Tag Archives: Pinotepa de Don Luis

Purple Snail Dye, Pinotepa de Don Luis and Identity Markers

The caracol purpura is losing ground and so are the tintoreros, the dyers who milk them, applying the dye directly to the cotton cloth on the rocky Oaxaca coast to give up its extraordinary purple color, keeping the mollusk alive. The dyers, led by 78 year-old Don Habacuc Avedano, come from the Mixtec town of Pinotepa de Don Luis, high in the mountains on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica. It’s the women of the village, the wives and daughters, who spin and weave this cloth into some of the most coveted textiles in Oaxaca.

Nancy examines purple snail dye skein with Don Habacuc

The snail is close to extinction.

One of 4 skeins dyed in 2018. Before, 40+ skeins.

We visited this village during our recent Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, an 11-day investigation into the growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving textile culture of Oaxaca. I will ONLY offer this trip again in January 2020 IF I have six people committed to go by April 1, 2019, with a $500 deposit. Contact me.

We arrived on Don Habacuc’s 78th Birthday with a Mañanitas song

We visited this village during our recent Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour, an 11-day investigation into the growing, spinning, dyeing and weaving textile culture of Oaxaca’s Pacific Coast. I will ONLY offer this trip again in January 2020 IF I have six people committed to go by April 1, 2019, with a $500 deposit. Contact me.

Mexico’s cultural anthropologist Martha Turok Wallace has worked tirelessly over her career to help preserve the natural dye culture here, support villagers, and suggest ways they could adapt their work to reach new markets. Without sales to visitors, the textile culture will be lost. Without conservation and public education, the snail will become extinct.

Gauze-weave huipil from Pinotepa de Don Luis

As recently as the 1970’s, the traditional dress for Pinotepa de Don Luis women was a posahuanco (wrap-around skirt), woven in three-lengths of cloth on the back-strap loom, the lengths hand-stitched, and the cloth dyed with caracol purpura, indigo and cochineal. That’s what the purple snail dye was used for. Topless for this hot, humid climate, they wore a finely hand-woven, transparent white huipil that draped from head to shoulders. The cloth was held in place by an inverted dried gourd, worn much like a crown with a veil.

Hand-carved gourd (jicara) with sea life

Martha suggested that the gourd could be carved and used as a container. It is now finely carved with intricate figures of birds, flowers, sea life and used as wall decor and lamp-bases, too.

I’ve heard Martha speak at conferences about how important it is to innovate and adapt in order to keep the traditions of a culture vibrant. Otherwise, we run the risk of losing people to blue jeans and polyester. But for me the question always remains, What is authentic and does this mean we behave as colonials to keep people fixed in their place? Progress means change. Progress means better education, health care, access to economic prosperity.

Posahuanco with apron cover-up

Today, women in the village cover themselves with bra-type aprons that drape over the posahuanco. The posahuanco has also changed. It can include native coyuchi brown and white cotton. I’ve seen it worn as a mini-skirt with a zipper by younger women.

The skirt is the main identity marker of the village along with the purple shell dye.

Bitty looks over the vintage posahuanco and intricate weave

What is an identity marker?

An identity marker is how one defines self in relationship to the group(s) we belong to. It is cultural and distinctive, based on a common language, values, ethnicity, religion, social class, age group, where we live, or the type of dress we choose to wear. Walk into the regional market in Pinotepa Nacional and you know immediately that the woman wearing the posahuanco with the apron top is from Pinotepa de Don Luis.

Linda is thrilled with this indigo dyed blusa

What about the hand-woven long dresses (huipiles) and tops (blusas) from Pinotepa de Don Luis?

Gretchen’s Blusa: Fertility figures, double-headed turkeys, flowers on supplemental weft

These are designed and made for foreigners — those who live outside the village. Sometimes, you will see a local woman wearing this huipil at shows or special tourist sales events, but it is rare. This is another form of adaptation to use the native hand-spun cotton produced in the village, woven on the back-strap loom, the threads often dyed with indigo or touches of the shell dyed cotton or silk.

Purple snail dye on the coast of Oaxaca
Rafael, Don Habacuc’s son, the next and perhaps last generation of dyers

I’ll be writing more about this region in days to come. So stay tuned. On Wednesday, I’m off to Michoacan to lead another folk art study tour.

Posahuancos and San Sebastian Fiesta, Pinotepa de Don Luis, Oaxaca

After we visited San Juan Colorado, we made a stop in nearby Pinotepa de Don Luis. This is a village famed for its unusual striped posahuanco wrap around skirt and gorgeous huipiles.

Wearing the posahuanco, Pinotepa de Don Luis

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.

Interested in coming with me in 2019? Send an email.

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