Aside from living in Oaxaca, most of you know that I live part of the year in Taos, New Mexico, where I am in love with all things Southwest. Apart from Oaxaca Cultural Navigator and Shop.Oaxacaculture.Com where we feature clothing, home goods, jewelry, gifts and more, I’ve decided to open a shop that focuses on handmade New Mexico and Arizona, mostly jewelry.
I’m also featuring a handmade black pot signed by famed potter Maria Martinez and decorated by her son Popovi Da. Maria is the most famous potter from San Ildefonso Pueblo, NM, who died in 1980.
Since I just finished the Southwest Road Trip with my sister and discovered so many artisans along the way that I couldn’t help supporting, this made perfect sense. The Etsy shop will be open through December 29 when I leave for Oaxaca for the winter.
If you see something you want, you can either buy it directly from Etsy, or contact me and I will offer you a 10% discount if you buy directly from me without going through Etsy. Discount offer good through December 15, 2023.
We have hopscotched through four states — New Mexico, Arizona, Utah, and Colorado since October 1, 2023. We left Canyon de Chelly (pronounced SHAY) and Chinle, Arizona, yesterday morning and are back in Gallup, NM, before going on to Chaco Canyon, NM, where we will see the annular solar eclipse on October 14 as it passes over us there. This location promises to give us the maximum view!
Mostly, for the last week, we have been in Navajo country, a vast area of 16 million acres that spans New Mexico and Arizona. Diné is the native language and this is what the people prefer to be called. I was compelled to do this road trip after reading the epic tale of conquest of the American West, Blood and Thunder by historian Hampton Sides.
He eloquently tells the story of the Diné people and their expulsion from their sacred homeland, Canyon de Chelly, by Kit Carson and the U.S. Cavalry in 1964. They employed a scorched earth policy by burning corn and wheat fields, killing churro sheep, and starving them out. They cut down 5,000 mature peach trees on the valley floor. The Diné forced Long Walk to desolate Fort Sumner in southeast New Mexico along the Pecos River near the Texas border, resulted in hundreds of deaths. It is told and retold today, a painful part of history.
In a sense, this trip has been about learning more deeply about Native Americans by visiting them on their ancestral lands, in their pueblos, appreciating their connection to the spiritual, and the beautiful weavings, pottery, baskets, and jewelry that they create. We have eaten Navajo tacos (fry bread topped with chile con carne, onions, tomatoes, and cheese, and attended the Northern Navajo Fair in Shiprock.
Most importantly, we spent a full day on the floor of Canyon de Chelly with a Diné guide exploring the cliff dwellings built by the Ancestral Puebloans and retracing the footsteps of great grandmothers and grandfathers who were forcibly expelled and then interned at Fort Sumner from 1864 to 1868.
Yes, Diné people still inhabit the canyon floor where they farm, tend apple orchards, raise horses and cattle. They are the descendants of the survivors. On the canyon rims, too, there are ranches and farms where Diné gave lived for generations.
What is remarkable here are the Ancestral Puebloan cliff dwellings, much more numerous than at Mesa Verde. We made the trip through Canyon de Chelly in a Jeep, across gullies and washes, through shifting sand, wind, over rocks and between old growth trees. I sat in the back seat and figured after this ride, I could easily ride a horse in Michoacan.
Our destination was the impressive Mummy Cave and White House. We saw some amazing petroglyphs, also created between 350 and 1300 AD. The Diné painted glyphs of Spanish conquistadores that came through in the 16th century using charcoal.
From the South Rim road, we saw Spider Rock, the birthplace of the Navajo Nation. From the canyon floor, we saw where the Diné climbed the narrow crevice to get to the top of Fortress Rock to escape, and hide from, the U.S. Cavalry.
The only way to explore the ancient archeological sites, caves, and petroglyphs is by going on a tour with a Diné guide. It was expensive, but it was well worth the experience. We both agreed that this was a highlight of our trip so far.
According to Navajo legend, the red sandstone buttes of Monument Valley that stand 1,000 feet above the desert floor, trap long-defeated monsters that are part of the Navajo creation story. Monument Valley is a Navajo Tribal Park and almost everything here is Native owned and operated. We are here for three nights, spending the first night at Gouldings in Utah, and the second night at The View Hotel, just across the border in Arizona. On Wednesday, October 4, we took a 4 p.m. to dusk tour with Chris, our Navajo guide from The Three Sisters Navajo Guided Tours. The tour was spectacular and Chris gave us both a cultural and personal history of the region, making it extra special.
We are in an ancient sea bed of red sand rich in iron ore, outcroppings of juniper trees, grasses, sage, and yellow-blooming chamisa. Once, millions of years ago, the mesa was at the top of these monster spires, which give the landscape a other-worldly appearance. We could be on the surface of an unknown planet. If you want to read more about the geology, click here.
Anthropologists generally agree that the Navajo came to North America some 6,000 years ago from north Asia, moving from Canada south into the American southwest and Monument Valley about 500 years ago. To read about the Navajo creation story, click here.
