Secundino Bazan Mendoza began weaving at age 13, his daughter Ester Bazan Contreras recalls. It could have been earlier, but Ester is certain he learned from his uncle who took him in at age 6 when his mother died. Secundino is now almost 85 years old. For the past 53 years he has served the Church of the Precious Blood in Teotitlan del Valle, playing the traditional Zapotec flute and drum (tambor) and leading processions held during festival days. Until last year, that is, when he fell and broke both his arm and hip.
What Secundino weaves is unique — the traditional Zapotec blanket or serape, lighter in weight and softer than the sturdier floor rugs (tapetes) that most of the village weavers produce today. Soon after the Spanish arrived in Oaxaca in 1521, they introduced the European floor loom and churro sheep, then taught the men how to weave with wool. The Spaniards needed horse blankets and wool clothing for warmth.
The blanket that Secundino wove (shown above) is one of only two that he is able weave each year. Family and friends feared that after his hip break he wouldn’t be able to weave again. The floor loom requires standing 6 hours a day.
The blanket is actually two pieces of cloth, mirror images, that are sewn together in the old style before looms were built to weave a wider single piece of cloth. It could have been a horse blanket or serape. The wool is all natural [Ester says natural wool never fades in the sun] and comes from sheep raised in the village of Teotitlan del Valle. It is softer, finer and lighter than the wool from sheep raised in the higher altitudes — perfect as a bed, rather than floor, covering. Secundino cleans and spins the wool himself, all by hand. He beats the wool against rocks in the river to make it even softer.
Here is a video made by Annie Burns, who captured Secundino during his recovery. A group of friends from the U.S. made contributions to help buy the wheelchair. The video shows the rug pictured still on the loom, along with Secundino’s family and the instruments he plays.
Come to Teotitlan del Valle for a weaving workshop this spring to learn this technique.