Tag Archives: culture

Second Section: Chiapas Textile Study Tour–Deep Into the Maya World, March 2022

March 8 -16, 2022 – 8 nights and 9 days, starting at $2,795

SOLD OUT. Email me to get on the wait list. This tour is strictly limited to 10 participants.

At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we aim to give you an unparalleled in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations. Our hope, too, is that we will all be well and it will be safe enough to travel to Chiapas by March 2022. If for any reason we must cancel this tour, you will receive a full 100% refund. See notes below about COVID vaccination requirements to travel with us and our cancellation/refund policy.

The Maya World of Chiapas, Mexico, spans centuries and borders. Maya people weave their complex universe into beautiful cloth. Symbols are part of an ancient pre-Hispanic animist belief system. In the cloth we see frogs, the plumed serpent, woman and man, earth and sky, the four cardinal points, moon and sun, plus more, depending on each weaver.

We go deep into the Mayan world of southern Mexico, from February 22 to March 2, 2022. While we focus on textiles, we also explore what it means to be indigenous, part of cooperative, live in a remote village, have agency and access to economic opportunity. We meet creative, innovative and talented people who open their doors and welcome us.

Our dates of March 8-16, 2022, are reserved in a fine historic hotel. 8 nights, 9 days in and around the San Cristobal de Las Casas highlands.

Cost • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,295 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

We are based in the historic Chiapas mountain town of San Cristobal de las Casas, the center of the Maya world in Mexico. Here we will explore the textile traditions of ancient people who weave on back strap looms.

Women made cloth on simple looms here long before the Spanish conquest in 1521 and their techniques translate into stunning garments admired and collected throughout the world today. Colorful. Vibrant. Warm. Exotic. Connecting. Words that hardly describe the experience that awaits you.

We are committed to give you a rich cultural immersion experience that goes deep rather than broad. We cover a lot of territory. That is why we are spending eight nights in this amazing Pueblo Magico — Magic Town — to focus on Maya textiles, weaving and embroidery traditions.

Our cultural journey takes us into villages, homes and workshops to meet the people who keep their traditions vibrant. We explore churches, museums and ancient cemeteries. This is an interpersonal experience to better know and appreciate Mexico’s amazing artisans.

Your Study Tour Leader is Norma Schafer, Oaxaca Cultural Navigator LLC. We have invited Sheri Brautigam, author of Living Textiles of Mexico, to participate as our expert resource guide (to be confirmed).

Take this study tour to learn about:

  • culture, history and identity of cloth
  • cultural appropriation or cultural appreciation
  • wool spinning and weaving
  • clothing design and construction
  • embroidery and supplementary (pick-up) weft
  • Maya textile designs — iconography and significance
  • village and individual identity through clothing
  • social justice, opportunities and women’s issues
  • market days and mercantile economy
  • local cuisine, coffee, cacao and chocolate
  • quality and value

We work with one of San Cristobal’s best bilingual cultural guides who has worked with weavers and artisans in the region. Alejandro is a native Mexican who knows textiles and can explain the meaning of the woven symbols embedded in the cloth. You will enjoy learning from him.

We will travel in a large comfortable van as we go deep into the Maya world. We promise a sanitized van and all necessary precautions during our visits.

  • We visit 6 Maya weaving villages
  • We enjoy home-cooked meals
  • We meet makers and directly support them
  • We go far and away, off-the-beaten path
  • We decode the weaving designs unique to each woman and village
  • We explore three towns on their market days
  • We understand the sacred, mysterious rituals of Maya beliefs

Who Should Attend  Anyone who loves cloth, culture, and collaboration • Textile and fashion designers • Weavers, embroiderers and collectors • Photographers and artists who want inspiration • Resellers

Daily Itinerary

Tuesday, March 8: Travel day. Arrive and meet at our hotel in San Cristobal de las Casas. You will receive directions to get from the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport to our hotel. The airport is a clean and modern facility with straightforward signage. You will book your flight to Tuxtla from Mexico City on either Interjet, AeroMar, Volaris or Aeromexico. To find best routes and rates, search Skyscanner.com There are plenty of taxis and shuttle services to take you there. Your cost of transportation to/from San Cristobal is on your own. Taxis are about $55 USD or 800 pesos. Shared shuttle is 180 pesos or about $10 USD.

