Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Huipíl (Blouse) for a Female Saint or Effigy of the Virgin Mary



Huipíl (Blouse) for a Female Saint or Effigy of the Virgin Mary


This miniature woman’s blouse was woven for a wooden santa (female saint figure) to wear as she stood or sat on an altar in a Catholic church in San Pedro Sacatepéquez. Dressing saints in traditional Maya attire is an obvious way in which the two cultures, Maya and European, interact and blend. The church in which this santa would have been placed represents a type of architecture, furnishings, and statuary that would have been wholly foreign to Maya sensibilities. The Spanish introduced their form of worship and its accoutrements, yet had trouble even getting “Indians” to enter the buildings, let alone follow the Catholic rites. Indigenous shamanic rituals almost always take place outdoors or in a house; there is no particular church or temple form involved in this visionary approach to gaining supernatural aid.

However, shamanic understanding of the powers that objects can hold and the way they can send petitions to the spirits were transferred onto the new saint figures. Indeed, the Spanish were suspicious of how ardent the indigenous people were in dressing and re-dressing them, leaving them food and drink, as well as carrying them carefully through the streets on the saint’s day (and on other times that did not necessarily correlate with the Catholic calendar). Maya treated and still treat the figures as living beings.

Lavishing her time, a talented Maya woman wove this tiny blouse for a santa in the high-prestige colors of purple and pink. A small garment is actually more difficult to weave than a full-size one, requiring greater manual dexterity. The two holes in the front, with their carefully embroidered edges, may reveal who wore this particular huipíl. The Mother Mary often is shown nursing Jesus and one hole could have been for her arm and one for her breast. In this way, the Maya reinforce their ideal female role as fertile, nurturing, responsible, and skillful. In colonial paintings from nearby Mexico, Mary is often depicted spinning or weaving, again reflecting indigenous values in the midst of Spanish religious demands.

Geographic Area

Central America, Guatemala, San Pedro Sacatepéquez


Kakchikel Maya


Ca. 1900



Credit Line

Bright Collection of Guatemalan Textiles

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

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