July 11, 2016 By Kristin Silvia Off

New Exhibit: The Huipil

The huipil (pronounced we-PEEL) is a distinctive form of native dress prevalent in the Mayan regions of Mexico and Guatemala. Resembling a poncho that is closed at the sides, it is characterized by extensive use of bright colors and multiple designs or themes that identify the piece as originating from a specific region.

Huipiles are worn by women, men and children, and are produced by both men and women. They were everyday dress, with different, more elaborate designs for special occasions, such as a first communion, a wedding, or a mourning period.

These textiles begin with a cotton base, which is either a natural tone or a solid color. The fabric is traditionally woven in strips on a backstrap loom. The designs can be woven into the fabric or the fabric is covered in elaborate embroidery or both.

Huipiles played an unintended role in the Guatemalan Civil War (1960 to 1996), when various leftist rebel groups, supported chiefly by indigenous ethnic Maya and Ladino peasants (who together make up the rural poor), battled government troops.

Those government forces have since been condemned for committing genocide against the Mayan population and for widespread human rights violations against civilians.  One sure way of identifying the Maya was by their colorful dress.  As a result, the Maya began to abandon the huipil.  Many were ultimately sold to tourists at local markets, and there are now new ones made specifically for this purpose.

A collection of huipiles is now on display on the second floor at the Library. On loan from Carla Farrell, former CBS news producer, this unique exhibit presents a wide range of examples from various towns, some of which are known and identified here. One unusual example has a zipper at the neck to ease it over the head; another includes distinctive wide tucks at the front. Bits of velvet or lace have been included in others. Come see these beautiful and meaningful textiles at Your Hometown Library, today!