Outside Weaving Woman

Photo by Rebecca Wiggins-Reinhard


Maya women have been weavers for as long as their people can remember. Weavers say that Moon taught women to weave sacred designs. Maya legends, describing how female saints gave communities their distinct designs, emerged as early as the 1500s when the Spanish invaded South and Central America. Today weavers encode in their creations a deeply held belief that people, plants, animals, Earth, and other spiritual beings must cooperate to keep the world in flower. At the end of the 21st Century, Maya weavers still turned to spiritual guides as well as to each other for help in weaving and in supporting their families and communities. Weavings are made on a back-strap loom using a process called brocade to create designs as they weave. Women weave most of the family’s clothing -- brocaded blouses for themselves and tunics for the men. A woman’s family proudly wears her weavings to show respect for their ancestral ways and solidarity with fellow villagers. Strident economic inequalities in Mexico have created intolerable conditions for indigenous people in Chiapas. Hunger and disease, high child mortality, scarce and distant water supplies, and minimal or non-existent health and educational facilities are the legacy of the unjust economic system in Chiapas. For decades people have migrated to work to supplement their subsistence farming, but recently, migration has increased dramatically with more people leaving from Chiapas for the United States than from any other Mexican state. Weaving products to sell through fair trade markets provides women a means to support their families while staying on their lands and remaining part of their families and communities.