Category Archives: Chiapas

Chiapas Notebook: Maya Cemetery at Romerillo

The day is cloudy, overcast. A mist hangs on the hills like a coverlet. It’s late February, still chilly with winter in the Chiapas Highlands. Fuzzy wool cape weather, even in the early afternoon. After our visit to Tenejapa for the Thursday market, we make a stop at Romerillo before returning to San Cristobal de las Casas.

Notice: 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour is Full.
I am taking a waiting list. Email me to add your name.

From the road, the Romerillo Maya cemetery, majestic

Romerillo is a tiny hamlet with an impressive cemetery. The stand of turquoise blue Maya crosses carved with ancient symbols are sentries, erect on the crest of the hill. Tethered sheep graze at the base. We get out of the van and walk slowly to enter sacred space.

Pine planks cover the mounds so the dead stay where they belong

We moved in a matter of a few miles from textile sensory overload to quiet meditation. After our guide introduces us to the Maya world of death and life, we each walk silently, separating, alone, stepping across dried pine needles, around the mounds of earth designating grave sites. There are things to think about.

Four ancestors share this grave, each buried at ten-year intervals

One of us gets a call to come home to tend to her mother’s dying. Another suddenly loses a brother-in-law just days before. Most of us quietly mourn a parent, a husband, friend, perhaps a child, a relationship.

The cemetery site is rocky, uneven, steep, protected, festive

It’s months past the Day of the Dead season. There are remnants of marigolds, fresh fruit dried by the sun,  graves covered by wood planks to keep the dead secure in their underworld habitat until the next uncovering.

People drink fizzy Coca Cola at ceremonies. Burping is the voice of gods.

The mounded burial ground: scattered pine needles, dried pine boughs tied to the Maya crosses, toppled flower pots, an empty coke bottle, a tossed aside cigarette butt, an overturned flask once filled with pox (pronounced posh), a fresh grave.

(Mary Randall reminds me that the Romerillo hill was featured in the indie film, El Norte, a testimony to the Maya struggle for independent identity.)

Toppled urns of dried flowers. All disintegrates (except plastic).

How do I know of this recent burial? From the lingering aroma of copal incense, scattered green pine needles, flowers still too fragrant in their urns.

Grand vistas from 7,000 feet high, ethereal

Life and death blend together in Maya ritual. The mounds bridge the gap between heaven and earth. Fresh pine boughs are the portal to the other world. There is afterlife, often reincarnation depending on status. Memory must be kept, attended to. Here is ancestor worship — generations buried in the same space. The pine needles represent infinity, too numerous to count.

By February, pine boughs have dried crusty brown, stay until next year

The blue and green crosses are symbols, too, portals of entry for contact with the ancestors. Mayans believe the ancestors are guides and give them counsel in their problems when asked. Blue is significant throughout the Maya world.

Inscription at the base of a giant Maya cross

On November 1, Day of the Dead, family members lift off the wood planks. Sit around the grave sites of their loved ones, carry on a conversation. There are elaborate rituals here that bring people closer to the natural world.  The sun, moon, earth, stars are imbued with meaning, embedded in all that exists. Everything has a purpose, is connected.

Our groups hears the explanations, wants to disperse

Some of us sit. Others walk. The tall crosses guard the land. Small crosses guard each grave. Sometimes I see several crosses marking one grave site. I know from my experience in Oaxaca that each identifies one person in this resting place, that ten years must pass before another can be buried in the same space. There is continuity on this path.

Small crosses designate each grave site

Notice: 2018 Chiapas Textile Study Tour is Full.
I am taking a waiting list. Email me to add your name.

 

 

 

Chiapas Notebook: Magdalena Aldama Weavers

Our recent textile study tour took place over nine days. We were based in San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas, Mexico, with so much to see and do, and no time to write!. I’m going to start now with one highlight that happened in the middle: a visit to Magdalena Aldama, Chiapas.

