Lorenzo Sántiz Jiménez
The disappearing art of maguey weaving is still carried on by Lorenzo Sántiz Jiménez of Aldama, Chiapas. In a number of some isolated villages in the mountain region of Chiapas, a generations-old tradition of making beautiful bags from maguey fibers lives on. These small villages — the majority of residents speak Tzotzil and many have just a basic understanding of Spanish — are only about an hour or so from San Cristóbal de las Casas.
The beautiful maguey plant is a symbol of Mexico as well as the provider of a number of the country’s beverages — tequila, mezcal and pulque. The fiber from this plan has been used for centuries to make bags and clothing. Bags woven from this material can be incredibly hearty and long-lasting.
Some maguey artisans now buy their maguey fiber from local markets, but Lorenzo extracts the fibrous insides of the maguey himself. Once the maguey is harvested, the fleshy leaves are placed on a piece of wood and a machete is run along them to remove the flesh and reveal the fiber. Then it is washed with soap to remove any leftover slimy flesh and dried in the sun. Finally, it is run through the spikes of a round biznaga cactus to comb it out. This is an all-natural process that creates an off-white thread that is strong and durable. It can take up to four weeks to complete this process.
Maguey bags are an important segment of Mexico’s varied and rich textile tradition that may soon be obsolete due to the younger generation not embracing the art form of making the maguey bags.
The bags are made to size using a piece of wood with a screw on either end. The artisans roll the fiber on their leg to create the perfect thickness for the maguey thread and then weave the bag on the rustic frame. The fine-weave bags take a month to make, while the thicker ones take roughly a week and the pattern is so perfect that they look like they are woven using a machine. The bags are finished with small loops on either side, where leather straps are attached.
Some bags are left in their natural color, which begins as a rather stark white and turns a beige tone in the sun. Other bags are placed on a specially made netting above the wood-fired stove and the smoke turns the bag a deep brown and leaves it with the smell of bonfires.
With the intricacy and the time it takes to make just one bag, and with artisan crafts being undervalued in relation to the time they take to produce, in the end the money they can make for a bag by selling to tourist stores is often not worth the time.
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