Our tour, on a dirt and sandy trail, took us into the far reaches of the valley, where erosion, wind, shifts in the earth, create phantasmagorical sculptures on the 7,000+ foot high desert floor that is part of the Colorado Plateau. In the distance, we can see Bears’ Ears, the latest national monument to be created by the Obama administration. Chris tells us that under the 45th President, there was a move to sell off the lands to private mining interests that was then reversed by Joe Biden. Still, the region is in peril of mining development because of strong lobbying interests.
Monument Valley is an icon of the America west. In the 1930’s, Henry Goulding, who had established a trading post here in the 1920’s, needed a source of income during the Great Depression. He went to Hollywood and convinced director John Ford to film Stagecoach starring John Wayne in his breakthrough role. The film was released in 1939. Goulding constructed lodge rooms and dining facilities to host film crew and actors. The rest is tourism history!
On this trip we have heard a multitude of languages here: Italian, German, Dutch, Russian, Slavic languages, Korean, Japanese, Dine (a southern Athabaskan language) spoken by the Navajo or Dine people, Spanish, and English. Tourists are here from all over the world!
If you want to know more about the history of the Dine people, please read the epic book Blood and Thunder, by Hampton Sides, about the conquering of the American west and the key characters who waged war and appropriated the land, including Kit Carson.
We made a stop to visit a rug weaver who raises Churro sheep on the reservation, cards and spins the wool, and who was born in a hogan (pronounced Ho-Wahn) next to where she conducted her demonstration. She tells us that winters have changed — there may be one foot of snow when in recent years there was six feet or more during the winter. Now, it is just windy and bitterly cold from December through early March.
Our guide Kris Chee, age 41, has only returned to Monument Valley, the original home of his family, a year ago. He had a yearning to return to his roots after working outside, telling us that there is little employment here other than tourism. His dad, who was in the US Army, was stationed in Fayetteville, North Carolina, for many years, and that is where he grew up. He returned here to finish high school and left again. Now, he drives a big Toyota Tacoma 8-cylinder truck that hauls a trailer to hold passengers intent on seeing the valley, explaining the lore as we make various stops to see buttes, climb sandhills, and oggle at ancient petroglyphs carved in rocks by Anasazi predecessors.
On our way back to the Visitor’s Center, we made a stop at Navajo Code Talkers point. The spot honors the young men who created an unbreakable code for communication during WWII based on the Dine language. This is an important part of our collective history to recognize the contributions of Native American culture.
Kris is intent on understanding and practicing native rituals and beliefs as he embraces traditional Navajo life. These are based on how to live in harmony with nature and other people. Something we can all learn to do better!
Tomorrow, Friday morning, we leave for Mesa Verde. To be continued!
This will be the last of my 2021 sales. I leave Taos, NM on my way back to Oaxaca on Decemberr 11. This sale features some outstanding pieces from Oaxaca and Chiapas, including blusas, ponchos, quechquemitls, ruanas, scarves and shawls. Please order and purchase by December 9 so I can get your pieces in the mail by December 10 (if not before)! There are 14 pieces — be sure to scroll down to see 4 BONUS pieces of jewelry from New Mexico I have included.
As I return to Oaxxaca, I’ll be writing about covid travel safety and precautions, protecting oneself from the new omicron variant, and other related issues. Meanwhile, I want to follow-up, too, on what I’ve been writing about how to visit Oaxaca with cultural sensitivity during covid. Tourism is so important to Mexico. It makes up most of the income of the informal economy (independent artisans). We don’t want to discourage safe tourism. We do want to discuss how to be a guest in indigenous villages where people are especially vulnerability. Only now is Mexico authorizing boosters for people over age 60. Vaccine access and administration is still a big issue. Most under age 30 are not vaccinated.
Related to this is a recent conversation I’ve had with Susan Coss of La Mezcalistas.My question is: How is mezcal changing the face of Oaxaca? We will be talking more about this, too. I’m still processing my experience being in Oaxaca during Day of the Dead.
So, if you want to bring a bit of Oaxaca and Chiapas home, consider making a purchase of these beautiful garments. Perfect holiday adornment — whether you celebrate quietly or with family and friends in an atmosphere of safety and respect. These make special, unforgettable gifts, too.
How to buy: mailto:email@example.com Tell me the item you want by number. Send me your mailing address. I will send you a PayPal invoice (or use Zelle or Venmo if you prefer — just tell me in your email!) after you ID your choices. The invoice will include the cost of the garment + $12 mailing. If you want more than one piece, I’m happy to combine mailing. I’ll be mailing from Taos, NM. Next day to the post office guaranteed if you order and buy before December 9. On December 11, I’m in transit to return to Oaxaca.
In a week, I climb on the magic bird to carry me back to Oaxaca. It’s been a year-and-a-half since I left, just before Covid became a pandemic in March 2021 that erased all our plans and created this hunker-down-for-a-while, I’m scared mentality. Yesterday, I got my third jab, the Pfizer-BioNTech booster, plus a flu shot. I’m ready, face masks and sanitizer in the packing pile. Back to Teotitlan del Valle where churro sheep wool is carded and dyed to weave into rugs.
