Note: Special discussion of the history and endangerment of this symbol of Mexican identity at Feria Maestros del Arte, November 9-11, 2018.
By definition, a rebozo is a handmade shawl woven either on a footloom or backstrap loom. Which means that any shawl or length of material, no matter how beautiful, should not be called a rebozo unless it is handmade.
The history is long for this particular textile item, and continues to grow more complicated with time.
Neill James, an adventurer and travel writer in the 1940s, wrote in her book, Dust on My Heart, "The rebozo, a two-meter length of cotton or silk, is the most useful garment ever thought up by women.
"It’s a wrap during the chill dawn and after sunset hours; during the heat of the day draped Arab style over the head, it’s a hat. Coiled turban-like atop the head, it serves as padding when carrying a heavy burden. Given a few intricate folds and purchased fetchingly at an angle, shading the face on the sunny side, it’s an eyecatcher.I’ve seen babies wrapped in it, women sleeping in it; I’ve seen it uses dexterously as a shield while a nude modestly bathed in the river. Tied across the shoulders, it is an effective knapsack for caring heavy burdens. Draped madonna-like over the head it is high fashion is the most exclusive church.”
And in her own, sometimes slanted, style, she added, "And should fancy dictate, with her rebozo, a woman could even hang herself.“
The origin of the garment is unclear, but most likely derived in the early colonial period, as traditional versions of the garment show indigenous, European and Asian influences. Traditional rebozos are handwoven from cotton, wool, silk and rayon in various lengths but all have some kind of pattern (usually from the ikat method of dying) and have fringe, which can be finger weaved into complicated designs. The garment is considered to be part of Mexican identity and nearly all Mexican women own at least one. It has been prominently worn by women such as Frida Kahlo, actress María Félix and former Mexican first lady Margarita Zavala and still popular in rural areas of the country. However, its use has diminished in urban areas.
We should be happy the term rebozo comes from the Spanish rather than the Nahua, an indigenous people who call it "ciua nequealtlapacholoni.”
This bit of material has been beloved by women throughout time and place in Mexico and played a role in the Mexican Revolution of 1910 when it was adopted by the Adelitas. These rebel women used it to smuggle guns and other weapons past government checkpoints making it synonymous with Mexico's struggle for independence.
Is the Rebozo, symbol of Mexican identity endangered?
|Rebozo by Teofila Servin, Feria Maestros del Arte 2018|
Ana Celia Martínez, professor of Mesoamerican studies at the National Autonomous University, says there are fewer than 200 rebozo weavers left in Mexico.
Logically, the culprits are progress and globalization. As Professor Martínez states, "Chinese rebozos are inexpensive and mass-produced using synthetic fibers. The end product is very fragile and frays very easily and the dyes wash off after a short time, while Mexican rebozos can remain intact for decades.”
Professor Martínez won the Tenerife International Artisan Prize 2014 for her project, “Izote, Iczotl, fiber with identity, tradition and permanence,” designed to preserve an endangered type of fiber called izote, which is produced in Zumpahuacán in the State of México. (Izote is known as the yucca plant in the southwestern US.)
Izote is seen to have historical importance because its use in pre-Hispanic times is evident in documents such as the Codex Mendoza, a 16th-century manuscript containing a history of Aztec rulers, where the pictograms show izote blankets.
At Feria Maestros del Arte 2018, the premier Mexican folk art fair in Mexico, Marta Turok, a Mexican applied anthropologist focusing on socio-economic development will speak on the forces that endanger the rebozo. Through research, government work, education and advocacy, she has worked to raise the prestige of Mexican handcrafts and folk art and to help artisans improve their economic status. Her work has been recognized with awards from various governmental and non-governmental agencies.
More about rebozos:
More about Izote: