Art of the Maya
Like so many indigenous populations and cultures around the world, the artistry of the people is highly pronounced and most sophisticated. Certainly, no less can be said for the Quiché Maya. Like their other Mayan counterparts, weaving is the most distinctive of their art forms.
The Maya weave using two methods. Women work at the backstrap loom, a system of sticks and a set of background threads running up and down between them (called the warp threads). Between these threads the weaver introduces the cross threads called the weft.
It takes many long days to complete a single panel of cloth that will be used in the creation of fancifully colored fabrics for belts, skirts, and blouses.
Men weave at the treadle looms, called "footlooms," creating bolts of cloth, often used as yardage for skirts. Only the men work the treadle looms. The threads used in the treadle looms is dyed according to predetermined patterns. Often, as many as nine different tie-dyed yarns are introduced into the treadle loom weavings, creating intricate and complicated patterns.
The Place of Weaving Among the Maya
Types of Weavings
Of the women's costumes, of particular note are the blouses (known as huipiles) and the headscarves (known as tzutes). The distinctive community designs are usually incorporated into both items.
In the case of both the blouse and the headscarf of the Quiché Maya of the town of Nebáj, the costume reflects traditional legends of the conquest of their civilization by Pedro Alvarado, the conqueror of Guatemala. The bird design represents their vanquished chieftain, Tecún Umán, whose soul the quetzal bird took to paradise. The horses and soldiers represent the conquering Spaniards.
Use of Weavings as a Mechanism of Repression
As a result of this abuse by the Guatemalan army, many of the women in even very traditional villages abandoned their costumes in order to avoid discrimination and perhaps even torture and murder by the Guatemala army. The effect of just changing clothes was traumatic since only those who attempted to give up their indigenous heritage generally adopted western attire. Consequently, many women who felt constrained to change their appearance suffered many chronic disfunctions in their villages.
According to the United Nation's Truth Commission's Report on Human Rights Violations released in February, 1999, during the height of the massacres between 1980 and 1983, the Guatemalan army destroyed more than 70% of the towns and villages of the state of El Quiché. One of the first to be bombed was Nebáj.
(Photo by Patricia Moore, Maya Perspectives)