Cofradias: Indigenous and Ceremonial

Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena

Custodians of Guatemalan tradition, costume and craft

The origin of the cofradias
In Guatemala, the indigenous cofradias, or religious brotherhoods, are an integral part of the syncretic culture of those towns that still adhere to ancestral customs and traditions. Originally established to propagate catholicism, over approximately five hundred years they have acquired important religious, civil, and political status. The cofradías, custodians of ancestral wisdom, provide an insight into traditional community identity. As shown in this exhibit, differences in color, texture, designs and usage are evidenced by the garments and textiles used by members of several cofradías and mayordomías represented.
Ceremonial attires
Guatemalan indigenous attires had their origins in the pre-Hispanic era. They were influenced by materials imported by the conquistadores (wool and silk) and the tools and techniques they introduced for weaving on the treadle loom. In addition, they adopted European style garments. During the first decades of the 20th century, attires were innovated through the importation of chemical dyes and manmade fibers, such as rayon and nylon. Later in the 1960s, the colors of acrylic fibers changed the appearance of fabrics. After the Peace Treaties were signed in 1996, the valorization paradigms for ceremonial dresses and their use have become more flexible. Nowadays, young women who participate in beauty pageants are permitted to wear the ceremonial attires which, for hundreds of years, only their grandmothers were allowed to dress (Miralbés de Polanco, 2016).
Male ceremonial attire
It is difficult to describe the male ceremonial attire, as it varies from one community to another, and depending on whether an attire for everyday use exists or not. In the places where it prevails, cofrades incorporate other garments (cloths, jackets, several su’t, capes, etc.) to make up the ceremonial dress. If the everyday clothing has disappeared, a specific distinctive dress is adopted. In other cases they wear European style clothing and use a su’t or cloth to cover their heads or to wear it over the shoulder, a shirt and a sash with the community’s characteristics, or simply an embroidered cloth that has little to do with the local tradition (Miralbés de Polanco, 2016).
Female ceremonial attire
Much of the conservation and valorization of this tradition is owed to women who, through the use of the backstrap loom and the application of the techniques required to weave the fabrics the garments are made with, have preserved the knowledge that has been transmitted from generation to generation. In pre-Hispanic times, the style of the female attire seems to have been less complex than the male one. It was composed of a skirt and a huipil in addition to beautiful headdresses, sashes and various cloths. During colonial times, Spanish women introduced garments such as tapados, veils, and pleated skirts, among others, which were adopted by local women (Miralbés de Polanco, 2016).

This huipil is made with three cloth panels sown together by hand.

Almost a century ago, the capitanas of the Cofradía de la Virgen del Rosario wore this style of huipiles woven on a foot loom and embroidered with the designs and colors of that particular time to denote their office in the cofradía.

Indigenous ceremonial dress and cofradías
"In addition to distinguishing cofrades form the rest of inhabitants in a community, the ceremonial dress is, in some cases, related to the cofradías’ internal organization. In other words, these attires convey information regarding the social, religious and political position of the people who wear them and often provide information about the specific office a person holds" (Jiménez, 2016).
Cofradía de Santo Domingo de Guzmán  
In Santo Domingo Xenacoj the staffs of the cofradías’ insignias are completely wrapped in a su’t featuring the communities’ traditional designs. 
Santo Domingo Xenacoj
In the case of Santo Domingo Xenacoj, the insignias carried by the texeles include a small su’t that can be seen in the front, right beneath the images. 
San Miguel Chicaj
Women are the ones who have mainly kept the ceremonial attire. Out of the communities that were studied, Nebaj and San Miguel Chicaj, where the male indigenous ceremonial attire is still traditional, are the two most notable cases of places where this type of dress has been preserved.  

Women of the three cofradías dedicated to images of Virgins in Nebaj, Quiché, wearing their ceremonial dress.

Keeping traditions
The transformations these entities have undergone since their beginnings during the colonial era are undeniable, but perhaps it is their ability to change and at the same time keep traditions what has allowed them to survive to this day. As long as these sociocultural organizations continue to have a place in the minds and hearts of communities, they will surely prevail as they have until now: transforming and at the same time perpetuating and passing down an ancestral legacy (Jiménez, 2016).  
Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena
Credits: Story

Jiménez, L.(2016). Between Tradition and Change: An Ethnographic Glance at Seven Present-Day Cofradías. In Cofradía: Texture and Color. Guatemala: Museo Ixchel.

Miralbés de Polanco, R. (2016). The footprints of time in ceremonial dresses. In Cofradía: Texture and Color. Guatemala: Museo Ixchel.

Archivo Fotográfico
©Museo Ixchel del Traje Indígena
Fotógrafo Armando Mazariegos

Credits: All media
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