Danza de los Diablos is connected with the Afro-Mestizo history of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, the Pacific coast region between Puerto Escondido and Acapulco, Guerrero. Now referred to as Mexico’s Third Root, people of African descent are an integral part of what it means to be Mexican, more than only the mix of Europeans and AmerIndians. With the conquest of Mexico, Spanish brought African slaves here in the 16th century to work sugar cane fields, mines and agriculture. Most were men and married indigenous women. Race and class was far more permeable in Mexico than in the United States.
Only recently have academics and cultural anthropologists begun to uncover and investigate the importance of African roots in Mexican culture.
Dressed as the devil with mask, horns and horsehair, African roots
The dance and its music, with its stomping and whirling, are said to symbolize the breaking from the repression of slave owners and the church. The woman in the dance represents the mixing of races. She carries a white doll. Traditionally, the dance is performed on November 1 during Day of the Dead.
White mask, dark skin, white baby, symbol of Afro-Mestizo roots
Today, the dance is a testimony to Oaxaca’s rich diversity and deepening respect for her roots.
One of the pleasures I have from writing this blog is the research I do to investigate the culture and history of Oaxaca and Mexico. When I was at the Costa Chica in the last two years, I became more aware of African slave roots as as I talked with cultural anthropologists and locals.
Much more has been written about the African experience on the Caribbean coast of Mexico, at the port of Veracruz and south. The Son Jarocho music of Mexico, Cuba and the Caribbean are rooted in Africa, as is the donkey jawbone and drum percussion instruments. There is still a lot to learn.
Arrive on Friday, January 11 and depart on Monday, January 21, 2019 — 10 nights, 11 days in textile heaven!
Trip is limited to 11 participants.
This entire study tour is focused on exploring the textiles of Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. You arrive to and leave from Puerto Escondido, connecting through Mexico City or Oaxaca.
Ji Nuu Cooperative women, San Juan Colorado, hand-spinning native cotton
We go deep, and not wide. We give you an intimate, connecting experience. We spend time to know the culture. You will meet artisans in their homes and workshops, enjoy local cuisine, dip your hands in an indigo dye-bath, and travel to remote villages you may not go to on your own. This study tour focuses on revival of ancient textile techniques and Oaxaca’s vast weaving culture that encompasses the use of natural dyes, back-strap loom weaving, drop spindle hand spinning, and glorious, pre-Hispanic native cotton.
Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil from Pinotepa de Don Luis
Villages along the coast and neighboring mountains were able to preserve their traditional weaving culture because of their isolation. Stunning cotton is spun and woven into lengths of cloth connected with intricate needlework to form amazing garments.
Fine Amusgo back strap loom weaving with supplementary weft
Amuzgos visit includes a natural dye demonstration with indigo and nanche
A noted cultural anthropologist who has worked in the region for the past fifteen years will guide us. Our driver knows the region intimately.
Friday, January 11: Fly to Puerto Escondido—overnight in Puerto Escondido
Saturday, January 12: Puerto market tour, afternoon on your own with a presentation about Costa Chica Textiles and Cultural Identity, followed by a welcome dinner — overnight in Puerto Escondido
Sunday, January 13: Depart after breakfast for Tututepec to visit a young weaver who is reviving his village’s textile traditions, visit local museum and murals — overnight in Pinotepa Nacional
Monday, January 14: After breakfast we will go to the mountain weaving village at the end of the road, San Juan Colorado. Here, we will visit two women’s cooperatives working in natural dyes, hand-spinning, with back strap loom weaving. We will also go to the home of a mask maker who also deals in antiquities. Our afternoon will be spent in the weaving center of Pinotepa de Don Luis, where we will visit a women’s cooperative and the homes of each weaver. Overnight in Pinotepa Nacional.
Tuesday, January 15: In the morning after breakfast, we will visit the Pinotepa Nacional market. Then we travel to San Pedro Amuzgos where we will spend the day with Arte Amuzgo Cooperative and Odilon Merino Morales for demonstrations, lunch and an expoventa. — Overnight in San Pedro Amuzgos.
Wednesday, January 16: We’ll explore this ancient Amuzgo village and discover other weavers and cooperatives to visit, perhaps taking a side-trip to Santa Maria Zacatepec where women embroider small animal, floral and people figures on natural cotton cloth. — Overnight Amuzgos
Thursday, January 17: We’ll take the road to Xochistlahuaca, a famed Amuzgo weaving village across the border in Guerrero state (yes, it’s safe in this part of the state). We will visit a noted weaving cooperative that works in light weight gauze cotton using natural dyes. We’ll also meet other weavers who use rare coyuchi and native green cotton. Overnight in Ometepec.
