Wear It With Pride (Part 1)

Wear it with Pride 1

Last week, as we watch the delegations parade at the Beijing 2008 Olympics Inauguration, I was thinking how wonderful it was to see so many different and unique national dresses from the many countries around the world. Some of the delegations opted for a no-frills-western-style tie-shirt-suit formal dress code, while others chose to show off their identity and national pride through unique garments. I did not get to see the 12-member Guatemalan delegation. 🙁

This weekend in my way to the market, I had to stop to photograph something that is very common and unusual at the same time: an indigenous school band. I use the word common as I suppose this something that one can come across often while visiting indigenous communities. I use the word unusual because I, myself, have not seen an all-indigenous school band; just to show you how little I know my country.

I have shown Guatemalan school bands before; do you recall? Student marching bands and Student Band’s Practice at Ermita de la Santa Cruz; What about the Peace Accords of 1996; Night Parade on Independence Day; Guatemalan Independence Day 2007 Slideshow, just to bring forth some of the school band snapshots available at La Antigua Guatemala Daily Photo. But, the question is in how many of those photos did you see an indigenous school band?

Recalling a quoted text I snatched from Congo Days and Desde Kinshasa where my epistolary friend Ale talks often about identity:

While thinking about these issues I remembered a great film I saw almost two years ago that touched upon many of these subjects. Sandrine recommended it first and I loved the movie. It’s title in French is Va, vis et deviens (”Live and Become“) and it is a beautiful story that touches upon identity, race, religion, adoption, history and love from one child’s perspective.

Live and become may be one of the approaches by which the indigenous Maya people of Guatemala have kept alive several different ways of being human over the long and arduous 500 years.

This is the first part of a series regarding Guatemalan indigenous dress, traditions and identity. Below, I share with you a small video clip of their practice before marching on toward Calle del Arco.


INDIGENOUS WORD DEFINITION SIDE NOTE: I use the word indigenous in this site as way to describe native Guatemalan Amerindian people, mostly Maya descendants, whom have decided or still maintain their language, culture, traditions and dress (to name a few aspects of identity).

© 2008 – 2013, Rudy Giron. All rights reserved.

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  • Jerry T

    gorgeous. I can’t wait for this series. The indigenous dress is one of the beautiful things from Guatemala. I love all of the uniqueness to the dress, the designs on the shirts, the coloring from the different areas, etc. Looking forward to this series.

  • emromesco

    I’ve been having conflicting feelings about the beauty of the “traditional” Mayan dress. For one, after a little sejour in a town in Solola I felt that pride that the locals had in showing off their language, way of living and dress to outsiders (in this particular case it was university students from the USA). However, when explaining one of the “official” stories about the traditional dresses to my partner: that actually each village/town/region has a different pattern in their dresses because they were practically forced by the landowners to be able to control if an individual was in the wrong “place” and seeing her reaction made me realize that it becomes some sort of uniform, a working uniform at the best. On the other hand, I understand that reclaiming culture, even that created by confrontation, is part of reclaiming one people’s identity.

  • MO

    emromesco = Manolo El Toronteco??? The “official story” you speak about blows my mind. This is the first time I hear about the uniforms / landowners version. Always thought indigenous people enjoyed weaving complex patterns into their dress and how much pride they take into making their traditional Mayan dress. I always thought the differences between a huipil from one village and another was to be unique and of showing their individuality and pride in their villages. I am no expert on this subject and I don’t question the validity of your statement but how come not too many people (Guatemalans) know this version? If weaving a different patters in their dress was practically forced on them by the landowners to be able to control or restrict passage to/from other regions, are the current living Mayas reversing this custom? Manolo, (if you are Manolo) I admire your knowledge and I am sure this stuff is documented in many history books. Can you recommend any good books on Guatemala history? Thanks.

    PS: Thanks to the comments in LAGDP (Rudy’s recommendations) I am currently reading The Long Night of White Chickens By Francisco Goldman.

  • Stephanie

    Were the unique patterns forced by the landowners? Or did the landowners exploit the custom by using it as a way of identifying where people “belonged” and restricting movement?

    I have read about this aspect of the history as well, but I thought it was that the patterns emerged within indigenous communities and then this easy way of identifying where people belonged was exploited by landowners to enforce laws that restricted freedom of movement.

    When I have time I’ll look up my source of information and confirm that I’m remembering it correctly — as well as posting the source here.

  • Ale

    I love this photograph- it’s uniquely Guatemalan. The colors are fantastic, from the trajes tipicos, to the yellow wall to the green foliage and to the brown door. It’s just beautiful

    That’s the first time I hear about the landowner theory. I’ll have to do a little bit of research as well. My understanding was that the dress emerged/evolved from each community/indegenous group.

  • I also love seeing the different delegations at the Olympics. While there is so much competition there, it is amazing how so many countries can unite to compete peacefully in a Games that celebrates the entire world as one!

    The number one thing that fascinates me most about Latin America is the indigenous people and their culture, language, and customs. I love seeing pictures like these, so thanks for sharing!

  • This is a wonderful photo! Love the colors, the action, the energy.

  • Ron

    Do you know of any school orchestras in the Antigua area?

    My wife teaches music in high school in the US. We are going to be in Antigua in Jan. 2009 and she would like to visit some local programs.

  • emromesco

    @Mario As you did I have modified my screename 🙂 The main recommendation I can give about readings, particularly about colonial Guatemala is “La Patria del Criollo” by Severo Martinez Pelaez. As a side note, I am currently enjoying reading “El Vuelo Cautivo” by Ronald Flores, an essay on the relation USA-Guatemala during the cold war.
    Stephanie Actually “La Patria del Criollo” is the source I have forgotten for my statements and it does post the question that you are proposing as part of the hypothesis (not “official story” I apologize) that indigenous “trajes” could not be prehispanic (that is, before the Spaniards arrived to American shores) even though they do have several aspects of the ancestral culture of the people’s that have inhabited the motherland for more time than my people.

  • coltrane_lives

    Ah, music! The universal language. I can imagine the beauty you heard on the way to market. The colors astound and certainly should be a source of pride. I’ve certainly never thought of say the “huipil” as being “a working uniform at best.” But it does make for interesting, albeit controversial dialogue. Thanks Rudy for another amazing visual.

  • Catherine

    We love your site and will continue to support you and your efforts. We sent you a little gift from Oregon/USA that we hope you will also “wear with pride”. (Hope it arrives before November). Si se puede!

  • Pingback: Wear it with Pride (part 2) | La Antigua Guatemala Daily Photo()

  • Ale

    If I remember my ethnohistory courses correctly, the dress code was imposed on the different Maya groups. There are some wonderful studies of the evolution of Maya dress, including the adaptation of Spanish XVI century fashion to local dress style. Like everything cultural, the imposed dress code evolved and adapted with time, with wearers introducing their own themes (but keeping the color code more or less as it was). A nice example of the evolution of huipiles is that of Sta. Catarina Palopó. You can still find the “old” style worn by older people: red and white vertical stripes with bird motifs in blues and greens. Local fashion pushed towards more and more motifs until the red and white background was no longer visible.

    Museo Ixchel does a great job explaining the evolution of Maya dress, for those interested.

  • emromesco

    Oh, the huipiles of Sta. Catarina… love them, love them… those blues and greens are quite gorgeous. Thank you Ale for your nice succinct and objective comment and your recommendation.
    Here is the link: http://www.museoixchel.org/ to the museum’s website.