Tenejapa, Chiapas is a regional center in the highlands of Chiapas about an hour- and-a-half beyond San Cristobal de las Casas. It’s a regional administrative center, about midway between the city and the remote village of Cancuc, past Romerillo. Most roads splay out from San Cristobal like spikes on a wheel hub, dead-ending down a canyon or mountain top at a remote village where traditional weavers create stunning cloth.
Tenejapa supplementary weft on cotton warp, with handmade doll
There are two reasons to go to Tenejapa.
Tenejapa market scene, the perfect village tianguis
First is the Thursday market that covers the length of four to six blocks (depending on the season) where everything needed to maintain a household is sold, including fresh roasted and ground coffee cultivated from bushes on nearby hillsides.
Rich, roasted, fresh ground coffee in the market, locally grown
This includes fresh dried beans, ground and whole chili peppers, ribbons and lace for sewing, seasonal fruits and vegetables, and an occasional textile find.
See highlights from 2017 Chiapas Textile Study Tour.
We will offer this Study Tour again, from February 13-22, 2018. Contact me if you are interested in itinerary and price. Taking a wait list!
Beautiful handwoven bag, a market find, random delights
Most of the textiles on the street are woven for local consumption. So, fabric and the materials to make it reflects the current fashion tastes of traditional ladies who weave to adorn themselves and their neighbors. Cotton takes longer to dry, so cotton thread has been replaced by synthetic. Now, the shinier the better.
Chili peppers, whole or ground, take your pick
We see this throughout the villages in the Chiapas Highlands where glittery threads are incorporated into the weft and warp, and polyester gives the textile a sheen that is now preferred.
Inspect carefully. Bright colors can be synthetics, as are these. Glorious, nevertheless.
Where to find the traditional textiles of five, ten, twenty years ago? Sometimes, you can find them hanging from ropes strung from wall to wall inside the shops along the market avenue. Sometimes, they are folded under a stack of the more contemporary pieces that Tenejapa fashionistas like.
Corn for sale, displayed in traditional handwoven ixtle market bag
The second, and perhaps more important reason to visit Tenejapa is to spend time in the cooperative operated by Maria Meza Giron. The building is next to the church, across from the zocalo and municipal building.
Maria and her son Pedro Meza, are co-founders of Sna Jolobil textile cooperative with anthropologist/friend/guide Walter “Chip” Morris. We bumped into him there that day as we were deep into textile heaven.
An amazing ceremonial cloth, hand-woven, snatched up by Kathleen
These textiles — huipils, ponchos, purses, blankets, rugs, shirts, belts, woven ixtle bags, skirts and ceremonial garb — are the finest examples with the most traditional quality of weaving found in Tenejapa.
What will this become? Textile in progress on back strap loom.
Some pieces are dense with wool supplementary weft woven onto a one hundred percent cotton warp. All created on the back strap loom. Garments are always as wide as the loom they are woven on.
Barbara looks at fine detail work on this Tenejapa sash
It was hard to choose. Hard to focus. Hard to pull away and say goodbye when the time came. The examples available for sale would sell for twice the price in San Cristobal de las Casas in finer galleries. It was well worth the trip for this, and for the experience of mingling among the people.
Tenejapa woman shopping for a comal — clay griddle
Just a note: Not many visitors come here. We were the only foreigners walking through the market. People are resistant to having their pictures taken. Photographs of fruits and veggies are okay. I always asked if I could take a photo (the people, not the vegetables). Most said no. Once, I shot from the hip and felt guilty.
Handwoven bags on display stand for sale.
Our anthropologist guide advised us to never photograph inside a village church. We didn’t. I did not shoot from the hip there. I attended to watching where I stepped. Lit candles blazed on the floor in front of altars to saints. As a consequence, you will see lots of textiles, tomatoes, oranges, and shoes.
Zocalo is also the taxi station, constant round trips to San Cristobal
The people who travel with me tend to be those with a deep appreciation for Mexicans and their creativity. Folk art or popular art in Mexico is made one piece at a time, one thread at a time. By coming here, we gain an understanding for craftsmanship that is passed down from mother to daughter, father to son.
