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THE REBOZO: CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS

THE REBOZO: CULTURAL BACKGROUNDS

El Rebozo

Tip de Chinanteca, Woman sitting on street - basket of fruit, by Luis Marquez, 1937, Mexico

Tip de Chinanteca, Woman sitting on street - basket of fruit, by Luis Marquez, 1937, Mexico

Rebozo is a hand woven shawl used in the Mesoamerican traditions for many purposes, and it’s a vital companion of the woman during her whole life. The journey together with the rebozo starts in Mexico as early as in the womb, as the mother uses it e.g. to cover herself, to tie the belly and to receive some manteadas, rebozo massages. Rebozo has been used traditionally also to massage and accommodate men and also men do give rebozo massages.

The rebozo that mostly is visible is the rebozo that’s used for everyday living. Usually it is used for covering the head from the sun and as a padding to carry baskets, to cover the shoulders from the wind and as a bag to carry products and children. People marry using a rebozo, people mourn using a rebozo, people dye using a rebozo and people are born to be wrapped in a rebozo. It is often given as a gift or as a heritage from the elders to the younger generations. 

photo credits mexico en fotos

photocredits mexico en fotos

 

The same rebozo can be used also as a garment in ceremonial purposes, or a more elaborated and finer rebozo can be used depending the event and cause.

As it is part of the everyday living it is part of the traditional medicine as well. When you see a traditional midwife walking on the street, she might have a rebozo hanging on the shoulder and a few moments after she might be giving a rebozo massage to accommodate the baby inside a mother’s belly or to give a fertility treatment.

Festive rebozos are also used and are made with beautiful silk threads and more complex weaves to achieve a piece of art that is folded on one shoulder as a part of the festive outfit. 

Culture:

In the "pre-hispanic" era people on the land of Mexico used to weave fabrics from local materials with a back strap loom. Back strap looms are widely used around Mexico. After the Spanish conquista the use of a pedal loom was also introduced among the people, and is nowadays part of the Mexican culture. By rebozo weaving many of the ancient techniques have stayed alive to the present day culture.

It is said that Rebozo came also from the necessity of the women to have a fabric to cover themselves to enter a temple. It is a child of the fusion of cultures, the native Mesoamerican and Spanish cultures. It can also been seen as a symbol of the indigenous resistance.

Rebozo is a word coming from Spanish, in Mexico there are other words used for rebozo type of fabrics in the indigenous culture and languages. At the old days rebozo type of fabrics were made from different materials like ixtle, wool and pre-hispanic cotton.

The traditional words in different indigenous languages mean like : "woman's veil" (ciua necuatlapacholoni - Nahuatl) and "fabric of thousand colors" (cenzotl - Nahuatl).

 

frida kahlo photo from daily beast

photo credits The Daily Beast

 

There are many types of Rebozos in Mexico and each region has their own style of weaving their rebozos. The region and climates have affected on the materials used in different region; for example in Oaxaca's chilly mountains rebozos are traditionally made out of warm sheep wool, on the valleys they are made out of cotton and in towns with silk worms the rebozos are made out of beautiful silk combinations.

Rebozo is declared as a Mexican cultural heritage and symbol of Mexican identity. The use of rebozo was somewhat disappearing in the city cultures but there has been a large movement inside the country to take back the rebozo use also among the people living in cities. However, if you walk a little outside from Mexico City and especially in the rural areas, you will find out that the rebozo never disappeared and is strongly alive. Mexican fashion has also taken the rebozos as a part of the production and beautiful traditional rebozos with new designs and ideas are introduced to the public around the country.

Nowadays it gives a sustain for many hundreds of local families that have preserved the skills of weaving. Rebozo is a big part of the Mexican culture and has inspired many painters, musicians and poets throughout the history. Rebozo festivals and exhibitions are organized in different parts of the country.

 

Rebozo in the use of pregnancy, birth and postpartum:

traditional birth rebozo in use, a rose rebozo

photo credits Antama

 

Maybe the most common rebozo at the side of the famous “Frida Kahlo” rebozos are the rebozos used in the birth processes. Thanks to traditional Mexican midwives like Angelina Martinez Miranda and Naoli Vinaver the rebozo was introduced as a cultural exchange element to midwives, doulas and active mothers around the world especially in conferences led by midwives.

