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Distilling the Influence of Alcohol

Aguardiente in Guatemalan History

David Carey Jr

Publication Year: 2012

Sugar, coffee, corn, and chocolate have long dominated the study of Central American commerce, and researchers tend to overlook one other equally significant commodity: alcohol. Often illicitly produced and consumed, aguardiente (distilled sugar cane spirits or rum) was central to Guatemalan daily life, though scholars have often neglected its fundamental role in the country's development.

Throughout world history, alcohol has helped build family livelihoods, boost local economies, and forge nations. The alcohol economy also helped shape Guatemala's turbulent categories of ethnicity, race, class, and gender, as these essays demonstrate. Established and emerging Guatemalan historians investigate aguardiente's role from the colonial era to the twentieth century, drawing from archival documents, oral histories, and ethnographic sources. Topics include women in the alcohol trade, taverns as places of social unrest, and tension between Maya and State authority.

By tracing Guatemala's past, people, and national development through the channel of an alcoholic beverage, Distilling the Influence of Alcohol opens new directions for Central American historical and anthropological research.

Published by: University Press of Florida


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Title Page, Copyright

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pp. iii-iv


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pp. v-vi

List of Illustrations

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p. vii

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pp. ix-xi

Close to fifty years ago I had a first glimmer of how important alcoholic beverages have been in the history of Mesoamerica when Juan the Chamula by Ricardo Pozas was recommended to me as a little book worth reading. Told in the first person, it is the artful, deceptively simple story of Juan Pérez Jolote from San Juan ...

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p. xiii

Emerging out of a panel at the 2008 American Historical Association annual conference in New York City, this project was a collaborative effort from the start. Appropriately, the idea to publish an edited volume was first proposed over drinks after our panel. I count myself fortunate to have such wonderful colleagues ...

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Introduction: Writing a History of Alcohol in Guatemala

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pp. 1-16

Despite its persistence and prevalence in the lives of most Central Americans, alcohol has received relatively little attention in Central American historiography. As a commodity that was produced and consumed locally (and often illicitly), aguardiente (distilled sugarcane liquor or rum) was frequently at ...

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1. Consumption, Custom, and Control: Aguardiente in Nineteenth-Century Maya Guatemala

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pp. 17-41

In this chapter, I consider struggles over the meaning and practice of alcohol consumption by an indigenous group, specifically, the use of aguardiente among Q’anjob’alan Maya peoples in the Huehuetenango region of Guatemala during the nineteenth century. After a brief discussion of previous approaches to alcohol ...

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2. From Household to Nation: The Economic and Political Impact of Women and Alcohol in Nineteenth-Century Guatemala

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pp. 42-70

On June 27, 1829, Catalina Escobar sent a complaint against Aniseto Lópes, the local alcohol monopoly holder, to the jefe político (governor) of the department of Quezaltenango. She did not approach the municipal authorities of her town, San Juan Ostuncalco, probably because Lópes was an important figure there, having ...

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3. “A Sponge Soaking up All the Money”: Alcohol, Taverns, Vinaterías, and the Bourbon Reforms in Mid-Eighteenth-Century Santiago de los Caballeros, Guatemala

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pp. 71-95

Eighteenth-century Santiago de los Caballeros, Guatemala, “ranked behind only Mexico City and Lima in size and importance”1 as a center of Spanish culture. A visitor in the mid-1700s could have enjoyed a city boasting new university and town hall structures, an impressive palace for the captain general, cobblestone ...

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4. Alcohol and Lowdown Culture in Caribbean Guatemala and Honduras, 1898–1922

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pp. 96-119

In 1922, Eugene Cunningham and his companion, both white travelers from the United States, entered a combination bar and grocery store in Zacapa on the Caribbean coast of Guatemala. The store was operated by a white American expatriate. An African American customer, also an expatriate, invited the travelers ...

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5. Distilling Perceptions of Crime: Maya Moonshiners and the State, 1898–1944

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pp. 120-156

On December 3, 1932, authorities in Quezaltenango discovered a clandestine still that was producing 250 bottles of aguardiente a day in the Administración de Rentas (Treasury Administration) building. Remarkably, this was not the first such offense. Previous moonshiners also had set up shop in the building, perhaps ...

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Conclusion: Community Drunkenness and Control in Guatemala

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pp. 157-179

Alcohol runs in a steady stream through the literature on Guatemala. We find references to its use and abuse from observers as diverse as early Spanish clergy, colonial authorities, Victorian travelers and missionaries, nineteenth-century statesmen, anthropologists, and twentieth-century revolutionaries. Given its ...


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pp. 181-182

Works Cited

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pp. 183-198

List of Contributors

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pp. 199-200


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pp. 201-212

E-ISBN-13: 9780813042527
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813041629
Print-ISBN-10: 0813041627

Page Count: 220
Illustrations: 1 table, 9 b&w photos, 2 maps
Publication Year: 2012

OCLC Number: 812174501
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Distilling the Influence of Alcohol

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Drinking of alcoholic beverages -- Guatemala -- History.
  • Alcoholic beverages -- Guatemala -- History.
  • Guatemala -- Social conditions.
  • Alcoholism -- Guatemala -- History.
  • Guatemala -- History.
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