We are in Tututepec, the ancient capital of the Mixtec empire, the second most powerful indigenous group in Oaxaca beside the Zapotecs. Here, atop a mountain overlooking the coastal plain, the Mixtecs, led by 8 Jaguar Claw protected their vast territory.
After a visit to the museum that documents the pre-Hispanic history, we walk across the street to the municipal building where an artist painted murals of village life pre- and post-Conquest, including the Afro-Mexican coastal traditions.
We meet Luis Adan, a 30-year old master backstrap loom weaver who does everything. it’s an immersion experience with insider access. Why? The van drops us at the foot of a dirt trail with steps carved into the steepest part of the hillside we must climb. Luis Adan and his family live in an ancestral home perched at the top.
EVERYTHING? Yes. He makes the drop spindle malacate. He dyes organic native cotton with purple snails he harvests himself along the rocky coast. He grows native cotton, spins it and dyes it. He uses local plant materials, wood bark, flowers, leaves. He keeps an indigo dye vat going continuously. He is weaving posohuancos — native wrap around skirts — with raised figures of stars, snakes, rain, serpents, corn seeds, the four cardinal points, a double headed turkey.
There are four huipiles for sale. Short blouses in indigo and native hand spun cotton. There are several wefts of woven cloth. The one for 12,000 pesos is all natural dyes. It takes four to six months to weave.
We have lunch under an overhang on a dirt floor. We are served homemade tortillas, chicken with mole estofado and mole negro, fresh queso fresco, steamed squash, and watermelon and mandarin juice. This was the most delicious food — and we ate with a view looking down the mountain.
Then we sat down to watch and to learn. A breeze sweeps across to cool us down from the coastal heat and humidity.