The Zapotecs

The Other Native Americans


The Zapotec Indians of Oaxaca, Mexico are expert craftsmen in the field of weaving, a tradition that dates back two thousand years. Their designs, styles, and techniques can be seen throughout Mexico. Located high in the Sierra Madre mountain range, a ten hour drive south of Mexico City, the isolated villages of the Zapotecs are steeped in rich mysteries of their culture. Life hasn’t changed much here in the past century, tradition is more than a matter of mere ritual…it’s a way of life. They are one of the last cultures in the world to complete the entire weaving process without the benefits of automation or modern science.

The ancient village of Teotitlan del Valle serves as the heart and sole of this weaving tradition. Local historians claim that it was the first Zapotec settlement in the Oaxacan Valley. This would date the formative stage of their civilization sometime about the birth of Christ. Throughout their history, the Zapotecs have been renowned as weavers and Cochineal dye merchants. With cotton as their main fiber source, they had a virtual monopoly on the clothing trade in Mesoamerica. It is believed that the rug, or serape, that we know today evolved from a poncho style tunic worn by nearly all men in pre-Columbian times. The Spanish invasion and their introduction of the sheep into the new world influenced one very significant change for the Zapotecs… Wool… which has since become the medium for their artistic expression.