Tuesday, January 3, 2017
The way we dress reflects a lot about ourselves whether we are aware or not. This is especially true in the country which I now call my home among the Mayan women and men who dress in a manner unique not only to their country but their particular group significantly designated by language and culture. Keep in mind that there are about twenty four language, all completely original and mostly unrelated to each other. Culturally, the groups of Mayan people are separated by vastly different creation myth as well as taboos which were manifested through legends particular to the area.
I'm fascinated by the various cultures of the Mayan people and I've waited a long time to write on topics of Guatemala because I'm still generally new here. I have however visited this city (Antigua) many times before moving here as well as many other parts of Guatemala and I've been able to make some observations specifically about the way people dress.
These are photos taken from Nim Po't, which is a collection/gallery in Antigua that hosts a massive display of Mayan culture as well as extremely informative people who work to preserve tradition. As a side note, much history of the Mayan people is convoluted because there are so many groups of people yet interestingly it is still preserved by oral tradition. I've come across a few fascinating people who are well versed in Mayan history and still ask questions to fill in the gaps.
Nim po't holds an amazing collection of textiles and incredibly each Mayan dress (traje in local language. The skirt part is called a corte and the sash a faja) reveals a great deal of information about its wearer. These photos show a selection of categorized trajes with their particular region labeled below.
I'm trying to get better at understanding how to read these dresses, as I genuinely think it's kinda cool. Still it has me wonder about the lives, better yet the perspectives of these women. Perhaps more detail is necessary.
A complete traje requires several weeks and relatively costs a lot of money to create. They do sell complete trajes at both the market as well as Nim Po't however typically the local artisans blend Mayan patterns into modern (I question that word, maybe it's not the right word) styles which are actually quite beautiful. All over any market you can find long table runners or scarves woven from Mayan looms and sold to groups of tourists gringo and guatemalteco alike. These women travel to Antigua from nearby and faraway villages to presumably sleep in crowded apartments or even the streets to camp out for a few days before taking their earnings back to their homes. They seem relatively well to do, so to speak, as they also seem to have their own connection to the city and a perspective I could dream of.
I'm not currently going to include photos of Mayan women as it is considered taboo to do so; that is taking photos without consent is quite rude and I don't have any photos available on my phone at the moment. However I urge you to use your imagination (or Google's) to see what these streets look like while filled with women dressed in Mayan clothing. It's absolutely beautiful and I'm even starting to notice similarities not only in pattern yet in the language they speak. Ultimately being a linguist I notice the latter of the two much more specifically and it makes me pay closer attention. The people as well as the local language are both referred to as Quiché (K'iche' as it is written in their language. It should be also noted that each language has a written form and the Mayan word often appears alongside the Spanish even at museums with long historical descriptions).
Quiché is especially interesting to me as it is the language used to write the Popol Vuh, presumably by one or multiple authors in the mid sixteenth century, I'm literally living in a place I've been curious about since I first took interest in Latin America as a child reading about Mayan gods and epic journeys. It becomes a second accomplishment to do so in Spanish and curiously Spanish is a second language not only to myself but to a great percent of the people who live here. Perhaps I can learn a few phrases in Quiché.
The women who dress traditionally here in Antigua are absolutely not only selling wares from their villages yet there are local Quiché people who work local jobs and mix their clothing appropriately. A schoolgirl I saw the other day comes to mind as she wore a white Aeropastel hoodie over her traje.
There are however very few men who dress traditionally here in Antigua and the story is a dark one which I won't write completely about until I gather the facts yet I'm forced to believe they were once prosecuted in post-war events. In other parts of Guatemala it is much more common to see men in local clothing.
An anthropologist would view this comparatively to surrounding cultures as well as the culture from which we call our own. I wonder if a young girl is ostracized by her community for choosing to dress a certain way. Maybe it doesn't matter to them. Perhaps to them they are representing their homes and when they are in the company of similar pattern and color of dye they feel as a group and that is more important than an idea of "expression" as shared by the outside. They are simply beautiful though, above all else, the strings which make the fabrics in all of our lives out here seem to be a little more colorful these days.
Maximón, the only Mayan deity taking European form, is probably a combination of Mayan people, all shaman, who were persecuted and killed by the Catholic Church. Their shrines are considered taboo and rare but followers adorn his alter with cigarettes and alcohol. More on him later..