UNESCO promotes the textile tradition in the artisan communities of the Yucatan Peninsula

(Photo: UNESCO)

The Yucatan Peninsula has a deep artisan tradition that is reflected in the creation of a wide variety of products for daily use. Among them stands out the textile legacy whose most representative examples are the Maya hipil, the guayabera, the jipi japa hat and the hammocks. 

Mérida, Yucatán, (October 11, 2021).- The embroidery, weaving, and warping of textiles in the Yucatan Peninsula dates from the times of the viceroyalty. The hipil has been part of the daily dress of the women of Yucatán, Campeche and Quintana Roo for more than 200 years. The hammock, meanwhile, was considered a piece of furniture for rest and sleep in mestizo houses.

Currently, despite the industrialization of textile work, hipiles and hammocks are still being made by hand in many communities in the Yucatan Peninsula,  where women become caretakers of intangible cultural heritage by conserving and transmitting their traditional knowledge.

Carmela Peraza Pot, originally from  Tixméhuac, a municipality in the South of Yucatán, is a caregiver of this knowledge, who learned hammock weaving at an early age: “I was 10 years old when I learned to weave hammocks. As a child, we lived in poverty and well we had to work for a living. My parents told us they have to weave and that’s how we started. “

Currently, at 42 years old, Carmela continues to promote the conservation and dissemination of the textile tradition, through her performance as a promoter of the  Aid to Artisans (ATA) organization , located in  Timul, Yucatán community. 

ATA is a group of  14 artisans, who make hammocks with points of sale in Mérida and with a scope of sale abroad, thanks to the systematization of the hammock-making process, through work in pairs, where an artisan is in charge of the warping and another to sew and make the tassels that will decorate the piece. 

The time to elaborate a hammock is fifteen days on average, since the artisans are not only caretakers of the textile tradition, but also carry out other tasks for the well-being of their family and community: “They, apart from doing the techniques of woven, they are housewives, they are peasant women in the milpa, they take care of their children. This group of ladies, the truth, does not rest, they are very hard-working ”, explains Carmela about the group of artisans.

(Photo: UNESCO)

ATA’s presence began with projects in the region in 2017; Francisco Cruz, head of the “Living Hands” program in Timul, comments: “We began, first, with a diagnosis to find out what was done in the region, how it was done and where it was done. We locate the tradition of machine-embroidered cross stitch and hammocks, which are the main techniques of textile crafts in Yucatán ”.

The characteristic of hammock work in Timul is a deep knowledge of the technique, high quality in the warping and decoration. However, artisans face ignorance of the product’s placement in the traditional market, leaving them, for the most part, at the mercy of intermediaries.

In this sense, María Eugenia Pineda, ATA representative in Mexico, considers that the main obstacle for artisan groups such as Timul is the cost of bringing a product to the market. “This cost is higher (for the artisans) because, precisely because of the living conditions of the place, they have not been able to develop. The mechanisms do not exist so that they can take, in the same conditions, the products that any other company that is in a city ”.

According to data from the 2019 Yucatán Social Development Secretariat, Tahdziú, the municipality where Timul is located, is the demarcation with the highest income poverty in all of Latin America. For this reason, they have sought to create projects such as ATA to improve the capacities of artisans in their economic development. In this regard, Francisco Cruz explains: “We looked for the localities where this work was being done, but where, due to practices that have to do with poverty, such as inefficient transport routes, lack of access to materials, or ignorance about how to diversify their production. -, there had been no growth or potentization towards other markets ”.

In turn, part of ATA’s work in Timul is to train artisans to run their businesses. “We also look for the human part. We believe that the most important components of the market are innovation and design, but always with a human approach and a gender perspective ”, adds Cruz. 

(Photo: UNESCO)

On the other hand, 120 kilometers southeast of Timul, in the neighboring state of Quintana Roo, is the town of X-Pichil , in the municipality of Carillo Puerto. This small town of 1,227 inhabitants has 6 cooperatives of artisans dedicated to embroidery of the Maya hipil.

Magali Pech, representative of the Lol Chuy cooperative, tells how the tradition of hipil embroidery has been transformed. “Before, my great-great-grandmothers, my great-grandmothers, used to embroider because women couldn’t go out to work elsewhere. That is why we learned the counting thread technique ”. Xoc bi chui  is the Maya phrase to define this technique. In Spanish it translates as “you’re counting” or “you’re sewing.” This technique is based on first marking a pattern on a caneva fabric and then making a cross stitch embroidery.

The Lol Chuy Cooperative currently employs more than 30 people, including several men, who previously did not participate in this tradition. “We have already taken up embroidery to rescue our culture, our tradition,” explains Magali Pech, who does not see this activity as a form of marginal work for the women of X-Pichil, but as a company that supports more than one hundred families. and is, of course, an important employment generator for the community of X-Pichil.

Currently, the garments embroidered in the X-Pichil cooperatives find a market in Colombia and Panama, in South America; and in several states on the east coast of the United States. Supported by events organized by Fonatur in Florida and Chicago, representatives of the different local cooperatives have attended tourist markets and have managed to place orders in stores and hotels abroad.

Unlike industrial embroidery, the work carried out by the X-Pichil artisans maintains a high level of quality. However, the detail in the embroidery and the complexity of the patterns that decorate the hipiles are not always valued by tourists. “People who visit sometimes want to buy something cheap and do not see the great deal of work behind a well-done hipil,” explains Basilio Velázquez, Fonatur’s cultural liaison for the Carrillo Puerto region within the Maya Train project. “This forces the artisans to neglect the quality of the embroidery, as they prefer to sell more, even if it is cheaper. And this causes the professionalization in embroidery to be lost ”, she adds.

(Photo: UNESCO)

In 1921, Mexican popular art ceased to be recognized as a “minor art”, when the Popular Art Exhibition was inaugurated on September 19, 1921, during which it struggled to build the vision of a “social” art against the nineteenth-century conception of “art for art’s sake.” José Juan Tablada, in his prologue “The social function of art”, for the book “Method of drawing, tradition, revival, and evolution of Mexican art” (1923), by Adolfo Best Maugard, wrote: “Art has ceased to be esoteric and sumptuary. One of the great demands of the Revolution has been to take away that character, tear it from the “dead hands” of the Academies and the privilege of the rich, redeeming it still from its official character, and take it to schools, assembly halls, and the town’s offices ”.

For Magali Pech, the current situation is very clear: “We need them to value our work, to value what we do. That they value that time and that dedication that we put in so that our culture continues to live. So that our identity lives on ”. 

Today, 100 years after the Popular Art Exhibition, the work of many artisan women from the Yucatan Peninsula not only signifies a form of social and solidarity economy, but is also one of the most important ways of preserving a tradition that survives thanks to your hands.

Basilio Velazquez

Source: UNESCO

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