The Department of El Progreso stands out in the east as a doorway to the impressive Sierra de las Minas, declared a protected zone for the lush vegetation and rich fauna within its warm and humid forests, which contrasts strongly with its plains, deserts and rocky lands.
This region was inhabited by the poqomam people and also contains some monuments of great archaeological importance, such as the church of San Cristóbal Acasaguastlán, in the process of being restored, an example of the colonial baroque style worthy of admiration.
Vegetation in Sierra de las Minas, San Agustín Acasaguastlán.
A close and unfamiliar culture
By: Edgar Barillas
The Department of El Progreso was created in 1908. At its creation it incorporated into it the territory of Guastatoya, which previously was part of the Department of Jalapa. Its principality is little known because it was first located a distance from the railroad line and later a distance from the highway to the Atlantic.
The population is predominately ladina, a product of inter-marriage. They have cultural leaders that identify more with the east than with the rest of the country. This is notable not only in the productive activities such as the making of panela, beekeeping, the creation of objects of rope and wood, but for the oral traditions, full of regional interpretative expression. The archaeological site of Poza Verde is situated over a monolithic stone of between 25 and 30 meters in height. From this late post-Classic period site they enjoyed the valley of Sansare, far from the mountains of Anshagua and behind the territories of the "jalapas", who were of xinca and later pocomames origin. The earthquake of 1976 destroyed nearly all of the colonial architecture of this area.
Guastatoya was completely reconstructed and acquired a rhythm of growth that it had never seen before. Today trade and services compete in importance with agriculture as employment for the population. Among the most notable communities of the Department are El Rancho, one of the largest municipalities of Guatemala, San Agustín and San Cristóbal Acasaguastlán, two communities that possess religious buildings of the colonial era. The facade of the Church of San Cristóbal is of colonial baroque style; the temple was constructed by 1654 and has since been restored. The temple of San Agustín Acasaguastlán is still found in use. As you enter this 16th century edifice, one finds representative imagery of the colonial Guatemalan baroque style. The building was renovated various times in the 17th and 18th centuries.
By: Luis Villar Anleu
El Progreso is one of the few Departments that we find exactly within the zone of contact. Within its borders is the famous Motagua geologic fault. The terrain situated to the north of the El Progreso River, including the Sierra de Las Minas mountains, is part of the North American Plate. Those lands to the south, including the mountains of the Volcanic Chain, pertain to the Caribbean Plate.
This condition implies certain things about the rock and sediments. The friction of the plates can produce tremendous pressures and because of these pressures the rocky material can be enormously modified. This seems to be the principal reason why in El Progreso, along the Río Grande or Motagua, a peculiar green stone called serpentine has formed.
The Sierra de Las Minas Biosphere Reserve was established taking the highest terrain of the Departments composed of the extensive mountain range peaks which includes El Progreso. The most prominent peak within this is El Pinalón, which rises to where the mountain reaches the clouds.
The northern part of the Department traverses from the west to the east through the Sierra de Las Minas, the southern part through the Volcanic Chain. It is through the extensive depression between both mountain ranges that the Río Grande flows.
By: Francisco Rodríquez Rouanet and Aracely Esquivel
In the entire Department of El Progreso it is only in the municipality of Sansare that men women and children produce this type of craftwork.
They fabricate hammocks, nets, lassos and purses in the municipalities of San Antonio La Paz, Sansare and San Agustín Acasaguastlán.
Hats, used by the workers to protect themselves from the burning sun of the region while performing their agricultural labors, are produced in the municipalities of Morazán, El Jícaro, El Progreso and San Cristóbal Acasaguastlán. They make brooms with palm fibers in the municipalities of El Jícaro and El Progreso and sleeping mats in El Jícaro.
Leather can be burnished, inscribed, cut or encrusted in the diverse techniques used in this Department. In El Progreso, exclusively in the municipality of Sanarate, the leather tanneries are not far removed from the slaughterhouses. They create works of leather such as saddles, riding gear, coinpurses, wallets and belts in the municipalities of Sanarate and El Jícaro.
This is an art elaborated by families in the municipalities of Sanarate, Sansare, Morazán and El Jícaro.
In addition, in this region we can find works of cotton fabrics, traditional ceramics, articles of wood and metallic products as well as candles, construction materials and tulle.
By: Carlos René García Escobar
Cofradías and Hermandades
The Department known today as El Progreso was without doubt one of the regions most punished by the process of colonization during the three centuries of the domination of the Kingdom of Guatemala.
The appropriation of lands by the Spanish and the intense exploitation of the indigen manual labor ended in the conversion of the region into Spanish enclaves of landowners, innkeepers, merchants and military installations. Nevertheless, abundant cofradías exercised authority in this era, succumbing at the end of the 18th century and arriving in the 19th century with a minimum of expression. In present day they don't exist and limited and weak elderly "comités" or the hermandades accompany the Catholic religious rites.
We can only suppose, that according to the aforementioned characteristics, it is probable that in colonial times the dance of the Moros y Cristianos was practiced in some of the old settlements.