The state of Chiapas is located in the southern part of Mexico, next to Guatemala. Chiapas has a diverse mix of rainforest, flatlands, mountain ranges and coastal shores, thereby creating many types of weather patterns and cultures for its talented people. This colonia state, filled with beautiful, historic architecture, numerous Mayan ruins, coupled with its multiple terrain options, has made this a tourist destination for history buffs and outdoorsman alike. Also, due to its diverse terrain, there is an abundance of agriculture from cattle, pigs, sheep, chicken and fish to a climate that has a favorable influence on exotic plants and tropical fruits.
Indigneous people (native) make up the state, but are scattered throughout in different groups, living lives that can be completely unique to their own people. Customs, language, daily practices, as well as their attire may be very different, particularly due to the various climate differences. Regardless of their differences, the Mayan influences are alive and well, bringing with it the art of intricate embroidery with silk threads, delicate, colorful, even exotic weaving and intricate beadwork. All of these arts, from a practical standpoint, are a major source of income and livelihood for this state and its people. Threads are carefully dyed for detailed weaving on clothes and accessories that are used daily by the people of Chiapas, as well as sold for profit. Beads originally made from clay, bone or shell are now commercially produced from glass or plastic. The Huichol people, have long been known for their method of pouring beeswax and resin over a carved wooden figure (jaguar head or perhaps a human skull) and carefully embedding each bead into a predetermined pattern into the soft mix. The outcome is astounding, very pricey and even museum quality, in some cases. They are also noted for using beautifully dyed yarn and applying it to figures or flat surfaces in the same manner.
However, many other groups of people in Chiapas produce intricate embroidery and woven products, as well as beading using a netting process, that is readily available to the tourists of Mexico. These art forms are major income producers for the people of Chiapas and the tourist demand is high. Isla is home to many people from Chiapas, and with them came their beautiful embroidery and beading. In many cases, these stunning products are sold in local tiendas (tiny shops), but my preferred way to buy the beaded designs are from my friends Rosie and her sister, Victoria as they stroll along the playa with their wares. Both from San Cristobal, Chiapas, they have lived here more than twelve years and make a manageable income from their sales to provide for their families on the island. They stroll the beaches of Isla for five to six hours daily and when they return home, they resume weaving and beading. They sell colorful bracelets (which Rosie proudly weaves with a smooth, quick rhythm that she has mastered). These tropical colored bracelets are sold for $1 USD and take about five minutes to make; however, they both keep a wide assortment with them for their customers to choose from, so it’s unlikely you would need to wait for them to make one. They also sell beautiful beaded keychains, that to some can go unnoticed, as simply a needless trinket, but I have recently taken a deeper look at these works of art. The beaded part of the keychains are woven in Chiapas and their brother travels frequently to Isla to replenish their supply. These beaded beauties are delivered flat; Rosie and Victoria then stuff the forms with tiny pieces of plastic, stitch them closed and there you have a three dimensional piece of Chiapas! They attach the mechanical part of the keychain by beading a loop through the hole of the ring. These pieces of Chiapas are sold for only $50 pesos (just under $3 USD)!!!
As mentioned before, the crafter in me took over and I began to wonder how these beautiful beadings could be combined into larger works of art. I concluded that a collection of various figures (birds, fish, iguanas, tigers, elephants, rabbits, pandas, monkeys, frogs, pigs, ducks, dragonflies, roosters, dolphins, cherries, strawberries, watermelons, pineapples, chilis, carrots, radishes, lemons, crabs, shrimp, mermaids, angels, palm trees, suns and my all time favorite, elotes [corn cobs still in their husks with the corn silks attached to the end and even a few black kernels on the cob, which represents huitlacoche, or corn smut, a delicacy in Mexico, similar to the delicacy of truffles] … could become larger works of art! And now I had to get Rosie and Victoria busy by making or trading with others to get me the treasures I desired--elotes, frogs, chilis, carrots and cherries—and I needed a lot! After weeks of collecting, they found me enough to begin my… what??? I melted candle wax over a beautiful turquoise candlestick from San Miquel, painted a grapefruit-sized styrofoam ball turquoise and rolled it in the sand while still wet. I secured the ball to the candlestick and began the tedious, but inspiring tasks of using straight pins and white glue to secure the beaded gems. Days later, I had this completed piece! If you follow my INSTAGRAM (@simplylivingmymexico), I revealed it last week, because I couldn’t wait!
Imagine the joy that Rosie and Victoria felt when I revealed the piece to them…. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of Rosie’s face! I also have a bowl of “strawberries” in my cocina here and plan to take home a bowl of “lemons” for my kitchen in Texas.
This post was a joy to write and important to me, because I love sharing the lives and talents of the people on Isla and in all of Mexico. I delight in calling them my friends and neighbors. I delight in the knowledge that they are always there for me if I need them. I delight in worshipping beside them. I delight in their cuisine. I delight in their outlook on family. I delight in the fact that they love throwing a party. I delight that I get invited! I delight that when they speed pass me on their motos, they call me by name..and I them. I count my blessings daily, that I can enjoy all that this culture graciously gives to me and that I also get to enjoy the rich Texas cultures of my birth. I love that when others see keychains for souvenirs, I picture beautiful hands in Chiapas, making a work of art for me. Keep your eyes open for the art right in front of you, wherever you are. Create! -E