Thursday, September 05, 2013

New site development and the MAGNIFIER

The development of a modern website to show the variety and depth of  Mexico's indienous textiles is underway. The responsive and touch template will allow users of all devices, desktops, laptops, tablets and phones to have access to the information. A recent break though was the "magnifier" which allows for a close up look at textiles. While this is just the experemental image it does show how this technique will add to the understanding and appreciation of the textiles.

More about the new stuff to come. Maps and a library are going to be expanded as well.

Friday, October 07, 2011

These question were ask by Alexandra a PHD canidate in Rumania

I will post this on Facebook maybe there will be comments

Are there many communities that still keep traditions like weaving alive?

1. There are a number of ethnic groups that continue to weave for both personal and commercial reasons. In many of these communities other economic opportunities do not exist and they are weaving to sell to local and national markets.

Among the most prolific weavers of "traditional" textiles are the indigenous groups of Chiapas. Here is one of the oldest weaver collectives  snajolobil
The Amusgo of Guerrero and Triques of Oaxaca.

Zapoteca blanket weavers , while not traditional have made a name for themselves from TEOTITLAN DEL VALLE

In many other communities there exist a limited number of weavers that supply local needs. Such as Tepetzintla, Puebla both Nahua and Totonacan weaver are abundant. They serve a local market.

As modernization and globalization has its effect on younger people in these ethnic groups they no longer wear the traditional costume but may still weave as a way to make money. However in general they do not follow the weaving traditions.

What are the main problems of those communities?
I am going to refer you to a link to my home page , there i have a detailed article about the loss of traditional dress
Are new generations willing to perpetuate and revive traditions?
3. In many cases "traditions" referring to the belief systems and traditional fiestas and customs linger long after the textiles have disappeared. The revival of "textile traditions" is a new idea here among many of the "progressive Mexican class" its results are often limited and temporary. Much depends on a market since I know of no villages that has returned to traditional costume after losing it.

4. If not, why not? I am going to answer this question for "textile traditions" this is fading at an accelerated pace as more and more indigenous people leave there homes, become connected via television or go away to school. In many cases the younger women may have pride but have little use for grandmas way of dressing. Racism in Mexico against the indigenous people remain a big problem and changing cloths often helps. A few years ago the leader of an embroidery collectives daughter stooped wearing the traditional dress of the villages. Her mother , leader of the collective , said to me " she thinks that by changing her cloths she will stop being Nahuatl, but inside she is all Nahutal and everyone knows it". That sums up what is happening. The pressure to conform with Mexican modern society is very strong.

How can we help revive traditions? + Why should we?

5. There are many well meaning people that work very hard at preservation and rescue of traditional in Mexico . There is an army o of anthropologists and others that are attempting to document and rescue traditions some musical, some textiles and other social and communal in nature. All of these efforts are valuable in terms of creating a record of what was. As the demographic of the specific population changes the probability of revival diminishes. This can be seen in the festival dances which in many areas are now "dance troupe" which are hired to "perform" traditional dance.
 The basis for much of these visual traditions is the  agriculture cycle and as agriculture become a smaller and smaller part of the indigenous communities focus, the meaning behind the customs fades. Word of its meaning is passed down but it begins to lose its depth and character.

 I believe the question is more " what can we learn" because if we continue to view the indigenous population as objects of study and economic development the true richness of the agrarian cosmovision is lost. One could say that in all of the villages the traditions are the same but different. Meaning that in the grand context the cosmovision is the same and in the specific there is great richness and diversity. We can learn and understanding of our place on earth and a different view of our relationship to it from indigenous peoples. The textiles is part of the expression and not a separate part .

 SO many people in Mexico spend endless hours worrying and thinking about how to "save" the indigenous peoples which continues to be paternalistic view point. I personally know that I can never be or completely understand indigenous traditions but what I can do is give it true value and try and pass on its meaning.

Do craftsmen earn a decent income?

6. No,  while there is great interest in using crafts as a way of promoting economic growth the need is so great in the villages and the market so small and competitors so numerous that while crafts peoples can earn money I would leave out the word "decent"  now middle men often can make a decent living and there are examples of certain places like Teotitlan de Valles, San Bartolo Coyotepec and many others of a great influx of money, the majority of the artisan are trapped in a cycle of poor pay .

Can they support their families?

7.Crafts are often a supplement not the primary way money is earned. The men of the villages and towns often leave to work in the US or other parts of Mexico and send money back. In my experience village after village has been evacuated by the men who can no longer make a living on the land and the women try as hard as they can to sell some sort of handiwork. This is not to say that there have not been great successes in the past , the rug knotting collectives of Temoaya, State of Mexico probably are a good example of how a craft can work to bring some wealth to a community. At one point there were 400 people working in the collective, a few months ago I visited there and the collective had 10 people. Rugs continue to be produced but mostly for internal Mexican consumption the cost at a nearby mall of Indian, Iranian, Afgan, Pakistani and Chinese knotted rugs made the international market impossible.