A few of our group with hosts Rosa and Cristobal, Magdalena Aldama

Some of us know this village, about two-and-a-half hours from San Cristobal, as Magdalenas. Others call it Aldama. It is one and the same. Officially, it is known as Santa Maria Magdalena.

Indigenous justice and liberty are elemental here, as is native Non-GMO corn.

It took on the name Aldama in 1934 in honor of Mexican insurgent Ignacio Aldama. This is a Tzotzil village strongly aligned with the Zapatistas.

Rosa with Barbara, and a neighboring Chenalho blue emboidered top

Not many foreigners show up here. Without an introduction to a family, it would be difficult to know where to go to see extraordinary back strap loom weaving and intricate embroidery that the women here are known for.

Susie admires a finely woven, embroidered huipil

We pulled up to the village zocalo and parked near the church. Cristobal was waiting for us and took us to his family home where his wife Rosa greeted us. She was joined by family members who were busy weaving and doing fine stitching, surrounded by children.

Children hover close to mom when strangers show up

This would not have been possible without our knowledgeable guide who arranged the visit through an anthropologist friend who has been working here for some time.

Every garment handmade: the woven cloth, fine embroidery, seams, hem

After demonstrations and a stunning expoventa of very fine work, the family invited us into their kitchen where they prepared Caldo de Gallina over a wood fire.

Work continues with babies bundled across backs with rebozos

They make the soup from organic free-range chicken and fresh local vegetables. The tortillas come hot off the comal. We toast the day with posh, the local fermented drink made from corn and sugar cane.

It is quite tasty!

Indigenous rights are fragile. People here take a stand for themselves. Viva Zapata!

Women work hard here, staying close to home. Tending babies, preparing meals, cleaning up, weaving, sewing. Extended families live together in the same household and next door.

Fifteen enjoying a family meal, altar with Mayan cross in background

I saw no young men and assume they were in the fields tending to vegetables or herds of cows. Or, perhaps they were in El Norte USA trying to make a few dollars to send home. At 20 pesos to 1 US dollar now, it’s an economic advantage to go north to work. Regardless of what Agent Orange says, families do not like to be separated. They do it out of necessity. 

A village Mayordomo came by to check us out and stayed for lunch

Since the village is not frequented by tourists, we had a social call by one of the village leaders, a mayordomo and friend of our host family. He saw that we were supportive of the cultural norms and stayed to talk and have lunch with us. We were not a rowdy group!

Waddle and daub traditional village construction, perfect backdrop

The large kitchen space where we had lunch, the traditional outbuilding where the expoventa (show/sale) was held, and some of the surrounding cottages, were all constructed with waddle and daub. This is different from adobe bricks. It is a great insulator, keeping the house warm in winter and cool in summer.

Yes, smoke gets in your eyes, clothes, hair and lungs in traditional kitchens

The only problem was the ventilation from the smoke, which rose to the ceiling in billows but didn’t escape readily from the open areas near the rafters. In some villages, NGOs are working with locals to create better vents so they don’t breathe the wood smoke and develop lung disease.

Britt wears an elegant dress, traditional in design

Magdalena Aldama is about ten minutes further from San Andres Larrainzar, another amazing weaving village, much larger than Magdalena. There seems to be some crossover in stitching and fashion, though for the most part women like to identify with where they are born and live by their costume.

Mom and toddler, infant sleeping behind

The finely woven mesh bags you see below are hand-woven from ixtle, the washed, pounded and softened fiber of the agave cactus leaf. The finer and smaller the bag, the more costly. The shoulder straps are soft leather. Sometimes they are finished with colorful woven edging. We love them and bought lots!

Display of blouses, bags, table runners, dresses, pillow covers

Often, the difficulty for western women is to find a garment large enough to fit us. The width here is as wide as the loom, but the arm holes and necklines can be small. So small, we can’t get the blouse over our heads or arms through the sleeves. Here, it wasn’t a problem! They knew we were coming!

