Textile Art of Chiapas Maya
In the state of Chiapas in southwestern Mexico, Maya-speaking women weave
intricate designs into their textiles by adding colored yarn into the warp
and weft of their backstrap looms. Known as a brocade this ancient design
technique is still an intrical art form among the 200,000 Maya who live in the
Among the Chiapas Maya, brocade
is perceived not only as an art form, but also as a sacred duty ordained by
the gods and perfected by the ancestors. For centuries Chiapas women have
woven and brocaded gowns for the images of their gods, who are now
identified with the Virgin and Catholic Saints. These sacred textiles,
stored in the saints' coffers, are still the source of their art and a
symbol of their Maya identity.
(above left) Rosha Hernandez of San Andrés Larráinzar.
(above right) Weaving brocaded designs.
The traditional brocaded
designs of the Chiapas Maya are drawn from local history and mythology.
Diamond designs refer to the shape of the earth and sky. Undulating
designs, often called snake or flower, symbolize the fertile earth with its
abundance of holy plants and animals. Patterns with three vertical lines
connote the ancestors or the trickster monkeys. Representational figures,
such as the saints and toads, are icons of the rain god and the Catholic
Saints who watch over the world and make it flower.
The pine and oak highlands of central Chiapas rise 8,000 feet above the Grijalva River to the northwest and extend for nearly 220 kilometers southeast into neighboring Guatemala.
For at least a thousand years the Tzotzil and Tzeltal-speaking Maya have
lived in the valleys of this plateau, near the many limestone springs that
are fed by underground rivers. The economy of the highlands is based on the
growing of corn, beans, and squash, utilizing the age-old methods of
slash-and-burn agriculture. Most communities also specialize in a
particular craft or cash crop which they sell at the market in the colonial
city of San Cristóbal de Las Casas (pop.90,000).
(top right) Limestone spring in the Chiapas Highlands.
(bottom left) Maya home in the Chiapas Highlands.
(bottom right) Milpa hillside in the Chiapas Highlands.
The Maya of Highland Chiapas