Huaraches Nube Magazine Article. ‘La curtiduria en Huajaupan. Arte en el olvido’.

The March 2010 edition of Mexican lifestyle magazine nube did a long article and wrote an editorial piece on the Tanning and Huarache industry in Huajuapan. This article offers a brief yet good insight into the history and the modern day reality of the Huarache craft in Mexico.

The article is titled ‘La curtiduria en Huajaupan. Arte en el olvido’. Translated as ‘Tanning in Huajapan. A forgotten art’.

I have translated the article and published excerpts from it onto this blog. For the original version you can read it from each scanned page which I have also published.

Editorial

It is always sad to lose something, but it is more so when there isn’t the possibility to recover it. This is happening with the tanning industry in Huajuapan and the whole movement that it generated over several decades and now with each new generation is irretrievably dying. Today we are left with a handful of trades and one person who has not found someone to take advantage of his wisdom, knowledge and experience to learn a craft that we are proud of but appears to be confined to extinction, at least in our city. Don Miguel Osorio Bello, a Huajeuapeno a tanner and leather craftsman is the last link in a long chain that brought fame to our land where hides were crafted with such professionalism and esteem for the craft. It is known that people from other places come to Huajuapan still today, just for the sandals that are made here. But with some misfortune, much plastic and footwear industry, we have devalued our leather industry at the expense only of ourselves. Nothing is irreversible, except death, lets hope to still be in time for a rebirth of the trade that gave much to Huajuapan and for the sake of justice we should restore some attention, care and interest to this trade. The time is now, tomorrow may be too late.

The Curtiduria in Huajuapan, an Art which is being forgotten

In Cuauhtémoc Street even today, we see one after another, leather sandals stalls. These hand made pieces built an entire time period. White, sober and strong, sandals have become artisanal pieces, survivors of a lifestyle they remind of a time when tanneries were part of a Huajaupenan industry, an industry that seems to be reaching its final years.

Origins

The use of leather in Mexico has been dated back to ancient times, beyond the arrival of the Spaniards. The use of animal hides in ancient times was in direct relation to the provenance of the animals and the number of animals in existence, so that hides were intended for more limited purposes only reserved for the elites or military uniforms or for the elaboration of codices, these handmade by expert painters, who generally used materials such as tanned animal, native bark paper or paper. In the case of animal skin that could be for example; deer covered with a white primer to achieve a smooth surface. ( Nelly Gutierrez Solana. The Codices of Mexico. Ed Panorama, Mexico 1983, p.8.)

Daily use of animal hides in many cases varied depending on the local fauna and the existing tradition to process. Most commonly small animals like squirrels were used to make small pieces like bags, purses or to use as buffers for ceramics. The medium sized animals were used to make bags, belts etc.

In New Spain, Tomas tells Larraya “a few years after the discovery, leather began to be worked artistically by both by the conquerors as the natives of those lands. Both created character typical motifs and decorated as certain techniques, influenced by autochthonous manuals artwork, especially in leather tiles, which are also added other materials to which they are shown the typical mexicanos. (Tomas Larraya. Artistic Leather (Corioplastia). Meseguer, Barcelona, 1979, p.16-40.)

The Curtiduria in Huajuapan

In Cuauhtémoc Street even today, we see one after another, leather sandals stalls. These hand made pieces built an entire time period. White, sober and strong, sandals have become artisanal pieces, survivors of a lifestyle they remind of a time when tanneries were part of a Huajaupenan industry, an industry that seems to be reaching its final years.

Farming small livestock flourished both in the high and low Mixteca, as it required little labor and allowed the use of land made barren from the epidemics. The people could sell the meat in brine, the cheese, hides, tallow and wool. And of course in the years of poor harvests cattle were important as they were used to feed the people.

Between 1560 and 1580 the King of Spain made many Sierra Mercedes or concessions to raise small livestock to communities and indigenous chiefs. In the Mixteca region the number of grants received by the Indigenous outnumbered those of the Spaniards. Many Spaniards resident in the Mixteca region were individuals of modest means, they preferred to receive the grant and in most cases sell it in breach of the law.

