english spanish guatemalan folk art

guatemalan slingshots / hondas de guatemala

guatemalan folk art / artesanía tradicional de guatemala

english español

f.a.q.

•• About Us / Sobre Nosotros

Carmen Chipin and Duncan Aitken (yours truly) in front of our office/book store in Panajachel. Solola, Guatemala. Clearly, neither of us are very comfortable with being photographed. español

I first came to Guatemala in 1974 as a college kid taking a year off from school. I had a backpack full of books and a small mountain of who-knows-what (most of which I could have done without), and a lot more time than money. I was on my way to Costa Rica, but it was Guatemala I fell in love with. I am enamored with the country still, in particular with the indigenous people who have lived here for the last three and a half to four thousands years.

On that trip, I bought my first piece of ‘tipica’ (short for ‘ropa tipica’ or Mayan ‘typical clothing’), a red ‘huipil’ (Mayan blouse), from a vendor seated on the roadside not a stone’s throw from where my office is now. It was the first of many.

Having finished school, and lacking anything to keep me in the US, I considered coming back in 1980, but due to the civil war that raged at the time, Guatemala was too dangerous. My plan had been to import Guatemalan handicrafts to the U.S., but I ended up buying hammocks in Yucatan and Quintana Roo, Mexico, and later alpaca sweaters from Peru and Bolivia.

By 1983 the Guatemalan civil war had calmed down (at least in the less remote regions) and I was able to pursue my initial plan. I sold tipica in New York City, both wholesale and retail in street fairs and flea markets. Tipica was hot at the time and I did well both with new products and old.

Vendors would show up at my office with heavy bags full of textiles, usually piled high on their poor wife’s head. Many a delightful hour was spent discussing this thread, that die, what particular patterns stood for ...and, of course, the price. It was one of those vendors who showed me my first slingshot. I bought the lot, and I’ve been buying them ever since.

By the early 1990s tipica was no longer fashionable and, lacking a market, I quit selling handicrafts—but I didn’t quit buying, at least not completely. My fondness for slingshots overruled budgetary constraints and arguably, common sense. Not that I bought recklessly, indeed, I was very particular in what I acquired, but after thirty-plus years of picking one or two up every now and again, I have accumulated quite a few to say the least. We all have our odd predilections, and Guatemalan slingshots happens to be one of mine.

After tipica I moved to Guatemala full time and got in the online travel business, and became the proprietor of a used bookstore. I have a number of Guatemalan travel sites, the best known of which are atitlan.com and transportguatemala.com. Carmen Chipin (in the photo above) is my long-time office manager.

Last year I decided it was time to go through my collection and first cull out the lesser pieces and sell the bulk of the rest.

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•• How old are they? / ¿Qué edad tienen?

A well worn slingshot español

Most of them are old (and in a particular slingshot's description I'll say when it isn't old), but just how old is hard to say.

In the photo is the back of a slingshot with an indentation worn where the thumb is placed. The wood is extremely hard. It must have taken many many years of hard use and fidgeting to have worn a groove that deep.

Mayan weavings are easier to date. Certain threads, dies or patterns can give you a reasonable idea of when they were woven. However, even then it's a guess based more on subjective feel and experience than objective facts.

Certainly it easy to say some slingshots are older than others. But then one that looks very old may have been used hard for twenty years or sparingly for eighty.

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•• What wood do are they made of? / ¿Qué madera usan?

Las Hondas de Guatemala, The Guatemalan Slingshot

While it's easy to tell hardwood from soft (I will indicate which in my descriptions), I'm not an expert on tropical wood and I don't know anyone who is, so I will defer to the best book on the subject. Here is their list: *

  • MahoganyCaoba
  • CederCedro
  • AshCenicero
  • OakEncino o Roble
  • GuachipilinGuachipilín
  • HormigoHormigo
  • OrangeNaranjo
  • PrimaveraPalo Blanco
  • PinePino

I have asked my suppliers. They either tell me something they think I would be willing to pay more for or simply shrug. When pressed, they might tell me the word in their native language, but they have no more idea of the Spanish name than I do. I would add that inevitably there are slingshots are made of sticks from who knows what bush or tree. Coffee plants, to name but one example, are common and an exceptionally hard wood.

Slingshots are not necessarily made in any orderly way. They have to be comfortably held in one's hand and there must be some way for two rubber bands can be attached, but other than that anything goes. Whimsy plays no small role in their production. That's part of what makes Guatemalan slingshots so interesting.

Also, unlike say, a professional chef's knife where the quality of the steel is critical, a slingshot made of soft pine is no less functional, no less accurate, than one made of the finest hardwood in the jungle. The difference is purely one of aesthetics.

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•• Who is the artist on the home page? / ¿Quien es la artista en la pagina principal?

