Even thought this exhibit ran four years ago (Spring 2011) at the Museo Textile de Oaxaca, it was a splendid opportunity to see MTO’s superb collection of historical, refined, elaborate, colorful, and precious little shoulder and chest covering garments. Please, don’t call them ponchos! The quech-que-mitl (I’ve broken the Nahua word into syllables) is a garment unique only-to-Mexico and has been in production for easily over two thousand years. The story told is that quechquemitles were first observed historically in temple frescoes and ceramics of the ancient Olmec and Oaxacan cultures and later in codices.
In pre-conquest times it was worn as an upper-body covering by the priestesses and high born women who had access to the most sumptuous textiles. After the conquest this garment became widely used in the indigenous communities who adapted it, embellished it with their sacred symbols and made it their own. Although currently it is seen in only a few communities of central Mexico – Nahuas, Mazahuas, Purepeche, Hustecos, it is thought to have been worn in most villages in central Mexico after the conquest and before the European peasant blouse became common. It was encouraged by the Spanish, so that women would be covered to enter the churches and their group identity could be recognized. It is one of the first garments worn exclusively by women along with the enredo (wrap around and tube skirt) which I will blog on later.
Pre-conquest garments were woven on the back-strap looms and the full web was used. A web could be woven in various widths and lengths specific for enredos (wrap skirts) quechquemitles (capelets) and manteles (large coverings). These webs were then joined together. To cut a hand woven cloth was to destroy its integrity or soul and spirit that went into its making. I managed to photograph the exhibit on several visits to Museo Textile de Oaxaca and following is a slide show of my favorites. In future posts, I will write about the two areas that I’ve explored that still use the quechquemitl: the Nahua of Cuetzalan, Puebla and the Mazahua of the State of Mexico.
The shortened pronunciation “Quech-que” is acceptable but don’t call it a poncho!! That’s a larger and more blanket-like garment.
Could you please recommend the best books with photographs on indigenous textiles ?
Thank you for the wonderful information. It’s amazing that this garment is unique to Mexico. It’s so simple really.
Thanks Annie – Quechques are REALLY interesting aren’t they? Other cultures had their chance since the construction is so simple…but they didn’t embrace it. Viva Mexico! Viva Quechques!
Hi Helen: Mexican Textiles have not been extensively written about by English speaking writers, but that being said, there were some excellent ‘explorers’ in Mexico in the 40’s and the 70’s. I would recommend going into Amazon and searching Chloe Sayer – she’s done a comprehensive job on Mexican textiles and costumes. 2-3 books. Nice photos too.
Then the quintessential book, if you really want to get into it : “Mexican Indian Costumes”, by the Cordrys, University of Texas Press. They went into the out-back communities and recorded the wide variety of traditional textiles of the 40’s.
Since I’m frequently in Mexico I find my best resource books there, but if you can find the ‘Artes de Mexico’ journals there are three on Mexican Textiles:
Textiles de Chiapas, Textiles de Oaxaca, Textiles Mazahuas – although in Spanish, they are translated into English in the back section. Excellent photography too.
Hope this was helpful..
Excellent and informative article! Glad you are doingthis. Elizabeth
I remember the talk you gave on the quechquemitl at the Museo Textil de Oaxaca. 😉
Yes, Shannon – that was in May 2011 just a few days before I left Oaxaca for NM. I’ve been going through all my images from the time in Oaxaca from 2009-2011 and I sure have enough textiles adventures (and they keep happening every time I come to visit) – so I’m hoping to be a little more active on my blog with the in-depth look at various aspect of traditional traje. Nice to hear from you!
Really nice photos…lovely, little quechquamities and great weaving. Thanks for sending such an interesting blog.
Thanks Pam – I’ve been a bit remiss is posting on my BLOG – but I have lots of back stories – much like this one – from a few years ago when I was living and exploring the textile culture in Oaxaca and Chiapas. I hope to write more. Glad you enjoyed it.