For more than 500 years since the arrival of the Spanish invaders, Mayan people have struggled to sustain their communities. Much of this has been on the shoulders of women who continue weaving, speaking their native languages, and transmitting their culture to the new generation. All of this in the midst of an onerous oppression and discrimination against them. Now, through the National Weavers Movement, weavers are becoming more visible and raising their voices.
“Between 2013 and 2014, several of us weavers starting noticing a practice that was becoming common. Businesses and individual designers who sell pieces of our clothes, especially huipiles, were approaching us and requesting us to weave textiles with certain changes in their figures and colors. Even when these changes were minimal, once they had the pieces in their hands, they said we were forbidden to make similar ones…. And threatened to sue us if we did because that 'design' no longer belonged to us, the weavers, but to them, the ‘designers’ that just by altering a small detail from the original, transformed them into the 'intellectual creators' (and proprietors of the design)." (page 17)
Thus began the journey of the National Mayan Weavers Movement. In their new book the weavers explore in depth the 3500 years of Mayan backstrap weaving. The book's title alludes to the fact that when the Spanish invaders arrived in their territory in the 1500s, they proceeded to burn all indigenous books alleging supposed pagan influences (as it was the heyday of the Inquisition). Mayan textiles, however, survived. In the privacy of their homes, women carried on important cultural traditions. They encoded in their textiles sacred and esoteric symbols that ensured the continuity of their cosmology, something that the Spanish were totally unaware of. Passed on from mother to daughter through thousands of generations, weaving was central to the survival of their culture.
Tracing the history of weaving and how weavers and their textiles have been exploited from colonial times to the present, the book arrives at the contemporary situation where cultural appropriation of their designs by international businesses is rampant; their weavings are being purchased at extremely low prices, cut into pieces, made into new items and sold at enormous profits, while the weavers remain trapped in an inescapable cycle of poverty. The images of Mayan women and their textiles are being used by the Guatemalan State to attract tourism while the state does not invest any money to improve the lives of the women.
Through this book, the National Mayan Weavers Movement is doing more than creating national and international awareness of the plight of weaver, so important in itself. It is also demanding respect and the allocation of resources and opportunities for Mayan women and the creation of laws to prevent the appropriation of their designs.
Mayan Hands is proud to offer the book Los tejidos son los libros que la colonia no pudo quemar* to help spread the important work of the National Mayan Weavers Movement.
*Available in Spanish at this time, the book is being translated now into English. We will offer the English version as soon as it becomes available.