Wednesday, March 9: On our first day in San Cristobal de las Casas, we orient you to the textiles of the Maya World. You will learn about weaving and embroidery traditions, patterns and symbols, women and villages, history and culture. After a breakfast discussion, we will visit Centro Textiles Mundo Maya museum, Sna Jolobil Museum Shop for fine regional textiles, meander the Santo Domingo outdoor market that takes over the plaza in front of the church, and visit two outstanding textile shops. We guide you along the walking streets to get your bearings. We finish the morning together with a Group Welcome Lunch. (B, L)

Thursday, March 10: Tenejapa is about an hour and a world away from San Cristobal de Las Casas. Today is market day when villagers line the streets filled with fresh fruits, vegetables, meats, and household supplies. Peer into dimly lit doorways to find hidden textile treasures. We’ll meander the market to see what’s there. In years past, I’ve found some stunning shawls, huipils and bags. Keep your eyes open. Then, we will visit the outstanding textile cooperative founded by Doña Maria Meza Giron. After a box lunch at the centuries- old Romerillo Maya cemetery, we continue on up another mountain to visit Maruch (Maria), a Chamula woman at her rural home. Surrounded by sheep and goats, Maruch will demonstrate back strap loom weaving and wool carding, and how she makes long-haired wool skirts, tunics and shawls. Perhaps there will be some treasures to consider. Return to San Cristobal de Las Casas in time for dinner on your own. (B, L)

Friday, March 11: After breakfast, we set out for a full morning at Na Bolom, Jaguar House, the home of anthropologist Franz Blom and his photographer wife, Gertrude Duby Blom. The house is now a museum filled with pre-Hispanic folk art and jewelry. We walk the gardens and learn about Franz and Trudy’s work with the Lacandon tribe and their relationship with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. After hot chocolate there we go to the outskirts of town to an outstanding women’s weaving cooperative that was founded over 40 years ago. You will learn about international collaborations and textile design that conserves traditions while meeting marketplace needs for exquisite and utilitarian cloth. After lunch on your own, we meet in the early evening to visit Museo de Trajes Regionales and humanitarian healer Sergio Castro, who has a large private collection of Maya indigenous daily and ceremonial dress representing each Chiapas region. (B)

Saturday, March 12: We set out by foot to a nearby textile collaboration that houses three different cooperative groups, one of which is founded by Alberto Lopez Gomez who was invited to New York Fashion Week in 2020. We hear presentations about creativity, style, innovation, and how to incorporate tradition while breaking new ground. Next, we stop at Los Leñateros, the hand-made paper workshop that is also a graphics arts print studio. You will have the afternoon and evening on your own. (B)

Sunday, March 13: This is a big day! First we go to San Lorenzo Zinacantan, where greenhouses cover the hillsides. Here, indigenous dress is embellished in exquisite floral designs, mimicking the flowers they grow. First we meander the open-air market, then visit the church, bedecked in fresh flowers. Next stop is magical, mystical San Juan Chamula where the once-Catholic church is given over to a pre-Hispanic pagan religious practice that involves chickens, eggs and coca-cola. You’ll find out why. We’ll roam Chamula’s abundant textile market, compare and contrast fabrics and designs. (B, L) Dinner on your own.

