What is Traje? (TRA-hay)

The literal translation of traje is a suit of clothing, especially that which identifies the wearer as belonging to a specific place, group, time, or activity.

Mayan Traje Tipico of San Juan La Laguna showing Huipil faja and corte
Cristina Cumes wearing the three main pieces of traje tipico:  Huipil, Faja & Corte
  

Traje tipico of the Maya is such a cultural marker, especially that worn by the women, and generally consists of at least a huipil, a faja, and corte and can also include a cinta, a rebozo, and/or a delantal. In addition to the myriad of colors and designs of traje that can be purchased in the markets, each village has its own unique designs and colors which identify the components as being specifically from that village. This is the most traditional of the traje in which the symbols and colors are representative of Maya cosmology. Within those designs and colors there are many variations which further mark the traditional traje as something that might be worn daily, or during a festival, or from a bygone era. For example - the modern traje tipico of San Juan La Laguna, shown in the photo above, could have any color for the huipil and any variation in the color of stripes on the corte and still be recognizable as from San Juan.  However for a festival day, the huipil will be red with white stripes and embroidered neckline and the corte will be black with white stripes with very little variation in design or color.  

While many Maya women maintain the traditional form of dress, owning and wearing only traje tipico from their village, others will dress in traditional traje from different villages or mix and match pieces of traje tipico from a variety of pueblos particularly those that have exceptionally beautiful designs. Therefore, it is no longer possible to identify a woman as being from a particular pueblo based solely on her dress. 

A brocade and/or hand-embroidered backstrap loom woven huipil can easily cost more then half of the wearer's monthly salary so it is increasingly common for women to forgo the expensive huipil for the non-tipico, but ever popular flowered and bejeweled blouses, saving the huipil for special occasions. The use of corte and faja continues to be standard dress among Maya women.
Colorful contemporary polyester blouse often worn instead of the costly huipil. red and white with rhinestones
The ubiquitous, inexpensive and some say more comfortable polyester blouse is popular for daily wear.

 

 

 

What is a Huipil? (whee-PEEL)

Backstrap loom woven light Blue huipil with intricately embroidered figures from maya cosmology on upper half
Huipil from Santiago, Sololá

 

A huipil is a shirt, or if long enough a dress. The design is simple; a rectangular width of backstrap loom woven fabric, or two sewn together lengthwise, with a hole cut in the center for the head. The sides are usually stitched closed leaving openings at the top for the arms. Huipiles are usually heavily decorated with Maya symbols, either during the weaving process with brocade or afterwards with intricate embroidery. If it is a traditional huipil the colors and design will mark it as being from a particular pueblo though in recent years the traditional colors are sometimes being replaced by an array of colors leaving the design as the main indicator of a pueblo. The fabric may be woven from lighter or heavier threads depending on the climate from where it originates. In the hotter regions the fabric is of a more gauzy material. Before the arrival of the Catholic Church, the sides were often left open in order to easily nurse a baby or because of the heat. As the priests decided that it was unwholesome for women to walk around with breasts exposed it soon became a sin to do so and sides were sewn up.

Traditional huipil from San Juan, Guatemala Backstrap woven in shiny white cotton thick zigzag embroidery along the collar
This heavily embroidered ceremonial huipil from San Juan La Laguna is sold with unseamed sides so that the wearer can adjust the sides and armholes to her liking.

 

Today huipiles are also being handwoven on floor looms with original colors and designs that do not follow any particular pueblo's tradition. Some are even machine embroidered - but the most beautiful continue to be embroidered by hand and woven on backstrap looms.  

 

 

 

What is a Corte? (KOR-teh)

Expensive Corte, handwoven on pedal loom; comprised of narrow detailed ikat (jaspe) designs of women, birds, corn
Corte from Santiago, Atitlán with intricate jaspe designs - handwoven on a floor loom.

 

Corte means length, which is exactly what a corte is - a single long rectangular length of fabric worn as a skirt. A full corte is a little over 7 yards long by 1 yard wide and a woman with a wide stature will use the entire length. Less prodigious women can get by with a half corte. 

Street vendor seated at a table displaying a handwoven corte from Patzún Guateamala
Street vendor Rosa Ajcac Chavajay selling corte or lengths of handwoven fabric. The simple design of this corte is from Patzún.

 

With a few exceptions the corte is first wound loosely around the woman's waist to form a tube about 16" wider then her waist. The long sides of the fabric tube at both hips are pinched and folded forward creating pleats of about 4" and then all is secured snuggly at the waist by a faja and I think a bit of magic. When I wore traje tipico to a friend's wedding my corte came undone several times much to the amusement of the Maya women who helped me redress.

 

In some pueblos, the fabric at the waist is simply rolled down on itself with the ends tied into a knot, somehow keeping it afloat without a belt. In other pueblos, the wide ends of the corte are stitched together to form a very wide single-layer tube with a casing at the waist end. A small cord is run through the casing and used to cinch and tie the corte at the waist creating a very full skirt (Majo likes this variety as it is fit for a twirling princess.)

