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Traditional Guatemalan Maya Dress

The Maya Indians of Guatemala have handwoven their personal clothing and accessories for centuries.  These years of practice and passing on of weaving tradition has resulted in a wide array of textiles unequaled in quality, color and design.  Even today a good percentage of the indigenous people still wear their traditional dress, also known as 'traje', though is slowly becoming a dying art.  In very few villages will you find men wearing traditional dress.  Of the dozens of villages, mostly in the Guatemalan highlands, it's not uncommon to find women in traditional costume. 

The Maya woman's clothing consists of: a huipil and corte, plus accessories such as faja, cinta, perraje, and tzute.

Huipil - Maya Woman's Blouse
The most important part of the Maya woman's costume, she will spend sometimes months producing this "work of art" which is such an important part of her personal and village identity.  It is constructed of 2 or 3 panels which are nearly always handwoven on a back strap loom.  These panels are then sewn together to form a rectangle in which a head hole is cut.  The side seams are either left open or sewn up just enough to provide arm openings.  These poncho-like blouses are always sleeveless, with the exception of 2 villages, Solola and San Juan Atitan.  They are produced in various lengths and widths depending on their use and the village they are from.  For instance daily use huipiles from Palin and Coban are short and lightweight as those villages are in hot lowland climates.  The huipiles of Chichicastenango and Todos Santos are heavy and provide warmth necessary in the mountain climates.  A ceremonial huipil is usually very large and often times worn over the daily huipil.  Young girls and sometimes even babies wear huipiles as well. 

Corte - Maya Woman's Skirt
Corte comes from the verb cortar, meaning "to cut".  The fabric is a cut (or length) of cloth which is typically handwoven on a foot powered treadle loom.  This cloth is produced in bolts (or rolls) and a section of fabric which forms the skirt, usually many yards in length, is cut from them.  This fabric isn't sold by the yard, but rather the length or "corte".  Much of the fabric is woven in Salcaja and Totonicapan.  Not all villages produce this corte fabric by the bolts, for instance many of the villages in Huehuetenango weave their skirts individually, reflecting their village identity.  Though the styles vary, most commonly the corte is sewn in a tube-like fashion and it's worn by stepping inside of the tube, wrapping the balance of the fabric around the hips in a very tight manner.  The corte is then secured with a sash tied at the waist.  These skirts are usually mid-calf to floor length. 

Cintas and Fajas - Sashes
They are usually back-strap woven and most are village specific. The primary use of the cinta is as a hair ribbon.  It's decorative in nature, but also very utilitarian as the Maya women rarely cut their hair.  The cinta is braided or wound into the hair and then fashioned into different styles, many indicative of the village the woman is from.  Normally the cinta is very narrow, often 1" or less in width, but there are some villages that produce very wide cintas, up to 8" in width, including Nebaj, Chajul and Aguacatan.  The cintas of Aguacatan are perhaps the most prized and valuable of all.  The faja is actually a belt, worn wrapped, usually several times around the waist, securing the wrap-style skirt.  Fajas are of various widths, with the majority approximately 1 1/2" wide.  Many are village specific, though Totonicapan is known for producing fajas commercially.  The fajas of Chichicastenango are among some of the most beautiful, many of the finest are hand embroidered and include vevet and silk.

Perraje/Rebozo - Maya Woman's Shawl
The woman's shawl, known as a perrajes in Mayan or rebozo in Spanish, is an important part of the traditional traje.  Though known as a shawl for providing warmth, it also has other uses such as; baby sling and head covering.  The styles of perraje vary from village to village, as does the style of wearing them.  Usually they are back-strap woven in one or two panels.  Some have fringe and elaborate macrame style weaving with large tassles or pompoms.  Other are simple with no fringe at all.  It's typical to find perrajes with beautiful jaspe (or ikat) designwork.

Tzute - Multi-Purpose Cloth
Tzutes can be simply referred to as 'multi-purpose' cloths.  The tzute is an important and traditional part of the Maya Indian's daily dress. It is by far the most versatile and individual piece of the Maya costume. It's uses range from very utilitarian, such as a handkerchief or food covering; to the most ceremonial purposes, both religious and civil. As with most Maya textiles, the tzute is village specific. The color, design, size, and style of weave may vary according to village. Typically a tzute is rather square in shape with simple hemmed edges, but it's not at all uncommon for one to be very long and have fringe as well. Tzutes are worn by both men and women, and are most commonly seen laying folded on top of the wearer's head. This provides shelter from the sun, but can easily be removed for another use. We have seen tzutes used as a veil for entering church, used to secure and bundle goods from the market and even firewood, arranged into a pouch for use a purse, a baby carrier, folded into a small pad to prevent rubbing on the back of the neck for carrying a heavy load, a cloth for wrapping important religious figures and ceremonial staffs, and so on. The uses of the tzute are unlimited.

Click here to browse Guatemalan Maya textiles by village