GO::DH Conversations

Innovate to maintain tradition: Weaving a Zapotec (hi)story

Janet Chávez Santiago

Aug 27, 2021 10:00 AM in Central Time (US and Canada)

Around the world many indigenous communities are skilled in artesanal crafts; whether they are weavers, wood carvers, potters, or other craft-makers. A community’s crafts are evidence of their cultural legacy, which involves beliefs, culture, traditions, and family identities but also those crafts are a symbol of how indigenous communities innovate and incorporate influences from the world as we know it now, that is to say through the crafts we can appreciate how cultures and traditions change and evolve.

In my town, Teotitlán del Valle, a Zapotec community located in the Central Valleys of Oaxaca state in southern Mexico, we are mainly weavers and Zapotec speakers. Weaving is a knowledge that we inherit from our parents and grandparents, we learn the different techniques and the value of the patterns that are woven. Through the threads we are able to build our territory where we can practice our culture and share our beliefs, inside and outside the community. As a living culture, like others in the world, we have been accommodating and shaping our practices as a result of the modernity and changes in the local environment.

I have reflected and discussed with other weavers in my family the importance of the stories embedded in the processes of our weavings and how, supported by the digital media, we can create a space to educate the community of weavers and beyond the value, the struggles and the resistance of our (hi)story as it develops everyday.
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Janet Chávez Santiago was born in Teotitlán del Valle in Oaxaca, Mexico and comes from a family of master textile weavers and Zapotec speakers. From a young age Janet has been involved in traditional textile production, including tapestries and natural dyes. In 2013, in collaboration with Professor Brook Danielle Lillehaugen at Haverford College, she started the Zapotec talking dictionary of Teotitlán Del Valle.