 So often the success bring failure over time, the wood figures of Oaxaca , began with some guy ( many claim to be that guy) carving a nd painting a piece of wood for decoration in his house, someone saw it and bought it , mmm he makes another ans WOW sells that also. Soon he and his neighbors ar making them. They soon make there way into local markets and other villages start to make them too... as production rises prices fall and when the fade slows there is a rush to the bottom. A few "artists" remain and the market never really goes away but the "decent living part is lost.
This is an over simplification of the issue but as a handicrafts buyer I have seen it happen many times.

8.Do NGO's really help or the benefits for communities are only few?

Yes and no - If they have money to spend , they help until the money runs out, if they make promises then no.

From your experience are tradition condemned to be forgotten in museums?

Just as all cultures , these cultures will continue to evolve and changes and will probably blend with Mexican society.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Religious Procession in San Pablito Pahuatlan, Puebla

Each year there is a religious procession in San Pablito, Pahuatlan. The virgin and saints images are carried through the streets picking up more and more participants as the procession passes the homes of the villagers.

Monday, February 15, 2010

I have visited many many villages and during the last ten years I have noticed the decline in planting of corn. It is hard work and many of the modern indigenous sons would rather not do it, they prefer to move away, either to the US or Mexico City to do day labor jobs and find a new life as a poor Mexican rather than a poor Indigenous person. While my focus is on documenting the traditional textiles which also represent a tie to the deep indigenous roots, to me nothing more clearly represents the indigenous ties to the earth than farming and in particular the farming of corn. Many of the holidays correspond to ancient agricultural calendars and are now called "Saints" days but are more in line with the cycle used in agriculture.

During a visit to the remote high mountain area of Mexico, In a small village I founds a poem written on the side of a building . On the other side of the building was a glyph representing a man and a woman adoring corn, with them a snake, ants and birds. The glyph was framed with the words " Indigenous communities united in defense of Corn and our culture". I hope by publishing this some how in my small way to help non indigenous people understand that progress does not have to destroy these cultures and the transgenic corn is a direct assault on the indigenous cultures of Mexico and other meso American areas

We are the Corn\

To Mi son
A poem - “Tata maiz” ( grandfather corn)

Corn is not to be thrown away
Nor to trample on it
Nor forget it
Because corn means our lives and the life of god
The Corn is our Father and our Mother
It is also our sons
Corn is us ( male and female)
Corn is our Father and Mother , because it gives us life
Because it gives us unity and identity
Like children from the same family and community
It shows us to love our mother earth and not to abandon her
Through corn rituals and offerings we discover God ,
Corn is our father and mother because we inherited our bodies, our blood and our heart
Through corn , we inherited our color and our language.
It shows us the universe
And to celebrate our the knowledge of our people and family
Corn is our father and mother because when we are sick it provides medicine
WE have to treat it like a son, we have to take care of it
We have to cultivate it, so it is always with us and never leaves
We have to give it our respect

to My son – respect it , because there ( in the Corn) are your grandparents and there you are too.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Today is January 13 2010 it is almost 10 years since The project was founded, there have been many people that have help, given encouragement and enjoyed following my travels and discoveries. I want to thank all of you .
Today I finished the second part of the Cora of Nayarit. It has been a long time in coming and the new gallery shows the photos off much better. I am motivated because my best friend Joe Kohn died last week, he accompanied me on the first trip to the Nayar for the celebration of Easter week in Santa Teresa, Nayar Nayarit. The second trip was with a great friend Kristy Thompson who has been a great advocate for my work. I salute them both. Without being sure I feel a change coming, a transition to a new and high plane for the study, one in which others will participate.
Over the years I have been stranded, broken on rocks, sicken with all sort of bugs, stung, frozen , sun burned, flooded, robbed, stood to the point of a machine gun and so many other things. My experiences have been great and the wonders I try and share with my viewers is profound. My sense of urgency sometimes makes my work incomplete and I apologize for that but I have only visited 1000 of the 5000 villages, so much to do.
Mexico is moving rapidly into a transition and the time to document is short and the need is great. I hope some one will join and help with this work.
Through all this I have strictly adhered to historic principles and only publish first hand information.