Cultural exchange is explained as a broad definition given to any mutual sharing of information, usually cultural, between two or more species for the purpose of improving friendship and understanding between them.
  1. an exchange of students, artists, athletes, etc., between two countries to promote mutual understanding.
Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Copyright © 1997

 

The wisdom of using a rebozo has traditionally been passed from midwife to apprentice, from mother to daughter, from grandmother to granddaughter and so on. It’s based on oral tradition and ancient wisdom that’s been taught by observation and practice, by repetition and guidance to achieve integral balance to the mother-baby unity.


A traditional way to use a rebozo during pregnancy is by tying it on the waist to support the beautiful growing pregnant belly. Women on rural areas do usually a lot of physical and manual work without machines and the rebozo gives a nice firm support to go on with the everyday living also on the mountain areas. 
Keeping the body, uterus and kidneys warm is essential part of Mexican traditional medicine and cotton and other natural ingredient are preferred to be used as they at the same time warm up and guard the warmth of the waist, belly and womb. It is warming also during menstruation or during transitions in the life, physical or spiritual.


Traditionally rebozos are used to massage the woman’s body by moving it rhythmically, during the pregnancy, in birth and at the postpartum period, to achieve positive effects on the mother and baby.

There are both simple rocking and sifting movements commonly used now by midwives, doulas and parents to help to ease muscle, ligament and joint pains and to relax and make room for the baby in pregnancy and to ease the labor process. These are quite easy to do and fast to learn, soft movements. However the practicant should be aware about the birth process and situation and to know which areas she/he is moving to achieve balance in the mother-baby.

Then there are more complicated and complex movements that are done by midwives that are initiated to do it. These treatments are made to rotate the baby in the belly, to fasten the birth and to infertility treatments to name a few. These should not be made at home or by persons that have not received the full process of training in doing so from a traditional midwife. These movements are part of a deep integral understanding that is achieved over years in practice.

Some of the beautiful benefits of using a rebozo in the pregnancy are e.g. to balance and relax the pelvis, uterus and ligaments to allow more room for the baby to rotate into the optimal position for birth.

In birth it is also used to ease pain, to work with the pressure waves in birth, to relax and connect with the body and the baby and to build birth space and privacy.

An intervention in birth, even our observation, a word or the use of a rebozo, is an intervention so the art of the rebozo is to know when to sit on the hands and when to use it. But that's another story and chapter.

A rebozo can also be used in postpartum period in the sealing ceremony, that consists of different parts, like a herbal bath, a full body massage and a rebozo massage. It’s made traditionally in Mexico to “close” the body of the mother and to help the organs and womb to return on their correct places, to close a life and spiritual cycle, to center the energy and to give a moment of love to the body and mind of the mother. It’s a ceremony made normally by a midwife or another trained person and often as a continuum of care.

Rebozo is traditionally used also to carry babies, and can be done with the very same rebozo that accompanied the woman during the pregnancy and birth.

It is also a great baby blanket, a cover for the sun, a towel on the beach and the list goes on. Rebozo is definitely handy and for everyday living of a parent. 

bellybinding in a traditional mexican rebozo

photo credits Antama

 

Cultural Appropriation

The social justice and cultural appropriations are themes that are talked about now more than before. Cultural appropriation is described as:

Cultural appropriation, at times also phrased cultural misappropriation, is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority culturesBecause of the presence of power imbalances that are a byproduct of colonialism and oppression, cultural appropriation is distinct from equal cultural exchange.Wikipedia

 

cultural appropriation

the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture. Cambridge Dictionary

 

Example on cultural appropriation in birth culture that have been raised up are when some people feel molest when people from other cultures use names of their culture to name things that are only partially connected with their tradition. Examples on this are Blessing way to mean only a ceremony of transition to motherhood or welcoming a baby when in the original context it has a bigger meaning or the use of the word rebozo to call any synthetically made scarf that is carried on one shoulder and made who-know-where or to use the rebozo to name a “one shoulder carry” in babywearing.

