Maya Traditions


Maya Traditions was founded in 1996 by Jane Mintz (1943-2009), who was a social worker in the US and a tapestry weaver and teacher in her retirement. In her travels, she began working with impoverished indigenous women artisans in Guatemala by helping them with their designs and giving feedback to help improve the quality of the work to make it more marketable in the United States.

Jane saw that the women's skill of backstrap weaving was a chance for them to earn a more stable income for their families that would allow them to work from home and still provide care for their children. She began importing to the US to help facilitate access to local and international markets, and in doing so empower women artisans to become more self-sufficient and increase access to capacity building opportunities, formal education and traditional health services.

Through its work, Maya Traditions provides:

- employment for 120 women to earn a secure livelihood and provide for their family's basic living expenses

- scholarships to over 2,300 primary, secondary and tertiary students between 1997-2012

- business advice, support and training, including registration as small businesses

- health care services, facilities and health education programs.

Backstrap Weaving

Click to here to see how Guatemalan women weave with a backstrap loom.  

According to Maya legend, the goddess Ixchel was said to have invented backstrap weaving. She was known as the goddess of medicine and childbirth as well as weaving. Weavers made offerings to her before beginning each new textile. The continuation of this type of weaving from Pre-Columbian times (probably from around 1,500 BC) to present day is one way that Maya women have maintained their own culture, and is a tradition that is passed down from mother to daughter, usually between the ages of 7 and 8.

Backstrap weaving is a symbol of the life of the Maya woman. With the loom strapped around her waist and the other end tied to a tree or post the weaver is an integral part of the loom. Thus, she is vitally connected to the nature around her and becomes one with her environment.

For the typical Maya woman in highland villages of Guatemala, weaving becomes a ritual part of her daily life. Before sunrise she awakes to care for children and animals; starts the fire, grinds the corn and makes tortillas and food for the family. After dawn, she unrolls and connects her loom. She sits, strapping it around her waist and is ready to begin weaving for three or four hours until she prepares lunch for her family. In the afternoon she weaves another three or more hours until the sun begins to fade. At the end of a weaving day the loom can be rolled up and put away, only to be unrolled at daybreak and resume the process the following day.

Click to here to see how Guatemalan women weave with a backstrap loom.

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