Cultural Dress of the Maya

Mayan Women's Dress

Mayan women have been weaving for centuries. When the Spaniards arrived, they were astounded by the brightly colored dress of the Mayas. Mayan women traditionally wear traje, which is a combination of a skillfully woven, multicolored blouse called a huipil of a corte, a woven wraparound skirt that reaches to the ankles, and is held together by faja (sash) at the waist. Women also wear some form of headdress, such as pa˝uelo, on their heads, or cintas, four- or five-foot-long colorful ribbons that are braided into their shiny, long, black hair. A lengthy rectangular rebozo (shawl) and a decorated delantal (apron) are also part of traje. There are also small, silver or gold, round hoops for earrings and, in some areas, necklaces made from glass beads.

The huipil is a distinct work of art, woven or embroidered, that may take months to complete. It is distinguished by its design, style, pattern and concept. It varies according to region and individual creativity or taste. The corte, which is woven on a treadle or footloom, is composed of about five yards of material that is wrapped several times around a woman's lower body. Although there are certain colors and designs that are traditionally associated with a particular Mayan village, each huipil is woven individually on a backstrap loom. No two huipiles are identical. The cortes, however, generally are not distinctive. When the conquistadors arrived, men also wore colorfully woven apparel, but this is true only in certain areas today.

Traditionally, one could guess the village of origin by the colors and design of the huipil that a Mayan woman wore. For instance, a bright huipil of predominantly orange and red, interwoven with various minor colors such as green and blue, with a specific geometric pattern, identifies the wearer as a woman from San Antonio Aguascalientes. There is proof through pre-Columbian representations that this was a tradition in place long before the conquistadors ever set foot in the Americas.

Traje, or traditional clothing, has deep cultural significance for the Mayas. It represents a tie to the past and to their ancestors. For historic, political and economic reasons, it is mostly women who are the bearers of this tradition. The daily lives of Mayan women of Guatemala represent the continuance of the customs and traditions of the ancestors. They also represent new survival strategies as they face challenges brought on by shifting political, economic, social and natural factors. One may say that they adopt from their ancestors what is necessary for survival while looking for alternative ways to adapt to changing circumstances. Their lives vary greatly, depending on their particular socioeconomic or political status, the regions in which they live, the time period, their religion, the personal decisions that they make and other factors. However, speaking in general terms, Mayan women's everyday lives are a struggle for survival against poverty, hunger, discrimination and violence from within and without. They are on their feet daily from dawn to dusk, tending to a multitude of domestic tasks. However, they also keep their eyes on the future. At times, however, their traditional ways come into conflict with modern Ladino society, and Mayas are obliged to make difficult choices.

See some beautiful examples of huipiles and traje at the Nim Po't Maya Textile Collection.


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Source: Culture and Customs of Guatemala