Rosa holds up one her group’s fine blouses. They sold out!

On our way back to San Cristobal de las Casas, we made a quick stop in Larrainzar to check out the street scene.  On the way, we passed a family of sheep herders. While the animals grazed, the women tied their looms to the trees. No one here is idle.

Looms tied to trees. Always something to weave.

In San Andres Larrainzar, we stopped at a commercial cooperative outside of town. I was disappointed in the quality and offerings, though a few of us managed to find a treasure. It’s best to find a private group!

San Andres Larrainzar main street. Hard to find a huipil for sale here.

Local women buy the embroidered bodice pieces and then stitch their own cotton or poplin (cotton/poly blend) to make the complete blouse. They like the polyester because it dries much faster. So, it’s getting more difficult to find a pure cotton garment. The embroidered pieces cost 1,000 to 1,500 pesos before being made into the blouse.

Embroidered blouse pieces, Larrainzar. White area is for head opening.

Back in San Cristobal, I wore the Magdalena Aldama blouse I bought from Rosa and Cristobal on the following day. People stopped me. Where did you find that? I told them. I visited a local Mayan coop and the manager said, “We don’t carry anything that fine. It’s hard to find and too expensive.”  Well, not really. Not for us at the current exchange rate!

The weaving group in black and white.

Making a trip into the village to meet the family, share a meal and support their work was one of the highlights of this trip.

Weaving on the street, Magdalena Aldama

We are going to offer this again at the end of February 2018. Contact me if you are interested and I’ll put you on the list to let you know dates and cost. This study tour will be limited to 9 people maximum!

Games little boys play, in the doorway to the kitchen.

 

Textile Fiestas of Mexico: New Guidebook for Smart Travelers

The book, Textile Fiestas of Mexico: A Traveler’s Guide to Celebrations, Markets and Smart Shopping by Sheri Brautigam and published by Thrums Books, is hot off the press. It’s a comprehensive guide to some of Sheri’s favorite Mexican textile villages and towns. I contributed two chapters!

Textile Fiestas of Mexico, book cover

Textile Fiestas of Mexico, book cover

Sheri invited me to cover Teotitlan del Valle, the Oaxaca rug weaving village where I live, and Tenancingo de Degollado, the ikat cotton rebozo weaving center in the State of Mexico, where I often visit and lead study tours. Of course, the answer was Yes!  I’m happy to say I contributed both the descriptive narrative and photography for these two sections.

Evaristo Borboa Casas, age 92, ikat rebozo backstrap loom weaver

Grand Master Evaristo Borboa Casas, age 92, ikat rebozo backstrap loom weaver

Sheri and I share our secrets with you because our first priority is to support the wonderful, talented Mexican artisans — many of whom are Grand Masters of Mexican Folk Art. Whether you join a tour or get there on your own, you want this book in your back pocket or tote bag for insider tips.

Selection of Teotitlan del Valle wool rugs from the tapestry loom

Selection of Teotitlan del Valle wool rugs from Porfirio Guttierez studio

How You Can Order the Book!

ISBN: 978-0-9964475-8-4
$24.95 trade paperback
120 pages
200 color photographs, map, glossary, and index

Buy your copy at Amazon, ClothRoads, and at your favorite Indie bookstore. Distributed to the book and library trade by Independent Publishers Group. If you live in Oaxaca, the book is soon to be available at Amate Books on Macedonio Alcala.

How to Buy in Mexico

Patrice Wynn is the Mexican distributor for Textile Fiestas of Mexico. She is also selling the book to buyers in Mexico, both at AbraZos, Zacateros 24 in Centro Historico, San Miguel de Allende, and also by mail. Please write to ventas@sanmigueldesigns.com to get details of how you can have it shipped to you in Mexico, either as an individual or as a store.

Here’s a preview of photos I contributed to the chapters on Tenancingo de Degollado and Teotitlan del Valle.