Friday, January 18: Return to Puerto Escondido with a stop in the weaving village of Jamiltepec where graphic designs embellish necklines with intricate embroidery. Overnight in Puerto Escondido.
Saturday, January 19: This is a day on your own to explore the area, return to the Puerto Escondido market, take a rest from the road trip, enjoy the beach and pools, and begin packing for your trip home. Grand Finale Dinner. Overnight in Puerto Escondido.
Sunday, January 20: Attend the annual Dreamweavers Expoventa featuring the Tixinda Weaving Cooperative from Pinotepa de Don Luis. Other regional artisans are also invited, making this a grand finale folk art extravaganza — a fitting ending to our time together on Oaxaca’s coast.
Monday, January 21: Say our goodbyes and depart for home.
Note: Itinerary subject to schedule change and modification.
Our 2018 Costa Chica study tour
Take this study tour to learn about:
the culture, history and identity of cloth
beating and spinning cotton, and weaving with natural dyes
complete guide services including cultural anthropologist expertise
Winter on Oaxaca’s coast, warm and temperate
The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and optional local transportation as specified in the itinerary. It does not include taxi or shuttle service from airport to hotel. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.
Odilon’s aunt, from San Pedro Amuzgo, joins cloth lengths
Embroidered collar, native white cotton dyed with caracol purpura snail dye
Cost to Participate
$2,895 double room with private bath (sleeps 2)
$3,395 for a single supplement (private room and bath, sleeps 1)
Who Should Attend
Explorers of indigenous cloth, native fibers
Textile and fashion designers
Weavers, embroiderers and collectors
Home goods wholesalers/retailers who want a direct source
Photographers and artists who want inspiration
Anyone who loves cloth, culture and collaboration
Reservations and Cancellations. A 40% deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 30% of the total is due on or before October 1, 2018. The third 30% payment is due on or before December 1, 2018. We accept payment with PayPal only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 1, 2018, refunds are not possible. You may send a substitute in your place. If you cancel on or before December 1, 2018, we will refund 50% of your deposit.
Ancient design revived by Luis Adan on the back strap loom
Health and Well-Being: If you have mobility issues or health impediments, please let me know. Our travel to remote villages will be by van on secondary roads with curves, usually not for more than an hour or so. When you tell me you are ready to register, I will send you a health questionnaire to complete. If you have walking or car dizziness issues, this may not be the trip for you.
Breakfast at the cooperative–sopes, eggs with hierba santa
Villa de Tutupec de Melchor Ocampo is a mountain town above the Pacific Ocean on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. During our recent Oaxaca Textile Study Tour: Valley and Coast, we spent almost a complete day there immersed in the region’s cultural history.
Tututepec is tucked into the fold of a mountain that overlooks the Pacific coast and off-shore lagoons. We get there driving through papaya groves — the biggest growing region in Mexico.
Ancient design revived by Luis Adan on the back strap loom
Tututpec is the oldest pueblo on the coast. People settled there before 800 BC. Once the power center of the Mixtec people who defied conquest by the Aztecs, Tututepec is now rediscovering her roots. A small museum near the Zocalo features stelae and ancient relics from the nearby archeological site. The Codex Columbino (original is in the British Museum) tells the story of Eight Deer Jaguar Claw.
Reproduction of one page of the Codex Columbino in the Tututepec Museum
Eight Deer Jaguar Claw unified the region on the northwest border of Oaxaca, rich in gold, fish, fresh fruit and vegetables. It included parts of modern states of Puebla and Guerrero, about the size of Texas. The capital was Tututepec.
Native Oaxaca brown and green cotton, waiting to be spun
Hundreds of pre-Hispanic ceramic whorls point to a vibrant native cotton-spinning tradition using the malacate or drop spindle. The whorl is an essential part for turning the wooden stick. Wood disintegrates. Clay survives.
Malacate — drop spindle — with native Oaxaca cotton
After the museum orientation, Luis Adan meets our group to guide us to his mountain home. Here, after a delicious lunch of two different moles, we see how this twenty-six year old young man is reviving the lost traditions of his village.
Our group of textile travelers at the home studio of Luis Adan
Originally, only the people descended from Eight Deer Jaguar Claw were allowed to use the traditional brocade (supplementary weft) designs in their huipiles. Cochineal must be dyed only during the full moon so it is more intense, they say here.
Very portable, the back strap loom, a universal fabric-making tool
The story goes that a village mayor sometime between 1900 and 1930 commanded that all the women bring their huipiles and blusas to the zocalo. When the pile was complete, he set the cloth on fire. There were no remains except memory. Identity through the stories told in the back strap loom weaving physically disappeared.
