They don’t make Huaraches soles as thick as these anymore. Huaraches “Tres Vueltas” from just outside the Central Market in San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas.
Forgive me if you find this is a bit of a mash-up post, re-cycling already published images of Huaraches. However the information I picked up on a recent trip to Chiapas was too good not to share.
I have already posted about “Caites, the Evolution of Pre-Hispanic Footwear?“, but have recently found out how to buy them if any readers are interested in getting their hands on centuries old footwear design.
For anyone interested in “Caites” and considering buying a pair the first thing they should know is that they aren’t called “Caites”. In Tzotzil they are called “Cuch Chac Xonobil”, “Xonobil” meaning shoe.
Secondly ”Cuch Chac Xonobil” are mostly made to order and usually take about a week to make, so give yourself time to make the purchase.
The easiest way to order a pair of “Cuch Chac Xonobil” is to visit the Sunday morning market in San Juan de Chamula just outside San Cristobal de Las Casas. Once there you will see on one side of the central Plaza the “Alcaldes” town leaders in traditional dress including “Cuch Chac Xonobil”.
Photo Via ‘Popular Arts of Mexico’, by Kojin Tonyama
And on another side just below the “Chamula” statue a group of Huaracheros like the ones below selling Huaraches.
Photo By Sean Sprague and Via Mexicolore
You can ask one of these Huaracheros if they will make you a “Cuch Chac Xonobil” for the following week.
The starting price is a steep 500-600 Pesos which I think you can barter down. At the same time I only saw the town leaders wearing ”Cuch Chac Xonobil”, so maybe the high price is justified by their exclusivity.
Nevertheless if lowering the price isn’t possible consider ordering a traditional pair with an all leather sole made with the traditional 7 layers as shown in the photo above, instead of the modern rubber sole version. Make sure the also heel curls upwards.
Although a recognized word, Huaraches in Guatemala are mainly known as Caites or Xajab’.
Apab’yan Tew a reader of Huarache Blog kindly sent a link to great photos from his personal collection of Guatemalan Xajab’ and Caites.
His Mexican footwear collection also includes Caites from Huixtán, Chiapas and some Raramuri ‘Pata de Gallo’ Huaraches.
Thanks for sharing Apab’yan Tew.
Very little research has been done about pre-hispanic footwear in Mexico and very little is known of its use, symbolism, construction and materials. However talking to anthropologists in Mexico its clear that many consider Tzotzil ‘Caites’ sandals from Chiapas a remanent of pre-hispanic footwear (known as ‘Cactles’, or ‘Cactli’) and pre-hispanic traditions.
In San Juan de Chamula in Chiapas, I saw no locals wearing ‘Caites’. There is however a statue in the main Plaza where a local man is shown wearing ‘Caites’.
‘Caites’ are a kind of ‘Pata de Gallo’ Huarache worn by indigenous groups in Chiapas, mainly the Tzotzil.
The heel patch on ‘Caites’ comes in different lengths depending on status of the wearer and occasion. In some communities ‘high backed’ taller heel patches are used during the fiestas, some more than 25 cm long.
The main reasons why ‘Caites’ are considered to have pre-hispanic origins is probably because the heel patch and the strip of leather thong which connects it to the sole look similar to sandals seen on pre-hispanic murals and statues. However it should be noted that ‘Caites’ are less sophisticated in nature and are also many missing elements such as symbolism and graphics.
The Domincan Friar and Bishop of Chiapas, Bartolome de Las Casas who was also famous observer and defender of the indigenous traditions and population during the beginning of the Spanish conquest wrote about the beauty of pre-hispanic footwear and how it was even sewn using gold thread.
“Hacia tambien alpargatas tan delicadas y tan lindas de aquel canamo y algodon muy ricos, cosidos a hilo de oro…” Batolome de Las Casas.
Below are images from the Olmec-Xicallanca Cacaxtla mural at Tlaxcala, where elaborate pre-hispanic sandals are clearly visible.
An Aztec Mural from the Museo del Templo Mayor, shows graphic design on the heel of the sandal.
The Aztec Eagle Man statue in the Museo de Templo Mayor, Mexico City, has sandals with the common ‘double thong’ design.
Maybe the only symbol on ‘Caites’ to survive Spanish conquest could be the leather ‘rosette’ divider patch that is seen on this example below.
Photo from the book ‘La Tejidora De Vida. Coleccion De Trajes Mexicanos de Banca Serfin’.
The ‘Rosette’ divider can also be seen on these 19th century Aztec costume sandals and on the right is a photo of the more recent Tzotzil ‘Caite’ with a plain leather divider patch.
The lack of graphics and symbolism on ‘Caites’ and reasons for their possible disappearance from pre-hispanic sandals can be many. The symbolic designs on pre-hispanic sandals we know were embroidered or painted on the heel patches typically worn by only the wealthy and ruling Aztecs; they could have been banned by the Spanish to take away all authority from them. Or maybe the Aztec influence never completely reached the people living in the highlands of Chiapas where ‘Caites’ are worn and their sandals have always been simple and unadorned.
Photos of Tzotzil men from the book ‘Mexican Indian Costumes’ written by Donald Cordry.
An excellent book and anthropological study called ‘Mexican Indian Costumes’ written by Donald Cordry also states that much of the traditional everyday dress worn by indigenous people has been toned down over the years due to the ridicule indigenous people received by the ‘Mestizos’ every time they went into town. Maybe that could be another reason for the disappearance of the heel patch designs and symbolism on ‘Caites’.
But the missing detail which puzzles me most is why and when the second strip of leather that falls between the middle toe and the 4th toe on pre-hispanic sandals disappeared from the design of ‘Caites’. Below is a good example of pre-hispanic Aztec footwear showing the ‘double thong’ design, from the Museo de Antropologia in Mexico City. Also from the same museum a painting showing the rich graphics on pre-hispanic footwear.
Are ‘Caites’ the missing link between contemporary Huaraches and pre-hispanic footwear? So far my research brings me to believe that they are not. Most likely huaraches evolved from pre-hispanic sandals similar to the ‘Caites’, but unlike the ‘Pata de Gallo’ I don’ believe ‘Caites’ lend themselves well to weaving experimentation.