Tag Archives: culture

In the Triqui Village of Chicahuaxtla, Mixteca Alta, Oaxaca

Our friend Shuko Clouse captures the essential emotion and experience of being in the Triqui village of San Andres Chicahuaxtla in the Mixteca Alta as she traveled with us this past weekend on a textile exploration seven hours beyond the city of Oaxaca. She writes a blog called Our Universe that is part of her Mano del Sur folk art site.

I encourage you to read it. It is a heartfelt expression for the Mixtec people, the textiles they make and the meaning in the cloth.


The Mixteca Alta is characterized by eight thousand foot mountain ranges, pine forests, winding roads, and remote villages where women create traditional textiles on back strap looms. Here subsistence farming — raising corn, squash and beans — is the work of men, who have difficulty making enough money to sustain their families. This region has one of the highest rates of people in Mexico who migrate to the United States in search of employment. Many women are left to carve out a living to support their children alone in dire economic conditions.

Yet, the textiles they create are stunning examples of cultural heritage, pride, and commitment to their people. It takes as long as one year to weave this complex huipil that is symbolic of the Triqui people.

Here are a few photos to tempt you to come with us March 12-18, 2025. Write to tell us you are interested in participating.

Note: We are educators who guide you into villages to introduce you to the people with whom we have relationships. We give you cultural context and insights into not only the meaning behind the textiles, but identity, language, economics and way of life. Come with us to go deep, not wide.

The original Triqui huipil design was white and blue and dates back to 1875-1890. The red and white and multi-colors came after the Industrial Revolution with the introduction of synthetic dyes. The counting of threads today is exactly like they were then, made with hand-spun cotton.

We visit with Otelia and Yatali in their home and weaving workshop high up the mountain in a remote region where tourists rarely go. They have researched ancient designs and incorporate them into their cloth. Yatali went to Mexico City to study for a masters degree in textile engineering. She came back to her village because she has a deep attachment to her culture, is an innovator, and has continued the family tradition of being a textile activist. They have a small cooperative that is making marketable pieces like shawls, napkins, tablecloths, and throws for collectors and appreciators of their cloth.

They are also experimenting with natural dyes and are using Brazil wood, indigo, wood bark, and wild marigold to create a softer color palette.

Threads of Connection in Oaxaca + Chiapas: Norma Presents at OLL, Tuesday, March 5

This Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at 4:30 p.m. I will be making a presentation at the Oaxaca Lending Library titled Threads of Connection in Oaxaca and Chiapas: Meeting Artisans Where They Live and Work. If you live here or are visiting, I invite you to join us. Contact the OLL website to register.

During the talk, I’ll be comparing two weaving villages, San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca, on the Pacific Coast, and San Pedro Chenalho, Chiapas, in the highlands above San Cristobal de las Casas. The talk includes weaving style, culture, women’s issues, advocacy and human rights, and the cooperative systems in which they organize themselves.

Many of you know that Oaxaca and Chiapas are the two poorest Mexican states, with Chiapas coming in last in terms of access to education, health care, and economic opportunity. Yet, both give us the most extraordinary handwoven textiles in the entire country. We will talk about why.

We will also discuss the knotty issues surrounding the topic of cultural appropriation, the perspective of artisans who must reach markets to sell their work, and what we as supporters and collectors can do to help alleviate poverty, injustice and support the continuation of centuries old textile traditions.

I hope you can join us.

Weaving from San Juan Colorado, Oaxaca

Weaving from San Pedro Chenalho, Chiapas

Tixinda. Purple Snail Dye. Caracol Púrpura. On the Oaxaca Coast.

Tixinda is the Mixtec word for the purple snail, also known as caracol púrpura in Spanish. It produces a rich purple dye used for ceremonial clothing in the Oaxaca coast village of Pinotepa de Don Luis. The weavers here make beautiful garments on the back strap loom using touches of this rare dye in the supplementary weft designs they create representing ancient symbols important to their culture.

Today we visited 83 year-old Don Habacuc Avedano, who has been dyeing native cotton with tixinda since he was a boy. His son Rafael is following in his footsteps, searching the tide pools along the rocky coast for the illusive snail that is now almost extinct.

This is one reason why the huipiles and blusas are more costly. Another is that it usually takes two months to make a huipil. First the cotton is cleaned, hand-spun, then dyed. Usually they use natural dyes like indigo, cochineal, jicara gourd, wild marigold, mahogany bark, and other plants. Then, the loom is prepared with complementary warp threads.

After a delicious lunch of chiles rellenos in the dirt floor courtyard of the humble family home, we had an opportunity to talk, learn, and understand the traditional culture and weaving process. And, then there was the chance to look at the beautiful work and buy if we wished.

Rafa kept a skein of snail dye in the refrigerator in preparation of our visit and we saw the oxidization process as the color of the cotton changed from yellow to green to blue then to purple when exposed to the sunlight.

It was a magical day.

Let us know if you want to go with us in 2025. We will be making an announcement soon. Send us an email.

Day of the Dead Etiquette and Behavior: Teotitlan del Valle Cemetery

Last year, 2022, Day of the Dead in Teotitlan del Valle was a frenzy. Big tour buses and mini-vans each holding 24 to 36 passengers unloaded face-painted visitors in front of our cemetery. I had made a plan this year to go early and not stay very long, expecting the same thing — travelers looking for mezcal shots, pointing their cameras in locals’ faces without asking permission, and having a roaring good time. I noted that tour guides had not prepared the visitors for an experience that included cultural sensitivity and respect. In 2022, foreign visitors outnumbered village residents two to one.

This year, I was very surprised to see only one face-painted visitor, no buses or vans, and very few tourists between 5 and 6:30 p.m. I thought, perhaps it was because the village municipal authorities made a policy to collect a toll from the buses and vans.