Thanks bob freund

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Recently I have spend a great deal of time in the Mazahua communities in the State of Mexico. They are a front line group , who faces the difficult task of living within 2 hours of Mexico City and less than an hour from the capital of the Mexican State of Toluca.
The Mazahua women wear a combination of costumes which vary largely depending on the region or municipality that they live in.
There seems to be two things that are costants in the costume the “reuedo” or petticoat and the belt. The petticoat is worn show slightly from the bottom of the dress or apron , which ever is longer. The belt is worn under the garments to hold the skirt up and to add strength as they work in the fields or grind corn. Recently I have documented over 40 villages which will soon appear on the website. .


Wednesday, July 29, 2009


This is an explanation of the terms indigenous / Indian / ethnic and traditional groups.

Inside Mexico, there exists racism directed at the indigenous peoples, while I consider it to be a perverse auto racism the word "indio" translated into English "Indian" has a marked negative connotation inside Mexico.. Since the Zapatista movement, there is a growing understanding that this enormous segment of the population can no longer be marginalized and victimized by the modern Mexican society ( Mestizo). The word "traditional" is a code word for indigenous and the word "indigena" or indigenous in English has been adopted as a respectable way to identify these ethnic groups. The word "ethnico" or ethnic is seldom used in Mexico to identify these groups, however in the American context the word could easily apply, due to a distinct language, dress and customs and food. The word "tribo" or tribe is never used except by Americans who bring their own dictionary to the discussion. I do not use this word at all.

In the context of this web site I often use the word Indian, this is directed to the English speakers and not intended to be a racist slur as used in Mexico.

I do use the word Indian however the word indigenous better.

Native American or North American Indian are probably also correct ,however people from the USA and Canada would assume we are talking about groups from the US or Canada because they don't think of Mexico of being part of North America.

Aboriginal is never used.

Meso American cultures are understood to be those cultures which are from Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador.

Pre Cortezian are also understood to mean those cultures attacked by Cotez and the Spanish invaders.

Pre Columbian are all cultures that existed in the “new world” at the time Columbus encountered them.

Recently I have seem the word in Spanish "originarios" original peoples? Yet another way to describe these ethnic groups or a way to marginalize them again?

The purpose of the Mexican Indigenous Textile Project is the preservation of the textile memory of Mexico. During my travels, I have been finding more and more villages with only one person that continues to wear traditional indigenous costume. I can’t help but feel a sense of urgency in the documentation of these peoples. In deciding how best to distribute the information I decided to use the internet first and latter photo exhibits and finally printed material.

The internet is a new medium for study and resource development. In the past, as people developed books and eventually printed them, the process of revising them and updating was slow and difficult. Important works would sit on library shelves and few people would be able to see them and use the accumulated knowledge in them. Today all that has changed, now with the World Wide Web, we have ability to share and study a broad range of issues and topics.

Initially the Web site displayed textiles from my collection. However, it soon became clear, that the amount of cultural and textile information that I had accumulated to document the collection needed to be presented in an educational format. The web was the perfect media for this because the presentation of the textiles and cultural information could be incremental and graphical. Since then, the project develops information about the textiles from specific indigenous groups by field study. This information is then developed, edited and included in the web site. The purchase of textiles has been limited, to allow the limited resources available to be focus on documentation of the actual state of Mexican indigenous textiles.

The development of this web site requires extensive travel throughout Mexico. The indigenous groups included in this study are dispersed around the central part of Mexico. Most are located in areas that are just now getting paved roads and other modern conveniences. To reach most of these towns there is a drive of up to 9 hours and some are actually more depending on the conditions of the roads.
Travel in Mexico is some times difficult due to the lack of road signs or even worse conflicting signs. In most rural areas there are often unmark roads that can confound the driver, as you arrive at a cross roads there are inevitably no one to ask. My general rule is to ask everyone I see. After 6 years of documenting there are over 400 villages on the web site it continues to grow. Below is an explaination of the reasons that I continue this work.

For every example here there are thousand more in the field.

Mexican textiles have existed for more than 7000 years, but now in many villages’ traditional embroidered blouses, backstrap woven huipiles, loomed quechquemitls and belts are worn only by the grandmothers. Mexico's indigenous textile culture is in danger of extinction. The [embroidered] designs on blouses and huipiles are particular to specific towns and ethnic groups, so that the textiles identify the groups and villages that various textiles come from. Sometimes the marker is ribbons or the way hair is combed. The 7000 years old time line ends with these grandmothers.

These wonderful, colorful textiles link the indigenous peoples with culture and cosmovison of their native culture. As grandmothers, daughters and granddaughters sit with other family members to make the garments they discuss style and techniques but also more important points about behavior, customs of marriage, child birth, the herbs used for healing, how to make a tamales, etc. These links are lost when women stare into the one-eyed Cyclops that is the TV or wash floors in Mexico City.

