Travel

One Hour In Guatemala: Watch Mayan Weavers in San Juan La Laguna

 

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Mayan weavers practice their art in San Juan La Laguna as Spanish tourists observe. Norma Baján Balán, GPJ, Guatemala
Guatemala

In San Juan La Laguna, a town on the shores of Guatemala’s Lake Atitlán, Mayan weavers carry on an ancient art. Using cotton thread dyed with local plants, they weave brilliantly colored hammocks, shawls, tablecloths and scarves. Visitors are welcome to observe the process, take a class and purchase distinctive keepsakes.

What: Watch Mayan women dye threads with natural tints, using techniques passed down from their ancestors.

Where: The Lema Association, a union of women who dye and weave with natural materials, in San Juan La Laguna, Sololá department, Guatemala

Why: Mayan women in San Juan La Laguna, a town on the shores of Lake Atitlán, collect plants to dye thread they use to weave hammocks, shawls, tablecloths, scarves and many other items. At the Lema Association, visitors can see the plants and other ingredients the women use in their dyes.

“We use the achiote seed to dye our threads, but we also use it to give color to our meals,” says Yeymi Zumosa, the daughter of Rosalina Mendoza, one of the association’s founders. “We also use the bark of a tree that is called lema, from where we took our organization’s name. They use plants like black pepper, Mexican tarragon, insects like cochineal, and they recycle the coconut’s shell, from where they produce a pink color.”

Lema means “calling tree” in Tz’utujil, one of the indigenous languages of Guatemala.

After the women dye the threads, they spin and roll them, then begin weaving on looms. Fifteen women work directly for the association, Zumosa says.

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A member of the Lema Association weaves a centerpiece, a popular product with tourists.

Photos by Norma Baján Balán, GPJ, Guatemala

Yeymi Sumoza Tay, a member of the Mayan weaving community of San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala, dyes yarn with achiote, a spice that is also used in cooking.

Tourists shop for woven goods at the weavers association’s store in San Juan la Laguna.

A grandmother of the community tells visitors about the ancient arts of dyeing and weaving.

Visitors to San Juan La Laguna, Guatemala, enjoy shopping for handicrafts, paintings, coffee and other distinctive products.

San Juan La Laguna offers tourists plenty of places to relax and enjoy refreshments.

Tourists can reach San Juan La Laguna by car or boat. Most prefer the 30- to 45-minute boat trip from Panajachel.

Visitors to San Juan La Laguna enjoy viewing landscapes around Lake Atitlán, including San Pedro volcano, one of three volcanoes on the lake.

Woven products range in price from $3 for napkins to $64 for a hammock. Most buyers are American and European tourists.

Income from the sales enables weavers to pay for their children’s education.

Weavers also teach weaving, charging 100 quetzales ($13) for a three-hour class.

“This initiative was launched 13 years ago with a group of 36 women, and now this has become a very attractive art for tourists,” Zumosa says. “San Juan is very recognized for its weaving in natural dyes.”

QUOTE: “The women work from their homes since it is an opportunity for them to work without neglecting their families.” – Yeymi Zumosa, a weaver with Lema Association.

DETAILS: To get to San Juan La Laguna, take a boat from Panajachel. The cost for a tourist is 25 quetzales ($3.25) each way. On the return trip, consider taking an indirect boat and visiting some of the other villages that ring Lake Atitlán. For more information, or to set up a visit to the Lema Association, call (502) 5866-8446 or go to http://www.sanjuanlalaguna.org/ and search for Lema under the Community Organizations tab.