I first saw these at the Doll Museum in Amealco, Querétaro while looking for more information about the María dolls which are a ubiquitous part of Mexican souvenir sales. They grabbed my attention, sidetracking me from the more traditional exhibits in the small halls.
At first glance, they have a very similar appeal as the troll dolls which were popular in the 1970s and again in the 1990s and those of the Smurfs. Not human, but with human qualities such as a mischievous grin…. and undeniably cute.
However, instead of mass produced plastic, these “aluxes” (singular alux, Mayan plural aluxin) are individually handmade as cloth dolls. The outer cloth is usually commericially made cotton or mixed-fiber, but there are versions made from hennequin (similar to burlap), a fiber which was the basis of much of the Yucatecan economy in the 19th and into the 20th century.
The dolls are the brainchild of Javier Alba. Originally from Mexico City, when he moved to Cancún he became fascinated by the story of the “aluxes” (pronounced a-LU-sheys) and their link to ecology. According to myth, the aluxes were created with the Mayan god Yum Kaax saw how are men worked in agriculture and wanted to help. He created the aluxes as small guardians of family and fields. They also care for the forests as well as animals. Before a field is sown, a small figure of an alux was made from clay, which is meant to come to life and look over the growing crops. If the farmer repects the aluxes and nature in general, he is rewarded with abundance.
Alba designed the dolls and originally contacted associates back in Mexico City to see about getting them mass-produced. The advice he received was to have them made cheaply in China to avoid labor costs in Mexico, but he and partner Miriam León decided that was not the way they wanted to go. They wanted to use the idea to help underpriviledged people in the Maya zone of Mexico, such as senior citizens and single mothers who need to earn an income. The concept began in 2012 with production beginning in 2013.
Today, it is a small business works with 18 artisans in the Cancún area who receive training and materials to make the dolls. Most of the dolls are sold to tourists in the Yucatán peninsula, in various stores as well as hotel in Cancún and Campeche. They can also befound in the Papalote Children’s Museum and the National Museum of Anthropology in Mexico City. There have been some individual sales to the United States and Europe, but no mass export as of yet.
Web site of Aluxin http://www.aluxin.com/
(Photos courtesy of Aluxin)