Did you know? Guatemala is part of one of six regions that boast the title “Cradles of civilization”. This region stands right alongside Mesopotamia, Egypt, Indus valley, China and Central Andes which are considered the world’s most ancient civilizations.
The details of the collective knowledge of the Mayas, their traditions and hierarchy were not uncovered for many centuries.
We now know that the Mayas had an advanced society: they possessed knowledge and use of the concept of the number zero, they developed written alphabet and numbers, full and complex calendars, they used symbolism and had much spiritual awareness.
The Mayan “cosmovision”, (which is defined as a particular view or understanding of the world, especially the view of time and space and its ritualized representation and enactment by Mesoamerican peoples.)1 permeates every discovery related to them.
Part of the ritualized representation of this cosmovision is the symbolism integrated in the woven patterns of their typical dresses which I see every day.
“The traditional dress encompasses a greatly diverse and complex collective language with both tangible and intangible elements. Clothing, particularly among women, silently but eloquently conveys their ethnic identity and world view.
Maya dress also conveys meanings of a cultural, social, economic and political nature….as well as cosmological symbolism.
A variety of meanings may be intertwined in one textile if they make up a larger group of ideas, such as a myth, legend or story.
Today Maya typical clothing continues to include a variety of cosmological elements with origins in the remote past where one finds representations of ancient symbols such as furrows, the town center, the dead turkey, the ceremonial plate, the tree of life, the serpent, the double-headed eagle and the star.
The continuous process of cultural change has left its mark. It is therefore all the more important to continue the rescue efforts of what remains of textile symbolism whose antecedents are buried in the long warp of its past.
The ancient symbolism appears to be the domain of a small number of cofradía2 members. It may be included within the category of ‘restricted knowledge’
Every day the number of women wearing modern styles of clothing increases, and we find them combining clothing items from several towns. This change implies a weakening of the power of traditional culture in the context of village life, a force which is a vital nutrient of textile symbolism. In general, young women both lack interest in and are ignorant of the cosmological elements of traditional dress.”3
The two-headed eagle
1 http://www.dictionary.com/browse/cosmovision 2 Cofradías are religious organizations dedicated to the cult of a particular saint or charitable work. 3 “Sown Symbols” by Barbara Knoke de Arathoon
Photo Credits: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/68961438017104654/; “Sown Symbols” by Barbara Knoke de Arathoon