San Miguel Ixtahuacán

San Miguel Ixtahuacán is a municipality in the department of San Marcos, 65.5 kilometers to the north east of the departmental capital and 332 kilometers from Guatemala City, covering an area of 184 square kilometers. The highest mountains are 7,325 feet (2,197.5 meters) above sea level and the departmental capital is 6,865 feet (2056.8 meters) above sea level.

To the northeast are the municipalities of San Gaspar Ixchil and Santa Bárbara in the department of Huehuetenango, to the northwest Concepción Tutuapa, to the west Tejutla, and to the south Sipacapa and Comitancillo, all in the department of San Marcos.

Its varied climate means that it is possible to have a wide variety of agricultural products: corn, wheat, beans, broad beans, peas, potatoes, tomatoes, carrots, peaches, apples, limes, oranges, lemons, etc.

Political division

San Miguel Ixtahuacán has a municipal capital, 17 villages and 43 communities with a total population of 36,974, according to data from the population and housing census in 2003.

There are two ethnic groups: the Mams, who represent 99% of the population, and the Ladinos (people of mixed race), who are less than 1%.

The economy and production

The majority of the population is engaged in subsistence agriculture, producing corn, beans, potatoes, peas and seasonal fruits as the main crops.  The agricultural system generates very little surplus and many heads of families travel to the south to work on coffee and sugar cane farms during harvest seasons.  Many families supplement their income with remittances from relatives living in the United States. Some people also have relatives working in Guatemala City and Mexico.

Some families keep cows and others are engaged in manufacturing clay objects which they sell in local markets.

There are 21,870 people of working age (7 and over) and the economically active population is estimated at 6,399, which implies that there are 15,471 people who are economically inactive (population census 2002).

On average, of the total number of economically active people 81% are involved in farming, 4% in industry, 6% in services and 4% in commerce. About 70% of the population is classified as unskilled workers (Economic study of 5 highland municipalities in the department of San Marcos, ASIES, 2004).

Some history

The first settlers were from the Mam ethnic group who were living there before the arrival of the Spanish. They belonged to two tribes and settled on the banks of the Río Grande which flows through El Zapote and Salitre. These tribes settled in the villages of Sacpic, Legual, Cerro Minerva, Cerro de Siete Flores, Tuimines, Taná and Tzalé.

There are several meanings of the word IXTAHUACÁN, one of them being "the owner of the water went away," which in Mam is "ex twuil a' ca'n. Another likely meaning is "snake’s head." Some say it means "seven snakes on the water."

An old story explains that the village was not going to be founded in its current location, because it was too muddy. It was to be built in Tuimines. So they took everything they needed there. They also took the image of St. Michael the Archangel and the bell for the church. But the following day, when they looked for the image of St. Michael, they couldn’t find it anywhere; it had been returned to the swamp or muddy valley where the village is today. This happened several times, so it was decided to build the municipal capital there. It is said that the Catholic church was built in 1837 and that the large bell was cast by a German.

Reference: Municipal Diagnostic, Municipal Planning Office, 2006.

San Miguel Ixtahuacan
San Miguel Ixtahuacán
San Miguel Ixtahuacan town hall
Town hall
women from San Miguel
Women from San Miguel
independence day
Independence Day
©2008 Sierra Madre Foundation