Friday, April 16, 2010

Maya Heritage: The Textiles Around Lake Atitlan

From ancient times, probably for hundreds of centuries, the Mayan textiles have had not just an utilitarian purpose, but also have been artistic and cultural expressions to communicate different meanings. This visual literacy may become challenging since every symbol, every design, and the way every piece is worn, has a special meaning.
These hand-woven and hand-embroidered works of art in rainbow colors with geometric, floral, animal, and human designs, are quite impressive.
The traditional woman's dress includes a huipil (the blouse), a corte or falda (the skirt), a sash or faja (the belt), a cinta or the unique tocoyal from Santiago Atitlan (the adornment for the head or hair), a perraje or rebozo (the shawl), and different multipurpose accesories, called tzute (a head-cloth), servilleta, yagual, among others.
Men on their side, wear camisa (shirt) and pantalon (trouser), and only the most traditional still wear rodillera (a short woolen kilt), gaban (a black woolen over-garment), morral (shoulder woolen bag), and tzute. Some may wear sombrero (hat) on top of the tzute or only the hat.
Also from ancient times, loomers are always eager to learn about new materials and techniques, a reason why innovation and change in design, colors combination, and dress styles are inevitable and very exciting.
If you would like to learn about this beautiful tradition, I would like to recommend a couple of books and of course, the extraordinary Ixchel Museum in Guatemala City.

Maya of Guatemala, Life and Dress
Carmen Pettersen 
The classic survey of Guatemalan Maya dress, first published in 1975. Includes 60 watercolor illustrations and 26 photographs.

Sown Symbols
Barbara de Arathon
A study of the symbols woven into the traditional Maya textiles and their importance. Includes the tree of life, the center of the village, the turkey the vertical and horizontal rows, the ceremonial plate, the double eagle, the star, and the serpent.

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