Girl in traditional blue clothing
Culture & tradition,  Guatemala,  Just One Person,  Street photography

Traditional textiles in San Antonio Palopo

There is something a little bit different about San Antonio Palopo, one of the smaller villages on Lake Atitlàn. Most of the villages in this part of Guatemala are Tz’utujil, where bright reds and embroidered flowers are the preferred shades for huipiles, the traditional embroidered blouses. But the people of this village are Cakchiquel Maya; and almost without exception every woman and girl wears the same lovely shades of blue in narrow vertical stripes.

The village clings to the steep hillside that rises from the lake, its little white church catching the eye high above. Apart from the church there is little of architectural merit; this is a relatively poor community and houses are basic rather than decorative.

The village streets are unprepossessing perhaps, although a stroll around them is a pleasant way of spending some time. There’s little else to do here apart from admiring and photographing the costumes, which are beautiful – and shopping.

Shopping for textiles

The distinctive blue huipiles are on sale everywhere; they are probably a more wearable design when you get back home than the more ornate ones available elsewhere. Other handicrafts are generally of a good quality and prices seemed to me a little lower than in other villages. I paid just 50 Q (about five euros) for a large colourful scarf that became a real favourite through several winters. The only downside was that we found the women here far more insistent on showing you their goods; it was hard to convince them that I wasn’t always interested in their wares.

Near the church we found the women rather pressing in their efforts to get us to buy their handicrafts; however as soon as we walked just a few paces away we were left much more to our own devices. I don’t know if this was by some unspoken agreement (i.e. that the church is the place to sell) or whether it was just coincidence; but as we’re much keener on photography than we are on shopping, it was something of a relief.

Even the youngest girls get involved in both creating and selling the traditional textiles. I spotted the young girl in my featured photo counting the money she’d taken as she walked along one of the village streets. When she saw me taking photos she turned to see what I was up to and hid shyly behind the bundle of cloth she carried. Just One Person from Around the World, trying to make a living as best she can.

Girl in traditional blue clothing
Counting her takings

The church and village

I’ll finish with a few general photos of the church and village. The church is dedicated to St Anthony of Padua – the San Antonio of the village’s name. A local woman once dreamed that he performed a miracle here, installing nets that protected the village from falling stones during an earthquake.

It’s a steep but rewarding climb up to the church from the dock. The views from here are great but don’t be so distracted by the view that you fail to pop inside. When we were here a group of local women were decorating the church for a festival. We concluded that it must have marked the end of term, as paper mortar boards hung from the rafters among streamers and other decorations. There were blue balloons everywhere and a traditional woven cloth on the altar – a very colourful scene.

I visited Guatemala in 2010

14 Comments

  • restlessjo

    Another interesting post, Sarah. They may not be wealthy but they all look clean and well fed. I guess it’s hard to get away from the traditional life if you’re born into a village like this. I do like the shot of the little girl, counting her money to see if Mum will approve, no doubt 🙂 🙂

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Jo 🙂 Yes, I think if this is where you are born this is probably where you stay, although there may be opportunities in tourism, e.g. guiding, that would give them a route out? I reckon you’re right about that girl counting her money and then going home to tell Mum how well she’d done that day. Maybe the young girls make more than their mothers when it comes to sales, as the tourists will take an interest in them?

  • rkrontheroad

    When I lived in Guatemala, I visited several villages around the lake but not this one. The deep blues are unusual; there must be local plants that produce those colors. Santiago Atitlan was a favorite, but had the most aggressive vendors there. One woman followed me around town until I asked to take her photo and she asked for money!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I think you must be right about a local plant producing these colours, but it’s odd that it’s not more widely used. I loved Santiago Atitlan and I don’t recall the vendors there being as insistent as here – maybe we just struck lucky the day we visited? There was one lady in the most beautiful headdress and I happily bought a little key ring from her in return for a photo. I now treasure both 🙂

  • wetanddustyroads

    Ahh, more beautiful photo’s Sarah 😊 … I don’t really buy a lot of stuff when we’re on vacation, but you will always find a scarf somewhere hidden in my luggage (hidden from my husband that is 😊). Thanks for telling the story together with your colourful photo’s of all the people.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you for that lovely comment Corna 🙂 Scarves do make excellent souvenirs – they are easy to pack and bring back memories every time I wear them!

  • starship VT

    Lovely post and photos, Sarah! I like textiles very much and the blue colors textiles you’ve shown us here are very nice. Never have visited Guatemala, but I know that beautiful textiles are also prevalent around Cusco, and especially in Chincero, Peru, and the colors are very vibrant. I bought a very lovely woven overnight bag at the textile center there — the center encourages keeping Andean traditional weaving alive and is a source of income for women.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Sylvia 🙂 I remember reading about your visit to Cusco on TravBuddy and seeing photos of the women weaving, I think? It’s great to buy souvenirs that support local craft initiatives!

  • CadyLuck Leedy

    Do they weave the cloth? That must be how they mostly make their livings……..I really like the blue and perhaps they do the blue to set them apart from the other villages, no competition then. I’m a little surprised they were so aggressive! Cady

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Hi Cady 🙂 Yes, they weave the cloth – you can see a young girl with a small hand loom in one of my photos and there’s a full size loom in the background of that shot. I don’t think the blue would be a competition thing, it’s their own traditional dress, but it could be chosen to be different from others I guess. And I didn’t mean to imply that they were aggressive per se, just that their selling techniques were!

  • Nemorino

    I’ve never been to Guatemala, but as a child I was told about my grandparents’ visit there in 1942. The occasion was my grandfather’s retirement (which for him was a trauma from which he never really recovered), and somehow they managed to fly there and back from Chicago, even though civilian flights were severely restricted because of the war effort. I don’t know what they did and saw in Guatemala, if anything. My grandmother never wanted to talk about it, in any case.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Margaret 🙂 No, I don’t know why they use blue here when other places tend towards reds and pinks. I tried to read up about the village but info online is very limited indeed!

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