Object: Women’s shawl

Ixil Maya
Materials: cotton thread

This shawl, known as a rebozo in Spanish or as a tzute, is part of the Sam Noble Museum of Natural History’s extensive Mayan textile collection. John Pitzer collected this shawl, along with many other pieces of Mayan textiles in the collection, on the behalf of the museum during his many trips to Central America. This collection was the subject of the museum’s first online exhibit, which can be viewed here.

Tzutes serve a wide a wide variety of purposes among the Maya. For example, they may be used for warmth or shade, as a basket covering, or to carry goods home from market. Others are ceremonial. Both men and women wear tzutes, although the size, color, and design are gender-specific. Traditional Mayan textiles are woven on either a backstrap or treadle loom. Backstrap looms are simple and portable. One end of the loom is tied to a post, and the other is secured to the weaver’s waist with a strap. The width of the fabric is limited, but the weaver can create detailed brocade designs. Conversely, large, foot-powered treadle looms create simpler designs and wider fabric. Backstrap looms are used almost exclusively by women and treadle looms by men, though they may weave clothing for the opposite sex. This is a woman’s shawl and was likely made on a backstrap loom.

Each piece of traditional clothing worn by a Mayan individual communicates something about his or her social status. Groups within the Maya each have their own particular style as well. The thin vertical stripes on this piece are a common feature of the shawls and sash belts of the Ixil Maya in the town of Nebaj, Guatemala. This simple design contrasts with the intricate geometric patterns on their huipiles, or blouses. While many Maya still wear traditional clothing, western clothing is becoming more popular, often resulting in blended outfits of both traditional and western pieces. This tzute is also a blended garment: the fabric is traditionally woven, while the design is machine stitched rather than brocaded [Holly Thompson].

More information on modern Mayan textiles click here.

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Ethnology @ SNOMNH is an experimental weblog for sharing the collections of the Division of Ethnology at the Sam Noble Oklahoma Museum of Natural History.


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