Worn Within


Mayan Patterns & Motifs

Should we credit the Spanish conquistadors for creating the regional differences in Mayan weaving patterns? Many organizations and establishments do, but in this episode of Worn Within, Susan speaks to three Mayan women who say otherwise.

AIRED: May 26, 2021 | 0:06:16

- Found in many published books, articles, and websites

the claim the Spanish conquistadors not only influenced,

but also created the different weaving patterns

of the Mayan people.

These claims indicate that the Mayan civilization

did not already use textile patterns to associate

and classify different groups within their community.

And that it was a direct result of the Spanish colonization

of Mesoamerica and Guatemala beginning in the 1500s.

The ironic thing about history though, is

that it's predominantly written from the perspective

of the authors and it may not always include the perspective

of the others, which in this case are the Mayan people.

(soft music playing)

- Gracias.

And this is a Huipil.

And the Corte, it is a skirt.

And a Tocoyal is a hair piece.

- And here you have.

Faja is a sash.

And the last part is my Su't, or Perraje,

- Put it around here.

But in other towns, they will use it and put it in your

head and carry everything. And your hands are free.

- These woven garments make up a

traje. The traditional dress of the Mayan people.

But despite the similarities in attires,

all Mayan groups have different weaving patterns and motifs.

- What we have here is Panajachel huipil.

This is the traditional huipil from the town where I'm from

and the traditional huipil is red and white.

Always just these two colors. The pattern is cats.

- This is the traditional design that we have.

We have the two quetzals, which are the national birds.

So you can see it from the front and from the back.

That's unique to San Antonio Aguas Calientes,

to the Cakchiquel people.

- Carmen, Vera, and Raquel are all from different regions

of Guatemala and identify as Mayan.

And they believe that the differences between

their traditional weaving patterns existed way

before the Spanish colonization.

- In the Popol Vuh, which is the Mayan Bible.

And in some containers that they have found -

Mayan containers - you can see people weaving in those

pictures that they have drawn in there.

So then I went to Tikal, when I went to Guatemala

and I saw some of the patterns in there that look

exactly like the weaving patterns that we have.

There is a design that we have that is like a zigzag.

And the explanation that we got

from that is that it looked, it was a snake actually.

The designs have been staying the same

for a long time.

- They're also Mayan murals depicting different groups

wearing different patterns, and those patterns

and motifs uniquely reflect each group's surrounding.

- It's a knowledge that is passed generation from

generation. If you go back and see, some of the designs

they would still represent a lot of the things that we

have in the country, like seeds, animals or flowers.

So, every time I see something like that,

it reminds me of my grandma.

She would teach me the patterns.

She would always be very patient and say,

"well, do you know what this looks like?"

And I would say, "no, I had no idea what it looks like."

And she would say, "well, this one represents a seed,

and it looks like that. Doesn't it?"

I would say like, "Yeah, it does!"

You know, but then she will teach me

what the meaning of each design would be

and what it represents in our culture.

- History tells us about how they change us

how they put us in groups and everything.

But for us, it was the way to communicate

without saying words.

As indigenous people, this is an ID.

We show how proud we are of our village, of our agriculture.

We represent our lives in a textile.

It took us like 400 years, close to 400 years

to get our independence from the power of Spain.

And they tried to submit us and change us

in any way they could.

The way we did things, how we did it, and when we did it.

However, we have overcome all that,

and now, we are in the position to do and show

everybody that our traditions

even though they were suppressed, they're not gone.

They're still so much part of us, and we're proud of that.

- The designs, it reminds me of my grandma and all of the

the things that they had to go through

and all of the effort that they had to make

or all the sacrifices they had to make to teach us that

and to leave us with that knowledge

that nobody can take from us, Yeah.

- For traditional weavers,

they don't sit on a chair or anything like that.

They sit on their knees all day long.

So, my grandma had the greatest vision

like the greatest eyesight ever

cause she never wore glasses.

And this was her when she was 72 years old

and she was still weaving and she was still able to count

the threads and all that. And she never wore glasses.

So, I didn't get that from her.