Taller leñateros - papel hecho a mano, poesía de nuestra gente
August 13, 2019 8:26 AM   Subscribe

Ámbar Past, an American-born Mexican poet, came to the Central Highlands region of the Mexican state of Chiapas in 1973. She stayed with some Mayan women and taught herself Tzotzil, one of the local Mayan languages, and she realized the women sometimes spoke in poetry, "breathtakingly beautiful verses, sometimes echoing verses and phrases spoken or written 500 years ago" (New York Times, 2005). Some words resembled ones in the Popol Vuh (PDF, translated into English), the Mayan creation story. In 1975, Past worked with indigenous women and created Taller Leñateros, Mexico’s first and only Tzotzil Maya book- and papermaking collective. They are publishing the first Maya works in over 400 years (Atlas Obscura, 2019).

More from Atlas Obscura:
Once 150 women agreed to let her record their poetry, Past bought property in San Cristobal. She set up a modest workshop there so that she and the women could collaborate. Past would transcribe and translate the recordings, and the women would produce the book using ancient Maya bookbinding techniques.

“It took over [20] years to make,” says Petra, the woman who had welcomed me to the workshop (and the daughter of one of the original 150 women). “Past had to first record hundreds of hours of poetry and then carefully transcribe it, not to mention the work that goes into handmaking a book from natural materials.”
For more translated Maya works, see Mesoweb, the source of the translation of Popol Vuh.
posted by filthy light thief (5 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
The official website for Taller Leñateros (Woodlanders Workshop; leñateros alludes to those who get their firewood from deadwood, rather than felled trees, per AO) is in Spanish, English, and Japanese, and navigation is through an animated flash banner. If that isn't loading for you, here are links to the sections, both in Spanish and English: posted by filthy light thief at 8:39 AM on August 13, 2019 [2 favorites]

Interesting links. How did they keep the bookbinding tradition alive if they did not publish anything for 400 years? Did people produce books for their own use?
posted by Harald74 at 12:48 PM on August 13, 2019

I love getting word of indigenous cultures surviving against all odds. I'm in Chile right now, and the Mapuche, who are still very visible here, apparently kicked both Inca and Spanish aggressors to the curb. Thanks for posting.
posted by Sheydem-tants at 4:28 PM on August 13, 2019 [1 favorite]

Thank you so much for putting the page links here. I was stymied by trying to navigate without the flash banner.
posted by dreamling at 10:09 AM on August 14, 2019

Interesting links. How did they keep the bookbinding tradition alive if they did not publish anything for 400 years? Did people produce books for their own use?

I believe they're using historic techniques, probably copied from remaining bound books, or based on descriptions of book-binding techniques. The closest thing I could find to a description of their process is in this Wordpress blog from someone who works or worked there, and it includes this passage:
Over woodfires, in the patio, big bottles are boiling full of corn-husks, gladiola stems, heart of maguey, palm leaves, recycled womens’ cotton huipul blouses, banana trunks, and God knows what other raw materials to make paper. There are baskets full of papyrus, liana vines, lichen and moss. We beat the fibers in a mill spun by bicycle power. We spread the paper in the Sun and while it dries, we print poems on oak leaves and pansy petals. Our silkscreen alchemists work from Sun to Sun, Moon to Moon, transforming natural light into bougainvillea-colored images. We publish a literary magazine known as La Jícara, “The Gourd” which includes translations form Native languages, testimonies, foreigners’ journals, xylography, petroglyphs and odd things. And a book of spells including “To Live Many Years” from the book, Calling the Fire, Maya Women’s Songs and Spells. Conjure-women sing at the foot of the avocado tree. Loxa Jiménes Lópes, Xunka’ Utz’ Utz’ Ni and Maria Tzu paint amid the odor of the honeysuckle.
No book-binding description, but on how they make the paper. Apparently the blogger was going to write about their book-binding practice, but I couldn't find an entry on that.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:40 AM on August 14, 2019 [1 favorite]

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