As opinions on cultural appropriation vary depending the person, culture and context I will share the concerns I’ve personally heard coming from the mouths and hearts of the Traditional Midwives of Mexico.

 

photo credits Antama

 

First about the cultural context of traditional midwifery in Mexico:

Traditional Midwives have been and are in service of the pueblo (people). Often, almost always, they have dedicated their whole lives to serve the well being of their communities. Often they are yerberas (plant healers), counsels, sobadoras (masseur) and curanderas (healers). Many have made huge personal sacrifices in the name of the health of the village. Working with local people of the villages often they are paid little or none. Generosity is one of the words that characterize the traditional midwives.

The cultural context and history of traditional midwifery in Mexico is and has been a bit conflicted. The government of Mexico recognizes them in the constitution but at the same time promotes campaigns that try to limit the availability of the midwifery services to the families or directly threatens (illegally) the midwives.

In Mexico, there is a history of dispossession of traditional wisdom. For example on the area of plant medicines many biologist, anthropologists and doctors have presented to yerberas, healers and midwives during the years collecting information. After the wisdom keepers have shared their knowledge with these people they have vanished, used the information on their own welfare, never mentioning the teachers and sometimes even taking actions against them by for example trying to patent some plants or make regulations on who can use them (authorized often by the same institutions or allies who made the dispossession).

photo credits Antama

 

So the concern on how the information is used is real for the midwives. Midwives are moved to tears as they share how hard their path of service has been and how some people come and take the wisdom they share and “vandalize” it.

At the same time many have expressed they do not want to take all that wisdom to the grave but want to transmit it to the apprentices that are ready to respect, guard and to put it in practice to serve their communities, they want the wisdom to be there for the people. Midwives like to know that the skills they have taught are used properly.

As many midwives are eager to share their knowledge it is our responsibility to embrace that wisdom and to use it with their blessing and with respect.

photo credits Antama

 

Therefore:

Please look for these abuelas and abuelos that want to transmit their wisdom on midwifery and the art of the rebozo. Finding a partera (traditional midwife) and spending time in her teaching is what allows the person to understand more about the cultural backgrounds and cosmovision of the first nations.

Midwives have expressed the wish that the rebozo would not be taken all away from its cultural context. As the rebozo use has been transmitted from one generation to another, in the Mexican tradition of giving honor to the ancestors and teachers plays a big part of the rebozo use as well. As the complete cultural context can never be transmitted to a new group of people in a new culture, in another cultural heritage and context, the midwives wish a seed of the tradition and an important part would be present, which is the respect and honor.

Honoring the teachers that generously shared her life wisdom is so important when sharing her knowledge to others. At least naming them in the moment of the treatment is placing the honor where it belongs and from there it's transmitted to the generations before.

It’s placing order and harmony, it’s honor and back up.

Honoring can be done in a manner each person feels comfortable and connected itself. In the practice we remember the generations that came before us, mention our teachers name, honor and respect the wisdom received, the grandmothers and their wisdom that now helps us to support health and life on this earth in this moment and cultural context. Life is not same either in Mexico now and 100 years ago, but the ways of supporting life are in the essence equal.

photo credits Antama

 

Traditional midwifery sees the mother-baby as an integral unity where the well being of the mother transmits well being to the baby. The emotions, physical body and spiritual well being all pay a very important role in it. So when a rebozo is used it is accompanied with the intention to bring light and life to all these levels of existence. You can not separate the traditional midwife of her cosmovision, culture and spirituality, or the importance of seeing how the mother is doing emotionally. Therefore the word ”ancient technique” sounds to some parteras as misleading, as it can sound to people as a physical performance without the observance and understanding of the deeper levels of the situation and also, ceremonial purposes. In the end, rebozo is an extension of the hands of these grandmothers and it is the unity of intention, wisdom and physics that make the magic, not repeating "mechanically a technique”. It really is ancient wisdom transmitted from one generation to another.

