Published: June 11th 2006June 10th 2006
This is a tapete from Teotitlan del Valle
Today after the students were dismissed from classes we rode two vans to the small village of Teotitlan del Valle (pop. 5,000) located about 1/2 hour from Oaxaca. This is a weaving village and we had the priveledge of visiting master weaver Jesus Hernandez Jimenez's taller (workshop). Upon our arrival we were given a demonstration by Jesus son (also named Jesus) who showed us the entire process needed for completing tapetes (rugs) which are very similar to the Indo-Hispanic traditional rugs found commonly in Chimayo.
The first part of the process requires the purchasing of wool since the family does not own any sheep. Next, the recently shorn wool is washed in a local river using a special root used as soap. The wool is placed in a basket and is washed by hand, the basket allows water to continuously flow through it, thus rinsing the wool. The reason for washing to wool is to remove dirt, fat, and seeds. Next, the wool is set out to dry. After it has dried it is placed between to comb-like paddles and is softened. ONce softened, it is spun into yarn using a non-electrical spooling mechanism. Once the thread has
Taller de Tapete
This is a tapete workshop from Teotitlan del Valle
been spooled it is ready either for weaving (in natural colors and tones) or dying.
Perhaps the most thrilling part of the demonstration was when Jesus showed us how the red pigment is made using cochinilla (cochineal). Cochinilla is an insect native to Oaxaca that inhabits the nopal (prickly pear cactus). The insect is collected and sacrificed in order to make the scarlet color. Cochinilla has long been cultivated in Mexico and the arrival of the Spanish saw its popularity increase with thriving the textile industry of many Western European countries and even China. Cochinilla is often referred to as Oaxaca´s red gold as it was a prized dye that is responsible for the erection of most of Oaxaca's churches and downtown buidings of importance during the 17th and 18th century. However, with the invention of cheaper German synthetic dyes, cochinilla lost much of its value and put Oaxaca in an economic crisis from which many feel it hasn't recovered.
From the cochinilla, the Hernandez Jimenez family obtains 65 different tones of red by adding other elements such as baking soda, lemon juice, ash, and lime. Other popular colors in the family tapetes are indigo (which is now
Weaver close up
Here is a closs up of a tejedora working on a tapete.
purchased from other villages) and green which is obtained from river rock moss. Following the color demonstration, we walked over to a loom where young Jesus was working on a design approximately 4´x 6´. This tapete was a sort of tree of life image with birds strategically placed throughout the tapete. In his demostration he explained that red rugs (use of cochinilla) are traditionally the most expensive rugs as are those with circular forms, arc, etc which require special attention when weaving as straight lines is the norm pattern. Currently, master weaver Jesus Hernandez Jimenez was working on a piece depicting a native god. His work has been shown at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. He has also done reproductions of many Diego Rivera prints featuring indigenous women and alcatraces (while flowers). After the demonstration, we were taken to their showrooms where students had the opportunity to purchase the tapetes of their liking.
Following the tapete demonstration, we headed to a nearby mezcaleria to see how mezcal is made. Mezcal, like tequila, is made from the agave (maguey) plant though their species are different, However, while tequila is mass produced and widely available in the
This is the cochinilla insect residing in a nopal. This prized insect is responsible for the 65 different shades of red in the tapetes.
US, agave has yet to gain the popularity of its distant cousin. At the mezcaleria, we were shown how the agave must grow for 8 year before it is ready to be used. Once mature, it's leaves are removed and the body of the plant (called a pina for its resemblence to pineapples) is ready for use. A woodfire is burned in a deep pit (horno) and river rock is placed over the coals untill they are flaming red in heat. Then, the pinas are placed and covered with burlap, tin, and earth. Once the pinas are ready they are removed and trimmed. Then they are placed on a grinding stone that is about 6 feet in diameter and ground by a large stone wheel that is pulled by a horse. The extract that is collected is now ready to be fermented. The liquid is placed in a still and heated, once the liquid boiles over it goes into a tank that is submerged in cold water. The process is often repeated for the MINERO agave. Once the liquid has fermented it is placed in oak barrels and is ready to age. Federal regulations require that the reposado agave be
Teotitlan del valle weaver
A master weaver honing his trade.
aged for six months while the anejo remain in the barrels for one year. However, this family has been producing mezcal for five generations and their aging regulations are a little more strict as the reposado ages 1 1/2 years while the anejo is aged 4 years.
From the processing plant we went to the showroom and were given samples of the mezcal. The traditional mezcales are the anejo con gusano (with worm) and reposado: however there are also mezcales that are flavored with walnut, coconut, cinammon, banana, and raspberry. Also there are mezcales with the leaves in the bottle (known as pechuga) in which once the liquid has been consumed the leaves can be removed and chewed on in order to extract more mezcal. I bought a small bottle 250 ml (about 8.5 ounces) of the anejo which by far was the better tasting mezcal. I would've liked the bottle of anejo however, this nectar sells for 5,000 pesos (about 44 dollars) a little rich for my blood despite the cool wooden box carrying case.
Well that´s all for now. Tomorrow we are off to 3 pueblos: San Bartolo Coyotepec (black pottery village), Santo Tomas Jalietza (textile
This is dried cochinilla that is ready to be ground (with the molcajete) for pigment.
pueblo) and San Martin Tilcajete (alebrije--small wooden carved figures village). Thanks for reading this blog and to my wife and daughter: I miss you both and wish you were here. I love you muchisimo.
There are more photos below