Guatemalan Worry Dolls: Upholding the Mayan Tradition Sustainably
Updated: Aug 31
If you’re looking for some peace of mind, the Mayans may have the answer for you: their colorful little worry dolls that can take your problems away.
In times of trouble, most of us need a shoulder to cry on. When we have a problem that’s too big and too personal, we look for a friend who can keep our deepest, darkest secrets, and can listen without judgment. However, when sharing problems with a loved one isn’t possible, a Guatemalan worry doll can be that trustworthy pal you can share your most intimate sorrows with.
Worry dolls, or Muñeca quitapena in Spanish, originated from an old Mayan legend in the highlands of Guatemala. According to the lore, the sun god granted the Mayan princess, Ixmucane, an extraordinary gift that can solve any human problem.
Little Friends Who Carry Big Problems Since the Old Times
In Mayan tradition, children who have trouble sleeping or have frequent nightmares are given worry or trouble dolls.
Before bed is ideally when a child confesses their fears, sorrows, and worries to the doll. They whisper their problems, then tuck the doll under the pillow. While the child is asleep, the doll does all the worrying, thus relieving the little one of all the concerns that would otherwise keep them from sleeping soundly.
By morning, the doll will have done its job, and the child wakes up with their worries gone. Because the worries stay with the doll, the worry doll’s tummy will have to be caressed by its owner to prevent it from hurting.
Do they work?
While some may say worry dolls are mere amulets for the superstitious, that's not quite true.
These vibrant little figures play a vital role in modern pediatrics and psychiatry for years.
Worry Dolls for Anxiety
During psychological interviews, counsellors would offer a worry doll to the child to serve not only as a reliable listener, but also as a trustworthy ally and contact person. The worry doll also acts as an agent, or a troubleshooter, between the child and the adults they interact with, such as their parents, educator, or psychologist.
As these dolls help children recover from overwhelming emotions and trauma, they also help children learn valuable life skills, such as good communication. Being able to voice out difficult emotions and topics is very important for children to learn. It teaches them how to openly and effectively communicate with the people around them, so that later on in life, they’ll be able to handle their personal relationships better.
Adults use worry dolls for anxiety, too. Although the act of transferring your problems to a doll is imaginary, it can help you develop the healthy psychological habit of letting go of your daily preoccupations so you can get a good night’s sleep.
Overthinking about things is one of the primary causes of insomnia. People go through the day but once they’re alone at night, free from all distractions, the problems take over. This is particularly true for those with plenty of unprocessed and accumulated feelings. By symbolically passing on worries to the dolls daily, it lets you learn how to cope with emotions, manage anxiety over underlying problems, and prevent insomnia in a natural way. Worry dolls can also help adults achieve some clarity when they’re formulating a solution for their problem.
How Worry Dolls are Made
Worry doll making is a craft that can be enjoyed by both kids and adults, and by retelling the ancient Mayan legend, the act of making them becomes so much more interesting.
Trouble dolls come in various forms, but they tend to be small, usually between half an inch to 2 inches (or 10 to 20 millimeters). If you see larger worry dolls, they’re most likely Western versions made with materials such as adhesive tape, wool, and pressed paper.
In Guatemala, they’re handcrafted using a wire or wooden base, with a face made with cardboard, cotton, or clay. The dolls' traditional Mayan dresses are woven with aguayo, a cloth that originated from Guatemala. Wool and colorful textile leftovers are also used.
Mayan worry dolls are often stored in groups of six to allow the owner to pick one doll for each day, with the option to make one day of the week a rest day for the doll and the person. Packed in boxes or cloth bags, the dolls often come with instructions and a heart-warming worry doll poem.
It is said that using someone else’s worry doll causes bad luck. To get rid of old or damaged trouble dolls safely, you may want to bury them off your property or somewhere you don’t travel to.
Sharing Guatemala’s Caring Tradition with the World
Worry dolls are a wonderful gift for the peace of mind of the people you care about. These are also a great souvenir to remember Guatemala by.
It’s best to look for suppliers of Mayan worry dolls that make sustainability a priority. While you can easily find trouble dolls when you search “worry dolls amazon” on your browser, the results may not be ideal if you want an authentic piece.
By buying worry dolls straight from the source, it doesn’t only guarantee authenticity, but it also lets your set of worry dolls ease more than one person’s suffering — yours, and the locals who made them.
Although the Guatemala Exporter Guide of 2019 reports that Guatemala is the largest contributor in the economy of Central America, there’s a tragic side to the numbers. 80% of the population live below the poverty line, majority of which are the residents of the Western Highlands — the birthplace of the Mayan worry doll legend itself.
The Mayans residing in the Highlands make a living through agriculture and traditional handicrafts. Worry dolls, along with other handcrafted items such as woven bags, make fine souvenirs for tourists. The problem is, most tourists can hardly reach their location.
The Western Highlands, a picturesque region in high altitude, is surrounded by magnificent volcanoes, lush forests, and fresh bodies of water. However, this exact combination of beautiful yet treacherous geographical features makes it hard for travelers to visit.
The artisans themselves also find it difficult to go outside their villages to sell their goods and explore new ideas for their craft.
There’s nothing like a fun, thoughtful craft with a fascinating tale behind it. If you're looking for a way to truly appreciate the beauty and purpose of worry dolls in a meaningful way, purchasing them from the Guatemalan artisans is the first step.
Better yet, buying worry dolls wholesale from suppliers who directly work with the Mayans can improve accessibility to these useful dolls, preserve the lovely tradition, enrich the lives of the locals, and empower the economy of the origin country.
Finding Authentic Worry Dolls Wholesale
Handicraft Products La Selva, S.A. (From The Mayan People to You) has been manufacturing and exporting Mayan handicrafts since 1986 so that these beautiful, authentic works of art can reach the world beyond the Guatemala Highlands.
We produce custom worry dolls that can be as unique as you dream them to be. For more information, contact us and we'd be happy to help you forge a path to the heart and soul of the Mayans.