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Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles
Wedding Huipíl (Blouse)
Wedding Huipíl (Blouse)
Although some Maya women, in recent times especially, choose to wear white Western-style wedding gowns, many continue to don fine traditional Maya blouses, skirts, and belts. The bride’s garments are wedding gifts from her future husband and his family, while her family provides the prenuptial event clothing. A particularly fine set of clothes communicates to the bride’s family that she will be well provided for after marriage. If the betrothed come from different towns, the groom’s family will purchase the bride’s clothing in the style of her town. The ceremony takes place in a Catholic church, yet the mass is usually conducted in the couple’s indigenous Maya language, here Kakchikel, spoken in San Pedro Sacatepéquez.
The wedding huipíl is composed of three parts to show its elevated ceremonial nature and often includes white-on-white decoration for the bottom section, as here. While white may seem a Western choice, many ancient Maya depictions of huipiles show this color. This huipíl features the high-prestige color of purple; however, dye testing reveals that it came from a chemical aniline dye rather than the older colorant from a Pacific coastal sea snail (Plicopurpura pansa).
The purple and gold brocade across the top features repeating and nested diamonds, some of the most prevalent motifs in Maya textiles from ancient times to the present. Four-sided shapes likely reference the four cosmic directions; the Maya believe during Creation the edges of the sky were held up by four mythical brothers called Bacabs. Donning such cosmograms, the wearer symbolically occupies the center of the world. There are also tree and vegetal motifs representing the Maya Tree of Life, fertility, and the perpetuity of life; all these sacred meanings would be appropriate at the celebration of a marriage.
Central America, Guatemala, San Pedro Sacatepéquez
Cotton, acrylic fiber
Bright Collection of Guatemalan Textiles
Photos by Bruce M. White, 2013
Small samples of the purple threads were removed from this wedding huipíl for dye analysis. A few millimeters of both the lighter and darker purple threads were analyzed using Direct Analysis in Real Time mass spectrometry (DART-MS). This analytical approach enables solids to be analyzed without complex preparation. Therefore, dye analysis can be performed on very small thread samples without first extracting the dye, a laborious process that requires larger samples and risks contamination, loss, etc. The DART-MS analysis was performed by Dr. Ruth Ann Armitage, Professor of Chemistry at Eastern Michigan University. Neither of the samples contained dibromoindigo, which is found in natural purple dye made from sea snail (Plicopurpura pansa). Although the specific dye was not identified, the purples in this huipil appear to be modern synthetic colorants.
For more conservation information, please see The Threads of Time Conservation Project.