I recently translated a great loan for Kiva.org in which a Guatemalan woman was seeking a loan to purchase traditional huipiles (tunics), fajas (wraps), and cortes (skirts) to sell. The very next morning while listening to the radio I learned about a revival and strengthening of weaving traditions in Guatemala among a group of young indigenous women who have taken it upon themselves to learn the craft of weaving on a backstrap loom as their ancestors did.
This may come as a surprise to those who think that traditional weaving techniques are still a “given” in Guatemala’s indigenous communities. In fact, according to journalist Anna-Cat Brigida, the number of women who learn weaving from older family members has dwindled. Many young women don’t have a family member who can teach them how to weave. Many textiles that visitors to Guatemala buy are made in factories, so this new resurgence of learning is a bright spot on the horizon.
If you know about the history of indigenous peoples in Guatemala, you know that they have fought long and hard to keep their dignity and traditions, which hail from their Mayan roots. One of the most famous individuals to share her people’s plight with the world is Rigoberta Menchú Tum, an indigenous Mayan Quiche woman from Guatemala who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 and wrote the novel I, Rigoberta Menchú. Her personal story brings to life the terror of a 36-year Civil War that ended in 1996. In perhaps one of the most famous passages in the book she states, “This is my testimony. I didn’t learn it from a book and I didn’t learn it alone. I’d like to stress that it’s not only my life, it’s also the testimony of my people. . . . My story is the story of all poor Guatemalans. My personal experience is the reality of a whole people.”
Journalist Anna-Cat Brigida’s story about the revival of Guatemalan weaving traditions is an example of one way that indigenous Guatemalan women are reclaiming their identity in the face of a culture that increasingly pressures them to “fit in” by wearing Western clothing. One woman in the story tells of a time when she worked cleaning houses in the city and endured teasing and negative comments from the other employees because of her traditional clothing. As she got older, she decided that it was important for her to learn to weave her own clothing and to wear her community’s traditional dress with pride. (It is much more cost-effective for women to weave their own clothes if they know how to, as factory-made clothing of this type can be expensive and of lesser quality).
Like in other regions such as Oaxaca, Mexico, each community in Guatemala has its own textile designs. While larger manufacturers might combine different images and patterns into their clothing, individual women usually make clothing that contains images specific to their own community: a bird or other animal, a local plant, or even specific colors. Now, some women are taking classes to learn how to weave so that they can carry on these traditions, even though their mothers or grandmothers do not know the craft.
For the full story from Community Radio Exchange, go here: WINGS #40-17 Guatemalan Weaving Revival