Monday, March 14: Today, we make a study tour to the textile villages of San Andres Larrainzer and Magdalena Aldama. This is another ultimate cultural experience to immerse yourself into families of weavers in their humble homes. We will see how they weave and embroider beautiful, fine textiles, ones you cannot find in the city markets or shops. They will host a show and sale for us, and we will join them around the open hearth for a warming meal of free range chicken soup, house made tortillas, and of course, a sip of posh! (B, L)

Tuesday, March 15: This is expoventa day! We have invited one of the finest embroiderers of Aguacatenango blouses, an amber wholesaler, an organic coffee grower/roaster, and other artisans to show and sell their work. Afternoon is on your own to do last minute shopping and packing in preparation for your trip home. We end our study tour with a gala group goodbye dinner. (B, D)

Wednesday, March 16. Depart. You will arrange your own transportation from San Cristobal to the Tuxtla Gutierrez airport. The hotel guest services can help. It takes about 1-1/2 hours to get to Tuxtla, plus 1-2 hours for check-in. Connect from Tuxtla to Mexico City and then on to your home country.

What Is Included

• 8 nights lodging at a top-rated San Cristobal de las Casas hotel within walking distance to the historic center and pedestrian streets

• 8 breakfasts • 4 lunches • 1 grand finale gala dinner

• museum and church entry fees

• luxury van transportation

• outstanding and complete guide services

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,295 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $500 deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of  50% of the balance is due on or before October 1, 2021. The third 50% payment of the balance is due on or before December 15, 2021. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After December 15, 2021, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before December 15, 2021, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds.

If we cancel for whatever reason, we will offer a 100% refund of all amounts received to date.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

NOTE: All travelers must provide proof of vaccination for COVID-19 to travel with us. You must also wear CDC-approved face masks, use hand-sanitizer, and maintain all public health precautions. By the time we travel, it is likely booster vaccinations will be required and you will need that, too.

How to Register:  First, complete the Registration Form and send it to us. We will then send you an invoice to make your reservation deposit.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: San Cristobal de las Casas is a hill-town in south central Chiapas, the Mexican state that borders Guatemala. The altitude is 7,000 feet. Streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, mostly narrow and have high curbs. Pavement stones are slippery, especially when walking across driveways that slant at steep angles across the sidewalk to the street. We will do a lot of walking. Being here is a walker’s delight because there are three flat streets devoted exclusively to walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day at a moderate pace. We recommend you bring a walking stick and wear sturdy shoes.

NOTE: If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the program for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include plenty of free time to go off on your own if you wish.

Hopeful! 2021 Oaxaca Day of the Dead Culture Tour

October 28 to November 4, 2021 – 7 nights and 8 days, starting at $2,795

We are hopeful! Day of the Dead in Oaxaca, Mexico, is meaningful and magical.  Celebrations in the villages go deep into Zapotec culture, community, tradition and pre-Hispanic practice. Some say it is the most important annual celebration in Mexico and here in Oaxaca, we know this is true. A $500 deposit will secure your place. This tour is limited to 10 participants.

We have 3 spaces open! Don’t miss out.

At Oaxaca Cultural Navigator, we hope to give you an unparalleled and in-depth travel experience to participate and delve deeply into indigenous culture, folk art and celebrations. Our hope, too, is that we will all be well and it will be safe enough to travel to Oaxaca by October 2021. If for any reason we must cancel this tour, you will receive a full 100% refund. See notes below about COVID vaccination requirements to travel with us.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is MuertosMitaAltar-724x479.jpg
Day of the Dead Altar

Now, back to the tour: Beyond the city, in the Tlacolula Valley, the smaller villages are still able to retain their traditional practices.  Here they build altars at home, light copal incense, make offerings of homemade chocolate, bread and atole, prepare a special meal of tamales, and visit the homes of relatives to greet deceased ancestors who have returned for this 24-hour period.  Then, at the designated hour, the living go to the cemeteries to be with their loved ones  — either to welcome them back into the world or put them to rest after their visit here – the practice depends on each village.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 13_PanteonJungle-724x526.jpg

You will learn about this and more as you come with us to meet artisans in four different villages who welcome us into their homes and their lives during this sacred festival.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_0181_Mask_2-724x485.jpg