 

With the popularity of the floor loom on the rise, most cortes are no longer woven on backstrap looms and the weaving is almost always done by men. Like other pieces of traje tipico, the traditional corte of a village can be identified by the colors and pattern of the fabric which carry the Maya symbology.  Corte with intricate jaspe designs and fine thread can easily cost one or two month's salary.

 

 

 

What is a Faja? (FAH-ha)

Rolled up sparkly blue faja (sash) from San Juan La Laguna Guatemala, not traje tipico
A sparkly blue faja

 

A faja is a belt or sash, woven on a backstrap loom and is the primary means of holding up the corte.  The weft  for the first half of the faja is woven with a stiff fiber such as cordage from the agave plant or black bailing twine that once woven has had its ends melted. This gives the faja "body" so that it will not fold at a women's waist.  A women's faja measures around 2 1/2 yards long and anywhere from 3" to 8" wide.
Backstrap loom woven faja of yellows, browns, black and cream colored triangles with keyring peaking out the top
Tightly cinched and geometrically brocaded faja worn by the weaver with keyring peaking out from the top. The white threads along the top of the belt are weft threads made from agave fiber

 

Fajas are wrapped rather tightly around the waist and often serve to hold any number of smaller objects such as cell phones, keys, handkerchiefs. The braided (or unbraided) ends of the faja are tucked under the sash and secured by friction and pressure. A faja can be woven as part of traditional traje denoting a particular pueblo by its color and design or made with an original design to be worn for its beauty. Fajas can be of a simple one-color backstrap loom woven design or lavishly decorated with beadwork, brocade, jaspe, sparkly thread, cross stitch, painting, crochet, or any combination of the above.  Majo's teacher estimates that she has around 50 different fajas in her collection!
Seven rolled up fajas, some tipico. From Quetzalli Women's Weaving Cooperative, San Juan la Laguna, Guatemala
An assortment of fajas

 

 

What is a Cinta? (SIN-tah)

headshots of two little girls with colorful cintas or hair wraps,in a parade. San Pedro, Guatemala
Majo's classmates, Chusita (left) wearing a cinta from Nahuala, Sololá and Alesandra (right) with a cinta from Cobán

 

Though fading from daily use in many towns a Cinta is a hair wrap/adornment worn by Maya women throughout Guatemala, especially on feast days. The cinta is a long and narrow band of (generally) backstrap loom woven material with brocade and/or embroidery embellishments. The designs and colors on the cinta often have cosmological significance and the manner in which it is wrapped may also indicate marital status, motherhood, or matriarchy. Cintas can be amazingly intricate such as this one from Santiago which is well over 8 feet in length:
Woman with elaborately wound backstrap loom woven cinta or hair wrap from Santiago Guatemala
Cinta from Santiago, Sololá

 

or formed from a simple piece of colored cloth woven into the braids.
Backshot of 3 women from San Pedro La Laguna with color coordinated cintas braided into their hair
3 women from San Pedro La Laguna watching the feast day parade

 

 

What is a Rebozo?  (reh-BOH-so)

Unfurled Rebozo handwooven on a backstrap loom with 2 panels of traditional indigo dyed ikat
Rebozo shawl woven by María Florinda

 

In Maya Guatemala, and in many other parts of central america, a rebozo is a long rectangular piece of handwoven cloth used as a shawl or carrying cloth and measuring around 6½' x 2' excluding the fringe.  When worn as part of traje tipico, the colors, designs, and often the fringe are characteristic of a woman's village. Rebozos are woven on the backstrap loom from heavier cotton threads and incorporate jaspe in the design.  

As a garment, the rebozo is extremely versatile, worn simply for it's beauty or for warmth or protection. A rebozo is an indispensable part of the Sunday outfit and used to cover the head and shoulders in church. Rebozos are used for carrying babies on the back as well as for hauling heavy loads, either as a bundle on the head, or tied across the shoulders. Midwives sometimes use them to assist in difficult deliveries.

A lighter-weight shawl made from fine cotton or rayon is referred to as a chalina and is not part of traje tipico.

 

What is a Delantal?  (day-lan-TAL)

Pregnant friend from San Juan La Laguna Guatmeala wearing an apron or delantal
Ofelia and her pregnant self sporting a delantal to keep her corte clean.

 

A delantal is an apron usually made from the same fabric as a less expensive corte and decorated with geegaws. Almost all the delantals have at least one zippered pocket making it both a purse and an apron. Delantals can also be part of the traditional traje tipico, but I have yet to identify one as such. It is a very common part of daily wear especially for vendors. 
Three laughing women in San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala wearing half aprons or delantales and making tortillas
Each day at noon Majo and I buy four corn tortillas from these delantal-wearing señoras