By Chadd McGlone
Chapel Hill, NC, United States
Weekly markets are an essential part of life in the closely knit, rural communities of highland Guatemala. The market drives the local economy with the help of traders, producers, sellers and buyers. Only holidays play a more important social and cultural role in the community.
The market is an opportunity for people to visit their neighbors and to catch up on the latest news. Market day is also a feast for the senses, with beautiful hand-woven fabrics, colorful homegrown flowers, and delicious local fruit.
The market in Chichicastenango, or “Chichi,” as it is known locally, is the oldest and most famous in Guatemala. It is held every Thursday and Sunday. Vendors arrive the day before to start assembling their stalls on the main square and surrounding streets, continuing all night amid the cacophony of exploding fireworks and firecrackers.
While the market may seem haphazard to those who visit for the first time, it is actually carefully organized, with merchants displaying their products in specific areas. For example, food is sold in the central part of the square, while on the side streets you’ll find textiles such as hand-embroidered blankets, quilts, and beautiful huipiles (a traditional blouse worn by Indigenous women with brilliantly colored patterns and decoration).
If you’d like to purchase something in Chichi, you must negotiate the price with the seller, who will show you respect by not providing too low a beginning amount. For example, a huipil can cost 300 quetzales (Q). Approximately 7.5 quetzales equals one US dollar. If you offer the seller Q150.00 and then continue to bargain, you may end up buying a huipil for Q200.00. Both you and the seller will be satisfied with that price.
The center of the Chichi market is the 400-year-old church called the Iglesia de Santo Tomás. Inside the building, the smell of incense joins with the scent of flowers sold outside to produce a fragrance that enchants the soul. Within this peaceful sanctuary you can rest from the commotion of the market and gather strength for the next bit of shopping. Who knows what treasures await?
Have a change to suggest for this story? We’d love for you to submit it!
- You bought two blouses for Q200.00 and a quilt by Q500.00 How much money did you spent?
- You bought a new blouse handmade by Q120.00 and the person who made the blouse took five hours to finish. What did she earn per hour in US dollars?
- Carlos is working for his family and his sister is not feeling well enough to go to market. They sell suits and jackets. Carlos can not remember how much to charge for each and every jacket and suit, but he remembers that last week they sold 15 suits and 11 jackets and earned Q1, 445.00 profit. Also the week before they sold 30 suits and seven jackets and obtained Q2,120.00 profits. Use this information to determine how much you should charge for each suit and jacket that Carlos sells?
- The cost to have a place in the market every Sunday is Q1,000.00. If the family, on average, sells five suits, nine huipiles, and 13 jackets every week, what is a reasonable amount for the family to charge for each item? Justify your choices. What should you tell people is the cost of each object when they approach the booth?
Social Justice Questions
- What do you think about Roman Catholic missionaries building a church on a site sacred to the indigenous Maya in Chichi?
- If takes a person one day to construct a huipil quilt, is it fair for the buyer to purchase it for less than US$25 (an approximate living wage in Guatemala)? As a buyer, is it your responsibility to consider this issue or is it the seller’s responsibility?
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