Churro sheep came to the Americas with the Spanish conquest. We find this breed in Northern New Mexico and Colorado, where the high altitudes are conducive to growing a thick pelt. When it is shorn, carded and woven, it makes thick, sturdy, resilient blankets (for humans and horses), and later adapted to the making of floor rugs.
My adopted Zapotec family in Teotitlan del Valle, Galeria Fe y Lola, buy their handspun Churro wool from Chichicapam and the Mixteca, where 7,000 feet altitude guarantees a higher quality pelt. This elevation is similar to the Mountain States where livestock growers, spinners and dyers work in this wool to textile weavers who use the ancient European treadle loom that was also introduced by the Spanish in the New World.
This sheep is descended from the Iberian Churra, prized by the Spanish for its hardiness and adaptability. It was the first breed of sheep domesticated in the New World in the 16th Century, when it was used to feed and clothe the armies of the conquistadores, clergy and settlers. We can trace the lineage to 1494 when Spain established colonies in the Caribbean and Mexico. There were no four-legged animals in North America and only llamas in South America before the Spanish arrived.
Carolyn wrote to me to add this:
How the Spanish brought sheep to America? In slings in the holds of their ships! Several years ago a replica of the Santa Maria sailed into the Oakland estuary and docked for several days. We were able to tour the ship and the sailors were more than happy to answer our questions. Four legged animals were kept in slings so their legs would not break in rough weather. The smell must have been atrocious. But the image stuck with me.I’m happy for you that you finally get to go back to Oaxaca.
Taos is host to the annual Wool Festival, now in its 38th year, and always held the first weekend in October. I made it a point to attend. Fiber art and textiles call to me here, too. Why was I surprised to see rugs woven on the peddle loom using churro sheep wool? I shouldn’t have been. I know the Navajo were resourceful in growing their herds of churro sheep, and all those beautiful blankets and rugs trace their origins to the Spanish introduction of this breed.
Today, non-native weavers use this breed, too, to make and sell beautiful rugs. I saw plenty of them at the festival, many reminiscent of Zapotec and Navajo textiles. Over the years, the churro has been cross-bred with the softer, finer merino sheep. Sometimes, churro and merino are also spun together to give a silkier, softer luster.
When I first moved here to Taos, NM, four months ago, one of the first things I did was join the Millicent Rogers Museum. It has an extensive collection of Native American folk art and craft, including early Navajo looms and textiles. This loom is more similar to the back strap loom, used as a vertical frame loom. This got me thinking about how technology is adapted to the user. It´s not a floor loom and it´s not a back strap loom. Weavers sit on the ground to weave.
History of Navajo Weaving. Some scholars speculate that the Navajo picked up this weaving technique in the 1600´s from nearby Pueblo tribes who were adept using the vertical loom. It couldńt be used to weave a textile wider than 18 inches. Larger pieces needed two identical textiles that were then stitched together. We find thesame circumstance in Oaxaca, Mexico.
In Teotitlan del Valle, the floor loom has hardly changed from when it was introduced there by the Spanish in the 1500´s, who taught the local men to weave in the tradition of the European tapestry loom. It was too heavy and cumbersome for women, who were versatile cotton back strap loom weavers, to use.
Last week I wrote about pronunciations and mis-pronunciations. Here we have another one! Settlers had a difficult time saying Churra Sheep so they said Churro instead. And, that’s how we know this breed today!
We know the culture! We are locally owned and operated.
Eric Chavez Santiago is Zapotec, born and raised in Teotitlan del Valle, Oaxaca.
Norma Schafer has been living in Oaxaca for almost 20 years.
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Creating Connectionand Meaning between travelers and with indigenous artisans. Meet makers where they live and work. Join small groups of like-minded explorers. Go deep into remote villages. Gain insights. Support cultural heritage and sustainable traditions ie. hand weaving and natural dyeing. Create value and memories. Enjoy hands-on experiences. Make a difference.
What is a Study Tour: Our programs are learning experiences, and as such we talk with makers about how and why they create, what is meaningful to them, the ancient history of patterning and design, use of color, tradition and innovation, values and cultural continuity, and the social context within which they work. First and foremost, we are educators. Norma worked in top US universities for over 35 years and Eric founded the education department at Oaxaca’s textile museum. We create connection.
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January 13-21, 2024: Oaxaca Coast Textile Study Tour. Very popular! Get your deposit in to reserve. For intrepid travelers. Visit 7 back-strap loom weavers. Explore the culture of cloth and community. ONE SPACE OPEN!
We require 48-hour advance notice for map orders to be processed. We send a printable map via email PDF after your order is received. Please be sure to send your email address. Where to see natural dyed rugs in Teotitlan del Valle and layout of the Sunday Tlacolula Market, with favorite eating, shopping, ATMs. Click Here to Buy Map After you click, be sure to check PayPal to ensure your email address isn't hidden from us. We fulfill each map order personally. It is not automatic.
Dye Master Dolores Santiago Arrellanas with son Omar Chavez Santiago, weaver and dyer, Fey y Lola Rugs, Teotitlan del Valle