Huipils and Magic: Memories of Mexico

Handmade in Chiapas

As Maya huipils go, those from Oxchuc in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico are not my personal favorites. They’re characterized by bold graphic stripes, often crimson on white, with odd embroidered points at the neckline. Chip Morris, author of Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas, argued that the points should be described as rays, but to me they looked like jaguar fangs. I think he won that one.

huipils, Chiapas, Mexico
The huipil I bought in Oxchuc, Chiapas, Mexico. Fangs or rays?

What I do love about the one Oxchuc huipil in my random collection is the memory of the very old lady from whom I bought it. It was 2009, and I was on a short trip to Chiapas with Marilyn Murphy (my colleague at ClothRoads) and a few others. We drove up to Oxchuc with Chip and stopped in a little store a few blocks off the main plaza. This was no ordinary store, not the typical tienda. It was devoted to traditional crafts. Handmade musical instruments—drums, fiddles, harps; leather goods; hand-braided straw hats; twined maguey-fiber bags. And clothing. Women’s huipils, men’s shirts and trousers. All handwoven on backstrap looms. I think you could go back a century and find these same things on the shelves of any little village store, but today it’s like time travel.

 

Oxchuch huipils
Don Manuel Gomez K’ulub and his wife in their tienda in Oxchuc, Chiapas. Photograph by Alfredo Martinez, from A Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas by Chip Morris.

Out behind the shop, even more wonders. The winding path through the garden and into a wooden shelter took you through a homemade folk museum. There were sculptures of grotesque little creatures, farmstead goods such as grinding stones so old as to seem like fossils, ceremonial objects open to conjecture. Magical. The proprietor, Don Manuel Perez Cocon, was 93 at the time, and blind. His tiny old wife ran the shop with vigor and discipline. A young grandson or great-grandson translated between our Spanish and their Tzeltal and manned the calculator. She was so in charge, so protective of her husband, such a strong presence, I had to have a huipil just like hers.

The next time I was in Oxchuc, in 2012, we went to the tienda straightaway. It was closed. She had died just two days before. I had never even learned her name. I don’t know if the family has carried on with the shop or the museum—hard to think that they would have. But when I get my huipil out and admire the precise craftsmanship and the ferocity of the neckline, it all comes back.

—Linda Ligon

Discover more magic from Chiapas, Mexico, in these books by Chip Morris.
Maya Threadsan essential guide to Chiapas and its textiles

 

 

 

 

One thought on “Huipils and Magic: Memories of Mexico

  1. Vicky says:

    This is a picture of my grandparents, my grandma’s name is/ was Juana, she died in March 2012. My grandpa’s name is/was actually Manuel Gomez K’ulub (not Perez Cocon ) he died in August 2012. My mother and my aunts continue the art of weaving with a waist loom. They did continue with the museum and much more. They were recently part of the Mayan exhibit at the Museum of natural History in Salt Lake City, Utah. My mom and I are currently artists in residence at the museum, all thanks to my grandparents who taught us to love and be proud our herritage.

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