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Tenancingo weaver Jesus Zarate with his amazing ikat butterfly rebozo

Come with me to Tenancingo, February 2-10, 2017 for an ikat textile study tour. We have a few spaces open for single and double occupancy. You’ll meet everyone I talk about in the book!

Knotting the rebozo fringes can take two or three months

Knotting the rebozo fringes can take two or three months

The beauty of the book is that you can use it when you travel independently or as a resource on a guided visit.

Weaver in the Teotitlan del Valle rug market

Weaver in the Teotitlan del Valle rug market

One-day Natural Dye Textile & Weaving Study Tour–November 3, 2017

We tell you how to get there, the best artisans (in our humble opinion) to visit and when the major festivals are scheduled.

We recommend how to negotiate purchases in the markets and from artisans in their homes. What is the fair and ethical way to shop in Mexico? Sheri explains it!

Indigo dye pot, Teotitlan del Valle

Indigo dye pot, Teotitlan del Valle

We help you discern the good from the bad, the better quality from the mediocre.

At the Sunday rebozo market, Tenancingo

At the Sunday rebozo market, Tenancingo de Degollado

And, we give you restaurant and lodging tips — because where to eat and sleep means you will have a more enjoyable experience.

Ancient Zapotec temple stone, Teotitlan del Valle Community Museum

Ancient Zapotec temple stone, Teotitlan del Valle Community Museum

Through description and photos, you can see what to expect before you get there and plan your travels so your time is well-spent.

Carding sheep wool, a woman's tradition to prepare for spinning, dyeing then weaving

Juana Gutierrez cards sheep wool, a woman’s tradition to prepare for spinning

Chapters include Oaxaca, Chiapas, Uruapan and Puebla, plus Estado de Mexico (State of Mexico). You go deep into local markets, cooperatives and regional celebrations.

Ikat rebozos by Evaristo Borboa Casas, Tenancingo de Degollado

Ikat rebozos by Evaristo Borboa Casas, Tenancingo de Degollado

Author Sheri Brautigam owned a textile design studio in San Francisco for twenty years. She has worked as an English Language Fellow for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico, and as a serious collector and purveyor of fine indigenous textiles from Mexico and Guatemala. She sells collector-quality textiles through her online shop, Living Textiles of Mexico, and writes a blog, Living Textiles of Mexico.

Explaining the symbology of the weaving patterns

Omar Chavez Santiago explains the symbology of the weaving patterns

FYI: Many of you know that Teotitlan del Valle is a town of about 6,000 people and 2,000 looms. The major “industry” here is wool tapestry weaving. In the book, I concentrate on a handful of weavers who work only with natural dyes. We are committed to promoting environmental sustainability and respiratory health.

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool

Cleaning a rug woven with naturally dyed wool–Federico Chavez Sosa

CANCELLED–Chiapas Festivals and Faces: Photography Workshop

THIS WORKSHOP IS CANCELLED!

Arrive January 18 and depart January 25, 2016.

To make this workshop tour affordable, we are organizing it to include only instruction, on-the-hoof, coaching, feedback and photo review sessions, bi-lingual tour guide and all transportation. It does not include lodging or meals.

Cost is $1,295 per person. We need 6 people to hold this workshop. Bring a friend and you both get a 10% discount.

There are many wonderful places to stay in San Cristobal — our base. They range from luxurious to budget. We can recommend a few, including La Joya Hotel, Bela’s B&B, Posada del Abuelito and Na Bolom. You can find them on Trip Advisor. 

The historic 16th Century colonial mountain town, San Cristobal de Las Casas, Chiapas, is our base for making great photographs. Here in southern Mexico close to the Guatemala border, the Maya people hold on to a strong, proud and ancient past. Many on-going rituals and celebrations combine Spanish Catholicism with pre-conquest indigenous mysticism. Traditional hand-woven and embroidered Maya dress is still daily street wear. Before too long, you, too can name villages that people call home by the traje they wear.