Native brown Coyuchi cotton with native green cotton design in supplementary weft
Why did he do it? My interpretation is that political and social conformity is a powerful force to guarantee assimilation. If clothing is indigenous identity, rulers have the power to destroy and redefine self. Only now, almost one hundred years later, the cloth is resurrected from the fire. What do you think?
Embroidered collar, native white cotton dyed with caracol purpura
Luis Adan shows us how he is making the drop spindle to spin native cotton grown nearby. He saves the seeds. He did research, learned from his grandparents, and is recreating the designs lost in the fire. He uses the natural dyes that are known in this part of Oaxaca: cochineal, indigo and caracol purpura.
Dressing Denise in an indigo, cochineal, caracol purpura dyed posahuanco
The back strap looms that Luis Adan uses are hand constructed from local wood. We spend the afternoon with him in awe that a young man would dedicate and devote himself to recapturing a lost art.
Luis Adan at the back strap loom
He uses clay pots to ferment the indigo, which he grows himself. This year, because of heavy rains, there was not much native cotton or indigo produced. Cotton doesn’t like water. It is planted in August and harvested in December. The different varieties are planted far apart so they do not cross-pollinate. Here, too, the men tend to the crops and the women weave, except for Luis Adan!
Caracol purpura dyed cotton thread before it goes to the loom
The endangered caracol purpura makes it difficult to find enough to dye with. The native brown and green cotton offer a subtle contrast to the brilliant purples, reds and blues. The blouses and dresses are a loose weave because the climate is hot and humid.
Mixtec stelae, excavated from Spanish church, Tututepec Museum
San Pedro Amuzgos is an Amuzgos village nestled in a mountain valley seven hours by winding road from the capital city of Oaxaca. It is closest to Tlaxiaco, but not really. You can get there following MEX 125 by private car or on a regional bus from Oaxaca (or you can come with us).
The road is a ribbon through mountain passes. Here, women have woven on back strap looms for centuries, long before Mexico’s conquest by the Spanish.
Birds and flower in brilliant colors are incorporated into the supplementary weft
Their themes are birds, flowers, vines, trees, the stories of creation, fertility, birth, marriage and rebirth after death. Life here is a continuum. Cloth is a covering but also a journey. Women will be buried in their wedding huipiles. Many of the designs span the Oaxaca-Guerrero border where Amuzgos live.
Odilon Merino Morales’ aunt wears her wedding huipil for us
At the northern border of Oaxaca and Guerrero, San Pedro Amuzgos is not easy to get to. We take the coastal route from Puerto Escondido, diverting northeast from Pinotepa Nacional through hills dotted with banana palms and dusty arteries. In bigger towns along the way, regional schools and rural health clinics offer local services just steps from the main paved highway. We are a good three hours from Puerto Escondido as the ribbon curls. The road narrows as we travel further. You don’t get anywhere fast here.
Odilon’s two aunts consult on weaving and embroidery work
Huipil is three lengths of loomed cotton, joined with a randa/needlework
Our destination is the cooperative Arte Amuzgos founded by Odilon Merino Morales. He is an innovative organizer and promoter of traditional weavers who work in the highest quality materials, including natural dyes and native cotton.
An all indigo huipil embellished with caracol purpura
It is not unusual to find blusas (blouses) and huipiles (dresses) woven with native green, coyuche and cream cotton. Cotton dyed with caracol purpura purple, cochineal red, indigo, nanche (a fruit), pericone (wild marigold) and nuez (pecan shells) are staples of the palette here.
Odilon has attended the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market for many years. With proceeds from sales there, he reinvested in his community by building a cultural center in San Pedro Amuzgos. It includes three guest rooms and a bath, exhibition and dining space. There are plans for more. He receives visitors for demonstrations, exhibitions and meals.
An array of hand-woven huipiles created on the back strap loom
I know Odilon from Oaxaca city, where his gallery Arte Amuzgos holds beautiful textiles woven by women in the cooperative. They include his mother, sisters, aunts, cousins and nieces. The men in the family are farmers who also raise the local cotton, prized for its rarity and natural beauty. I’ve always wanted to make a pilgrimage to his village and made sure to include it on our Oaxaca Costa Chica Natural Dye Textile Study Tour.
Flowers and animal life adorn this huipil. This is not embroidered!
During our visit, Odilon tells us that years ago before the cooperative was formed, traders came to town to source the most beautiful garments for sale in the city. They bargained hard, offered women a pittance for their labor. An intricate huipil can take six to twelve months to weave. That does not include the time to grow, beat and dye the cotton.
Odilon talks about his passion, preservation of his weaving culture
If the trader bought a garment for 1,000 pesos, they would sell it for 2,000 pesos, then the Oaxaca retailer would mark it up to 6,000 pesos. Fair trade was not a concept then and there was no opportunity for villagers to directly reach consumers. Language was a barrier, too. The grandmothers spoke Amuzgo. Business was conducted in Spanish. They made do with what was offered them.
