Calzado Mexicano, Cactli Y Huaraches – A Book About Mexican Footwear

I found this out of print book dated 1930 in one of the great used bookshops on Calle Donceles in Mexico City. Anyone going to Mexico City should check out this row of used bookshops with floor to ceiling book shelves and 12 foot/4 meter ladders that you are invited to climb to scan the top shelves for any interesting books. This book titled CALZADO MEXICANO, CACTLIS Y HUARACHES is the only one I know of that deals although too briefly with Huaraches and the possible link with pre-Hispanic footwear.

I have Google translated all the pages and made the best sense I can of the old and formal Spanish writing style, but for those interested all the pages from this book are scanned, translated and published after the ‘jump’. Just click on the ‘Read the rest of this entry‘ link below.





Mexico M. CM. XXX

To continue reading this book please click on the ‘Read the rest of this entry‘ link below.

Para continuar a leer esto libro por favor clicker sobre el ‘Read the rest of this entry‘ link abajo.

Footwear has existed from the earliest times and every civilization from the most ancient has created footwear as much for their functional needs as for their particular tastes.

Man searched in nature for the most appropriate materials to cover his bare feet for footwear used both for protection and clothing:

Egytpians wore cool sandals made with sheets of papyrus and held together by twisted palm rope, to cross the burning desert sands.

Eskimos instead protected themselves from the perpetual snow by binding their legs and feet with thick seal or polar bear fur.

The Greeks, with a deep respect for the physical beauty, played sports almost naked and barefoot as we can see from the statues and monuments of that time. The Greeks invented a type of sandal with thin and felxible soles, called ‘Caligas’ that were worn initially by women.

The Romans, without losing sight of comfort, hygiene and physical development gradually transformed the ‘Caliga’ into different types of sandals. A heel was added – a space embellished with decoration and with mythological symbols – precious materials were applied, stones, embossed metal, bone and ivory. Thus was born the ‘Calceus’, a shoe worn by the privileged classes.

But when the essential development of footwear is neglected the transformation becomes absurd  and footwear fashion trends change footwear forms to become unnatural and often tortuous.

We can see with reference to the ‘Calceus’ the violent contrast that manifests itself in Chinese customs with regard to suffering which is inflicted to small girls and women, binding their feet and creating a small shaped foot which should not exceed the size of the iron shoes which are used up until the age at which bone development and growth is completed.

Some Chinese adults however still view their twelve centimeter foot deformity which forces  them to walk as if they were on stilts as refined look.

In the same absurd way of the Chinese ways outlined above, the use of unreasonably high heels in the modern feminine shoes, which tends to transform the foot to an improbably small size has been banned by hygienists and physiologists in spite of this almost universally widespread fashion. This is one of the largest whims of modern taste, which so far has changed little.

It can be said then that the beauty of the dress lies in the functionality of the garments. So if a dress is uncomfortable and does not meet the functional needs that it was intended for it cannot in short be beautiful. Educating oneself in tastes according to the canons of fashion is often to become perverted, creating an artificial taste closed to all sense of real beauty and eloquence.


Examples of the Mexican footwear from ancient times appear in several monuments: Mayan frescos, sculptures and ceramics, in the indigenous codices and accounts of Spanish missionaries. But Mexican footwear (cactli) is of sigular importance if you understand its social significance; denoting a rank and a hierarchy inaccessible to those who did not have sufficient merit to be among the knights or important figures.

The common people, the commoners went barefoot and could not acquire the privilege of using ‘cactlis’ if not earned by acts of nobility or heroism in war. “The use of blankets and sandals, established a separation between improtant figures and commoners, between the nobility and the people”. According Tezozomoc, the first could wear a long decorated coat and the commoners had to wear low cut short cloaks that were undecorated and made of coarse cotton or henequen, likewise no Indians could wear sandals or ‘cotaras’ unless they were brave, the penalty for this was to be caught and killed. ”

“The cactli sandal or shoe of the Indian”, says Penafiel, “exposes the back of the foot and the heel and has a sole fastened by strips tied in different ways” as shown in the following Images (I-II-III-IV-V-VI-VII). They were made ​​of jaguar leather and the soles were made from deer leather with various folds and stitched like Spanish espadrilles. There were also sandals were made of pozolcactli called fox fur (pozotli) and were worn by the leader of the celebration for the merchants. ”

Sandals were also adorned with paintings and mythological figures.

