The Maya people of Mexico and Central America form one of the largest indigenous populations in the Americas. With over 4 million people who identify themselves as Maya, this is an extremely diverse group. Some Maya live in the steamy jungles of the Yucatan peninsula, others in the rugged highlands of Guatemala, still others in the country of Belize.
The Maya people are well-known for the beauty, quality, and sophistication of their textiles. Women have traditionaaly created textiles in Maya society, and textiles were a significant form of ancient Maya art and religious beliefs. They were considered a prestige good, that would distinguish the commoners from the elite.
Maya textiles are pretty easy to identify becuase, they stand out. Characterized by vivid colors of every shade imaginable and covered in geometic and animal patterns, these textiles "stand out" and demand your attention.
Besides the basic appearance, one of the keys to understanding any textile is knowing how it is made. Maya textiles are woven, as poosed to being embroidered. The first step is making the threads that will be woven together. Today, Mayan weavers generally use cotton or wool threads, which can be purchased in Maya markets.
Different patterns, represent social and religious significance. The following is a brief description of just some of the symbols used in Maya woven textile fabrics. Hope you enjoy my blog, this has really been fun putting this together.
Woven Textile Maya Symbol & Their Meaning
BATS - To the Mayan people, were the guardians of the underworld (or caves). The bat is worshipped for its rule over the darkness, and its powerful sign to mark against enemies.
BUTTERFLY - The butterfly with its wings spread, represents freedom. This freedom is sometimes compared with that of the weaver, with her ability to weave wild stories into her textiles. The white butterfly indicates good news, the black butterfly indicates bad news.
THE CROSS - The cross has ties to both Mayan and Christian religion. The four points represent the four directions of the winds, which give life to crops and mankind. The Mayan cross is made from four types of corn: white, yellow, red and black. The cross also signifies: dawn, darkness, water and air.
CORN - Is a particulary important symbol in the Guatemalan textiles. Mayan mythology tells the story of how corn created mankind. White corn was used for the bones, yellow corn was used for the muscles, black cork for the eyes and hair, and red corn for the blood. Corn for this reason is not just considered a source of food, but has ancestral, ceremenoial significance.
THE CUP - Cymbolizes the importance of sharing with others. In modern Guatemala this symbol has become a fusion of Mayan and Christian beliefs. It is sometimes understood as the cup Jesus shared with the disciples during the last supper.
THE DIAMOND - Is one of the most important symbols, and can be found in most of Trama's products. It symbolizes the arms of the weaver, with her body at the bottom, and her textiles at the top.
THE DEER - Is considered a symbol of strong, stable, regal energy by the Maya. They respresent all of the animal kingdom. Deer also encompass the four levels of being, physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. The energies of the deer also signify the binding forces between an individual and their family.
DOLLS - Represent the connection between women, Mother earth, and Ixchel, who is the gooddess of medicine, midwifery, the moon, and weaving.
DOVES - Are the queens of the heavens. These femine birds provide nourishment for the Maya people and renew the fruits of life.
THE EAGLE - The ancient people understood the eagle's calls as a warning that an earthquake or stomr was on its way. In ancient Mayan mythology, one face of the double headed eagle represents good and the other represents evil. The creature itself represents contemplative thought when focused upon, this symbol assists in accessing inner wisdom and facilitiates focus.
THE FLOWER - Motifs used in weaving are usually the native flowers of Guatemala like: roses, pansies, gladioli, and cactus flowers. All of these flowers bloom abundantly throughout the year. The Mayans view flowers as symbols of life and fertility.
THE INUP - Is the Tree of Life, which represents the life of man, birth growth, reproduction and death. It also indicates love as shown in the union between the two people who make up the two parts of the tree. The fruits represent their offsprings. Many sacred rites are performed under the branches of these trees.
MAYAN GODS - Are frequently depicted with jaguar attributes. The jaguar is said to have the ability to cross between worlds, as represented by daytime and nightime. The world of the living and the earth are associated with the day, while the spirit world and the ancestors are associated with the night.
THE LION - Is often woven by young women to deomonstrate a desire to be courted. As the king of the jungle, the lion symbol is a keeper of goods, wealth, and good luck. Sometiems the lion is read as a representative of anger, and is therefore never used in huipils that are worn during happy events.
THE OWL - In Mayan mythology, the owl is a symbol of death and destruction. These nocturnal birds of prey are the mysterious messengers of dark powers. For the Kekchi people, the owl's hoot is an omen of death.
THE PITCHER - Symbolizes the head of a woman from which her wonderful ideas for patterns and color combinations in textiles are poured.
THE QUETZAL - Is the national bird of Guatemala, and one of the most important textile symbols, often present in traditional cltohing, in a number of modern Mayan dialects, the name means "treausred" or "sacred". Legend has it that long ago, the Quetzal would sing beautifully, but has been silent since the Spanish conquest.
THE ROOSTER - Like the turkey is associated with marriage. In some Mayan communities, proposals are accompanied by the groom's family presenting the potential bride's family with between one and three roosters, depending on how they regard their prospective daughter-in-law. Those who received three roosters can feel proud that the mother-in-law is please with the union.
THE SERPENT - Appears frequently in Mayan textiles as a representative of the representing god Gucumatx, the creator of the world. This zigzag design can also signify mountains, which provide clean air and protection from sickness.
THE SUN - Represents the radiant energy that contributes to the motion of the universe. It's also symbolic of the god of corn, to whom the Maya pray to ensure a good harvest.
THE TURKEYS - Often tell the stories of weddings. The turkey represents a propsal. Once a Mayan couple are engaged, the groom's family will spend the next two years fattening up a turkey until the day of the wedding. The groom then presents the dead turkey tot he parents of the soon-to-be-bride. If the groom is rich enough, he will also give the bride's family bread and money.
Trent S. Turley
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