Study Tour Highlights:

  • Visit homes, altars and cemeteries in four Zapotec villages: Teotitlan del Valle, San Pablo Villa de Mitla, San Marcos Tlapazola and San Miguel del Valle
  • Participate in presenting altar offerings at each home we visit
  • As a group, build a traditional altar to remember and honor your own loved ones
  • Learn to make homemade chocolate with the Mexican cacao bean
  • See a tamale-making demonstration and taste what is prepared
  • Shop for altar décor at the largest Teotitlan del Valle market of the year
  • Learn how mezcal is an integral part of festival culture and tradition
This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Best-91-Muertos-9-479x724.jpg

We created this study tour to take you out of the city, beyond the hubbub of party revelry and glitz of a Halloween-like experience that has morphed into a Hollywood-style extravaganza in downtown Oaxaca.  We will compare how city celebrations differ from those in villages by participating in city events first.  Our desire is to give you a full immersion experience that evokes what Day of the Dead may have been like 20 or 50 years ago–mystical,  magical, transcendent and spiritual.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is Best51Muertos-47-724x518.jpg

Even so, cultural tourism has found its way into the back roads of Oaxaca.  We do our best to be respectful by limiting the size of our group to 10-12 participants, to give you an orientation about to what to expect and do during our visits, and to offer you an intimate, personal experience.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is MuertosCatrinasBest38-35-479x724.jpg

You have the guidance of local expert Eric Chavez Santiago who will co-lead this cultural tour with Norma Schafer, founder of Oaxaca Cultural Navigator.  

Eric Chavez Santiago is an expert in Oaxaca and Mexican folk art with a special interest in artisan economic development.  He is a weaver and natural dyer by training, a fourth generation member of the Fe y Lola rug weaving family, who was born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle. He has intimate knowledge of local traditions and customs, speaks the indigenous Zapotec language, and serves as your cultural navigator. 

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is b-724x482.jpg

Eric is a graduate of the Anahuac University, and speaks English and Spanish. He can translate language, culture and traditions, tell you about practices in his extended family and how they have experienced the changes over time.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is NormaBest11Xoxo10312013-6-724x479.jpg

Moreover, he is deeply connected and will introduce you to some of the finest artisans in the region, where you will meet weavers, ceramic artists, apron makers and traditional cooks. You will have an opportunity to see artisan craft demonstrations and to shop for your own collection or for gifts, as you wish.

You will spend the first two nights in Oaxaca City, then you will move to a comfortable Bed and Breakfast Inn based in Teotitlan del Valle for the remainder of our time together.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc_0169-724x486.jpg
Angel in Pan de Muertos (Day of the Dead bread)

Preliminary Itinerary

Thursday, October 28: Arrive in Oaxaca City and check in to our centrally-located boutique hotel

Friday, October 29: After breakfast, explore the city and the Benito Juarez market to see preparations for Dia de los Muertos, and gallery/shop decorations. We will also catch a comparsa – the traditional Muertos parade – along the pedestrian street as our schedule permits. Overnight in Oaxaca. (Breakfast and welcome dinner)

Saturday, October 30: Travel to Teotitlan del Valle and check in to our comfortable B&B, take a chocolate making workshop with a traditional cook that includes a visit to the local molino (mill) to grind the cacao bean mixture. See how traditional mole Amarillo tamales are prepared and have a tasting.  We will talk about family altars, their significance and what goes into making one. You will then enjoy comida (late lunch) in the home of a local family.  (B, L)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is tamales-e1498503964227-543x724.jpg
Teotitlan del Valle tamales with mole amarillo, made by Ernestina

