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Our Mayan Textiles

Huipil from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan Guatemala

By Isabel Coxaj Boj

We invited our colleague, Isabel Coxaj Boj, to contribute to the blog today to share more about the deep spiritual symbolism in traditional Mayan textiles and clothes. Isabel is a backstrap-loom weaving teacher, textile-lover, and Yabal’s Store Coordinator in the Yabal shop in Xela, Guatemala. 

The Maya are recognized for their writings, buildings, artwork, their precise math calculations, full of symbolism and representations of the past, present, and future- today we can find many books with unlimited information about our culture. The Maya have lived in different cities in Mesoamerica for the last 6,000 years.

Mayan clothing in particular is closely tied to our culture as it is an important expression of spirituality- you could say that it is in fact a language that expresses wisdom, full of meaningful symbols based on ancient knowledge. As our Grandparents (ancestors) say, huipiles are an open book that narrate our lives and have a direct link to our community.

Traditional Mayan clothing is made from cotton fabrics with an infinity of designs woven into them, in a variety of colors. They are woven using one of the oldest textile weaving traditions, the back-strap loom, on which a variety of weaving techniques are utilized depending on the region and cultural tradition. In this way, the clothing is a manifestation of our identity.

For the Maya, our spirituality is very important and we are in constant relation with nature and the cosmos, respecting the values of simplicity, harmony, and co-existence with animals and humans. The Grandmother weavers tell us that their weavings are based on the observation of nature, of plants, animals, and birds. The relationship between textiles and spirituality is very important and at the moment of creating a textile, a connection is formed with nature.

In the weavings, the prevalent colors are always red, black, yellow, white, blue, and green which represent our Mayan communities and symbolize sunrise and clarity, night or our time of rest, yellow is the material aspect of life, while white is our spiritual side, green represents the mountains, and blue represents the sky/heavens. You’ll also find many designs such as stars, which are very important to our ancestors they were used to predict life cycles, death, and other events in nature. There are also many depictions of birds and snakes which are symbols from the Mayan calendar; the Tzikin nahual is represented by the eagle or other messenger birds which are considered intermediaries between God and humans. Kan, the nahual of the serpent, is a protective symbol and represents the authority and the heart of heaven and the heart of Mother Earth.

So now when you see a woman wearing traditional Mayan clothing, you will understand a bit more of its rich significance.

Mayan backstrap loom textiles, weaving fabric

Isabel leading a weaving presentation at Yabal, wearing a Quetzaltenango huipil and corte

Huipil from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan Guatemala

Traditional huipil from Yabal’s artisan weaving communities in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan

Traditional Mayan Huipil from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan

Traditional Mayan Huipil from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan, by Yabal artisans

double-headed eagle design

Huipil from Nahuala showing the doble headed eagle design

ethically made handwoven coin purse

Yabal coin purse featuring traditional Mayan brocade designs from Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan

Yabal Bird Pillowcase, ethically made

Yabal’s Bird Pillowcase featuring traditional brocade bird design

Yabal handwoven Diamond Pillow

Yabal handwoven Diamond Pillow, featuring traditional brocade embroidery fromYabal artisan communities in Santa Catarina Ixtahuacan

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