One of the best things about being a designer is that you get to meet so many interesting, creative and intelligent people in your day to day life and work. We're constantly inspired and invigorated by the people surrounding us! One such awe-inspiring person is our very good friend Karina, who went to design school with us in Cincinnati and is now on a six month grand adventure through Central America. Today she has kindly shared a sneak peek into part of her trip.
I hope you enjoy and are inspired by Karina's reflections on the town of Chichicastenango, Guatemala!!
Nestled in the mountains of Guatemala’s Highlands, Chichicastenango is an indigenous Mayan town with a long history of trading that reaches centuries before the Spanish conquest. Like many villages in the highlands, the pre-Spaniard Mayan culture is alive and well here. In Chichi it is the K’ichi’ people that have made this region home since the collapse of the Classic Maya civilization between AD 900 and 1400. I always find the length of history and consequent depth of culture in parts of the world like this to be incredibly enthralling; it injects a magic into the streets that is simply irreproducible in as young a country as ours.
With all this in mind, I woke up early on Sunday and sleepily boarded a bus in Panajachel, about a two hour ride from Chichi. I was headed there to witness one of the famous market days, taking place Thursday and Sunday of every week. Carrying on its legacy as a historical trading town, the Chichi market is said to be the largest in Guatemala, drawing in tourists and locals alike in their quest for every day sundries, food, handicrafts, flowers, incense, lime stone for making tortillas… the list goes on and on! Though I was looking forward to seeing everything the market had to offer, I was especially excited about the textiles. In visiting Guatemalan markets in Antigua and Lago de Atitlan I’d already had a taste of the beauty and history of local fabrics. Most women (and the men in some areas) in the highlands still dress in traditional Mayan clothing, the most common of which is a blouse called a huipil. The use of traditional clothing serves as an important cultural connection to their ancestral past, a way of asserting their identity as a strong people with deep traditions and creative expressions.
I had heard Chichi had the most impressive assortment of textiles, with villagers coming from all over the highlands to sell their wares, and as I stepped off of the bus onto the cobble stone streets I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed. The sprawling market seemed almost overwhelming at first. Gray clouds loomed overhead and my senses were assaulted with sights, sounds and smells coming at me from every which way. I ducked into a coffee shop to arm myself with caffeine and then set off into the tarp-covered den of stalls to explore!
Hundreds of people were meandering through the narrow walk-ways. Humans and animals buzzed about with multiple languages whizzing in and out of ear-shot. Tourists stopped at every stall, searching for unique treasures to bring back home, a bite to eat or just an inspiring photograph. I passed antique textiles one moment and raw shrimp in plastic buckets the next. Eggs, live chickens, raw meat, and restaurants - the whole circle of life was present (for a chicken at least!) Children played around the legs of their parents and tiny wrinkled Guatemalan grandmothers pushed determinedly through the crowds.
The whole market was a feast for the eyes with gorgeous colors spilling out of every stall. The textiles themselves were abundant in a staggering array of styles. I began to chat with the artisans in my broken Spanish and learned about some common themes present in the work. Many of the textiles incorporate symbolic patterns of national icons like the Quetzal, Guatemala’s bird (and the name of their currency), Mayan gods or symbols from the Mayan Calendar, and representations of universal mythological ideas such as the sun, moon, earth, sky, animals, birth, rebirth, etc. The symbolism is deep and the stories the textiles tell are captivating.
Haggling is standard practice at the market, and can be a fun bit of a game as you and the seller both put your poker faces on to win the best price. The “best” price in this case is the one where both parties walk away happy. Knowing the time, care and cultural equity that is put into each hand-crafted piece has given me a deeper appreciation for their work, and though it’s always fun to score a deal, it’s even more rewarding to support the traditions and artistry for a people that don’t have many other methods of income in their economic climate.
I have many more months of travel ahead of me, with many more markets to visit and crafts to explore, but the inspiration found at Chichicastenango will last far beyond the confines of this trip. I just hope I can return one day with more than a backpacker’s limited space, empty suitcases poised and ready!
So thankful for Karina to share in part of her journey through Central America with us! It's so inspiring to see the skill, care, and artistry that goes into each of these gorgeous traditional textiles. Hopefully she picked up a few beautiful souvenirs in Chichi (and maybe something for her friends!)
Have a fabulous Friday!!
- a & c. (and special guest Karina!)