One of the highlights of my work is getting to travel to source the fabrics I use in my work. And, that often takes me to Guatemala and Mexico.
I’ll pack up my son and grandma to join me on the buying adventure – it really is an adventure because where we go is so beautiful. Our latest trip was to Guatemala, a very magical place. Every day, every city is full of colorful and crowded markets with the most talented artisans. That’s what draws me to these places.
My main goal on these trips is to purchase is vintage huipiles, the traditional blouse that Mayan woman wear, and their cortes or skirt. These pieces are so unique because almost every Mayan woman weaves (it is part of their domestic role, in addition to cooking, cleaning, raising children and helping in the fields).
The huipil they weave identifies the Mayan Inian as belonging to a particular village, as each has its own identifying patterns and colors. And, while some designs are abstract (for example, zigzags represent lightening, the horizontal “S” is described a a 2 headed snake), other designs are more organic and are inspired by the flora and fauna of Guatemala.
Spending time in the villages of Guatemala is one of my favorite things to do but, traveling to Antigua is wonderful for different reasons. Antigua is an inspiring place for indigenous news and fashion. And, it is important for me to explore all of the art and craft stores to see what’s trending. (A lot of foreigners live in Antigua so, the local cultural is very rich and always changing.)One of the places that is always on my schedule is my favorite shoe store –Uxibal. The owner, Brittany, makes the most amazing boots using leather and huipiles.
If you enter travel to Antigua, be sure to explore the old buildings. You’ll find Mayan women selling treasures from all over the country.
The next stop on our trip is always Chichicastenango. The magic city. Its market is one of the busiest in Central America and is held twice a week. But our day starts early in the morning to go see Dona Daniela , a local shaman/healer. I bring my young son on these trips because it is important for him to experience the world but, on this trip, I am paying this special visit to the shaman to do a ceremony for him. He has a severe speech delay and, as a mom, I am desperate to find him help; I want my little to thrive.
The shaman takes us to an altar located in the south, according to my son‘s nahual or his Mayan sign. The ceremony lasts 3 hours. My son falls asleep while the shaman brushes him with a healing mixture of eggs and herbs and smudges him with the smoke of tobacco. In this moment, everything feels so normal.
We needed to b cleaned. To be reconnected. And my son is a lot calmer the days after the ceremony.
We finished our trip at the Lake Atiltlan – the Kingdom of Clouds. We visited the small villages around the lake and just took in its majesty. It was also great to enjoy the company of the ladies of Santa Catarina Palopo who weave fabrics on the lake shores.
Guatemala is a place that opens your heart and soul to so much beauty. But the struggle of indigenous people (especially indigenous women) is real. They lack education, proper healthcare, often suffer discrimination and sexual abuse. But they are resilient and deserve all of our respect. The people of the mountains are wonderful. The people of the mountains move me.
Merijam Roelofs is the founder and creator of Folk Project. She finds inspiration in the material culture of people still living in a traditional way. Her work focuses on ancient textiles, like “boutis” from Provence, as well as recycled fabrics.