Tag Archives: textile study tour

Feathered Plumage: Rebozos in Ahuiran, Michoacan

Grand Master of Mexican Folk Art Cecelia Bautista Caballero is recognized for her outstanding creativity and innovation. About 30 years ago she developed a weaving technique to re-introduce the feathered plumage of Purepecha royalty into the rebozos (shawls) she makes on the back-strap loom.

Our Michoacan study tour leads us to a humble home on a side street off the central plaza in the tiny village of San Mateo Ahuiran on the Purepecha Plateau. We want to meet, embrace and support this amazing, talented woman. We want to know her daughters who carry on the tradition.

Three thousand threads of fine cotton make up the warp of this back-strap loom. It can take two or three months to weave the cloth, then another two months to hand-knot the elaborate fringes called the punta.

Angeles Rodriguez Bautista, Cecelia’s daughter, demonstrates back-strap loom weaving

We want to explore a region whose DNA is thought to originate from Siberia, when the Bering Straits were a land bridge that brought people to the shores of North America.

Cecelia Bautista Caballero with Norma Schafer in Ahuiran

Cecelia Bautista Caballero is a living treasure. She enters the dimly lit room with a broad smile to welcome us. She is radiant. The light follows her. A rebozo is slung over her shoulder like a backpack. It bulges like a sack of avocados. She drops it’s weight onto a small, wood table and unwraps the folds to reveal a treasure trove of rebozos she has personally woven.

Donna, Linda, Winn modeling feather rebozos, with Angeles

Despite suffering a stroke that leaves its mark on the right side of her face, Cecelia is still productive. Weaving is her life’s work, her self-expression, her passion. With pride, she tells us how she created the feathered trim in the tradition of her ancestors, using turkey, rooster and bird feathers that are either natural or dyed with local plant tints.

Cecelia’s niece Bertha Estrada Huipe, with Carolyn who bought Bertha’s rebozo

One reason we gravitate to visiting small villages is for the satisfaction of meeting the maker and buying directly from them. We know their prices are fair and just. We know that what we buy will help them feed their families and reinvest in materials. There is something special in this exchange, more than a transaction of money for product. It is filled with appreciation and love.

Even more than this, the journey feels like a pilgrimage to pay personal homage to talented people. Sometimes this journey takes hours or days. We are like explorers, uncovering the past and investing in the future.

We traveled to Ahuiran from Uruapan, designated a Pueblo Magico for its outstanding national park Caputitzio, known for stunning waterfalls. This was our base for two nights as we explored the area after leaving the Monarch Butterfly sanctuaries.

This brought us closer to the indigenous town of Paracho, where we watched luthiers make guitars, violins, mandolins, and other string instruments. The main street is lined with craftsmen fulfilling special orders for musicians around the world.

Afro-Mexicans on Oaxaca’s Costa Chica, Museum of Afro-Mestizo Culture

Mexico is a true melting pot. Her people are a fusion of ethnicities, races, and cultures originating from Asia, Europe, and Africa mingling with America’s First Peoples. The Spanish brought slaves from the Philippines and China, while Portuguese traders imported forced labor from Africa to work Mexico’s sugar cane fields and cattle ranches when indigenous people couldn’t survive disease.

Mexican President Vicente Guerrero, Afro-Mexican roots and abolitionist

A very important, and heretofore unacknowledged part of Mexican history, is the slave experience in Mexico and the development of communities on the Oaxaca-Guerrero coast formed by people who escaped from the Veracruz cane fields. The Museo de las Culturas Afromestizas — the Afro-Mestizo Museum — in Cuajiniculapa, Guerrero, just across the Oaxaca border, gives voice to those who helped shape Mexican identity and honors their historic role.

Read here to learn more about Afro-Mexicans.

Spanish-speaking museum guide explains mural significance
Africans built thatch-roofed houses, a reminder of home

Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour group stops here on our five-hour return trip to Puerto Escondido from Ometepec. Knowing all of Oaxaca and her roots is important to us. We learn about and understand the contributions of Afro-Mexicans to Mexico’s music, dance, dress, and cuisine.

Read New Yorker magazine essay about Afro-Mexican life on the Costa Chica.

Slaves escaped to Oaxaca-Guerrero coast from Veracruz, introduced Devil Dance

Please send me an email if you are interested in traveling here in 2020. I will only offer this study tour if there are 6 people making a $500 reservation deposit to guarantee we will hold the trip. Likely dates are January 10-20, 2020.

Close up of Oaxaca’s famous Danza de Los Diablos Devil Dance, a Guelaguetza favorite

Meaning of the Danza de los Diablos.

Portuguese slave ship, tragedy of human bondage

Read Culture Trip article about Afro-Mexican origins and pride.

We also see through the dioramas and explanation from our museum guide that institutionalized slavery has left its mark on Mexico just as it has in the United States. The colonizers, be they British or Spanish, used forced human labor to advance their economic and social agendas. Hundreds of years later, isolation, poverty, lack of education and health care, has left its mark, making this region among the most impoverished in Mexico.

Enslaved blacks in American South sought freedom in Mexico, perhaps a reason for the Mexican-American War?

The marimba, an African import along with slavery

There is a movement to give Afro-Mexicans the federal recognition and support they deserve that will help improve quality of life and economic opportunity.

I stepped up onto the hollow wood box to learn the dance of the region. I’m writing from Morelia, Michoacan, left my Costa Chica notebook at home, and will add the name of our thoughtful guide later.

African slaves employed in Mexico’s sugar cane field, silver mines, cattle ranches
In storage, the Son Jorocho musical style with stringed instrument brought from Africa

A must-read is Afro-Mexicans Exist, So We Must Stop Referring to Mexico as a Mestizo Nation by Shanna Collins. This offers important insight into how embedded African roots are in Mexican life and culture. Her argument is that the term Mestizo completely ignores how the role of slaves influenced modern Mexico.

Contemporary graphic art interprets African experience in Mexico

The small museum, just off coastal route MEX 200, is a testimony to the history of enslavement and courage. It opens our eyes and hearts, gives us perspective and enriches our travel experience.

Devil Dance woodcut by artist
Museum mural gives life to Afro-Mexican experience

Video: Danza de los Diablos, African Roots in Mexico, El Tule Guelaguetza 2018

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

Oaxaca Costa Chica Textile Study Tour, January 11-21, 2019–Spaces Open

Behind the mask, a beautiful countenance

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.

A First Person Commentary

About Afro-Mexicans

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.