Sunday, October 31: After breakfast, walk to the Teotitlan del Valle market to shop for altar decorations to later build a group altar. Bring photos of those you want to remember! Then, we will venture out into the countryside to visit the Zapotec villages of San Marcos Tlapazola and San Miguel del Valle to meet artisans and discuss their family Dia de los Muertos traditions. You will see demonstrations of red clay pottery and embroidered apron making and have a chance to buy if you wish. We will come prepared with altar gifts of chocolate and bread to present to the difuntos. On the road, we will stop at a traditional comedor for lunch (at your own expense). (B, D)  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is 6_Zapotecs-7-724x479.jpg

Monday, November 1: After breakfast, travel to San Pablo Villa de Mitla to meet weaver artisans who will take us to their family gravesite at the village cemetery and talk about this village and their history and traditions. Visit homes where traditional altars tell the story of ancient Zapotec culture. You will bring your offering of chocolate and bread to put on their altars to honor the deceased of our hosts.  We will take lunch at a local comedor along the way (at your own expense). Then, make a stop on the way home for a mezcal tasting – Para todo mal, mezcal. Para todo bien, tambien.  (B, D)  

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is NormaBenchDSC_0153-724x485.jpg

Tuesday, November 2: After breakfast, you will visit the homes of selected weavers in Teotitlan del Valle to experience each family’s variation on altar preparation, and see a weaving and natural dyeing demonstration. You’ll then join a local family for lunch and accompany them to the cemetery to sit with their loved ones as they return to the underworld. After the cemetery, you will have a cena (late repast) of bread and hot chocolate, discuss how participating in Day of the Dead had an impact on you. Compare and contrast this experience with USA and Canadian experiences with death and dying.  (B, L, D)

Wednesday, November 3: After breakfast, the choice is yours for this free-day. You may like some downtime to write about your experiences or take a hike to the reservoir or meander the village. You can also arrange a taxi to take you to neighboring villages or archeological sites. We will enjoy a final goodbye supper before you depart.

Thursday, November 4: Departure. We will help you arrange a taxi (at your own expense) to the airport or you may choose to stay on in Oaxaca or visit another part of Mexico.  (B) Hasta la proxima!

Itinerary subject to change based on scheduling and availability.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is i-482x724.jpg

What Is Included

  • 7 breakfasts, 2 lunches, 5 dinners
  • 2 nights lodging at an excellent boutique hotel in Oaxaca City
  • 5 nights lodging at a charming B&B hotel in Teotitlan del Valle
  • museum and church entry fees
  • van transportation
  • outstanding and complete guide services

What is NOT Included

The workshop does NOT include airfare, taxes, tips, travel insurance, liquor or alcoholic beverages, some meals, and local transportation as specified in the itinerary. We reserve the right to substitute instructors and alter the program as needed.

Cost • $2,795 double room with private bath (sleeps 2) • $3,445 single room with private bath (sleeps 1)

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is dsc_0100-724x486.jpg
Natural dyes have strong color, beautiful and more complex than synthetic dyes

Reservations and Cancellations.  A $500 deposit is required to guarantee your spot. The balance is due in two equal payments. The second payment of 50% of the balance is due on or before June 15, 2021. The third payment is due on or before September 1, 2021. We accept payment using online e-commerce only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After September 1, 2021, there are no refunds. If you cancel on or before September 1, 2021, we will refund 50% of your deposit received to date. After that, there are no refunds. If we cancel for whatever reason, you will receive a full refund.

The tour and COVID-19: You are required to send proof of vaccination to participate. You must send Proof of Vaccination by email on or before June 15, 2021. You can take a photo of the documentation and forward it to us. All participants are required to wear face masks, use hand-sanitizer and practice social distancing while together. We will sanitize vans and keep the windows open when traveling together. Please note: You MUST also provide proof of international travel insurance including $50,000 of emergency medical evacuation coverage.

Registration Form

Complete the form and Send an email to Norma Schafer.

