Washing and Weaving

The Guatemalan tradition of weaving by back-strap loom has reached a level of sophistication rarely rivaled. Here people weave and wear art works, at times museum pieces. The Maya ability to combine color and form within a single item of clothing and between articles of clothing is absolute artistry. Notwithstanding, the activity of weaving is as lovely as the finished product. Any day in any town or rural household, you will see women, or groups of women, standing, kneeling, or seated on the ground weaving or embroidering while chatting, joking, and breast-feeding their babies, surrounded by chickens, ducks, or turkeys and an occasional pig or cow.

However, Maya weavers face many threats. Foremost, many young  Maya women wish to assimilate to mainstream society and, hence, abandon native clothing. The used American clothing.sent down from the North also allows them to dress inexpensively..Some women switch to American clothing to increase job opportunities and hasten social elevation. In contrast, others reject native dress simply because they can`t afford it..

Industrial looms now mas-produce clothing that  imitates the hand-woven product. Notwithstanding, sometimes the designs are ridiculous. The material can be extremely uncomfortable. At times the designs are not woven at all, simply stamped on by a silk-screen process. This machine made clothing is affordable, however. Therefore, weaving by back-strap loom is in danger of extinction..In addition, the best of the weavers are either dead, or are dying.

Hand-woven or embroidered clothing should be washed by hand. However, washing is almost always done by hand, by women, in a variety of venues: private or public pilas (wash basins), rivers, the lake-shore, mountain streams, and plastic pipes fed from mountain streams to the plains below. Wherever I walk, I meet washerwomen, either washing. or carrying tubs of wet laundry to their homes, along narrow mountain pathways or up steep village streets, often at great distance.

Nowhere is the activity of washing more festive than in the two bays of San Lucas Tolimán: las Conchitas and el Relleno. However, nowhere is the ecological damage done to the lake by phosphates and plastic detergent and shampoo containers so evident.

Admittedly, I once approved of the communal activity of washing in the lakefront. for its social value. I explained that the market is the center of San Lucas Tolimán on Tuesday and Sunday. However, other days the center of town, with all of its gossip and daily news, descends to the lake and to the string of tiny washing stones rimming the two bays. Note the happiness on the faces of the washerwomen in my photos, I would say.

Meanwhile, I have  seen several outbreaks of cyanobacteria upon the surface of Lake Atitlán. Consequently my attitude toward washing in the lakefront has changed. A few years ago, San Lucas Tolimán offered a partial solution, however. San Lucas constructed a beautiful public washing facility on shore in full view of the lake. This facility thus provides something of  the ambiance of washing in the lakefront without further damage to Lake Atitlán.

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