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During the week we will take part in village festivals that happen only this time of year, meet indigenous Maya families who are back strap loom weavers and embroiderers, visit historic sites, markets, folk healers and mystics. We offer you an amazing ethnographic travel photography experience that is centered in this compact, magical town where wide avenues are for pedestrians only. Our out-of-town travels take us to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, Chiapa de Corso for the Parachicos Festival and San Juan Chamula.

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We are on location with photographer/instructor Matt Nager to create powerful photographs.  You are welcome to use any camera you are comfortable with: basic point-and-shoot, mirrorless, iPhone or DSLR. Our emphasis is on the photographer-subject relationship and good composition, finding the best subject and knowing how to interact with them, capturing a sense of place with interest and an innovative eye. We also cover some DSLR camera basics, how to use manual settings, and offer optional coaching on photo editing using Lightroom.

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Who should attend?  The workshop is for all levels of photographers including beginners. We strip down often overly complicated conditions to bring the photographer face-to-face with the subject. We practice both impromptu street photography and classic pre-arranged portrait sessions. We will also cover landscape, architecture and general travel photography.

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The Workshop Covers:

  • Using natural light and responding to different lighting situations
  • Moving from automatic to manual settings (for DSLR cameras)
  • Directing your subject through varying body positions
  • Identifying your own photographic style
  • Finding and executing photographs “on the fly”
  • Night photography and using a tripod
  • Capturing a scene or historical site
  • Learning more with one-on-one coaching sessions with Matt

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Each day we will discuss different techniques and review best of day images. There will be plenty of time for discussion, feedback, and sharing.  We will address topics such as: How do you stay inspired?  How and when do you ask permission to take a stranger’s photograph? How do you get people to relax, be natural, and not be afraid of the camera? How do you transform the mundane into an interesting photo?

At the end of our week together, we will select our best photographs of the week and hold a group show followed by a celebratory supper, included in the fee.

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About Your Instructor Matt Nager

Matt Nager is a Denver, Colorado, based portrait and editorial photographer. We invited him back to teach this workshop after rave reviews for teaching the People of Oaxaca Portrait Photography Workshop.

This is going to be a fantastic workshop and I encourage any level photographer to sign up.  I recently had a class with Matt Nager and he is an excellent teacher and a fun person. You will not get a class this good for twice the price!  –Barbara Szombatfalvy, Durham, NC

His love for nature and the outdoors, as well as his interest in people and culture, is central to his photography. Before starting his own photography business, Matt worked with the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News.

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In addition to photography, Matt also regularly shoots video and recently completed his first documentary titled: Campania In-Felix (Unhappy Country) which looks into the rise of health issues in Southern Italy as a result of illegal waste disposal.

His clients include: DISCOVER Magazine, Fast Company Magazine, Mother Jones Magazine, The New York Times, Smithsonian Magazine, and the Wall Street Journal.

Matt speaks English and Spanish, and is learning Italian.  His work is at: www.mattnager.com

Equipment:  Please bring your camera, your computer or tablet, a cable to connect your camera to your device to upload and edit your photos, a jump drive, extra batteries, battery charger, memory cards, optional tripod for night photography. If you use a DSLR camera, you may wish to bring a portrait lens (50mm) and a longer zoom lens. We will send a complete list of “what to bring” after you register!

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Preliminary Itinerary (subject to change)

Mon. Jan. 18 – Arrive and check-in to your hotel/hostal. (D on your own)

Tues. Jan. 19 – We will meet in a historic center location. Our workshop starts with a learning session, welcome and orientation. We’ll go on a town walkabout, market stroll, capture photos on the fly, and end with a portrait session with well-known humanitarian folk healer. We will have lunch and dinner together as a group, at your own expense.

