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Voyage to Chiapas – Day 4


Juana Gómez Ramírez


MapThe small pottery-making village of Amatenango del Valle is 40 km southeast of San Cristóbal de Las Casa on Carretera Panamericana (Highway 190).  It is a village of about 6,500 people.  The name Amatenango means place of the amates (figs).  It was settled in the pre-Hispanic period by Tzeltal Maya.  In this village we saw an incredible display of classic Tzeltal Maya artisanship.  All of the pottery is created free hand; no wheels or molds are used for any of the items.


P1000790Although the men wear western jeans, boots and hats, the women wear traditional clothing.  Their blouses are brightly colored, woven cotton embroidered with wool yarn and dark skirts.  Most wear a bright blue head covering.

P1000793P1000791Marina got us an audience with Juana Gómez Ramírez (Xhana Compash Otol in Maya).  She was a featured artist in the Formento Cultural Banamex, AC sponsored book:  Grandes Maestros del Arte Popular.  As you can see from some of the pictures, Juana’s entire family is involved in the trade.


Juana described to us the process used to create these fine works of art.  After hearing the process, I no longer question the prices charged by the artists for their work.


P1000800P1000799Pieces are hand made from barro (clay), sun-dried and then fired in an above ground fire rather than in a kiln – a pre-Hispanic technique.  The barro is dug from a nearby stream, cleaned, screened and worked to remove impurities.  Afterwards, arena (sand) [hand dug from a sand pit nearby] is methodically added to the raw barro.  The arena is added to allow the barro to dry faster and, most importantly, gives the barro the strength needed to "stand up."  The more body the barro has, the higher or longer the pieces can be without collapsing.


P1000801Again I want to emphasize, all of the pieces are hand formed; no molds, no wheels.  After the pieces dry naturally, they are "fired" in the open air, covered in wood for large pieces and in a concrete block wall area for smaller pieces.

P1000792P1000803After firing, the pieces are hand painted.  The only item purchased in the entire process is the Comex paint they use to paint the intricate details of the pieces. We bought a beautiful sculpture of a balam (jaguar) like the one shown here and a very unique iguana!


Joel Aguilar


P1000813P1000807After leaving Juana and stowing our treasures in the autobus, we then went to Mi Café just a kilometer or so up the road.  Mi Café is owned and operated by Joel Aguilar.  We stopped here to relax and discuss the things we had seen so far on our "Voyage to Chiapas.  Marina fielded questions from the group and a great discussion was had.


P1000814Joel spoke to the group about his passion for all things organic; from the coffee he serves which is grown in the area to his produce that he grows in the gardens surrounding the café.  He feels it is important for the local population to continue eating and producing traditional foods.  He is adamantly against the new supermarkets with processed foods.  The café is filled with eclectic art, handmade pottery, organic eggs, herbs and packages of coffee all in a rustic setting, reminiscent of an old west general store with overstuffed furniture.  It was a nice break in the action.


Day 5 – Cañon del Sumidero and Chiapa de Corzo

2 Comments leave one →
  1. 12/02/2013 11:24

    I am enjoying this very much and hope I get the opportunity to do a trip like this! Thank you for sharing!


  1. Voyage to Chiapas – Day 3 « Nancy and Barry in Mérida

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