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Learning from the Maya About Diversity, Culture and Ecology~Teachers and Parents
Lesson 2. Bags, Baskets, Bundles, Gourds, and Nets:
Drawing A. Maya people carry things with bags, baskets, bundles, nets, tumpline and gourds. Their environment provides all materials needed to make them. Click image to open and save a printable version (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).
Many of the techniques to make these articles and the ways of using them have been known to the Maya for hundreds, even thousands of years. Such is the case for the methods used by the boy spinning maguey fibers into twine and constructing a bag (see page 11). It is a marvel to see even young children utilizing such millennia old techniques.
Weaving cloth on the backstrap loom — more often used for clothing but as well for bags or bundles — began at least 6000 years ago (see page 7). This and many of the crafts used by Maya people today are ancient and because they are still made and used today, they comprise a remarkable living heritage.
Thus we see the Mayas techniques of making and using articles for carrying and storing has a long history. They have special importance since until the arrival of the Spanish, they had no knowledge of the wheel. Before then, they had to develop means to transport everything they needed themselves, as well as to store food crops and other kinds of articles. But today these ancient practices take on a new value when the MayaŽs use of them reduces their reliance on plastic bags, ropes and cardboard boxes or other non biodegradable containers.
Drawings in the coloring book show articles that the Maya people make and use for carrying and storing. These things can been seen on pages 9, 10, 11, 12, 15, 18, but you can look for baskets, bags, nets and gourds in other drawings, too! Each child should have copies of drawing A and drawing B, Traditional Maya Ways of Carrying Things.
Crayon drawing by a Maya child shows a woman carrying a basket.
Drawing done by a Maya child of a man carrying a load of corn with a tumpline and net.
There are five different traditional categories of flexible and rigid containers:
|Drawing B. The Mayas use large and small bundles in various manners that can surprise those unfamiliar with carrying things this way. Click image to open and save a printable version (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).|
Tumplines along with twine and rope are vital for attaching to nets or other items to make them more transportable. See example of a water jar carried by a girl with a tumpline and and a rope (see drawing A).
A tumpline consists of strap (a type of sling) along with a rope. The strap — often woven of maguey fibers or made of leather — goes over the forehead and in order to carry a load. As seen in drawing A, the rope attaches to a net or to other things such as water jar.
In Guatemala, transporting loads using the tumpline and net method may be the only way to haul a corn harvest from steep mountain fields where only a person can go. Maya also frequently use tumplines and nets to carry many kinds of burdens as they walk to and from market.
Twine and rope may be used alone to make loads more transportable, as when tied around a rolled up mat (see drawing B, which shows a woman with a mat on her head). Indeed, it is hard to over emphasize the importance of simple rope and twine. Their use began thousands of years ago as shown by section of fossilized twine found 15,000 years ago, in the caves of Lascaux, France. But the earliest known such remains in the Americas date from 8500 to 6500 B.C.
The ancient cultural roots underlying the present day use of Maya crafts used as containers and to transport things become understandable by knowing a little about their history and by looking closely at them.
In Canada and the USA, these customs have largely been forgotten and most people carry items in factory made plastic and paper bags. Few have the need to carry burdens long distances. But when we need to do that, we use backpacks instead of nets and tumplines.
Unlike the past, today, not all Mayans use their bags, nets, baskets, bundles and gourds. New roads and more bus transportation have made their lives somewhat easier resulting in less need to carry heavy loads long distances. Even with this and other changes, crafts and the traditional methods to utilize them still have a role to play. Many, both in Guatemala and elsewhere, believe they comprise a cultural treasure.