Our visit includes a natural dye demonstration with indigo and nanche
No more for the women and men of Arte Amuzgos.
An array of natural dyes used to weave some huipiles
Direct markets, from maker to consumer, are difficult to develop for most Oaxaca artisans. They rely on people to represent them and the cost is dear. As a result, the artisanry is either dying out or the quality of materials deteriorates as people look to cutting costs.
Thankfully, Odilon Merino Morales and his wife Laura, have created a market for their people who receive a fair and living wage for their work.
Arte Amuzgo, Armenta y Lopez #110-F, in front of Teatro Macedonio Alcala, Oaxaca de Juárez, Oaxaca, Tel: 951-514-0566
Lengths of cloth woven on the back strap loom, joined with intricate needlework
Not too long ago, because of the very hot, humid climate, the skirt and a gauzy shoulder scarf was a woman’s only covering. These she usually made herself on a back strap loom, beautiful and strong enough to last a lifetime.
Indigo, cochineal and caracol purpura huipil, Pinotepa de Don Luis
Back strap loomed cloth is distinguished by hand-spun cotton threads dyed with purple from the caracol purpura snail, cochineal red from the prickly pear cactus parasite, and the indigo plant carefully prepared in a fermentation bath. The cotton is spun using a malacate or drop spindle.
The designs are not embroidered. They are created by a technique called supplementary weft, often called brocade. The threads are counted and added to the warp as the weaver creates the cloth.
Supplementary weft weaving designs, Pinotepa de Don Luis
Hand-embroidered collars with sea life and flora add interest to huipiles
It happened to be January 20, the day of the Fiesta de San Sebastian, the martyred patron saint of Pinotepa de Don Luis. We were on our way to the Mixtec village of San Pedro Amuzgos to visit Odilon Merino Morales and the cooperative Arte Amuagos. But we had to make a stop to see the festivities!
Procession for Fiesta de San Sebastian, Pinotepa de Don Luis
We could not pass up the pilgrimage of people carrying their saint up the hill, or the Carnival dancers in the Zocalo, or the mayordomos of the village dressed in white who sat in the patio of the municipal building sheltered from the 90 degree Fahrenheit heat.
Getting ready for the fiesta dances, Pinotepa de Don Luis
We were to return to Puerto Escondido for the annual Dreamweavers Tixinda Cooperative Expoventa early on January 21, so we decided to not visit these weavers in their Pinotepa de Don Luis homes. But, the fiesta drew weavers from the village who set up shop on the zocalo, where a few of us found treasures — coyuche and hand-spun cotton with natural dyes.
Treasure hunting in Pinotepa de Don Luis at the special market
In addition to hand-woven textiles, this woman is selling earring, necklaces and bracelets made from gourds, painted and carved with sea and nature motifs, lightweight and easy to wear.
Men plant the cotton, women weave. On feast days, no one works.
After another hour and a half on the road toward the State of Guerrero border, we were greeted by Odilon at the Arte Amuzgos cultural center he established in his home town of San Pedro Amuzgos. It was well into mid-afternoon and we sat down to a delicious lunch prepared by the women: beef soup with a rich, spicy tomato broth; comal made organic tortillas; flavorful black beans, locally raised; fruit water of fresh squeezed lime juice and hisbiscus.
A good time to catch up on news.
Next installment to come!
Dressed in drag for the carnival dance, typical in many pueblos
I think his feet must hurt in those high heels
The man to the far right below is wearing a typical shirt from the region, woven with native coyuche cotton — a natural caramel color that is delicious to look at. The word origin is Nahuatl, from the Aztec language, and means coyote because the color resembles the fur of the animal.
Standing proud and waiting for the ceremonies to begin
Zayzelle: Dress Simply is our new clothing line, one dress, one-of-a-kind, one size fits many, imaginative cloth. Plus, jewelry and an easy-to-wear pullover scarf. Keep checking back for What’s New.
Norma Contributes Two Chapters!
Click image to order yours!
Norma Schafer and Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC has offered programs in Mexico since 2006. We have over 30 years of university program development experience. See my resume.
Study Tours + Study Abroad are personally curated and introduce you to Mexico's greatest artisans. They are off-the-beaten path, internationally recognized. We give you access to where people live and work. Yes, it is safe and secure to travel. Groups are limited in size for the most personal experience.
Programs can be scheduled to meet your travel plans. Send us your available dates.
Designers, retailers, wholesalers, universities and other organizations come to us to develop customized itineraries, study abroad programs, meetings and conferences. It's our pleasure to make arrangements.
Our Clients Include
*Penland School of Crafts
*North Carolina State University
*WARP Weave a Real Peace