Colorful, but in a more subtle way

Mexico is generally associated with deep, often bright colors and designs, but not all of its cultures favor such.

One notable exception are the textiles of the Amuzgos, an indigenous people whose territory straddles the border between the states of Guerrero and Oaxaca. It is near the coastline and used to extend to it, until a migration of escaped African slaves displaced them into the higher mountain areas.

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Rebozo in coyuche cotton at the Feria de Rebozo in Tenancingo, State of Mexico

The largest Amuzgo population by far is in the municipality of Xochislahuaca, but it is not a city by any means. The main road leading to it varied between dirt and crumbling pavement, taking over an hour by car from the regional economic center of Ometepec. Interestingly enough, the town receives enough visitors to warrant one small hotel.

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Good Friday procession in Xochislahuaca.

The attraction here are the Amuzgos themselves, their traditional lifestyle and their textiles. Almost all speak Amuzgo and a number of older women do not speak Spanish. The Amuzgos call themeselves Tzjon Non, which means “people of the textiles.” Just about all the women here are involved in spinning, weaving, etc., as well as a number of men.

Amuzgo textiles are based on cotton, a fiber known since the pre Hispanic period. Two kinds are used. The more traditional is called “coyuche,” which is native to the area and produces a tan or light brown fiber. The other is commercial white cotton. The backgrounds of Amuzgo textiles are one of these two, with colored fibers woven and sometimes embroidered in to form traditional designs.

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Woman in a cheyno teaching basic backstrap techniques at a Guerrero music festival in Mexico City
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Brocade tablecloth woven on a backstrap loom at the Museo de Culturas Populares in Mexico City

The weaving is done on backstrap looms, principally because the area’s remoteness keep the Spanish and the pedal loom for the most part, out. Amuzgo textile designs are based on small elements, sometimes crowded together, sometimes spaced farther apart. While still colorful, this focus on small detailed designs gives Amuzgo huipils (locally called the “cheyno”), rebozos, etc. a subtlety that are in contrast to the traditional clothing of many other peoples in southern Mexico.

This does not mean that Amuzgo weaving is not sophisticated. For special cheynos, decoration can nearly cover the entire garment, and various weaving techniques can be used including brocade, gauze and a special gauze called “concha de armadillos” which forms a diamond pattern over the entirety of the cloth.

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Jacket and skirt with Amuzgo designs at the Museo de Culturas Populares

Amuzgo weavers face many of the same challenges that other Mexican artisans do, and most have formed cooperatives to work to sell their merchandise more directly to buyers and get better prices for their work. These include  Liaa’ Ljaa’, formed in 1996. Amuzgo women have worked with government authorities and others to create new items from their weavings, include skirts, blouses etc, as well as tablecloths, napkins and other linen items. However, Amuzgos, especially women, conserve traditional dress, even if not always made with handwoven fabric. Their efforts have paid off with Amuzgo textiles favored by many upper class Mexican women, who usually buy rebozos to wear on holidays such as Independence Day.

 

 

 

All photos by Alejandro Linares Garcia.

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