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The Tz'utujil (Tzutujil, Tzutuhil, Sutujil) are a Native American people, one of the 21 Maya ethnic groups that dwell in Guatemala. Together with the Xinca, Garífunas (Black Caribs) and the Ladinos, they make up the 24 ethnic groups in this relatively small country. Approximately 100,000 Tz'utujil live in the area around Lake Atitlán. Their pre-Columbian capital, near Santiago Atitlán, was Chuitinamit. In pre-Columbian times, the Tz'utujil nation was a part of the ancient Maya civilization.
The Tz'utujil are noted for their continuing adherence to traditional cultural and religious practices. Some also practice Evangelical Protestantism or Roman Catholicism. They speak the Tz'utujil language, a member of the Mayan language family.
The Tz'utujil date from the post-classic period (circa 900-1500) of the Maya civilization, inhabiting the southern watershed of Lake Atitlán, in what is now defined as the Solola region of the Guatemalan highlands.
Today they dwell primarily in the towns of San Juan La Laguna, San Pablo La Laguna, San Marcos La Laguna, San Pedro La Laguna, Santiago Atitlán, Panabaj, Tzanchaj (believed to have been the inspiration, because of its similar sound, for the name "Santiago"), with fewer in San Lucas Tolimán. This people used to inhabit a much wider region. In 1523 the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado, with the help of the Kaqchikel Maya, defeated them in a battle close to the town of Panajachel. At that time they lost a portion of their lands, and the control of the lake.
In 2005, several hundred Tz'utujil died in the mudslides caused by Hurricane Stan. Rescuers recovered 160 bodies from Panabaj and Tzanchaj, while a total of 250 persons remained missing from both towns.
Although tourism is now an increasing source of income in the region, many Tz'utujil still practice traditional methods of farming of the two main crops in the region, coffee and maize (corn). Tourism has provided a market for the talented artists and weavers, who seek recognition for their creativity and unique works.
San Juan is one of three Tz'utujil communities where artists have adapted the international genre of Arte Naif to express the cultural traditions, beliefs, ceremonies, and daily activities of their indigenous culture. This form of art and some of its most accomplished Tz'utjil practitioners have been recognized in the definitive UNESCO-sponsored book on the subject, Arte Naif: Contemporary Guatemalan Mayan Painting (1998). The weavers of San Juan are among the few indigenous artisans who make their own dyes for the yarns they use; they produce the dyes largely from locally grown plants.