Did I mention that the Oaxaca coast is HOT! At 90 degrees Fahrenheit and close to equal humidity, the Costa Chica, the area between Puerto Escondido, Oaxaca, and Acapulco, Guerrero, is sultry, even in winter. Women here in recent memory, wore wrap-around skirts called posohuancos, and were bare-breasted. In the 1960’s, the Church (ie. Catholic church), evangelizing missionaries and tour guides who began to penetrate the area, urged the women to cover-up. So, they designed a top that is a combo between an apron and a bra to go with their traditional wrapped skirt. And, this is how culture changes! Now, the younger women dress in Western-style clothing and save their traje (traditional festival dress) for special occasions — engagement parties, weddings, Saint’s Day festivities, and other ceremonies.
Our Oaxaca Coast Textile Tour is for the adventuresome who can ride in a van and travel long distances to get into the remote villages that we visit along the north coast of Oaxaca and southern Guerrero. Before decent roads and vehicles, the intrepid went into these areas on horseback or riding mules. We are lucky for a two-hour ride, not a day-long endurance trail up the mountainside.
In Pinotepa de Don Luis, we visit the Tixinda Cooperative whose leader is famed Don Habacuc Avedaño, the 81-year old who has been harvesting the rare purple snail dye on the Oaxaca coast since boyhood. In years past, he would travel by donkey or on foot from the village tucked into the folds of the coastal mountains to the sea. The caracol purpura proliferated along the Costa Chica then. They are smaller and harder to find now and it takes a day or two to journey to where they can be found, often as far as Huatulco, which is two-days from Pinotepa de Don Luis by vehicle. In the old days, it would take several weeks to get there. Don Habacuc and his compadres would find work along the way to finance their journey.
He is now one of only a few snail dyers left in the village. A rare commodity any way you look at it.
Today, he still climbs the rocks, a treacherous ordeal, with his adult son Rafael (who we call Rafa), to pick the snail from the rocky crevices, often prying them loose with a stick. He has skeins of hand-spun, pre-Hispanic locally grown white cotton draped around his left forearm. With his right hand, he squeezes the snail to activate the protection gland Slot Gacor Hari Ini to release the rare purple dye, careful not to kill the crustacean. He then returns it to the rocks. It takes 50 snails and one hour to dye one skein of cotton yarn that weighs 20 grams. That’s not even 1/2 an ounce. Not long ago, they could harvest and dye 15 skeins in an hour. No longer.
The threads are now used sparingly, as embellishment along collars with embroidery stitches depicting sea life, flowers and birds. Or, they are used as a narrow accent stripe or for the intricate, fine designs woven into the cloth using the supplementary weft technique. Experts are saying this beautiful purple thread may become a way of the past as the snail is endangered and difficult to find.
Our group sits on plastic patio chairs (of the Walmart variety) in a semi-circle on the packed dirt patio of the family compound. Chickens and roosters run underfoot, dipping beaks into buckets filled with water, wings flapping as they run between chair legs and human legs. We are surrounded by the finest back-strap loom woven huipiles and blusas suspended from clothing lines strung criss-cross across the courtyard. Rafa explains the snail harvesting and dyeing process. Don Habacuc is upstairs on a conference call with Mexico City officials about how to put more teeth into the federal laws written to protect the endangered species. This is their livelihood.
We put the brakes on our desire to riffle through the clothes and sit down to a fine, home-cooked meal of chicken or squash tamales and fresh fruit water made with hibiscus flowers — called Agua de Jamaica. Then, we plunge in to shop.
This is only the beginning of our day. We also visit the cooperative that hand-paints Converse tennis shoes that sell for over $250 USD in Oaxaca and Mexico City (if you can find them). This group are also graphic artists who hand-carve gourds and make print art. Then, we are off to visit Sebastiana, an amazing weaver in the same village. It is here that I find the perfect dress to wear to my son’s Southern California wedding in late March!
We are back to our base in Pinotepa Nacional by sunset, ready for dinner, a Margarita, and some chill time in our air-conditioned room!
We are taking registrations soon for the 2023 trip. Write Norma Schafer to get on the list! Mailto:Norma.firstname.lastname@example.org
The beauty of being on this trip is to meet and support the makers directly. Our group came for cultural appreciation and left with some stunning examples of traditional work.