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Panel 28 from the Lienzo de Tlaxcala (1892) showing the battle of Atitlán ( Chiya´). The top caption, Tecpanatitlan, should be Atitlán. Tzutujil warriors (upper and lower left) are depicted defending the city from the Spaniards and their allies, the Tlaxcalans. The place- glyph above the Tzutujils consists of a twisted red and white headband combined with what is apparently the symbol for water. The former stands for Tecpán (Palace , or Government building), and the latter for Atitlán ( Place of Water). Four Tzutujil warriors defend the rock ( Chuitinamit) and shower the enemy with arrows. Another Tzutujil warrior (below right), wearing his shield on his left arm and swinging a club with his right hand,attacks the Spanish soldier on horseback, who is about to lance a fallen Tzutujil. Beside the Spaniard are two Tlaxcalan warriors, each with a shield and bearing an elaborate standard.
From The Tzutujil Mayas
by Sandra Orellana
In 1524 the Spaniards came to Guatemala. When they came they had already left their influence; in 1521 a plague hit the highlands, weakening an already crumbling economy. In 1522 one of the Tzutujil sub chiefs from Xeoj, on the coastal plain, sent a delegation to Cortez in Mexico asking him to settle a land dispute between his town and another minor dependency ; Nagualapa.
In February, 1524, Pedro de Alvarado entered Guatemala. He conquered the Quiche' stronghold of Xelaju and then went on to take K'umarcaaj.When the Spaniards entered Guatemala the Quiche's sent messengers to the Cakchiqueles and the T'zutujiles inviting them to a conference to decide what to do about it, but the Cakchiqueles refused to come and the T'zutujiles replied that they could protect themselves. The hostile feelings between the three tribes at the time were to strong to allow any military collaboration against the Spaniards.
Alvarado also sent messengers to the two tribes , inviting them to join the Spanish cause. The T'zutujiles killed the messengers, but the Cakchiqueles responded by sending warriors to fight against their old masters, the Quiche. When Alvarado defeated the Quiche' he proceeded to Iximche, where he was well received by the Cakchiqueles. When Alvarado asked the rulers who their enemies were he learned that they were the T'zutujiles. He sent a delegation to the Ajtz'iquinahay demanding submission. The Tzutujiles also killed those messengers, so , on April 18, 1524, Alvarado left Iximche with 60 horsemen and 150 infantry, together with a large body of Cakchiquels. In his letters to Cortez , Alvarado claims that they walked to Atitlan from Iximche (in the area of present day Tecpan) in one day, and that they defeated the Tzutujil forces on the same day!!!! I would say that he exaggerated a bit, but according to "history" he attacked Chiya and all the nobles fled by water. The next day he sent an ultimatum to the T'zutujil chiefs, demanding surrender. They acceded, and formally surrendered in Iximche three days later. Alvarado left a fort with 418 men and proceeded on his conquering way, resurfacing in the lake's history sporadically . He went back to Iximche and set up the Spaniards first capitol; Santiago de los Caballeros de Guatemala. When the Cakchiqueles began chafing under the rule of the Spanish Alvarado used the T'zutujiles to conquer them.
In the end everyone had to pay tribute to Alvarado. In fact, his abuses against the Indians got so serious that the Spanish Crown sent an official to Guatemala to examine the government's affairs. Before he arrived, however, Alvarado traveled directly to the crown to defend himself, and when he returned to Guatemala he had his power back.
Not content with settling down to rule a conquered country, Alvarado soon tired of it and by 1540 was on his way to find the spice islands. He stopped in Mexico to help suppress a rebellion, and was killed when his horse fell on him near Guadalajara. His widow, doña Beatriz de la Cueva, succeeded him as governor, but perished in the eruption of Agua Volcano that destroyed the capital in September, 1541. Exciting times!
As for life on the lake, from the time of the conquest the Indians are still struggling to retain even a sliver of their native cultures. Starting in 1524 and continuing until the 1550's the lakes inhabitants had absolutely no rights and were considered the personal property of their conquerors. They were used as slaves in the Mexican Silver mines, in the building of Antigua, on the new haciendas that were popping up all over Central America. The Indian women were faced with a crazy pack of conquerors far away from their own women. The natural defenses of the natives could do nothing before the devastating force of the many diseases the Spanish brought with them. In between 1524 and 1547 the population was almost wiped out; the population went from 48,000 in 1524 to 5,600 in 1547.
The T'zutujiles managed to stay at Chiya' until 1547, when the catholic priests decided to force all the lakes inhabitants together in a congregation at the present site of Santiago Atitlan. They gathered the people, who were spread all around the lake, from their small villages and moved everyone together in an attempt to control their religious leanings. They also did this to be able to control the collection of tribute.
Besides being subject to the possibility of being one of those chosen to be a slave for the Spanish, each head of family was subject to a tribute that he must personally pay to the current owner of the lake through the lord of the town, who was usually a descendant of the old A'tziquinahay rulers. It appears that the current system is based on this one. Everyone along the way got their cut and in this way a certain amount of control was instituted.
At this time the tributes were very excessive; the town of Santiago had to supply 400 to 500 people as slaves every 15 days, along with cacao, honey, turkeys , salt, etc. This excess continued until 1549, when outright slavery was forbidden by the Spanish Audiencia, but different forms of this continued well into the 20th century; the road between Santiago Atitlan and San Lucas Toliman was built in the 40's with indentured labor; at the time an Indian had a "tax" of almost three months a year labor that they had to perform for the government or for any " ladino" with enough power to stamp their identity booklets. The Indians have been exploited since the day that Alvarado stepped into their lives , and are still recovering from this . Much of the poverty and ignorance that is to be observed in the villages on the lake is due to this basic problem.