Mayan Culture and Textiles
Monday and Tuesday afternoon we learned a little bit more about Mayan culture. On Monday we walked from the school to the Ixkik Museum of Traditional Mayan Clothing.
The Mayan culture is 5000 years old and still very much alive today. Much was lost of the Mayan culture during the Spanish conquest 500 years ago including all of their books. These books were burned because the Spanish thought they were works of the Devil. Only 4 are still in existence today, none of which are in Guatemala. Oral tradition is what has kept the Mayan culture alive throughout the centuries, including the art of weaving. The intricate patterns woven into the clothing act as a living library, expressing the Mayan cosmology, philosophy and sciences, and status and function. Some of these symbols include; diamonds representing the feathered serpent, the Mayan cross, vertical lines representing lighting, the 2 headed bird, the Quetzal bird, and others relating to farming and heavenly bodies. Weaving patterns are region specific and change significantly among these regions. Those separated by distances as little as a 20 minute drive can be drastically different. Designs have also changed over time, some have gotten simpler as resources and time have become limited.
On Tuesday, we visited the town of Salcaja, where we were shown numerous aspects of the weaving process. Weaving is comprised of roughly a dozen steps, some of which are weather dependent. But no matter what the weather is there is always something to work on.
The weaving process:
1- The first step is to wrap the thread into cables.
2- The thread is then stretched out over a long distance using wooden posts. This process takes a lot of space so the Salcaja community has purposely not developed certain areas of the town.
3- The weaver then ties knots at different intervals, these will eventually create intricate patterns in the cloth.
4- The knotted thread is then dyed. Most Mayans use synthetic vs natural dyes as they are cheaper and more efficient. The dye is brought to a boil, the thread is thrown in and stomped on by someone wearing knee high rubber boots. This ensures that the thread is properly dyed.
5- The dyed thread is stretched out in order to be un-knotted. The original colour is revealed under the knots.
6- The un-knotted thread is stretched out in the sun to set the colour and dry.
7+ The next few steps involve re-wrapping the thread, setting it up on the loom, and beginning the weaving process.
Most weavers sell their products (cloth) to a middleman, who then sells them at a higher price. A piece of cloth can go through many middlemen before reaching the consumers.
There are 2 major misconceptions about the Mayan culture. The first is that the Mayan culture is spoken of in the past, though it is very much alive and active today. The second is that the culture has not changed. This is not true; with time, patterns have changed and evolved, as well as the introduction and use of synthetic dyes.
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