Drawing of Guatemalan hunter using a slingshot
Drawing by Julio Chalcu Ben español

The artists, Julio Chalcu Ben, created these drawings. Julio was tortured in the Guatemalan civil war of 1980 - 1996. After receiving medical treatment and therapeutic support services through the Marjorie Kovler Center for the treatment of Survivors of Torture and the Su Casa Catholic Workers House in the United States, Julio returned to Guatemala.

The residual disabilities the remained as a result of the torture prevented Julio from resuming his former trade as a farmer. As a result he began working with the Association Maya weavers in the department of Solola. Having lost the ability to use his right arm, Julio taught himself to write, draw and paint with his left arm and hand.

This drawing is a testament to the incredible perseverance that Julio has demonstrated in his efforts to recover from the emotional and physical torture that he endured.

If you are interested in buying Julio's art contact us.

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•• Are there fake slingshots? / ¿Hay hondas falsas?

Fake slingshot
A 'fake' slingshot. español

Unfortunately there are. Not many, but you do occasionally see them. So what qualifies as 'real' or 'fake'? The short answer is that I consider a slingshot to be fake if it was made to sell to tourists. The long answer I leave for a later date.

That is an admittedly arbitrary definition; but one I strictly adhere to. I have a friend who doesn't care if they are 'fake'. He wants good sculpture and considers my dismissal of 'fakes' to be my hangup, and fair enough.

However I won't buy or sell them, at least not knowingly. So how do I know whether a slingshot is real or not? I've seen a lot of slingshots over the years. I know what to look for. There is a certain feel and patina that can't be faked. That said, I have been fooled. In the photo is a fake that I bought relatively recently. Frankly it's a great slingshot, but only later did I take a closer look and see that it lacks the proper wear and tear.

I've also seen older slingshots that were painted recently to make them more appealing to collectors. One of the clues that I should have picked up on when buying the fake is the pink paint on top. I've seen that particular color too often. That's not the case with my fake, it was carved recently, but the pink is all the more reason for me to not have been caught out.

Fakes are sold by either unscrupulous, or unaware dealers who sell to shops and established collectors. I have had genuine disagreements about the legitimacy of some pieces with dealers, and I make no claim that my opinion is definitive. Nonetheless, if I have any doubts I won't buy them.

You occasionally see roadside vendors with slingshots for sale. Odds are good that what they are selling are not fakes. Even if they are, it's doubtful they would either know it or consider selling it as old as being wrong. They may not be very good folk art, but they are probably real. Likewise, I have never seen a fake sold by any credible vendor at any price. That includes all the better shops in Antigua and Panajachel. I have seen fakes on Ebay. The fakes are usually sold to beginning collectors who either don't recognise it as new or, like my friend, don't care.

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•• Do you have a question? / ¿Tiene una pregunta para mi?

Please contact me if you have any questions.

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Polychrome. Military style belt. Hard wood.

Green Man / Hombre Verde

$175 USD / Q1335 QTZ

Tall. Holding a bowl. Hard wood.

Man with Bowl / Hombre con Taza

$175 USD / Q1335 QTZ

Voluptuios lady. Old, but still in good shape. Great patina. Medium hard wood.

Voluptuous Lady / Dama Voluptuosa

$225 USD / Q1715 QTZ

Rustic. Nails for eyes and mouth. Stained red. Relativly old. Hard wood.

Arms Crossed / Brasos Crusados

$75 USD / Q575 QTZ

Brass tack eyes. Cross on chest. Holding bread for Easter. Hard wood.

Man with Cross / Hombre con Cruz

$200 USD / Q1525 QTZ

Ram with head turned back. Hard wood.

Ram / Cabro

$225 USD / Q1715 QTZ

Tall tiger with one crystal eye. Good condition. Hard wood.

Tall Tiger / Tigre Alto

$175 USD / Q1335 QTZ

Great shape. Soft wood.

Nude / Desnuda

$175 USD / Q1335 QTZ

Tall shinny man with arms raised. Relativly old. Hard wood.

Skinny Man / Flaco

$200 USD / Q1525 QTZ

Brass tack eyes. Good condition. Hard wood.

Tiger / Tigre

$200 USD / Q1525 QTZ

Parrot - I think, but it could be any bird with a beak. Old and well worn. Hard wood.

Parrot / Loro

$150 USD / Q1145 QTZ

Man holding his belly. Hard wood.

Jolly Man / Hombre Feliz

$200 USD / Q1525 QTZ

Unique shape. Rustic carving. Hard wood.

Monkey Eating / Mono Comiendo

$125 USD / Q955 QTZ

Monkey. Leather tie loop nailed on after original slots broke off. Blue paint spashed on side. Hard wood.

Monkey / Mono

$175 USD / Q1335 QTZ