The Fine Tapestry of the Kaqchikel Women of Guatemala

There is often more than meets the eye when looking at beautiful woven patterns. Patterns have stories, a past and a future. For the Kaqchikel women of Sacatepéquez, Guatemala, weaving expresses emotional ties to their history and creates a legacy for their future. The art form is both a source of cultural pride and economic empowerment.

In 2012, the Genographic Legacy Fund supported a weaving training program for the Kaqchikel women. The Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES), which works in the Sacatepéquez province of Guatemala with over 1,000 indigenous women, received funding for this project. AFEDES’ female members promote indigenous knowledge systems, political participation and social empowerment. The AFEDES women are involved in all stages of the weaving process, from conception, to design and production, governance and selling of their products. An update and impact of the grant is expressed below. – Rachel Bruton, The Genographic Project

Weaving Reflection
By Rajiv Khanna, International Development Exchange’s (IDEX) Learning and Evaluation Manager

When the Kaqchikel women in the province of Sacatepéquez, Guatemala, weave, they instill pride and evoke their rich cultural heritage. Weaving also rescues an important tradition that vindicates indigenous women and provides them an avenue to realize their ideas, feelings, thoughts and dreams through the development of designs and color combinations. Weaving leaves a legacy for future generations. When young Kaqchikel men and women wear these garments, they realize that they are part of a rare cultural tapestry and that it is their task to nourish this ancient craft.

María Cristina Cuc Vásquez, a  Kaqchikel community member, feels she has benefited greatly from the AFEDES the weaving program. (Photo by Liseth Coloc/AFEDES)
María Cristina Cuc Vásquez (Photo by Liseth Coloc/AFEDES)

María Cristina Cuc Vásquez is one such weaver who belongs to the Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez (AFEDES). An indigenous Maya Kaqchikel woman, María is about 22 years old and comes from the village of Santa Marta. María’s mother was the one who alerted her to a potential opening with AFEDES. AFEDES wanted to include young indigenuous women in their weaving workshops and María’s mother thought that this would be an excellent learning opportunity for her daughter. Fortunately, young María always enjoyed knitting and told her mom that she was keen to take advantage of AFEDES’ training program.

María got involved with this project and started to weave. “When I first started I wasn’t very good and I struggled, but gradually as I worked my skills improved,” she says. As AFEDES witnessed the improvement in María’s weaving skills and saw her confidence rise, they approached her to become the instructor of another new group of weavers. María agreed instantly as she really enjoyed the work. “Before I did not work,” she says, but “now I have a regular wage and can help my mom with expenses. I never imagined being an instructor and now I am an instructor of a group. In this position, I plan to bring in even more young women weavers, which is my dream.”

María is not alone. AFEDES’ weaving program creates jobs, thereby facilitating the growth of local economies, and offers women a path to empowerment through economic opportunities. “Without culture, there is no self-esteem,” says Amarilis Guamuch, the Executive Director of AFEDES. The Maya Kaqchikel women in Sacatepéquez are both preserving their indigenous cultural identity and taking ownership of their lives and communities. They are demonstrating that preservation of cultural knowledge and economic empowerment and rights are deeply interwoven.

About the International Development Exchange

International Development Exchange (IDEX) identifies, evaluates and grows the best ideas from local leaders and organizations to alleviate poverty and injustice worldwide. They connect a passionate and engaged network of supporters in the Western world to the visionary grassroots leaders and organizations in the Global South that are creating lasting solutions to their communities’ most pressing challenges. IDEX facilitated this grant for AFEDES.

Learn more about AFEDES and read case studies and notes from site visits.

About the Genographic Legacy Fund

The Genographic Legacy Fund, funded by a portion of the proceeds from Geno 2.0 DNA Ancestry Kits, helps to revitalize indigenous languages and cultures around the world.  Grant applications are accepted biannually on April 15 and September 15. Learn more about the Genographic Legacy Fund and how you can help protect cultural heritage.


Human Journey

, ,

Meet the Author
Dr. Miguel Vilar is the Science Manager for National Geographic's Genographic Project. Miguel is also a molecular anthropologist and a science writer. His fieldwork has taken him to remote places throughout the South Pacific, East Africa, Mesoamerica, and the Caribbean. In the laboratory he researches the modern genetic diversity of human populations from Melanesia, Micronesia, North and Central America, and the Caribbean. Miguel has published in several anthropology and genetics journals, as well as popular science magazines.