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How Today's Guatemalan Handicrafts Are The Link To Their History and Culture

Often, art and decor are marketed as conversation starters. If you’re looking for a unique piece that can truly give your guests something to talk about, Mayan art pieces and handicrafts are a wonderful addition to your home aesthetics.


Aside from the fun and practical uses of rugs, huipil wallets, worry dolls, wool bags, and other such souvenirs, Mayan handicrafts showcase a rich, long standing culture and an eclectic, fascinating history subtly embedded within their colorful symbols and patterns.



How Today's Guatemalan Handicrafts Are The Link To Their History and Culture

Often, art and decor are marketed as conversation starters. If you’re looking for a unique piece that can truly give your guests something to talk about, Mayan art pieces and handicrafts are a wonderful addition to your home aesthetics.

Aside from the fun and practical uses of rugs, huipil wallets, worry dolls, wool bags, and other such souvenirs, Mayan handicrafts showcase a rich, long standing culture and an eclectic, fascinating history subtly embedded within their colorful symbols and patterns.


Revisiting the Past: Mayan History in Pre-Columbian Times


The Pre-Columbian art and history of the Mesoamerican people are divided into three time periods: Pre-classic, which spanned from c.1200 to 200 BCE; Classic, which lasted from c.200 to c.900; and Post-classic, which extended from c.900 to 1580 A.D. Although the story of the Mayans started in around the Pre-classic era, when the earliest settlements began, it is during the Classic period when the Mayans dominated Mesoamerica.

A land inhabited for 20,000 years, Guatemala is the largest country in Mesoamerica, one of the six cradles of human civilization. Long before the tourists of today have traveled this incredible landscape, this vast empire in Central America was once ruled by various Mayan kingdoms.



The Height of the Mayan Empire


During the golden age, the Mayans lived in broad agricultural settlements which expanded to around 40 cities, among them Tikal, Calakmul, and Bonampak. With each city holding a population of up to 50,000 people, the ancient Mayans were estimated to have reached 2 million in numbers at its peak.

They grew a variety of crops, practiced advanced astronomy, and developed their own set of hieroglyphs. These glyphs became the defining characteristic of Mayan art in their petroglyphs, stone sculptures, wood carving, and mural paintings.


Archaeological digs and excavations unearthed a wealth of stunning discoveries, many of them religious structures: temples, pyramids, and palaces. The deeply religious Mayans worshipped a pantheon of nature-related gods, including gods of the corn, sun, moon, and rain. If you are familiar with the legend of the worry doll, it was the sun god who gifted the Mayan princess the power to solve every human problem in the world. Royals in the ancient Mayan society, most especially the kuhul ajaw or the king, served as mediators between the heavenly and earthly realm, and were claimed to have descended from the gods themselves. To appease the gods, they performed elaborate rituals.

The Mysterious Fall of the Mayan Empire


Sometime between the eighth and ninth century, an unknown event brought the Mayan civilization to its knees. An unexplained exodus happened — Classic Mayan cities were abandoned one by one. By 900 A.D., the ancient civilization had collapsed.

Scholars still argue to this day how the Mayans disappeared. Some speculate that the Mayans had exhausted their natural resources to the point that it could no longer sustain their population. Others argue that complicated wars between competing city-states contributed to the destruction. Finally, some scholars theorized that a long, intense drought wiped out cities that heavily depended on rainwater for crop irrigation.


Whatever the reason, by the time Spanish invaders came to Guatemala, the Mayans were spread out in agricultural villages. Their mighty cities had long been buried under their lush rainforest landscape.



The Spanish Conquest and the Color Indigo


An intriguing aspect about the Mayans was their outstanding ability to build a flourishing civilization in a tropical rainforest, setting them apart from other ancient peoples. Generally, people in the ancient times had thrived in drier climates. Such examples can be seen in ancient Egypt and Sumer, where irrigation and other types of water resource management became the basis of society itself.


Although the Spanish colonizers were disappointed to find Guatemala lacking in gold and silver, the ancient Mayans were able to take advantage of the abundant resources in their region. Here, they utilized volcanic obsidian for their many tools and weapons, and limestone for constructing their incredible architecture.


It is also in their biologically diverse forests where the Mayans learned to invent a rare shade of blue. The Mayans obtained the unusual blue from the indigofera suffruticosa, or the Guatemalan indigo plant; purple colors from plicopurpura pansa, a type of marine mollusc; and red pigments from cochineal, tiny insects that live off Guatemala’s prickly pear cactus.


Despite the fall of the ancient Mayan people, their colorful invention, indigo, survives in the 17th century works of Spanish painters, and in the threads of the Guatemalan textiles you see handwoven on traditional clothing, worry dolls, rugs, and bags of today.


Finding Modern Day Mayans


Today, the descendants of the ancient Mayans mostly live in Guatemala. Although the powerful Mayan empire had long been gone and much of the Mayans’ ancient art had been lost to the many upheavals in their turbulent history, their art could still be seen in museums around the world, and in present day Guatemala, which sits at the very core of the Maya empire.

Guatemala is home to three UNESCO heritage sites: the Archaeological Park and Ruins of Quirigua, the ancient ruins in Tikal National Park, and the colonial city of Antigua. Apart from these beautiful UNESCO-listed sites, you can also get a glimpse of ancient Mesoamerica through the works of Guatemalan artisans. Their handicrafts are still made in traditional techniques that have been passed down from one generation to the next.

Textiles used for clothing, rugs, bags, and many other practical goods are handwoven through traditional backlooms. Materials used in making their handicrafts are sourced from the very rainforests that fed, clothed, and sheltered the ancient Maya civilization.



Wholesale Mayan Handicrafts


More than just exotic souvenirs, Mayan keepsakes let Guatemalan artisans continue their ancient craft and express their proud, millennia-old culture. These works of art also empower artisans to provide for their families and sustain a struggling economy.


Handicraft Products La Selva, S.A. (From the Mayan People to You) was established in 1986 to give people worldwide access to traditional Mayan handicrafts made in the hands of the marvelous Guatemalan people. We work with artisans in the Highlands to manufacture and export custom wholesale wood carvings, masks, Worry People, and other vibrant handicrafts that connect modern day Mayans to their glorious past. If you want to learn more about how we can help you get your own piece of Mayan art, talk to us and we’d love to respond to your inquiry.

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La Antigua Guatemala 03001, Guatemala.

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