Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Making of Tradional Mayan Textiles

Last week we took a trip to the nearby town of Salcaja, known for the making of traditional ikat style Mayan textiles. Sorry we are a little slow on the blogs - the internet connections here are not always fast, so it takes forever to get things done! Salcaja is about a 30 minute chicken bus ride from Xela. Around here the town is also known as ¨Mini Miami¨ because the majority of the population that lives there has family living in Miami, who send back money to their family in Guatemala. The town has a lot of vacent homes since many people spend a lot of their time there.

Upon our arrival we walked to a field where workers were stretching and braiding the natural string (for lack of a more sophisticted term). The man in the blue shirt explained about the process of hand tying the threads used to allow color variation in the textiles.

We then visited a Tinteria where we watched 2 guys (both who looked like teenagers) dye the material. This tinteria was for the color black only. Each color has it´s own shop. 1 person literally stamps and dances on the material in a large metal bucket filled with natural dyes, scalding hot water, and chemicals for 20 minutes so that the color absorbs into the material.
After it has cooled, it is passed off to another guy (pictured below) who rinses and twists it to get out all the excess liquid. Can you imagine doing this all day long for something less than 50 Quetzales (like $7 USD), not to mention the affect on your health?

Below is an example of what it looks like when all the little ties that are removed from the rope. How about that job? Would you want that one?

We didn´t get to see these things in action, but Ben was enamored with them. They use these bicycle wheels to wind the finished product.

After a stroll through town we were off to a another house where we watched a man doing the actual ikat weaving on a loom. He told us he works 8 hoursa day making about 7 meters of material. He makes 50Q a day as well.

Throughout Salcaja there were many tiendas selling the dyed string for weaving as well as the final product. The weavings are part of the traditional Mayan dress. It is typical for the women to wear the fabric wrapped around them like a skirt with another fabric that looks like an apron over top. Often their tops are heavily embroidered and layered under a matching cardigan. We´ll probably get pictures of the dress sooner or later, but out of respect for their beliefs (most don´t want to be photographed) we don´t have any yet.

This excursion was planned by our school and definitely worth the trip. We woudn´t have been able to do this tour ourselves as many of the places we visited were in private homes or businesses.

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