Human Interest

Mexican town of Villa Progreso preserving ancient “ixtle” art

Queretaro, Mexico, Jul 2 (EFE).- The artisans of the central Mexican town of Villa Progreso are fighting to preserve the technique of making handicrafts with “ixtle,” a vegetable fiber obtained from “heneuqen” – a species of agave – out of which they make rope, clothing, ornaments, bags, baskets and piñatas, among many other things.

Cords or straps made from ixtle, a fiber that was already extensively used by the local cultures in pre-Columbian times, are still traditionally used by Mexican families for clothes lines, but also for horsemanship trappings.

“I’ve been doing this job ever since I can remember, since I was 5. Ever since I was little, my parents taught me to do this job and before I went to school (each day) I worked on this first. We got up at 3 am to (take care of it),” Abraham Mayorga Castillo, a member of one of the few families that still work with ixtle, told EFE.

Out of his parents’ 11 children, nine followed in the family trade.

Abraham traveled with his father and his grandfather around several Mexican states to learn how to sell their products and get customers, many of whom still buy his products after more than 40 years.

“I feel happy with what my parents taught me (in terms of) values (and) work,” he said.

“I think my childhood was fun and it was unique because back then there wasn’t as much there is as now. Now, young people don’t want to learn how to do this work, (to make) handicrafts,” he said.

Making useful products from ixtle was done for centuries before the Spanish conquest, with the native Mexica people being among the main groups pursuing this craft.

Abraham’s family is now the fifth generation to devote its energies to the manufacture of ixtle-based rope, but the trade is steadily being forgotten.

In addition to the scanty interest among the new generations, the biggest challenge has been staying competitive in the market for products of this kind.

“There was a time when cotton and plastic came in and they knocked us down in our work, but we’ve stayed in the market,” he said.

Abraham’s brother, Fren, also lamented the loss of the tradition, although he said he recognized that making ropes is a difficult task where the sun is an artisan’s greatest ally.

“Here, the entire town sustained its economy based on … crafts that are made with ixtle. The entire town worked with it, but over time this (craft) is being lost or people emigrate and don’t come back, and things like that,” he said.

The pair said that there are many procedures that must be followed to finish out the products, with several days being required to make a rope, the final task being for all the siblings to get together to twist it.

Lupita Perez Montes, the mayor of the town of Ezequiel Montes, said that Villa Progreso has more than 400 years of history and still maintains longstanding traditions such as preparing ancestral Otomi-Chichimeca cuisine, in addition to turning out ixtle handicrafts.

“It’s really an art, they have to remove all the fiber from the henequen stalk, they have to comb it, they have to hang it, then it’s spun, and it’s a whole process that really is also an experience,” she said.

EFE sa/ppc/ar/bp

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