The artisan culture of Guatemala is literally hand-woven and embroidered into its Mayan textiles. Each Mayan town has its own distinct style of traditional clothing– usually a bright and colorful mosaic pattern of flora and fauna. Only women weave and embroider– usually while home with their kids. A single Huipil (blouse) takes a month, or more time to make.
Working Moms Weaving Culture and History
Guatemalan textiles exist because Mayan women share their knowledge, ability, dexterity, patience and artistic eye across generations. It is a cultural thread that spans millennia. It’s something to think about when you are wrapped up in one of the rainbow-colored Guatemalan blankets that we sell in our fair-trade import shop.
Each year, traditional clothing is less visible in the Mayan towns of Guatemala. Imported second-hand American clothing is more popular each year in towns like San Pedro la Laguna, Santiago Atitlan and the Lago Atitlan area. Some working men prefer used clothing from America because they say it is more durable and represents style or aspirations beyond the rim of volcanoes that surround the lake.
Though traditional clothing is in decline, textile artisans are also adapting their skills to make products that appeal to locals and tourists alike. Mostacilla– hand-beaded items are the best example of this. Like textiles, each is made by artistic and dexterous Moms stuck at home with their kids. The work is both contemplative, and social– like weaving is. The most common beaded items are animals– especially hummingbirds (colibri).
Hummingbirds in Mayan Culture
We import colibri de mostacilla (beaded hummingbirds) because it represents harmony across a vast continent with disparate cultures. Mayans love them, and tourists do too. Most hummingbirds are born as far north as the United States and Canada; however, they spend most of the year in Guatemala– the land of eternal spring.
Hummingbirds are revered in Mayan Culture. Any adventure around Lago Atitlan will highlight a visual cacophony of hummingbird murals and art. In San Pedro there is even a week-long hummingbird festival! Folks in San Pedro loved hummingbirds and nature long before the conquistadors arrived and changed the name of the town. The local TZ'utujil Maya call San Pedro by its original name: Tz’unun 'Ya (hummingbird). The tuktuk taxis in San Pedro are emblazoned with the Mayan name too.
The conquistadors were Catholic. Historically, the Catholic Church integrated Mayan culture into their worldview. For example, the more than 400 year old Iglesia de Santo Tomás in Chichicastenango still features 18 hand-cut volcanic stone steps of the original Mayan temple that stood in its place. K'iche' Maya priests still use the church for their rituals, burning incense and candles. Directly across from Iglesia de Santo Tomas is another church, also built atop an old Quiche Mayan temple, said to veer even closer to the original “pagan” Maya beliefs.
The Conquistadors and their Catholic church forever changed the culture and landscape of Guatemala– and were changed by it. Guatemala is a religious place and for centuries the Catholic church was a dominant influence on Mayan culture. Since the late-20th century Evangelism has been ascendant. Today, over 40 percent of the population is Evangelical.
To be Mayan and Evangelical appears paradoxical to us. We tried once to discuss the Mayan Calendar with our Evangelical driver. He calmly stated it is the occult and that he turns away the Mayan culture and toward god.
The Mayan people are fragmented linguistically and among themselves. Many towns around the lake speak different Mayan tongues because historically they were worlds apart. They are a majority of the population of Guatemala yet dominated by imported culture and religion. Unadulterated Mayan culture hasn’t existed since Pedro De Alvarado arrived from Spain in 1524 to conquer the land and Mayan people.
Present day Mayan culture is shaped by imported culture, manufactured goods and passenger jets full of tourists ready to conquer fun. Our cultures are woven together for better and worse. History consumes the present moment.
Only living cultures survive. Our goal at Voy Perdido is to be a good faith participant in living culture. We strive to add to, promote and export the artisan culture of Guatemala so that it can both honor the past and expand outward to the future.