Tell us if you want a shared/double room or a private/single room. We will send you an e-commerce invoice by email that is due on receipt.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is San-Marcos-Tlapazola2-494x724.jpg
Red clay pottery, San Marcos Tlapazola

Who Should Attend • Anyone interested in indigenous culture and creativity, who wants a deep immersion experience into Day of the Dead practices and traditions, and who appreciates artisan craft — weaving, embroidery, pottery. If you are a collector, come with us to go deep and find the best artisans. If you are a photographer or artist, come with us for inspiration. If you are an online retailer, come with us to find the stories to market what you sell.

To Register, Policies, Procedures & Cancellations–Please Read

Reservations and Cancellations.  We accept online e-commerce payments only. We will send you an itemized invoice when you tell us you are ready to register. After September 1, 2021, there are no refunds. If we receive notice of your cancelation on or before September 1, 2021, 50% of the funds you have paid to date will be refunded. After that, there are no refunds.

All documentation for plane reservations, required travel insurance, and personal health issues must be received 45 days before the program start or we reserve the right to cancel your registration without reimbursement.

Terrain, Walking and Group Courtesy: Oaxaca and surrounding villages are colonial and pre-Hispanic. The altitude is close to 6,000 feet. Many streets and sidewalks are cobblestones, narrow and uneven. We will do a lot of walking. We walk a lot — up to 10,000 steps per day. We recommend you bring a walking stick.

If you have mobility issues or health/breathing impediments, please consider that this may not be the study tour for you.

Traveling with a small group has its advantages and also means that independent travelers will need to make accommodations to group needs and schedule. We include free time to go off on your own if you wish.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is DSC_0292_Abuela_2-724x485.jpg
Sitting vigil in the village cemetery, Dia de los Muertos

What do we call them? Huipiles. Not Caftans!

In addition to cultural appropriation, there is a debate raging about what to call the hand-woven, back-strap loomed garments from Mexico that many of us know as huipiles. This is plural. The singular is huipil. (Some huipiles for sale below!)

How do you say it?

Whee-peel.

(or What do you do with a banana? We peel. — Thank you, Mary Randall)

Whee-peel-ess.

Caftan (kaftan) or tunic is a misnomer. I am reminded of this via a text message this morning from Ana Paula Fuentes, who introduced me to Las Sanjuaneras some years ago and was the founding director of the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. I promised her that you and I would have a discussion about Mexican clothing as a way to spread the word about culture.

I just want to set the record straight that I called these garments thus because it is what the American and Canadian marketplace knows and understands as a fashion definition. We’ve been acculturated since the 60’s when these garments came to us from Europe and North Africa and Asia as casual wear, beach and pool wear, loungewear. Now, with Covid-19, the idea is being reintroduced to the world of contemporary clothing as a perfect solution to comfort while we are homebound.

Let’s have the conversation: Clothing origins from Mexico deserve to be called by their true name. Huipil. Bluson. Blusa. Rebozo. Quechquemitl. Etc. And, we can spread the word about the quality of Mexico’s indigenous weaving by using the true name of the garment. People need to know these are huipiles. Not caftans or tunics.

Bluson: A short, cropped flowing version of a huipil, usually waist-length or hip-length.

Blusa: A blouse, more fitted than free-form; a universal term.

Rebozo: A shawl whose origins are from the Philippines via Spain.

Quechquemitl: A triangular pull-over shawl, scarf, cover-up that is pre-Hispanic and the first indigenous garment.

So, help us out here. When you wear one of these garments, call it a Huipil. Together, we can be influencers and talk about Mexico as being a fashion innovator rather than a follower of Euro-centric style. You give value to the weavers this way, too. Thank you.

Still some beauties from Las Sanjuaneras For Sale

#10. Andrea. Bluson. Marigold, chocolatillo. 35-1/2×24. $295.

To Buy: Please email me normahawthorne@mac.com with your name, mailing address and item number. I will mark it SOLD, send you a PayPal link to purchase and add $12 for cost of mailing. Please be sure to select Send Money to Family and Friends! We also accept Venmo and I can send you a Square invoice (+3% fee) if you don’t use PayPal.