Mexicans came to create a variety of important footwear, both in the use of materials, in their ornamentation and in the particular form of knots and very noticeable weaves. Not only made from spotted ocelot skin, the jaguar and the fox, but also with feathers of birds. Herons and quetzals were applied like on the blankets and used on the ‘cactlis’ of nobility and kings.

There are also the ‘cozehuatl’, a kind of leggings or stocking leather boots covered with sheets of gold arranged like snake scales. In this regard says Father Sahagun: “They used to bring a leg from the knee down covered in thin gold.”

These ‘cozehuatl’ were worn only by warriors and their function to protect the shins, this corresponded to the same use as Assyrian soldiers.

‘Cozehuatl’ were always worn with ‘cactli’, or sometimes integrated to become part of the same footwear.

The decoration on ‘cactli’ were simple drawings or ornamental pieces that protected the heel such as stylized flowers and geometric figures, or emblematic representations with unique color which were important in heraldry.

“The sandals of Cariathiarim Tula (Image I), have a snake carved on the heel: the color blue was for kings, blue was his crown, mantle and sandals were called ‘Xiucactli’ or blue ‘cotaras.” Another important feature of Mexican sandals was the interlacing game that sometimes ran through the toes to connect with the sole of the footwear or wrapped around the ankle to create a rich decoration (Images III, V).

Mayan shoes (Image II) were sometimes made with two thin strips of deer skin which criss crossed upwards to near the knee.

In the later times of the Viceroyalty, the organization of industry and business was regulated by mixing rules of law with the religious sense of Catholic groups.

So special laws or ordinances were instituted ranging from the major professions to the most trivial tasks. The shoemakers formed a group of business and brotherhood of law, whose annual procession of Corpus Christi had to have all teachers and officers grouped around their logo with ” white wax candles in the hands and not be instead with another brotherhood, the penalty was four pesos, half was given to the group and the other for the office expenses of the judge and accuser. ”

Later came the Ordinance of Shoemakers created in Mexico in October 25, 1560 and confirmed by the first Viceroy of New Spain, Don Luis de Velasco. Organized like a union organization with elected officials and members who’s task was to provide detailed recommendations on how the footwear business was to be run, how the shoes should be made, what material should be used, what the necessary performance requirements for this work should be and what the prohibitions and penalties pertaining to each of the offenders to the ordinances should be.

The creation of such clauses and laws showed the concern of the authorities to incentivate the industry to produce good products indispensable to the Spanish settlers.

It was then that European footwear was studied and trainees were tested in their “Knowledge in the cutting and sewing of knee boots, or army boots,

to make shoes with Moorish or dark lining or with women’s sole, French heel, lined heel and all according to usage and the standards of the examiners”.

But what awareness could the Spanish Ordinance of Shoemakers have of the native shoemaker? If the tastes of the native were not  taken into account and if natives were banned from selling from stores (the exclusive privilege of Spanish), with only the designated Tianguis markets of San Juan, San Hipolito and Santiago to sell a very few number of products and being continually beset by distrust of law enforcement, who seeing the work exceeding of twelve pairs  considered that it was stolen, severely punishing the seller with a hundred lashes and two years service in public works (Ordinances the Marquis of Cadereita).

However the strength of this true native tradition opposed the dictates of  the rigorous laws which were brutally ruthless towards the Indian and they did not influence the Indian customs of vigorous personality.

Moreover, at that time such laws could be considered active in the city of Mexico and in other capitals with Spanish rule, but not so in villages and in the mountains whose numerous Indian populations gradually leaving their warrior traditions formed tribes and groups of race in countless areas of the country, devoted to cultivating the fields and developing their small crafts.

From north to south and between the different races that populate the Mexican territory – Yaqui, Tarahumara, Huichol, Poplacos, Tarascan, Zapotec, Chamula, and so on, individuals of pure Indian blood can still be found with the same language, customs and much of the clothing of their ancestors.

