Corn People: A Staple Food and the Key to Human Creation

24 March 2011 at 15:00 5 comments

By Gustavo Visalli, KF14

If there is one common denominator for the rural homes in the Guatemalan highlands it is the cornfield. Sitting adjacent to most homes, the fields can be seen for miles from any high point overlooking a rural populated region. As we approach the end of the dry season, I watch workers routinely till the soil in preparation for the rains that will help sprout this precious crop.

Nimasac Cornfield

A common sight in Totonicapan

My Guatemalan housemate is absolutely shocked watching me eat my breakfast of eggs and black beans. “How can you eat that without tortillas?!” he routinely asks, completely perplexed.  Corn is a staple here, and I have yet to meet anyone who would have it any other way.


The crop is more than just a food source; it is a key component to the creation myth in the Popol Vuh. This sacred book is a collection of mytho-historical narratives surrounding the creation of Quiché Mayan people. The first creators, Tepeu and Gucumatz, were attempting to create a species which would honor and worship their creators. Man was first created from mud and earth, but he spoke only nonsense and could not multiply.  They then tried wood, but there was nothing in the minds of these creatures and they accomplished nothing. They were banished to live in the forest as monkeys. Corn was the secret ingredient that created a complete human race. Created from corn flour, they were intelligent and showed promise as a species.

Popol Vuh Creation of Man

photo credit: Wolfgang Sauber

Corn is also a staple food in the U.S.A., but it is processed and broken down to the point where we would never know we were eating it unless we decipher the code of nutrition labels (HFCS, Xanthan Gum, the list goes on longer than you think). In a U.S. supermarket we can expect most products to contain some type of corn ingredient. It seems that in the states we are also a nation of corn (or rather, a nation of corn derived products). Check out Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma for much more on this topic…

The crop is more than that here in the highlands. Households grow it on their own property and dry it for use throughout the year. It is also a requisite for every meal. Even if you are served a plate of pasta, rice and beans, you can expect a plate of steaming tortillas in any traditional eatery. The low carb thing doesn’t quite work here.

Corn Hanging

photo credit: Hannes Grobe

Corn is also conveniently delicious. I’m look forward to my next plate of chicken with sides of rice, pasta salad, and of course, a healthy heap of handmade corn tortillas.

Gustavo is a Kiva Fellow working with Asociación ASDIR in Totonicapán, Guatemala.

Join the Amigos de ASDIR lending team on Kiva today!

Gustavo’s previous posts:

The Microcredit Saleswoman

Community Vigilantism Keeps Toto Tranquil

The Highland Commute

Entry filed under: ASDIR, Guatemala, KF14 (Kiva Fellows 14th Class). Tags: , , , .

Hear that?? It’s Kupang Bemo Rap!! A field partner grows from the pilot to active stage


  • […] for the Los Angeles Dodgers. My Guatemalan housemates will never accept eating eggs and beans without tortillas. The damage caused by learning to litter, however, should be enough to change the region of Toto […]

  • 2. Ryan  |  4 April 2011 at 13:03

    When I first arrived in Guatemala as part of a month long homestay I was surprised to find such a heaping pile of corn tortillas with every meal. But it took almost no time at all for me to realize what a huge part of eating corn really is in Guatemala. Soon enough I couldn’t go a mean without them. Now back in the US I look for tortillas everywhere!

  • 3. James Devine  |  1 April 2011 at 16:55

    Popol Vuh! great stuff! nicely done Gustavo! Cheers!

  • […] Corn People: A Staple Food and the Key to Human Creation Country: Guatemala / Fellow: Gustavo Visalli (KF14) Gustavo shares insights into the history of corn for the Quiché Mayan people and its essential role in everyday life today. Pasta and rice with a side of tortillas, anyone? […]

  • 5. Alexis Ditkowsky  |  25 March 2011 at 00:28

    What I would give for some homemade tortillas right now!

Get Involved!

Learn more about this blog and about Kiva Fellows


Apply to be a Kiva Fellow

Enter your email address to receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,348 other followers


Drawing from the Field

Kiva Blog Policy

%d bloggers like this: