidence for this theory includes the discovery of reed rafts made from juncus plants native to Peru and Bolivia. Regardless of their origin, the Xinca enjoyed a peaceful relationship with the Maya until the appearance of the Spanish conquistadors in 1524.


In May of that year, Pedro de Alvarado arrived with an army of more than 6,000 at the Xinca stronghold of Atiquipaque, located near present-day Taxisco, in the department of Santa Rosa. Despite fierce resistance, the Spaniards conquered Atiquipaque and several other nearby Xinca cities. It was not for another 50 years, however, that ongoing Xinca rebellions and guerrilla attacks were finally crushed. Alvarado soon enslaved the Xinca, forcing many of them east to help conquer El Salvador, an event to which the town of Los Esclavos (The Slaves) near Cuilapa, Santa Rosa, owes its name.


Although as many as 200,000 people self-identify as Xinca, much of their culture has been lost to the gradual incursion of the Spanish language. Efforts to promote Xinca pride and culture increased after 1995, when the Xinca people were recognized as one of Guatemala’s four main ethnic groups. As few as 200 elders still speak Xinca, and the language appears to be doomed to extinction. Today, small pockets of Xinca can be found throughout the eastern part of Guatemala in small communities near Chiquimula, San Juan Tecuaco, Santa María Ixhuatán, Guazacapán, Jumaytepeque, Taxisco, and Yupiltepeque.


 Written by: Eric Larson

Photos by: Eric Larson

Translated by: Kevin Cole 

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One Comment on “The Xinca”

  • INTERCONTINENTAL SPANISH ACademy wrote on 9 March, 2015, 10:12

    Spanish is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages and its popularity is growing all the time. What better place to learn it than Antigua, the old colonial capital of Central America? This beautiful city is recognized as one of the most beautiful and interesting cities in the whole of the Mayan World and is Guatemala’s most popular destination for visitors.

    For the student of Spanish, Antigua and the surrounding area offers a wonderful opportunity to experience the language, life and culture of this fascinating region.