Ancestral Legacy in the Amuzgo Huipil

One of the most characteristic Mexican garments is the huipil, which is proudly worn by women from various regions. The huipil's significance as women's apparel is outstanding and reflects the high level of craftsmanship and originality that went into its creation. Above all, it conveys pride in their culture and a desire to maintain their unique identity. Among the most exquisite and distinctive types of huipiles, we can find the Amuzgo huipil from the Guerrero and Oaxaca region. For its creators and inhabitants, this unique huipil is a piece that has significant historical and cultural significance.

Since pre-Hispanic times, the making of huipiles has been related to women. They are the ones who give life to the wonderful fabrics and keep the ancestral tradition alive. The Amuzgo huipil is more than a garment: it represents an ancestral legacy that women have maintained for years. For this reason, in today's blog, we want to highlight the work of the artisans of this region and the great meaning that these traditional garments carry.

Amuzgo Huipil Exposition in San Pedro Amuzgos, Oaxaca. Courtesy of Carmela Merino for Lolo Mercadito.

Let's Start with the Basics: What is a Huipil?

The word huipil comes from the Nahuatl huipilli, which means “adorned blouse or dress” (also called hipil in the Yucatan Peninsula), it is a traditional blouse or dress of indigenous origin from Mexico and Central America.

A huipil consists of a rectangular cloth, folded in half, with an opening for the head and usually sewn on the sides. It is made up of one, two, or three canvases joined by seams that fit it to the body.

Within the basic cut of the huipil, there is a great variety of models: there are short ones that barely reach the waist and others that cover all the way up to the ankles. Between these extremes there we can find all sizes although, traditionally, classic huipiles can be found in a wider size rather than long.

Often, there is one type of huipil for daily use and another for special occasions. For example, there are special huipiles, different from those used for everyday life, that women wear only at their wedding and does not use it again until her death, when she is buried with it. There are special huipiles for women who occupy certain ranks within their society and that can only be worn by them on certain ceremonial occasions. Moreover, in some places, saints or other religious figures are dressed in huipiles in what is known as vestir al santo.

Who are the Amuzgos?

The Amuzgos are an indigenous group of Mexico that live in the states of Oaxaca and Guerrero. In the state of Guerrero they are located in the southeastern region in the towns of Xochistlahuaca, Tlacoachistlahuaca, Cosuyoapan, Zacoalpa, Chochoapan, Huehuetono, El Pájaro, Las Minas, Cerro Bronco, Guadalupe Victoria, Guajentepec, and Pueblo Nuevo. To the west of Oaxaca they are found in the municipalities of San Pedro Amuzgos and Santa María Ipalapa.

Each Amuzgo town has its specific name, for example in San Pedro Amuzgos, the community with which we work in Lolo, they call themselves Tzjon Non, which means "town of yarn, soft thread, or wick".

The main activities of the inhabitants of this region are trade, livestock, and agriculture. Likewise, the Amuzgo have a series of artisanal handicrafts such as pottery, hammocks, ixtle bags, ans weaving of baskets. However, textile crafts play a fundamental role in the economy. In particular, the textiles of the Amuzgo women is distinguished by its precious rebozos, napkins, tablecloths, and, of course, their huipiles.

Ofelia, artisan from San Pedro Amuzgos, Oaxaca weaving using tupido. Courtesy of Carmela Merino for Lolo Mercadito.

The Amuzgo Huipil

The Amuzgo huipil is a highly significant identity garment for women. Although externally we call the clothing a huipil, Amuzgo women refer to it as chuey, a word of Amuzgo origin that translates as "canvas that covers a woman's body."

The importance of the huipil lies both in the preservation of the Amuzgo worldview and cultural legacy, which is centered around the entire arduous process behind its elaboration and those who are involved in it. The entire process to make an Amuzgo huipil is entirely artisanal: It is woven on a backstrap loom, an instrument that Mesoamerican women used since pre-Hispanic times; the threads or yarn used are died using natural pigments; and the designs made are made using generational knowledge.

Making an Amuzgo huipil is a job that artisans learn as children with the goal of improving over the years, since it is very difficult to make; women can take between six and nine months to make only one huipil. It is even told that on some occasions, the weaver has been buried with her instruments in recognition of her work.

The decoration of an Amuzgo huipil depends on the woman who makes it, in such a way that it will transmit the character, vision, and sentimental context of when it was made. However, there are certain themes present in his designs such as flowers, mountains, plants, or decorative frets; all of which being elements that exist in the region.

Dying of yarn using tree bark which resulted in brown yarn in San Pedro Amuzgos, Oaxaca. Courtesy of Carmela Merino for Lolo Mercadito.

Softening of yarn to later be threaded in San Pedro Amuzgos, Oaxaca. Courtesy of Carmela Merino for Lolo Mercadito.

Threading of yarn to be used in telar de cintura to make canvas for huipiles in San Pedro Amuzgos, Oaxaca. Courtesy of Carmela Merino for Lolo Mercadito.

Regardless of the arduous job involved in making a huipil with backstrap loom, the Amuzgo women do not stop doing it. This is mainly because weaving became an economic aid for Amuzgo families, but also because of the women who understand weaving as a strong connection with knowledge that is passed down from generation to generation.

It is very important for us to mention that Amuzgo textiles are in danger of being transformed by the introduction of commercial fabrics, globalization, mass production, and lack of promotion. In addition, the population that practices the trade has reduced to older generations, young people are not interested, since they claim to feel discrimination because of their clothing, for which they no longer wear it and do not practice it either. Finally, the lack of a market to sell their products constitutes another risk of disappearance of this cultural practice.

Weaving of canvas for huipil using telar de cintura in San Pedro Amuzgos, Oaxaca. Courtesy of Carmela Merino for Lolo Mercadito.

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So, what do you think? Is there a specific artisanal technique you would like for us to highlight? Were you familiar with Amuzgo huipiles before? What is your favorite huipil? For us, it is important to highlight the work and value of each product we offer, especially as they show the power behind culture and tradition, and one that makes us even more passionate about Mexico and its people. 

If you would like to support Amuzgo women who make these gorgeous huipiles, be sure to check out these pieces. You can also view all available clothing, including huipiles from different communities here. Lastly, if you are looking for ideas on how to style a huipil, be sure to check out our blog: How to Style a Huipil.

Also, don't forget to subscribe to our newsletter where we make sure to share this and many more artisanal techniques, artisan's stories, recipes, and content of interest. We also make sure to give our familia of subscribers exclusive promotions, gifts, first-hand look at all new products and, of course, these articles that we love to write for you all!

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1 comment

Joyce

Joyce

Enjoyed the article and now have a greater understanding and appreciation for this very special craft. In the future I would like to see an article on the ceramic pineapples made in a certain area of Mexico.

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