#2. Camerina. Huipil. Indigo, iron oxide. $285. 34-1/2×34. $285.
#18. Aurora. 19×28. Blusa. Nanche, mahogany, almond, beet. $195.
SOLD. #16. Patrocinia. Bluson. Indigo, native cotton, $195.
#24. Aurora. Bluson. Beet, mahogany, nanche, almond, iron oxide. 38×22. $295.
SOLD. #7. Maria Lucia. 40×40. Huipil. Indigo, iron oxide, beet, nanche. $395
#20. Andrea. Blusa. Marigold, iron oxide, native cotton. 22-3/4×30. $195.
#21. Margarita. Blusa. Marigold, iron oxide, beet, brazilwood, 22-3/4×35. $165.

In the Villages: Tenejapa, Romerillo and Chamula, Chiapas

The weather turned. It got cold. Cold enough for wool socks, down jackets and mittens. There are fourteen of us and we climbed into the van with our guide Alejandro and our resource expert Sheri. Our destination was the weekly Thursday market in Tenejapa.

Leslie, Felicia, Marsha, Biddy and Irene at the Tenejapa market
Selling threads for weaving and embroidery, Tenejapa

It’s Carnival time here. In Tenejapa, this coincides with a pre-Hispanic celebration to pray for a good corn planting. This is a mash-up time of celebration — to mock political leaders including Lopez Obrador, the president of Mexico, and El Señor Trump whose costumed character paraded around in arrogant style. It is a time for drinking posh, the local distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugar cane, and eating tamales.

Recognize this man?
Young men participating in village rituals and celebrations
We saw a woman working on this embroidered piece inside a pharmacy

I advised our travelers to look deep and carefully along the market street, into dimly lit shops selling food, medicines, household goods, shoes, to find handwoven textiles suspended in the shadows. This is how they might find a treasure to take home from this distinctive backstrap loom weaving village.

Julia found this amazing furry shawl hidden away in the Tenejapa market

At the cooperative founded by 65-year-old Maria Meza and others in 1980, we learned about women’s lives, the passing on of the tradition to young women, and how everything in the cooperative is made without compromise on the traditional backstrap loom — from simple bags to elaborate huipiles.

The Mayordomo of the Fiesta and his Wife, two steps behind

The cold fog never lifts and it seems it got colder by the time we arrived at Romerillo cemetery. Everything was shrouded in fog. We ate our lunch of sandwiches and chips like campers, huddled under the the Maya crosses adorned with dried pine branches, sitting on the concrete base or standing. It was a quick visit.

Maria Meza, 62 years old, cooperative founder, with naturally-dyed textile
Innovation with new colors, traditional designs — key to the future
Melanie with a favorite bag
Organic (criollo) homegrown radishes, Tenejapa market

Our final stop was at the home of Maruch and her son Tesh, in a remote Chamulan village about 30 minutes from Tenejapa up a winding dirt mountain road. This is not standard tourism. Here, they showed us how they weave the furry Chamula-style wool skirts dyed with mud filled with minerals that turns brown sheep wool the color of black.

Pine trees and Maya crosses, pre-Hispanic symbols of life, cardinal points
Maya cemetery, the graves are covered with boards, the door to the underworld`
Maruch wrapping warp on the stairway to the moon, the counting board

After the demonstration and the opportunity to buy ponchos, shawls, and embroidered bags, we ended our day with a sip of nanche-flavored posh and a demonstration of ancient Chamula musical instruments — including ocelet skins with bells — and song performed by Tesh and his brother Alejandro.

Mary, Sunnie and Margaret present reading glasses to Maruch, Tesh’s mother
Weaver acculturates her infant daughter at the backstrap loom

We were back in San Cristobal de las Casas in time for dinner!