Investing in the proceeds of commerce Spaniards would trade with the Indigenous groups, leaving with linen cloths for the altars and Castilla wine and bringing wool, fur and other regional products back to the city of Puebla. (Maria de los Angeles Romero Frizzi, Lecuras Historicas del Estado de Oaxaca, Vol II, Epoca Colonial.)

The Spaniards commented Mariano Espinoza, would reach the villages buying the products in advance and leaving Reals, wine, tools and other goods, and then returning to collect them at the time of wheat harvest, the slaughtering of livestock or when the scarlet silk thread was ready. (Mariano Espinosa, Apuntes Historicos, 1910, Hacia 1600.)

This activity continued throughout the colonial period, and although created as a means of livelihood when food was scarce, became the basis of commercial exchange and the development of local manufacturing, which was perfected through the centuries. To get an idea of the level that had been reached and skill in handling of hides in 1884, it was said that: “they are considered worthy of inclusion in an international “goat hides and skins competition” in The Mixtec region and other places in different states. (Comision Mexicana para La Exposicion Universal de Nueva Orleans, Mexico, Secretaria De Fomento, 1884, p.40.)

Huajuapan, Land of Tanners

In1903, one of the most numerous trades in the town was the tanner, it’s not hard to say that at least one lived in every street, extending this trade between parents and children and families. One cannot not imagine that this was coincidence, as the large presence of goats in our region generated, first slaughterhouses and then trade routes to Tehuacan and Puebla. The slaughter of goats is another industry specific to Huajuapan. Some of the hides from the livestock were sent abroad where they were well accepted and another important part was left for various local industries, one of which is the manufacture of Huaraches. This was carried out as a domestic industry that required only a small investment, in which all family members, especially including children worked in this activity, with most of the work done by hand and utilizing most of the leather.

At on time Mexico was a major exporter of leather. It was not until 1936 when the industry began to decline. The most widespread explanation for this decrease in quality is that many of the lands that in the past produced high-quality leather were divided.

Create and Sell

Both Miguel Osorio a leather craftsman and Florencio Lujan a merchant, are part of a process that begins in the tannery and concludes in the market. Today the process continues but at a much slower pace. Don Miguel is the only manufacturer of Huaraches in the city “No one followed in my footsteps, not even my children, all chose to do something else. I’m the only one who makes huaraches for Mixtec ‘Jarabe’ (a popular dance), here there is no one making them. It was not my favorite job but I really liked tanning. Its not to sound famous, but those at the market can tell you who makes the best Huaraches,” concludes proudly Don Miguel. Don Florencio agrees that the sale of Huaraches has fallen greatly in recent times: “They continue to sell although very little, but I think it will not cease because there are people that I still keep using them. Once I would buy 500, 600 pairs on a Saturday and the following Saturday and had nothing left. They sold a lot, now there is more money and people say they don’t need them for the mountain and that they get injured wearing them. What happens? For 20 pesos more, prefer to buy sneakers.

Huaraches, an export product?

Around the nineteen forties when leather reached peak production, “Besides being export items, Huaraches and sandals whose top is made of leather strips, braided or woven, are the most commonly used types of footwear used among the poor in the countryside and represent the first step in the transition towards the use of shoes. In many respects, Huaraches are healthier than the closed shoes, especially in certain weather conditions that occur in Mexico. ” (Armour Research Foundation, Op Cit, p.39)

Leather in Our Times

With the massive introduction of plastic products in the shoe industry, the importation of hides of all kinds and the introduction of chemical dyes, tanning in Huajuapan ceased to be a profitable business. The desire to revive this activity was resumed again in 1980 by Mayor Luis Guevara Camacho, who intended to revive the industry, developing a broad and practical education program for leather workers, the latest leather working techniques and process control.

Leather and all the manufacturing that this material requires have a legendary tradition in the Mixtec region: unfortunately in recent times it has tended to disappear. Hopefully, the nickname of “Land of Tanners’ as the entire region was known some time ago will continue to honor the craft and the skill that of the Mixtec people and that their ability to transform common objects into magnificent works will be complemented by programs, support, education and jobs. This tradition exists and we should not be satisfied for it to merely survive, but we should want it to grow as a new flowering.



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