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Typical Guatemalan Dress

by Diana Pastor

One of the most fascinating, representative things about Guatemala is the traje (typical dress) used by Mayan women. A brief glance at the colors and designs used provides a window into the history, customs, way of life and ideology of the community.

It should be noted that many communities don’t just have one style of traje. Generally, there are three types – one for daily use, one for parties and celebrations and one for funerals.

Trajes consist of various parts, the most universal being a skirt made from woven fabric (the corte), an embroidered blouse (the güipil) and a type of shawl (the reboso), also made from woven fabric.

Generally speaking, women in the urban centers use the traje less, while their counterparts who live in more traditional rural areas use them more.

In the highlands, the women use thick güipiles to protect them from the cold. In the lowlands the opposite is true and women will wear blouses made from a light material, often embroidered with playful designs.

The colors and designs used vary from region to region and village to village, each having their own meaning.

In Panajachel the predominant color is blue, reflecting the waters of Lake Atitlán. In Nahuala, where the raising of animals is part of day to day life, designs focus on ducks, cats, and rabbits. Around Almolonga and Zunil, the colors are strong and vibrant, said to represent the strong family bonds that exist in the area.

Some cortes can be extremely expensive – up to US$400, but there are others that can be bought for a tenth of that price. In the end, compared with Chinese-made clothes available in the market, they’re still expensive, but if you consider how long a corte will last by comparison, it’s a worthwhile investment.

If you’d like to know more about Guatemalan trajes, you can visit the Ixkik’ Traje Museum, in the old military zone in Xela (cnr 4a Calle & 19 Av, Zona 3. Open 9am-1pm & 3-6pm Mon-Fri, admission Q25). There you can learn about the fascinating history of the wide variety of indigenous dress still used by the Maya in Guatemala today.

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