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