The 55,000 to 80,000 Ixil Indians are a highland Maya tribe living in the mountains of the Quiché and Huehuetenango departments of Guatemala. They inhabit the northern slopes of the Altos Cuchumatanes range and a middle area between it and the Chama Mountains at the edge of the tropical rain forest to the north. Their territory varies in elevation from 700 to 3,000 meters. They live in the three municipios of Nebaj, Cotzal, and Chajul in the department of Quiché.
The K'iche' Maya conquered the Ixil in the fifteenth century. Although a sixteenth-century revolution won them independence, by 1540 they had been reconquered, this time by the Spanish. Many were herded into congregaciones, where missionaries converted them to Christianity and where they worked for labor contractors. The Ixil population fell to one-tenth of its previous size owing to disease and war with the Lakandon Maya between 1540 and the early seventeenth century. Many Ixil went with labor contractors to plantations on the Pacific coast during the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Guatemalan government land reform following 1871 ended Indian tribal landownership and implemented individual private ownership of land; as a consequence, the Ixil retained less than half of their earlier lands. As many as 20,000 Ixil fled from political persecution in Guatemala to the United States during the 1980s.
The Ixil are primarily maize farmers practicing slashand-burn farming methods. There is only one maize harvest per year. Other crops are beans, coffee, apples, guisquiles (vegetable pears), and potatoes. They also grow vegetables as cash crops.