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K'iche' (Quiché)
Total population
1,270,953 [1]
Regions with significant populations
El Quiché
 El Salvador

K'iche', Spanish


Catholic, Evangelicalist, Maya religion

Related ethnic groups

Kaqchikel, Tzutujil, Uspantek, Sakapultek

This page is about the Native American people; for other uses, the dish, see Quiché (disambiguation).

K'iche' (or Quiché in Spanish spelling), are a Native American people, one of the Maya ethnic groups. Their indigenous language, the K'iche' language, is a Mesoamerican language of the Mayan language family. The highland K'iche' states in the pre-Columbian era are associated with the ancient Maya civilization, and reached the peak of their power and influence during the postclassic period.

The meaning of the word "k'iche'" is "many trees." The word is broken into two parts, "k'i," meaning "many" and "che'," meaning "tree." The Nahuatl translation is Cuauhtēmallān which gave the name to the modern Nation of Guatemala. El Quiché is also the name of a department of modern Guatemala.

Rigoberta Menchú, an activist for indigenous rights who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, is perhaps the best-known K'iche'.



Market day in the K'iche' town of Chichicastenango

The large majority of K'iche' people live in the highlands of Guatemala, notably in the departments of El Quiché, Totonicapán and Quetzaltenango. With more than half the K'iche' population, El Quiché forms the heartland of the K'iche' people. In pre-Columbian times, the K'iche' settlements and influence reached beyond the highlands, including the valley of Antigua and coastal areas in Escuintla.

Most K'iche' speak their native language and have at least a working knowledge of Spanish, with the exception of some remote and isolated rural communities. Maya languages closely related to K'iche' are Uspantek, Sakapultek, Kaqchikel and Tzutujil.


In pre-Columbian times, the K'iche' Kingdom of Q'umarkaj was one of the most powerful states in the region. K’iche' was an independent state that existed after the decline of the Maya Civilization with the Classic collapse. K'iche' lay in a highland mountain valley of Guatemala, and during this time they were also founded in parts of El Salvador. The Spanish conquerors have described the splendid towns such as Q'umarkaj (Utatlan), the capital of K'iche'.[2] They bordered the Kaqchikel.

The K'iche' were conquered by the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado in 1524. Their last military commander, Tecún Umán, led the K'iche' armies against the combined forces of Pedro de Alvarado and their Kaqchikel allies, in an epic battle in the valley of Xelaju (Quetzaltenango). The K'iche' armies were defeated, and close to 10,000 K'iche' lost their lives, including Tecún Umán, who has since lived on as a legendary figure in the K'iche' oral tradition. After the battle, the K'iche' surrendered and invited Alvarado to their capital, Q'umarkaj. However, Alvarado suspected an ambush and had the city burned. The ruins of the city can still be seen, just a short distance from Santa Cruz del Quiché.

One of the most significant surviving Mesoamerican literary documents and primary sources of knowledge about Maya societal traditions, beliefs and mythological accounts is a product of the 16th century K'iche' people. This document, known as the Popol Wuj ("Pop wuj" in proper K'iche - "the book of events") and originally written around the 1550s, contains a compilation of mythological and ethno-historical narratives known to these people at that time, which were drawn from earlier pre-Columbian sources (now lost) and also oral traditional storytelling. This narrative includes a telling of their version of the creation myth, relating how world and humans were created by the gods, the story of the divine brothers, and the history of the K'iche' from their migration into their homeland up to the Spanish conquest.


  1. ^ According to the official 2002 census: "XI Censo Nacional de Población y VI de Habitación (Censo 2002) - Pertenencia de grupo étnico". Instituto Nacional de Estadísticas. 2002. Retrieved 2008-05-27.   The Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL) mentions a number close to 2 million K'iche's [1]
  2. ^ Coe, Michael D. (1999). The Maya (Sixth edition ed.). New York: Thames & Hudson. pp. 187–190. ISBN 0-500-28066-5.  


Carmack, Robert M. (1973). Quichéan Civilization: The Ethnohistoric, Ethnographic and Archaeological sources. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. ISBN 0-520-01963-6. OCLC 649816.  
Carmack, Robert M. (1981). The Quiché Mayas of Utatlán: The Evolution of a Highland Guatemala Kingdom. Civilization of the American Indian series, no. 155. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press. ISBN 0-8061-1546-7. OCLC 6555814.  
Coe, Michael D. (1999). The Maya. Ancient peoples and places series (6th edition, fully revised and expanded ed.). London and New York: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-28066-5. OCLC 59432778.  

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