The Weaver


Hilma Florentina Sagché Ordoñez, 49, is a resident of Santa Catarina Barahona, an indigenous village in Sacatepéquez.  She is an experienced tejedora, a weaver who hand-makes huipils, a traditional one-piece dress. She also makes servietas, an embroidered cloth that can serve as a napkin, a table setting, or a covering for freshly cooked tortillas.  All of the woven materials are known as “tejidos.”  

The wearing of the huipil is a proud pronouncement of a local tradition as well as a marker of an indigenous identity, and patterns and designs vary from community to community.  A characteristic that additionally highlights this more traditional style of life is the ability to speak a Mayan language. There are 23 Amerindian languages spoken in Guatemala, 21 of which are said to be descendants of proto-Mayan, the language of the inhabitants of the Mayan empire a thousand years ago. In Hilma’s village, Kachiquel Maya is widely spoken.

Both my mother and father spoke Kachiquel so we grew up speaking it. We speak Kachiquel with family and friends or on the street.  I spoke Kachiquel to my three children so they speak it, but there are some parents who don’t speak Kachiquel to their children, and you can see the difference.  We also learned Spanish in school, but that was easy because we hear it all the time. Thank goodness we speak both Kachiquel and Spanish.

It was my mother who taught me originally to weave.  The most difficult is to do the main drawing on the blouse, the main picture, that is the hardest, and when I wasn’t understanding it, my aunt would come and help me.  She taught me a lot. I eventually learned how to do everything and I have the designs in my head.

It takes about two months to make a huipil.  One feels happy after it’s completed, because then you can receive money and buy what you need. A servieta will go for 100 quetzales (about 13.5 US dollars), and a huipil will sell for 1,500 quetzales  (a little over 200 US dollars).

Hilma Florentina Sagché Ordoñez, Santa Catarina Barahona, July 5, 2019.

Thanks to God, life is tranquil and we have everything in this town.  My husband works in carpentry and sometimes helps haul trash for the municipality.  There is also demand for the weaving. I sell what I weave here in town, but I used to sell through my aunt, who would market the materials in other places. Unfortunately, she died two years ago of cirrhosis at the age of 54.

Some young women like to weave and will carry on the tradition, but others don’t.  My daughter, for instance, she is a teacher, and she was never interested in it.  I would try to show her and she would be indifferent, and I would ask her what she would do if she were out of work without knowing the craft.  She would just say, “Hey, I don’t like to weave.”  She would ask me, “Who invented this stuff?” (Laughs)

But later she went and worked selling the huipils at artisan shops.  Weavers would bring their wares to her for her to sell them, and how she could sell those clothes!  She would get contracts with store owners in Antigua and Puerto Quetzal (on the Pacific Coast) to sell the tejidos, and thank God she was so good at it.  She would just put on her pants and t-shirt, or her blouse (non-traditional dress), and do business. Everybody wondered how she did it.  She now lives in the United States, in Los Angeles.

There have been people or companies that are producing huipils and other articles that are made from a machine, and we don’t really know who they are.  About a half year ago people began to buy these clothes because they were cheaper.  They were very tough, very hard.  The people making them were not from here and all of the local weavers were being undermined. Fortunately, the government enacted a law of protection to help us, to prevent the mass manufacturing of the huipil.  Otherwise a lot of people would have no source of income.

Woman dressed in traditional style, Antigua, Guatemala, October 27, 2019.

I know a woman who was in a bad situation, she had children and no way to make money.  She asked me to teach her how to weave, and I taught her, and within a few months she began to make a huipil.  She now knows how to do it, and thank God that woman is now working.  She was so appreciative and told me that because of it she is eating, and that without learning it she would not have been able to feed her children.  She wanted to pay me back somehow, but I am Evangelical and know the word of God, and I told her that she did not have to do that.

Hilma Sagché at her loom, Santa Catarina Barahona, July 5, 2019.

I interviewed Hilma Sagché in Santa Catarina Barahona, Guatemala on July 5, 2019.  My translation.

Author: storiesfromguatemala

Dr. Stephen O'Brien is a historian who resides in both Guatemala and New Haven, CT collecting oral testimony to gain insight into various historical and cultural forces. He has a PhD from Yale University in History, with a concentration in modern Latin America, and is a Fulbright-Hays scholar. He has taught at Trinity College in Connecticut and at Saint Louis University in Madrid, Spain. Before that time, he was a reporter and anchorman in local tv news in the United States.

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