Our guide explains Maya-Catholic Church traditions and what we will see inside
There is no magical way of being appreciative, warm and gracious. The feelings between visitor and host are reciprocal. We value the inspiration, hard work and dedication to keeping hand-made craft alive. Those who make and sell value our support and appreciation for what they do. It’s a bonus if we buy.
Being a locavore isn’t trendy, it’s a way of life
But shopping isn’t everything and that’s not why we are here. We are here because creative people are tucked in every corner and behind every hillock, using their open hearts and strong hands to bring color and joy into the world.
Beautiful, intricate Tenejapa huipil, wool weft for the design on cotton
We will offer this Study Tour again, from February 13-22, 2018. Contact me if you are interested with itinerary and price.
Chiapas Textile Study Tour Snapshot: Thursday In and Around Tenejapa
On Thursday, we spent the day outside of San Cristobal de Las Casas, on the road to Tenejapa village, Romerillo Maya cemetery and then to the home of Maruch and her son Tesh in the Chamula district of Chiapas.
First stop, Tenejapa for the Thursday market and textile cooperative
Cynthia with Maria Meza, coop manager
Taking registrations now for 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour.
Walking along the village market street, Gail spots a huipil hanging inside a shop
Look inside doorways to see textiles are hanging from the rafters
Small doorways open from the street into hardware stores, pharmacies, bakeries, tienditas (little stores), dry goods suppliers. The inside is often obscure. Sometimes, there are textile treasures — hand embroidery, traditional clothing made on back strap looms — hanging on clothes lines. You have to look for them.
Out on the street the market is a crush of people, fruit, veggies, meat and more
Tenejapa. Still remote enough that foreign visitors are an anomaly. Children and adults are curious, shy and distant. I saw about six Europeans in addition to our group during this market day.
Market day in Tenejapa means handmade textiles for sale, too.
The population of Tenejapa is 99.5% indigenous. About 99.8% speak an indigenous language, and almost 53% speak only their native language and do not speak Spanish. Health care services and educational opportunities are limited. Maya culture and traditional folk practices are strong.
She is minding the store and watching the passersby.
The village celebrates Carnavale with pre-Lenten festivities on February 15
Traditional dress of a Tenejapa man, once commonplace. Now for ceremonies only.
Adults and children participate. Mayordomos and their wives observe.
Next we stop at Romerillo cemetery to understand Maya burial practices
The Maya practice syncretism, a blend of mystical pre-Hispanic beliefs and Spanish Catholicism. Mostly, they are spiritual and keep their connection to ancient traditions.
The Maya cross represents the four cardinal points, a pre-Hispanic symbol
The Romerillo cemetery is on a grand hill overlooking a valley. Wood planks cover graves so that the living can communicate with and ask advice from the dead.
Evangelization was easier for the Spanish; the symbol existed before they arrived.
After lunch, we take a dirt road to rural Chamula territory to meet Maruch
Maruch and her family raise their own sheep, shear and wash the wool, card and spin. Sheep are sacred, raised for their fleece and not for food.
Carding, hand-spinning with the malacate and weaving on the back strap loom
Join us for the 2019 Chiapas Textile Study Tour. We are accepting registrations now.
Hand carding local sheep wool for spinning
Using the malacate drop spindle to spin wool and prepare it for weaving.
We are an hour away from San Cristobal de Las Casas, but it feels as if time stands still here and we are standing in a place that could have been 500 years ago. Isolation preserves culture, but it also marginalizes native peoples.
Lanita models a furry capelet woven by Maruch
Sheep wool skirts and capelets are made to look like a furry animal, repel moisture and keep people warm. There is no heat and it’s chilly at 7,000 feet altitude in February.
At cooperative Huellas Que Trascienden, Lanita and Cynthia
We finished off the day with a visit to a new cooperative in the city that names the weaver of each garment with a featured photo on the hang tag. Recognition is finally coming to the women who do the work! We did our best to support them.
Posted in Cultural Commentary, Photography, Textiles, Tapestries & Weaving, Travel & Tourism, Workshops and Retreats
Tagged Chiapas, fiber arts, San Cristobal de las Casas, Tenejapa, textiles, tour, trave;