Sensuous Guatemala: Yellow

Yellow corn (photo Harris & Goller/

Yellow corn (photo Harris & Goller/

Butter yellow. Flowers in the fields after the rains, corn ground to a smooth masa, cotton-dyed yellow to weave into blouses with multicolored designs on the yellow base, rich yellow bougainvillea and shrimp flowers spilling over white walls, and an occasional flash of a finch flying after a bug for lunch. Yellow is important on the Guatemalan palette. Yellow may be out-starred by more dramatic colors, but yellow adds a delightful touch, saffron in rice, yolk in scrambled eggs. Watch for it.

Most city-folk may not know that butter isn’t always the same golden yellow. In the stores, butter includes a dye to make it the consistent shade that shoppers expect on their plates. Churned from fresh milk, butter can range from pale to deep yellow, depending on the season and the cow’s diet. The fickle consumer says pale butter doesn’t taste as good, then approves when the same butter is died darker. Yellow can trick us!

If you’re looking for butter-yellow around the Highlands, you’ll see the difference, too, from the delicate shade of dandelion to the rich butter of some gladioli. Look among the lush grasses alongside streambeds, and there they are, different shades close together—bright yellow of the pistils nestled in white lilies, a darker yellow of little forsythia blossoms with their heady perfume. Long-stemmed yellow roses have a score of different shades in the hothouse rows growing for the world to enjoy.

Yellow school buses come down from the north to be painted a riot of colors, but the base yellow paint still flashes along the highways—too fast sometimes, but a streak of yellow that’s striking against the greens and browns of the roadside. Mustard-yellow is a traditional paint color from Spanish Colonial days, approved for use on walls in heritage areas, though the color mix can come out pretty bright before a few days of yellow sunshine tones it down.

Perhaps yellow is the most important color in the Guatemalan heritage of tones, the color of corn kernels. Maize is yellow, on the cob, milled or squeezed into corn oil and corn sweeteners. And maize is the basic food of life. So maize is life, maize is the meal from which the ancient Maya tell us humans were formed. That makes yellow a tone to appreciate and enjoy.

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