We are grateful to reproduce the picturesque description of this little-known country by Mr. Adolphe Boucard, who wrote the special catalogue of the Guatemalan exhibition:
In Guatemala, the cold lands are only sparsely inhabited. Wheat and potatoes are grown there.
The temperate lands, on the other hand, are densely populated. Corn and coffee are grown in abundance. The latter production, which has only developed in the last twenty years, is becoming more and more important every day.
The hot lands are sparsely populated; but nevertheless, when they are, they produce much.
Maize, which replaces wheat in Europe in Guatemala, comes in admirably.
Up to three harvests are made each year. The stalks of this plant, which sometimes reach two and three metres in height, produce up to four ears, each bearing 100 to 150 grains; but, more usually, they are 1.5 metres long, and yield two.
The lowlands are covered with luxuriant forests. The most valuable trees abound, as well as a great variety of palms. These trees are often entwined with gigantic vines and covered with parasitic plants.
At midday, the sun can hardly penetrate this immense dome of greenery. The great variety of flowers and insects, brightly plumaged birds and monkeys leaping from tree to tree in the clearings of the forest make for a most attractive sight.
It cannot be repeated too often that the primeval forests, during the beautiful season, have something grand and sublime that can only be understood by those who have walked through them.
In the morning and in the evening, the cry of the animals can be heard on all sides.
Then they take their food; but from midday until four o'clock, everything is hidden, the calm is complete and man feels his smallness in this immensity.
A falling branch, a fleeing animal, the sudden cry of a bird, the noise it makes as it flies away, make you flinch with fear.
It is in these immense forests of the hot lands that mahogany, rubber and a great number of other precious trees are abundantly found; vanilla grows wild.
These forests, once cleared, are suitable for the cultivation of cocoa, cotton, tobacco, several species of leguminous plants and finally sugar cane. The latter grows in exaggerated proportions. It is common to see sugar cane stalks four to five metres long.
The Agave Americana is nothing other than the maguey, which is used to make carding and hammocks.
From this plant pulque is extracted, the favourite drink of the natives, especially in Mexico.
When it is old, it is as intoxicating as wine; when fresh, this drink is sweet and very pleasant to drink; but, a moment after drinking it, one feels a tingling in the lips which is very unpleasant and annoying.
It is generally drunk after a few days of fermentation; this drink is then white as milk; it is said to be very healthy and to purify the blood; but its flavour is unbearable for those who are not used to it.
A brandy is also made from the juice of the maguey, which has the property of helping digestion.
Among the seeds, we find vanilla, cocoa and coffee; among the gums, copal and rubber; among the dyeing woods, campêche wood.
Very rich in cochineal and sarsaparilla, Guatemala produces rice, potatoes, sugar, sugar cane brandy, wheat, corn, bananas and castor oil in abundance.
At this exhibition there are several samples of corn; we have noticed a stone called metate, the use of which few people will have understood.
It is on this stone that the native women grind the corn after having left it to soak the day before in water, to which they add a pinch of lime. They boil it and then grind it into a paste on this stone with a pestle.
From this paste they make a pancake-shaped cake of varying thickness and cook it on both sides on an earthen dish.
In a few minutes it is cooked and ready to eat.
It is then called a tortilla. If they want to keep it for a long time, they leave it on the fire until it has become very hard.
It then changes its name. Instead of tortillas, it is called totopos. In this state, it can be kept for several months, if it is kept away from humidity.
Sometimes, in addition to salt, palm nuts, potatoes, bananas or yucca are added to the corn. This cake, thus prepared, has a very pleasant taste.
In conclusion, most of the exhibits come directly from the government of the republic; the official collections are by far the most interesting.
The complete costumes of the natives, sent by the government, were of great interest.
©Les Merveilles de l'Exposition de 1878