Ana Celia Martínez, expert in Mexican textiles. Ana Celia Martínez, expert in Mexican textiles.

Rebozo is endangered, says textiles expert

Fewer than 200 people engaged in their creation, says Ana Celia Martínez

The Mexican rebozo, a traditional garment closely associated with Mexican culture, is on the brink of extinction, according to an award-winning expert in textiles.

Ana Celia Martínez, winner of the Tenerife International Artisan Prize 2014, worries that there are fewer than 200 people dedicated to the weaving of rebozos left in Mexico. Just a few months ago, she says, the last weaver of scented rebozos had to close his shop.

“Scented rebozos are 100% cotton, and to achieve their characteristic black color, artisans had to treat the fiber with iron and treated water. This complicated process impregnated the fabric with foul smells. The rebozo was then curated with fragrant herbs, giving the garment its name”, explains Martínez, who is also a professor of Mesoamerican studies at the National Autonomous University.

“Scented rebozos are widely appreciated in Europe,” she says, but “now this tradition has become part of history, to be displayed in museums. This variety of rebozo is practically extinct.”

Another example of an endangered rebozo is the “reservista,” in which 5,000 threads are woven on a backstrap loom, achieving intricate and complex designs. “There is only one artisan working this type of rebozo in Mexico.”

The Mexican rebozo, a long straight piece of cloth that could be a cross between a scarf and a shawl, is known for its durability, and they can be passed on from generation to generation. The rebozo can be described as an accessory but it is also functional, being used to carry large bundles, or babies.

Martínez describes the the latter use: “The child is completely covered by it, comfortably pressed against its mother’s body in an assuring and soothing position. They can even hear their mother’s heartbeat.”

Martínez is confident that the National Anthropology and History Institute will protect something with such a strong cultural tradition: “They must undertake concrete actions to preserve this part of the culture of Mexico, and prevent the displacement of artisans by cheap Chinese products.”

Chinese rebozos are inexpensive and mass-produced using synthetic fibers. The end product is very fragile and frays very easily and the dyes wash off after a short time, while Mexican rebozos can remain intact for decades, says Martínez.

The defender of culturally valuable textiles won the Tenerife prize for “Izote, Iczotl, fiber with identity, tradition and permanence,” a project designed to preserve an endangered type of fiber called izote, which is produced in Zumpahuacán in the State of México.

Izote is seen to have historical importance because its use in pre-Hispanic times is evident in documents such as the Codex Mendoza, a 16th-century manuscript containing a history of Aztec rulers, where the pictograms show izote blankets.

Upon receiving her award, presented on the island of Tenerife in February, Martínez said cultural traditions such as the rebozo are “the symbols of our identity” and must be preserved.

Source: Informador (sp)

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