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.
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.
What is a Huipil? (whee-PEEL)
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.
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)
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.
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.
What is a Faja? (FAH-ha)
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.
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!
What is a Cinta? (SIN-tah)
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:
or formed from a simple piece of colored cloth woven into the braids.
What is a Rebozo? (reh-BOH-so)
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)
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.