Lynn with her dazzling, sparkly bolsa (bag)

Sheri Brautigam, author of Living Textiles of Mexico, and I are organizing another Deep Into the Maya World: Chiapas Textile Study Tour in 2021. The 2021 dates are February 223-March 3, 2021 and the itinerary will be about the same. Our trips usually sell-out, so if you are interested in joining us on this adventure, please complete the registration form at the top of this website and send it to me. Registration is now OPEN.

Our group of 14 travelers with Tesh’s family — we supported them!

Doll Fascination in Oaxaca and Beyond

Walk the artisan lane at the Sunday Tlacolula Market and you will see handmade dolls for sale from San Bartolome Quilana. Their traje (dress) is a replica of the brightly colored floral head scarves and aprons the women of the village wear. Their embroidered faces smile at all passersby.

San Pablo Villa de Mitla doll made by Armando Sosa, Norma’s collection

Every culture makes dolls, it seems. Are they merely playmates for little girls or collectibles for adult women? What do they evoke? Is there some meaning beyond the external? Is a doll more than Barbie, the iconic figure created in 1959, that symbolizes girl as empty-headed plaything?

Everyone here, it seems, is making and selling dolls. At Arturo Hernandez’ weaving studio in Mitla, his wife Marta is making dolls to sell to tourists. In Chiapas, there are doll recreations of Sub-Commander Marcos and his tribe. Villages there make and dress dolls in their traje, too. Papier-mache doll figures from Mexico City city that look like puppets with floppy limbs depict street walkers, cherubs with rosy cheeks and glittery gowns. Giant dolls, called mojigangas — dance in front of Oaxaca’s Santo Domingo church for every Saturday wedding calenda.

Dolls from Chiapas and Oaxaca, Norma’s collection

Dolls are not frivolous playthings just for little girls, said Ellen Benson at her talk at the Oaxaca Lending Library this week. The room was filled to capacity with almost 70 people attending.

Ellen Benson with Keep My WiFi Working talisman

She explains. We call them action figures if they are for boys. In cultures around the world they are idols, effigies, saints, totems, shamans, power objects, and healers. Dolls are objects of cultural significance. They bring good luck, they are supplications for a good harvest, they are used for magic, storytelling and veneration.

A doll is NOT belittling and should not be considered as gender stereotyping, Ellen goes on to say.

She should know. She is a maker of dolls using found objects. She is part of a Philadelphia art group called Dumpster Divers. She calls herself a Dumpster Diva, and she calls the dolls she makes Divas. She combs junk yards and yard sales, piles of rejects, has a basement workshop filled with memorabilia, bottle caps, ribbon, fabric pieces, shards and discards. Her work is widely exhibited. And she spends two-months each winter in Oaxaca, Mexico.

Detail, paint brush legs and found objects, Ellen Benson dolls

Dolls are used in play therapy, Ellen says. They tell stories of women, men and families. They are memory prayers. They may contain herbs or medicine, or ward of evil spirits. In the Hopi spirit world the color of the Kachina signifies direction, ceremony. On every continent, native peoples created dolls from available materials to pray, heal, symbolize the resilience of people.

Ellen has favorite artists who has influenced her doll-making: Terry Terrell, an outsider artist from Seattle who uses texture, carved wood, clay, twine and beads. Betye Saar who depicted the Liberation of Aunt Jemima (below), set free from the stereotyped image of black servant, released from the burden of being a domestic. Hugo Tovar, whose lifesize figures adorn the courtyard of Plaza Santo Domingo in Oaxaca. Paul Klee, who made puppets for his grandson. Nick Cave, who creates images that obscures race and gender, offering the freedom to be who we are.

The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, by Betye Tovar

We need to take a broad view of doll as a human figure, offering protective power and meaning. Doll-making is a way, perhaps, of self-reflection about who we are and who we want to be.

Ellen Benson’s Doll Family — they belong together!

So, when you walk the Oaxaca streets, keep your eyes open for dolls. They are more than a thing of beauty or playmate for a grandchild. They are a reflection of the culture.

Papier-maché street-walker doll, Mexico