 

What it becomes to the rebozo, a partera often does not even use it. In the prenatal meeting for example it might stay on her shoulder for the whole time. Sometimes the listening of the mother and a sobada (womb and body massage) is just enough to relax and balance the mother-baby. Other moments she might feel that a deeper relaxation and balance could be helpful and with a rebozo it can wonderfully be achieved. In the end it is the listening and observance that transmits much to the midwife and mother, not the way of acting and performing routines. A traditional midwife enters with respect and by asking permission to enter the space of the mother-baby. The space of the mother is also the space of the baby.

And in the end, the midwives see the ancient traditions are here to help the humanity, and the rebozo is a good example of it. 

 

photo credits Antama

 

Some quick Check-Ups to the art of the Rebozo:
  • Look for legitimate tradition wisdom keepers. Learn from the source. Be humble and embrace the wisdom you are been gifted with. Spend time with your teacher and get to know how is her/his service on daily basis. Travel to the culture you are learning from, learn about the cosmovision of the person, the spiritual and cultural backgrounds. Be curious to learn check on what level of understanding you are. Make humble self appraisal on your skills.

  • If you are not able to travel but are privileged to have money you can also invite these wisdom keepers, traditional midwives, to your country and prepare an intensive training with them. Bringing the wisdom to another culture will not open the cultural backgrounds as well as traveling to the origin, but learning from the original source is essential. There are also persons around that are blessed by the midwives to teach other persons.

 

  • Go as far as you are authorized to go. If you are not sure of your limits, go back to your teachers to clear it out. The authorization in tradition is a personal process that takes time, maturation, patience, practice and observance. Midwives in Mexico have traditionally received the authorization to practice as a personal blessing from their teachers and community. This process might have taken even decades! If someone is granting a certifications to become a “rebozo master” or trademarking it, it's good to investigate if that person really has the blessing to do it. Do not invent or say you ”discovered” something traditional or use it as something exotic.
 
  • Always mention your teachers and where you learned what you learned. Now at the time of social media honoring a teacher publicly does not mean to upload her face to the social media without her permission. 

 

READ ABOUT THE WEAVERS BEHIND ANTAMA HERE

TO READ ABOUT HOW TO TAKE CARE OF YOUR REBOZO CLICK HERE

stash shot of hand made labor rebozos, earthy colors and violet

photo credits Antama

 

This article is made in honor and gratitude for my teachers that share their wisdom and midwifery secrets with me.

Honoring with immerse gratitude my midwife teachers Ela Carolath, Cristina Galante, Araceli Gil, Suely Carvalho, Angelina Martinez Miranda, Doña Queta, Yolanda, Chuyita, Doña Irene, Doña Paulina, Angelina Sacbaja. 

¡Muchas gracias!

photo credits Antama

 

This is an all time transforming article. Sometimes I'm correcting typos, sometimes I add information or edit already written phrases. It's transforming due what I feel is important to describe or go deeper.

 

Sources:

History http://www.amigosmap.org.mx/2014/08/30/el-rebozo-una-prenda-de-identidad-mexicana/

Comments

  • Posted by Amparo Woo on

    There is a poem “Al Regazo de UN Rebozo” I heard this poem many years ago…how would I be able to locate it. I know the author s first name was Alicia

  • Posted by Barbara Hernandez on

    My daughter’s father is Mexican, but he and I are friendly though divorced. She has become a Doulah and when she learned I was traveling to Mexico to volunteer, she asked me to bring her one of these. This beautiful blog has given me just the best way to connect my daughter with her ancestry. I hope to make the purpose as meaningful as possible by sharing photos of my daughter and her grandmother and maybe aunts. Then having a photo of myself taken with the person who made it.

  • Posted by Amy Coffield on

    This is such a beautiful explanation. I really connected with this quote specifically, "rebozo is an extension of the hands of these grandmothers and it is the unity of intention, wisdom and physics that make the magic, not repeating “mechanically a technique”. It really is ancient wisdom transmitted from one generation to another.” Thank you for all the energy you have put in to share your understanding with us.

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