Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Typical Woman’s Garments from Chajul



Typical Woman’s Garments from Chajul


Throughout history, what is considered “traditional” changes over time. Colonized peoples like the Maya, who still number at least six million today, retain certain items of dress from their long past, while adopting others from their colonizers, the Spanish. Thus, like the blouses from Panamá and the modern Andean garments (see Engaging the New and Capturing the Rainbow), modern Maya dress for men and women blends ancient, Spanish, and global influences.

Since the early 16th century, women's clothing has tended to remain more traditional because they were not allowed to interact as much with the Spanish. In the colonies, many patriarchal Spaniards would not even address an indigenous female leader but only speak to her brother or son. For the Maya, this meant that the wide rectangular blouse, the pot in K’iche’ Mayan or huipíl, and the wraparound skirt or corte, have remained the mainstays of feminine dress. A shawl or perraje,cinta or long headband wrapped into a disk, and a tzut or folded, multipurpose cloth, complete the outfit.

Geographic Area

Central America, Guatemala, Chajul


Ixil Maya


20th century


Cotton, acrylic fiber

Credit Line

Bright Collection of Guatemalan Textiles

Accession Number

Tzut (folded on head), 2009.42.200; Cinta (headwrap), 2009.42.206; Huipíl (blouse), 2009.42.199; Perraje (over shoulder), 2009.42.211; Corte (skirt), 2009.42.212

Photo Credit

Photos by Michael McKelvey, 2017

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