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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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!
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.
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