When Cortez came to Mexico almost all the women wove cloth for garments and ceremonial use. It is natural that these talents gradually disappeared in the face of European machine made goods and now, over time, with the Asian dynamo and its inexpensive clothing. However it is not natural that the long cultural heritage of Mexico’s indigenous textiles be abandoned to the scrap heap of history, without some sort of attempt to conserve this incredibly rich cultural treasure.

The Spanish in all their colonial institutions drilled into the population that to be an Indian was the bottom of the heap. These biases have been passed down from the Spanish to the Mestizo population that now rules Mexico. This mestizo population has continued the discrimination of the Spanish towards the “indios.” It is no wonder that most Indians want to leave that part of them selves behind.

Below are some of the principal factors leading to the decline of the use and manufacture of indigenous textiles in Mexico. They are personal observations based on an intensive six-year study of the pueblos in Mexico.

1. Globalization

Around the world indigenous cultures are under pressure from the forces of modernization and globalization. In Mexico, years of government neglect and a persistent racism have created an economic desperation which has forced generations of men and women to flee the poverty of their communities. These indigenous people immigrate to the big cities of Mexico and the USA. Traditional dress marks them as indigenous, and in a society where being an “indian” puts you at the bottom of the social ladder, that is not good. So for decades, as people leave the communities, they leave behind their ancestral knowledge of how to weave and/orembroider and the social identity that the Mexican indigenous textiles and language provide.

Road building has created a really fast way for the indigenous population to abandon their villages for a better life just about anywhere else.

With the introduction of the internet TV and printed material, into these small communities the spread of western fashion has been accelerated.

Immigration –

A steady increase in the indigenous population and the child survival rate has led to increased migration from the villages to the cities in Mexico and the US.

Recently in the Sierra Zongolica the operator of an ECO tourism center with support from the CDI and other government institutions left to go to the US to pick oranges for a year.

In every village, without exception, people migrate to the US out of desperation, true they sometimes send money back to support the town festival but they return with ideas of modernization. Traditional dress is viewed as a marker of the old ways. They almost never wear traditional clothing again, and in some cases their wives also give up their garments to be modern.

In Santiago Mexquitlan this woman was photographed in traditional dress in January 2005. Six months later, when I returned to give her photos , she no longer was wearing her costume (uniform) . When asked why, she said that she worked in Toluca and no one wore costume there; and if she wore her costume, they ( the mestizos) would stare and laugh at her.

2. Rebellion of youth

Who are the Cholos? No, it is not another indigenous group, well not a historical one, they are young men and women who have left the village to work either in Mexico City or the US and return dressed as gang members who resent or hate their culture. They influence the younger kids by bad example. Recently in some Totonacan towns in the Sierra Norte of Mexico I obeserved a group of 20: some with spiked hair, dressed in black with pierced tongues and noses, they seem like they landed there from another planet. A village elder said to me that they come home and act badly and “se sienten hombre” which means they “feel like men.” [typical teenage rebellion?]

Some years ago in Santa Anna Hueytlalpan, Hidalgo, I noticed a black wrap skirt hanging on a cloths line. Inside the compound there were young women washing and chattering, we struck up a conversation. The conversation gradually drifted to the black wrap skirt, which turned out to be their grandmother’s. I asked if they had one? With a tone of ridicule in their voices they said they would never wear that since it made them look like grandmothers.

In the embroidery town of Zoatecpan, Xochitlan de VS [spell out], Puebla, I was shocked to see the rapid transition among younger women. Only four years ago it seemed that 80% of the people in town wore a traditional blouse. This Christmas at the town’s festival the number was down to 50% or less..

3. Media

On any given day there is not a word about indigenous communities or their customs in the mainstream media. TV is almost entirely filled with reasons not to wear indigenous clothing, as can be seen on almost all Telenovelas (soap operas_, Just imagine a woman who, after 35 years, gets a TV and watches “Rubi.” All she can think about is how ugly, fat, poor and forgotten she is and how much she wants to be someone else. .

Outside of Channel 22 and 11, both public educational channels, there is not a word about indigenous people, almost nothing about indigenous dress, and sometimes the only visual hint that there are 15 million indigenous people in Mexico is a vase or some sort of handicraft as a prop on the studio set.

In the Casas de Cultura (cultural centers) we can find a smattering of presentations dedicated to indigenous peoples and their crafts. The Museum of Popular Art does a reasonable job of presenting these forgotten people.

As with many other social and cultural events in Mexico the presence of such exhibits in Mexico City and beyond are under- reported. Sometimes I take the metro and get off at every just stop to see what notices have been posted.

