Guatemala is located in the north of Central America and is home to over 30 volcanoes, stunning rainforests and ancient Mayan cities.
Sharing boarders with Mexico, Belize, El Salvador and Honduras it is a popular destination for travellers all over the world. It is also has the biggest population of all the countries in Central America, and of that population approximately 40% are indigenous, consisting of 23 Mayan groups and 1 non Mayan group.
We had particular interest in visiting Guatemala as so much of the country is still very much connected to its Mayan routes. From the lost Mayan cities and temples that are thousands of years old to the people today still wearing the traditional Mayan dress speaking some of the many different Mayan languages. Often people who live in such traditional ways can be exploited by big companies for tourism or produce, so it is definitely something we wanted to investigate.
We travelled through the entire country but it was during our time in Lake Atitlán that we were able to visit some traditional Mayan villages. We had heard about a local sustainability project in the small town of San Pedro La Laguna, located on the southwest shore of Lake Atitlán. Mayan women who produced and sold clothing and garments had formed a cooperative in order to ensure a sustained income for all the community.
Shops full of vibrant colours and traditional dresses, we came across a small company that offered a tour around their workshops.
It was a very small little factory with just a few rooms, but our first stop was to see how they make the thread into different colours. All the traditional garments are made with lovely bright coloured threads and it was incredible to learn that even the thread was dyed by hand with natural resources.
They use fruit and vegetables and different flowers and plants. First they stretch out the cotton so that it becomes long lines of thread and then they can dye it with a mixture of water and the different natural ingredients. The next step was the preparation of the threads, it is from here they can then be put onto a blackstrap loom, to be woven by hand. In some bigger factories workers use more advanced looms with pedals to allow faster production.
We were told a single garment can take up to 6 months to make and they money they make from tourists coming to visit their factories and stores goes back into the their communities. The tour was free but we were encouraged to buy from their store next door that sold all the handmade garments
Once we had made it past the preparation rooms we came to the area in which the ladies hand weave the garments using large looms. Tony even had a go himself and said they definitely made it look a lot easier than it was! I don't think Tony will be following a career in garment production anytime soon!
Each garment is uniquely decorated with a variety of designs and symbols, each with its own sacred meaning.
The symbols range from the diamond, representing the universe and the path of the sun in its daily movement including the four cardinal directions, to geomorphic representations of mountains, rivers, animals, corn plants, and people. They also make the garments depending on the area in which they live, they make heavy and thick garments for colder regions and lighter, thinner garments for warmer areas.
We had a great visit to this factory and of course bought a few handmade items ourselves. It is clear that the work here is big part of their Mayan culture and goes along way to providing for their communities. Hand made traditional clothing can be bought online by anybody, but it is always worth checking out the company that are selling the items to make sure they are not using local people in large factories to produce hundreds of items.
My best piece of advice is to visit Guatemala and see for yourself the skill that goes into making the beautiful clothes and how profits go back into the local community.
Look out for more blogs about or fact finding missions, and please contact us if you would like anymore information.