The Block

The Guatemala block features weaving by Catarina Tzep Sac, of the Quiascasiguán, Kuiche Tribe. It is woven with hand-spun wool that is a signature of the area. A beautiful Quetzal bird, the national symbol that represents freedom, sits high in the left nook of the centre square, looking down upon an assemblage of bright, colourful, stylized people, animals, trees, and a home that is intricately woven in sharp, diagonal lines. A rainbow of embroidered geometric shapes boldly borders the scene. At the upper and lower corners sit small wrapped groups of ‘worry dolls.’ According to tradition, placing ‘worry dolls’ under one’s pillow at night will resolve, by morning, the problems told to them.


Mayan girls in woven dresses

Cultural Profile

Guatemala, roughly the size of Newfoundland, is known as the ‘land of eternal spring’ because of its climate. Its inhabitants can be split into two main groups: Mestizos or ladinos (people of mixed Mayan and European ancestry) and indigenas (indigenous Mayan). The official language is Spanish, although over 20 Mayan languages are recognized as well.

Much of Guatemalan life revolves around the family. Children are considered to reach adulthood at 15, when the quinceanos celebrates this important event. This and other special occasions often feature piñatas, hanging paper mâché figures stuffed with treats that are suspended above blindfolded guests, who attempt to break them open with a bat. Padrinos (godparents) play an integral part of family life, but Guatemalans also believe that parents are espejos (mirrors) through whom the young learn who they are and what they can become. In a society where men and women tend to socialize with their own gender, men value the companionship of their other male friends.

Guatemala produces and exports some of the world’s finest coffee enjoyed in many countries including Canada. Its national crafts include beautiful ceramics, paintings, jewelry and baskets, but the country is most famous for its weaving, produced with brilliantly coloured, hand-spun wool or locally grown cotton. The intricate and vibrantly woven designs express aspects of spirituality and community, and the patterns, dating back to pre-Conquest times, are associated with specific villages or groups, thus serving as a form of identification for the wearers. While men have mostly adopted western-style clothing in their everyday life, women still wear the traje, consisting of a corte, a wrapped skirt, held with a saja, a belt or a sash, a huipil, the traditional, richly embroidered square cut blouse, a headdress and a shawl. Weaving is highly respected in Guatemalan culture and is strongly supported and encouraged by the family. Young girls learn by watching their mothers weave, a daily activity in the home. Many of Guatemala’s weavers are also organised in cooperatives and their products are sold at local markets and online. This contributes to the preservation of traditional techniques and provides income to many families.

Guatemalan professionals, labourers and tradesmen have been coming to Canada since 1974, settling in large numbers in Ontario, as well as in Quebec, Alberta and British Columbia. As of 2011, their numbers in Canada were of 20,000.


Sponsor: Irene Tobias | Photos courtesy Wikimedia Commons