October 08, 2021

Preserving Cultural Heritage

Preserving Cultural Heritage

October is Fair Trade month, and since one of the 9 Fair Trade Principles is “respecting cultural identity,” we thought this would be a great time to reflect on the artisanal heritage behind some of our products. As a fair trade organization, we are committed to preserving the heritage of the Mam people, keeping the Mam culture alive and placing it at the forefront of everything we do from products that we design to the structure of the cooperative. (The Mam people are one of the 22 different ethnic groups of Maya people in Guatemala.)

The backstrap loom has been the basis for Maya textiles for thousands of years along with indigenous peoples all over the world throughout South America and Asia.  The loom is formed by the weaver herself as she wears a belt around her hips and warps the yarn to anything high off the ground which could be the ceiling, a tree, or even a wall in the distance. Then the weaver “shuttles” the weft using an amazing array of sticks (and plastic tubes) in front of her. It is an incredible process and enormously time consuming.  

Even though Guatemalan backstrap weaving is known for its intricate brocading, the community of Cajola has historically kept their weaving more simple.  However, the backstrap weavers of Mayamam Weavers have incorporated brocading into their weaving on a small scale, to evoke the heritage and still have an affordable product for the North American market. The brocading uses motifs drawn from their collective memory and their love of the natural world that surrounds them. The weavers are not always aware of the meanings of their motifs, but our conversations with a spiritual guide have helped us understand the meanings behind some of them. In general, the meanings behind the motifs can be unique to a specific community.

An example of a motif used by the backstrap weavers is B'e, which represents paths crossing, and therefore the equilibrium which is fundamental to the Maya worldview. The crossing of the paths connects four different directions. The center, the point of equilibrium, represents the human being in the middle who must choose which direction which path to follow. This motif can be found on our Celebration placemats and table runners in Nautical Flags.

Another example of the motifs you will find in our work is Q’anil, one of the Maya glyphs that also represents Venus. Q’anil represents four seeds, one for each of the four colors of corn: black, red, yellow and white. In the Maya worldview these four colors represent the four colors of humanity, black people, red people, yellow people, and white people. This motif can be found on our Celebration placemats and table runners in Muted Earthtones.


Keeping these motifs alive in our products is important to the preservation of Mam culture and allows our customers to enjoy the beautiful work of our cooperative. Our whole Celebration Collection  is a celebration of our artistic heritage and a way to preserve the traditions of the Mam people as they are handed down through the generations.