Wed. Jan. 20 – Learning session and photo review. Depart for Zinacantan for Dia de San Sebastian. This is the most important celebration for this community, with rituals, ceremonies, a horse race, masses, traditional native dances and processions. We have arranged a private portrait session with Zinacantan family. We will have lunch  together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

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Thurs. Jan. 21 – Learning session and photo review. Portrait session with women’s weaving cooperative who come from their village wearing traditional Maya dress. We’ll have an exposition of their textiles, too.  We will have lunch and together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

Fri. Jan. 22 – Learning session and photo review. Today it’s all about food. We go to the local food market to meet and photograph vendors and see all the locally grown food. Then we meet one of San Cristobal’s great chefs for a photo shoot in the restaurant kitchen followed by lunch. We will have lunch together as a group, at your own expense. (Dinner on your own.)

Sat. Jan. 23 – Learning session and photo review. Parachicos of Chiapa de Corzo, The Great Feast celebration that honors the patron saints Our Lord of Esquipulas, Saint Anthony Abbot and Saint Sebastian includes fabulous masked dancers, rattles, parades, a carnival, and opportunity for night photography.  We will have lunch and dinner together as a group, at your own expense.

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Sun. Jan. 24 – On our last day, we will visit the church at San Juan Chamula, then prepare for the last presentation and Best of Week Show. We will have lunch and celebratory group dinner together.  Lunch will be at your own expense. Dinner is included in your workshop fee.

Jan. 25 – Depart

You are welcome to come early and stay later. You might want to go on to Tonina, Palenque, Bonampak or Yaxchilan to explore Maya archeology, or go further and cross the border into Guatemala or Villahermosa, Tabasco. We can recommend archeologist-led tour guides who can help facilitate customized travel plans at your own expense.  We can also recommend where you can enroll in a San Cristobal de Las Casas cooking class that features local indigenous meals.

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The workshop includes all instruction and personal coaching, transportation to three villages, cultural guide services and celebratory buffet supper at the end of our Best of Week Show. Plus you receive a comprehensive packet of information about our location, shopping, restaurants, and itinerary sent by email before the workshop begins.

The workshop does not include airfare, lodging, meals, admission to museums and archeological sites, alcoholic beverages, tips, travel insurance, optional transportation and incidentals.

Accommodations: You can check TripAdvisor and BookingDotCom or other online resources for best prices and levels of accommodations. All reservations for lodging will be made and paid for by you directly with the lodging provider.  You are free to choose any accommodation you prefer, from luxury to basic hostel.

Reservations and Cancellations: A 50% deposit will reserve your space. The final payment for the balance due shall be made on or before November 1, 2015. We accept PayPal for payment only. We will send you an invoice for your deposit to reserve when you tell us by email that you are ready to register.

If cancellation is necessary, please notify us in writing by email. After November 1, 2015, no refunds are possible. However, we will make every effort to fill your reserved space or you may send a substitute. If you cancel before November 1, 2015, we will refund 50% of your deposit.

About Travel to San Cristobal de Las Casas: The Tuxtla Gutierrez (TGZ) airport is the gateway city, about one-hour from San Cris. You can fly there from Mexico City on Aeromexico or Interjet. From the USA, Delta Airlines has a codeshare with Aeromexico. Both airlines are located in Mexico City Terminal 2. United Airlines flies between Houston and Oaxaca and does not serve TGZ. UA is located in Mexico City Terminal 1. There is taxi and shuttle van service from TGZ airport to San Cris starting at about 700 pesos. You can also take an ADO overnight bus from Oaxaca to San Cristobal. If you book your stay at La Joya Hotel, we will arrange taxi airport pick-up and delivery for you at your own expense.

International Travel Insurance Required. We require that you purchase trip cancellation, baggage loss and at least $50,000 of emergency evacuation and medical insurance before you begin your trip. We will ask for documentation. We know unforeseen circumstances are possible.

To register, email us at oaxacaculture@me.com We accept payment with PayPal only. Thank you.

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