Tweets

Twittering is nothing new for Guatemala. Long before North America or even Europe were very civilized, the ancient Maya were sending twitterrific tweets around Mesoamerica. Archaeological digs in Pre-Columbian sites encounter thousands of the clay tweeting devices they used. The tweeters were later carried back to Europe by Cortez and his gang and renamed “ocarinas” by the Italians, who then, of course, claimed to have invented them. No way—they were in Mesoamerica first. Clay four- to 12-note ocarinas are used and for sale today at the jungle sites up to the Highlands, little changed for centuries and adding to the sounds of Guatemala.

The classic Maya must have really gotten into tweeting, given the number of oval-shaped ocarinas and straight pipes that turn up in the digs. Their descendants continue to tweet, using bird-like twitterers that are demonstrated by kids in lakeside villages, or long flutes offered tourists on city streets. They sound so good when the young salespeople play them to entice your purchase—and never sound quite as good when new tweeterers get back home and try to play. Some guys from Peru have been twittering around our town for a couple of decades now, selling their own version of pipes. You’re much better buying their recordings, though, if you want to share the twitters with your friends. You’d need lots of twitter practice to reach their skills.

Twitters have been sounded around Guatemala even longer than the flutes of the Maya people, however. There are over 1,000 species of twitterers in the country, some natives and some transients. See how many different tweets you can count while you’re here. Some like the grosbeaks sound their snorting “ihk, ihk” tweet year-around; some like the scarlet tanagers excitedly twitter for only a few months while here wintering in the Highlands. Listen to the loud, twangy twerp of the martins, the piercing screech of the owls, the gruff cooing of the pigeons strutting around the squares, and the hoarse, drawn-out whistled scream of hawks high overhead. The transient orioles may have started a dance fad, too, as their twitter sounds like chachacha. The birds love twittering with their friends, and we can share their tweets, too.

A couple of birds around our home have mastered a twittering sound that matches our telephone ring. They must be hanging around laughing as they twitter a ring, and we go dashing to find no one on the line. Probably mockers, who come close to perfection in twittering marimba notes when the band practices next door. Or maybe the macaw on the other side, constantly twittering whether anyone is paying attention or not.

Modern tweeting has really caught on in Guatemala, too. Along the alameda near our home, there can be six, eight, 10 police interns on the same corner, twittering away as they wave traffic along to the next batch of twitters at the next corner. These young Aspirantes have been outfitted with portable twitterers. The aspiring young officers seem to earn points by how often and how loudly they tweet. Most have learned how to twitter continuously, with the briefest of pauses for quick breaths, even as they wave cars toward each other from all four directions at the same time.

Bird tweets, Mayan pipes, police whistles, twittering is all over Guatemala for you to listen and enjoy.

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