Free Minds & Free Markets

How Ponchos Got More Authentic After Commerce Came to Chiapas: New at Reason

Ponchos and Commerce

Joanna AndreassonJoanna AndreassonIn 1969, the Zinacantec Maya of Mexico's Nabenchauk Valley all wore essentially the same clothes: square ponchos and shawls over simple cotton shirts, shorts, and skirts.

Their outfits bore red and white stripes, with the proportions dictated by the type of garment. Ponchos and shawls had a lot of red and a little white, making them look pink from a distance, while women's blouses were mostly white with two narrow red stripes dividing them into thirds.

"All clothing, for toddlers up to adults, conformed to a closed stock of about four patterns," Patricia Marks Greenfield recalls in her book Weaving Generations Together: Evolving Creativity in the Maya of Chiapas. When she first came to the valley in the southern Mexican state that year, the clothes, like Zinacantec culture, had barely changed in decades.

The standard designs reflected the villagers' reverence for tradition, expressed in their Tzotzil language as baz'i, or the "true way." "To learn to weave," writes Greenfield, a University of California, Los Angeles developmental psychologist, "was to learn to reproduce those patterns." There was no room for self-expression or experimentation, writes Virginia Postrel.

Photo Credit: Joanna Andreasson


Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online