5 Garment substitutions based on costs

In the early 1970s during the heyday of the hippie peasant-wear fad, I exported ten thousand[?] garments a month. These were gathered from all over Mexico and shipped to Nuevo Laredo, where my friend Caesar would consolidate and drive the goods into the US. One day I arrived to do my customs entry and Cesar had on the most stunning Guayabera shirt. Since I was buying Gauyabera shirts wholesale at $15 from the Yucatan it piqued my interest.

Hey Caesar , where did you get that amazing shirt? “

He replied he’d got it in Laredo for seven dollars; it is made in Taiwan”

I will never forget that and what it meant for textiles from Mexico! This was 1972.

6. Loss of heritage skills like weaving and embroidery.

In the town of Huehuetla, Hidalgo, Maria. a Tepehua weaver, makes four quechquemitls a year. They sell for 1000 pesos, about a hundred dollars each.. That is out of the reach of all but a few people in the town. Compounding the issue, she is the only weaver left who can weave a quechquemitl

Maria’s daughters wear western cloths, speak Tepehua and do not know how to weave the quechquemitl. Maria says that it is too much work for them to weave.

In San Miguel Ameyalco, Lema, about 30 minutes’ ride west of Mexico City,, there are a small number of weavers who use ancestral skills to produce indigenous crafts for sale. Some years ago the town was famous for ayates (carrying cloths), used for agricultural purposes. When I first met Maria de Jesus she lamented the fact that she knew 750 designs on the backstrap loom but her daughter was taught in some handicraft school how to make pictures from colored straw. So when Maria passes awaythose [designs will disappear with her?]

In the Mixtec weaving communities along the coast, traditional costume is confined to the oldest generation. Weaving skills have been passed on, and there is a large number of women dedicated to weaving, using traditional methods but not so many traditional garments. There are also garments made to look like traditional ones but were never actually worn or used before.[mention the role of government programs in designing and promoting crafts? or explain how these came to be]

Among Mixe in Tamazulapan there has been a rapid decline in the people wearing the white huipil and the dark blue wrap skirt which, in turn, has reduced the number of weavers who make these items. Some have turned to making reboso for resale.

Quality degradation – When I lived in Ocotlan de Morelos, Oaxaca, in the 1970’s many Zapotec women worked the famous San Antonio wedding dress, but not as a dress; it was used as an undershirt. During the late 1960’s and through the 1970’s the style of embroidery was made into a dress. The Zapotec embroiderers of the day had a polished skil,l and the dress actually had some cultural meaning. Today the sad quality of these dresses leaves a person who has seen and knows the classic blouse or dress ADJECTIVE? when only a glimmer of its past glory. They continue to sell but the younger generation no longer uses them. From time to time an older woman will make one for her daughter to wear

Changes in materials

The quechquemitls from Chachahuantla, Puebla, were originally a hand-knotted lace. They then moved to a commercial material with heavy machine embroidery. Recently the women have been switching over to a solid, store- bought gauze quechquemitl.

It is almost impossible to find 100% cotton material in any indigenous blouse Even in traditional huipiles synthetic fiber is slipping in. There are a few obvious reasons for this: cotton costs more than cotton / synthetic blends and colors are faster in the synthetic yarns.

The yarns can also be embroidered two or three times faster than the traditional cotton thread, whichmakes the blouses easier to commercialize.

In many cases the quechquemitl is a key indicator of how things are going , among the Totonacan women of the Sierra Norte of Puebla. hand-woven or knotted quechquemitls have been entirely replaced with store bought lace. Only ten years ago the quechquemitls of store-bought lace had embroidery on them.

In the municipality of Zongozotla, Veracruz, I noticed a fashion transformation happening. Instead of the white store-bought lace some women were using colored lace for their quechquemitls. The thing is that the white lace was a direct descendent of the back-strap woven cotton quechquemitl, which is also white. The quechquemitl made from colored, machine-made lace loses that connection.

The church –

In the Sierra Zongolica of Veracruz, road building has help people to escape the poverty of the region. Recently, in a village outside of Xoxocotla, I found no women wearing traditional costume. Apparently the church had been telling the women for years that it made them look Indian.

Summary – The movement of indigenous people towards the mainstream of Mexican society is well underway. The education system, government programs, road building, TV and immigration all play their part. The long history of discrimination and marginalization plays a large part in the desire NOT to be viewed as indigenous by the younger generation.

These young people relate more to modernism as an escape, than to ancestral duties and customs,

they gladly changed from poor Indians to poor Mexicans. They do this by not speaking the ancestral language, not dressing in indigenous specific ways and denying their heritage.