Pottery, a craft which passes from mothers to daughters in Chiapas

In this Chiapas village, it's the women who bear most of the responsibility of providing for their families
Female potter - Photo by EFE
San Cristobal de las Casas, Chiapas
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Teresa started modeling clay at 11, and like many women who learn the craft from their mothers, she became a potter in Amatengo del Valle, a village located to in the southern state of Chiapas, known for its Mayan-inspired pottery.

Amatenango was founded in 1528 by Tzeltal Mayans and women here have taught pottery to their daughters since before the Spanish Conquest.

The craft has survived the passage of time and if you walk the streets of the village it's possible to see women offering you clay doves, chickens, Moons, jaguars, Suns, jugs, and dinnerware sets.

With a population of almost 10,000 people, Amatenango is famous for its culture, traditions, and costumes, yet above all, for its female potters.

This is where each morning, the “Tozontajal” (female potters in Tzeltal) shape clay with their hands, a material they've used for decades to help support their families.

They still use Pre-hispanic techniques in their pottery; they walk several kilometers to gather raw material and bring it home to mix it with sand and give it some consistency. Then, they shape and polish their pieces before they subject them to the fires lit at the wide yards of their homes.

Some pieces can take up to 15 to six months to be made, such as the Jaguars, part of the Mayan cosmogony, or the pots they decorate in several colors – which they extract from natural ingredients.

It's a long and careful process that returns them small earnings.

“We earn little, to be honest. I have a group of women and we all work. If an order comes in we all share the work,” says Paulina López.

Amatenango is mostly a village dependent on agriculture. The men work the land, sowing corn and beans. They receive their earnings once a year and this why women bear most of the responsibility of providing for their families.

“Men almost never help, only when they aren't busy in the fields,” states Simona, who has spent over 30 years working as a potter.


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