Oh, but how I was misled! My good friend Ani, who has been living here since 2003, went to the cemetery to pay her respects to our dear friend Juvenal, who died from Covid at the front end of the pandemic. He was fifty-two. She reported to me that the buses and vans showed up at 7 p.m., disgorging revelers who came to party. I narrowly escaped the assault.

The benefit of visiting earlier is that I saw Teotiteco familes enjoying the balmy fall evening, sitting around the gravesites of their loved ones, telling stories, eating peanuts and oranges, maybe taking sips of mezcal or beer. I mistakenly assumed that the panteon had returned to how it was pre-Pandemic.

So this brings me around to visitor behavior and etiquette for visiting cemeteries in Oaxaca for Day of the Dead.

  1. Please do not dress up in costume or paint your face! Locals don’t like it. This is not the tradition here (nor is it in Patzcuaro). Face painting comes right out of the movie Coco and has nothing to do with Day of the Dead. Nor does Halloween. Like many things, foreigners introduce ways that are culturally inappropriate and erode customs.
  2. Observe how local people dress and comport themselves and do the same.
  3. Come with flowers for graves, Day of the Dead bread, and candles. You can connect with a family this way if you make an offering to their loved one.
  4. Please do not arrive drunk or bring mezcal into the cemeteries. This is not your celebration. You are a visitor who needs to be respectful and circumspect.
  5. Walk slowly. Smile. Say hello. You may be invited to sit when you show that you understand and care.
  6. Please do not point your camera lens in someone’s face. I see this time and again. It happened to me in the village market and it doesn’t feel good. It feels invasive. Ask for permission if you are within six feet of another. Panorama photos can be taken without asking permission.
  7. Understand that you are stepping on sacred ground. This is an 8,000 year old tradition. Please let’s help keep it that way.

If anyone has any other tips or comments they want to add, please send me an email and I’ll publish them. Thank you for reading and listening.

Day of the Dead in Teotitlan del Valle: Altars + Artisans

While we spent most of the day in Teotitlan del Valle learning about the Day of the Dead traditions here, we started out in Santa Maria El Tule at the home studio of flying shuttle loom weaver Alfredo who uses naturally dyed threads to create clothing — blouses and shawls. Oaxaca Cultural Navigator tour partner Elsa Sanchez Diaz, a natural dye master, dyes many of the threads that Alfredo uses in his work. She explained the different fibers and colors to our group of fourteen travelers on a beautiful Oaxaca morning filled with clear air and sunshine!

Alfredo also makes tablecloths, napkins, table runners, dish towels, and bedspreads. For these, he uses natural white manta cloth of fine quality, however the colorful threads incorporated in the weaving are synthetic dyes, much more economical and will withstand years of machine washing. As we know, stains are inevitable and using natural dyes in home goods is impractical!

Alfredo does not practice a formal religion though he was raised Catholic. He tells us that Day of the Dead is not a religious holiday but a cultural one, hearkening back to the pre-Hispanic ancestors. Building an altar is his way of honoring his grandmothers and grandfathers who taught him to weave. He works on several looms that he inherited from his grandfather that are more than ninety years old. They have been repaired repeatedly and the wood frames are pocked with insect holes that accumulated over the years. Nothing here is discarded and age in whatever form — human or inanimate — is revered.

Above video features all the different fibers and dyes that Alfredo uses in his studio. His partner Ana is a book artist who also makes boxes covered in handmade paper and fabric. She is a talent in her own right!

We made three more stops during the day. First to Galeria Fe y Lola to smell and feel the emotional connection with the altar, learning about the importance of celebrating in the home. We were welcomed with the perfume of copal incense, candlelight, and marigold flowers — all important for guiding the spirits of deceased loved ones back home for this twenty-four hour period when they return from the underworld to visit us.

The difuntos enter our world through the sugar cane arches flanking the altar and this portal is necessary to ensure an easy passage. Almost everyone here will have their altars complete by November 1, just in time for the spirits to return at three o’clock in the afternoon. They will stay with us until November 2, consuming the ceremonial foods we have put on the altar for them. At three o’clock on November 2, the church bells will ring and announce the time for the difuntos to return to their resting places in the cemetery. We accompany them, leading the way with copal, to ease them back to the underworld, offering prayers for a smooth passage and a promise that we will see them next year.

For the children who have died before their time, families build small altars and give special prayers on November 1, too. In the city of Oaxaca, there will be comparsas (processions) of parents and children to give special tribute to the young ones who have passed.

The offerings on the altars in Teotitlan del Valle include chocolate, bread, and candles. Other foods can include those favored by the deceased: beer, mezcal, coffee, coca cola, tortillas, tamales stuffed with mole amarillo (a village tradition). There will always be peanuts and pecans, eaten here long before the Spanish arrived.

After a weaving and natural dyeing demonstration, we went to lunch where nutritionist Joanna prepared a meal of memelas topped with bean paste, Oaxaca cheese, and seasoned pork cubes. We were offered toppings of guacamole, roasted tomatoes, and pickled onions. To wash it all down, what else but hibiscus fruit water (agua de jamaica).

A piece de resistance of the afternoon was a demonstration of chocolate making, followed by a cup of steaming hot chocolate and pan de muerto (a Day of the Dead egg bread), which we dunk into the deliciousness.

Our last stop before returning to the city was a visit to Estela and Edith who weave beautiful small tapestries colored with natural dyes that they make into totes and handbags, trimmed with leather straps. It takes about two weeks to make a bag and the craftsmanship is superb. Everyone on the tour got a chance to make a pompom to adorn purse, hair, or use as a hatband, a special gift from the artisans.

On Wednesday, November 1, we will spend the day in San Pablo Villa de Mitla, starting off at the cemetery with Don Arturo where his family is buried.