The Division of Labor and Types of Items Produced

While some items can be woven on either a treadle loom or a backstrap loom, some items are woven exclusively on one type of loom and by one gender of weaver. This division of labor by gender is typified by the production of shoulder bags (bolsas or morrals) carried by men. These bags are woven of either maguey fiber in lowland Mayan communities or wool in highland Mayan communities. Men are responsible for almost all phases of production of these shoulder bags. For the maguey fiber bags, they are responsible for the cultivation of maguey, the preparation of the maguey fiber, the spinning of these fibers into thread, and the weaving or knitting of this thread into bags. In this sense, even the type of fiber woven reflects the sexual division of labor.



The bag to the left, produced in the Quiche town of Solola, is made of maguey fiber. Maguey fiber is coarser than wool or cotton fiber, and today, maguey is not used to make many items. Previously, though, maguey fiber was used in the manufacture of clothing for the lower classes.

Maguey comes from the "leaves" of a large cactus that grows in the lowland areas of Mesoamerica. While this cactus gives the fibers to make fabric and crocheted bags, it is more popular for its use in the production of mezcal or tequila.


While men may not be responsible for all phases of the production of shoulder bags made of wool or cotton, they alone knit or crochet these bags. This is a common pastime in several highland Mayan villages in Guatemala. While many of these bags are used by Mayan men, others find their way into the tourist market, where they are popular souveniers.


This crocheted bag from San Juan Atitan is
typical of those carried by men in the area.
Men use these bags to carry whatever they
may need during a day. Because of their
functionality and uniqueness, some of these
bags find their way to the tourist markets.


This wool bag was made in the
Mam-speaking town of Chiantla, Guatemala.
While some bags are used by people on a
daily basis, this one is intended as a souvenier, probably from a trip. Recuerdo means
memento or remembrance.