Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Amatenango del Valle, a Village of Potters

The drive from Tuxtla Gutierrez (where we landed) to San Cristobal is through mountain passes so it was a true surprise and delight to see the valleys on our trip to Amatenango del Valle. It was green, lush, forested and to me, like a scene of paradise. It was nice to have someone else driving and I could just enjoy the scenery. I chuckled at this "topes" sign which indicates what we call in the US, a "speed bump". Topes are EVERYWHERE in Mexico and trust me, you never want to hit one going 60 mph. I did once - not a pretty sight.
But, usually it is a traditional standard road sign and these hand painted ones, to me, are just a delight! Notice in the photo the bicycles leaning against the tree - the primary means of transportation, and the truck, which is how they get their crops and handicrafts to market, if they are very, very wealthy. Typically the people travel either on buses or standing or sitting in the back of pickup trucks with their bolsas of merchandise - packed in like sardines - but it IS a ride, rather then a walk.
As we approached Amantenango, we were looking down into the village and had to turn off the main road onto a dirt road and drive through corn fields to get there. The corn was higher then our van! A gloriously beautiful sight. But, contrary to the corn fields in the midwestern part of the US, none of this corn is sweet corn but the corn they use for livestock and their food that they prepare. (I DO miss sweet corn!)

As we rolled into the village, the ubiquitous Mayan cross greeted us, but this time with a shed and some decorations to enhance it. Our driver was grinning to himself at my enthusiasm of "oohing and aahing" at the tope sign, the corn and then this! I could see his face in the rear view mirror. A penny for his thoughts.........

So, Victor, our guide, drives down the dirt roads of this village and we stop and walk through a wooden gate into another world - a world of creativity, skill and beauty. We could have walked through that gate 500 years ago and I doubt the women would have been making their pottery any differently..............
Immediately as we entered the courtyard, an elder was sitting on the ground working on this pot almost as large as she. Notice her bare feet and her beautiful huipile (blouse). Also notice the color of the headdress..........the color signifies the family, I believe. These people did not know we were coming so they just continuede with their work..........The view below shows how big this property is and there are four houses on the land within one common wall. The open space is where they fire their pottery on an open fire. - no kiln!

Below is a woman who came to greet us. Her name is Simona Gomez Lopez. I know this because I later had her sign her photo in a book on Chiapas that she had never seen. Her work is in the Smithsonian and a museum in NYC. She was very shy. Her headdress is the same color as the elder.

This young lady was hand painting one of the jaguar pots. When I expressed an interest in buying some of the pottery, although there were senior women around, she was the one who got up to help me and show me pottery scattered around. I later saw some of her work in the finer shops in San Cristobal. To me, the thrill is meeting the artisan and seeing the process. Knowing who the creator is is the "essence of collecting" rather then buying something in a shop. So whenever this kind of opportunity occurs, I'm in my "element"! Notice her headdress is a different color of cloth............

Below is the pottery ready for firing! Such a simple process, but crucial because if it isn't done properly the pots will break.

I had read prior to my trip a book about Chiapas published by Telmex (the telephone company of Mexico) and it had beautiful photographs and an article about almost every village in Chiapas. If you come across it in a store, BUY IT. I intend to see if they have published one on each state because it is SO MUCH better then any tour guide I have ever seen. On this village was a photo of a woman with pots in front of her and Yup, it was Simona. I wish all of you could have been with me to see the look on her face when she saw the book and herself - it was priceless. Her surprise, her shyness, her pleasure all flashed over her face. When I asked if she would sign her name on the photo, she hesitated, giggled and did sign it. All of the women came over to see this "wonder"! To bring this "wonder" to these women was one of the highlights of the trip for me.

So, here are some of the pots to buy that were laying around. Two of the roosters are now safely in San Miguel on a windowsill in the kitchen, where I can look at them while drinking my coffee every morning. A great reminder! Getting them home was another adventure, but I DID.

While walking around the grounds and watching the women, they ALL were wearing beautiful huipiles which Chiapas is known for. The young girl was wearing a "modern" huipile Victor told me and the older women were wearing the "traditional". I thought it so interesting that when they launder these that they turn them inside out. All of the embroidery work is done in naturally dyed yarn and is not color fast, hence the inside out process.

I have never entered any home in Mexico - rich or poor - that did not have an altar of some kind. This was what greeted us immediately upon entering the property. Enlarge if you wish by clicking on the photo so you can see all the little animals and things propped in among the saints. I would love to be here for Day of the Dead some year to see their form of celebration.

By the way, this is a Tzeltal community and is different from Chamula and Zincantan which are Tzotzil villages. It is another dialect of Mayan - no Spanish spoken here.

There has been much discussion of late in San Miguel about adobe versus concrete block and while in Chiapas I witnessed many homes built out of adobe - their indigenous type of home. I have been told that some of the people feel it is more modern to use concrete blocks versus the old style adobe but what they a re finding out is that the concrete block is cold in the winter and hot in the summer, while the adobe is just the opposite.
That is the dialog in San Miguel as homes are built in the campo in a program called Casita Linda. A group of architecture students from Rhode Island School of Design came down recently and built a home out of adobe at the urging of a US architect. The great thing about adobe also is that no support is needed in the construction such as rebar as the adobe can go to heights well over 20 feet, if done properly, and even supports the boveda ceilings! Of course it is much cheaper because it is made from clay, dung and straw................
I have a friend who built out in the country out of adobe and if I told you the cost of her 2,000 sq ft house with solar panels that allow her to live "off the grid", you wouldn't believe it possible. Isn't it interesting that the ancestors knew best?
I hope you've enjoyed these blogs about my adventures in Chiapas - one more to go - San Cristobal...............Enjoy!














5 comments:

Steve Cotton said...

I collected a series of paintings when I lived in Europe. Like you, I always wanted to meet the artist before I bought anything. I will now pass along those pieces to others as I move south.

wayne said...

I don't know about anybody else, but I sure am enjoying this series. Especially these special little villages. Wish we had had time to visit them last year. I was just glad to find that there is a new freeway from Tuxtla to San Cristobal! It is all on an incline but still a freeway!

Babs said...

Wayne, glad you're enjoying the "travelogue". It's been fun reliving it for ya'll. And Steve, I sure got rid of a lot of stuff when I moved SOB......haven't regretted anything I got rid of! Surprisingly......

Billie said...

Barbara, it has been 20 years since I have been in Chiapas and you have me wanting to go again....soon.

Babs said...

Oh I'm so glad you've enjoyed this Billie - I anxiously await YOUR photos which I know will be magnificent!