Buying the pages of this small collection, you will understand the close analogy that links the ancient aboriginal shoe creations with huaraches of current production.

For example there is just a slight difference in the evolution from ‘cactlis’ to Huaraches as used by the Indians in the highlands of Oaxaca (Image VIII). Its overall shape is identical and the main characteristics remain: the part that protects the heel remains as does the strip of the upper brace which is inserted into the sole by passing between the toes in addition to the feature of exposing instep and toes.

The Mestizos of Yucatan use a very curious form of low-heeled sandal to accompany the music of their dances, also retain the

flavor of older footwear giving importance to the piece covering the heel while the rest of the foot remains bare and only crossed by two pairs of straps with buckles (Image X). During the festivities, the Indians of the peninsula use simple thin soled sandals with the heel made from henequen fiber which is woven then tied (Image IX).

This shows that a close connection still exists among the ancient sandals and footwear popular today who’s origins are clearly visible in spite of  the new shapes and designs. The culture is still similar in its tradition and its products are comparable even to others from ancient civilizations.

The sandals from Queretaro (Image XIV) have a clear resemblance to Korean footwear and the women’s shoes (Image XV) made of silk and many different materials as used by Mayans could even be worn by a Chinese princess. Suede sandals worn by the Kikapus Indians and richly decorated (Images XXII, XXIV) seem a mockery of the XIII century religious sandals and shoes of ancient German emperors full of superb jewels .

We see then that the scale of the creative genius of Mexican footwear seems to be similar to the footwear of different international origins and that it also retains the distinct elements of Mexican clothing; strong, vigorous and personal, similar in the “character” of its culture.

Made with strong and well prepared materials, most Mexican Huaraches are woven mainly by the same people who use them. All huaraches have a particular style of woven strips which are adjusted to the exact size and comfort of each foot.

There are however in state capitals and major cities a few small shops that make huarache type footwear with the most diverse styles (Image XXV) to satisfy the tastes of buyers and among these styles are woven uppers and heel pieces that often hold the leather strips woven in fine brick  patterns (Image XXI), or intertwined in the form of rosettes and flowers (Image XXXII).

In Cuernavaca there is perhaps the central most important production of Huaraches as well as production of many women’s sandals and shoes (Image XXX) manufactured in the traditional huarache style. As with other regions the production not only meets the needs of its local consumer, but has come to create a flow of exports throughout the country and even abroad.

The huarache is currently produced in large quantities because the manufacturing mechanism of regular lasted shoes has been unable to compete on quality related to the low price.

There are huarache sandals for all tastes and budgets, from the simple ‘rooster foot’ (Image XII), which is used by miners and farmers in some regions of the country to luxury huaraches “garbanceados” (Image XIV) covering the entire foot and with carved strips of leather for ornamentation according to the refined style created by saddler makers. But what most interesting is the evolution of the Huarache as a work of beauty.

Without resorting to strange materials as stones or colors or ribbons or beads, etc. Simply interlaced or knoted strips are often extremely decorative. Creating very original designs something like the complicated decorative look of the calligraphy of ancient Spanish manuscripts.

The grey feet that walk daily in the furrows have not changed shape and neither has the closed and sturdy silhouette of the huarache made from from the Indian foot as it still sits on the earth with the same weight of a rock carved by Aboriginal sculptors.


Proverbs, sayings and words on the subject.


Each to his own skills, without getting into things we are not interested in.


Consider a person of negligible height.


To weight up your faults in conscience.


Old Spanish dance that usually one person running in theaters. Complete Spanish Language December by M. Rodriguez Navas. Madrid 1906.


Synonymous with ugly face.


The very long name of a lyrical theater show, gracefully parodying a group of eccentric black dancers that performed in the Capital city with the name “Black Star American Demons.


Not sure about this one.


A single material object can be used to make different things.


To do something in a happy way. A popular country saying.


A saying for the naked heel sound of poor people walking barefoot.


The literature on this subject is so small that very few are notes exist on Mexican footwear for consultation. Moreover, the nature of this little monograph tends only to show the transformation of the Mexican footwear art, using graphic comparisons especially from pre-Columbian era to the present time and without any actual desire to write history.

Image I. Fragment of one of the Cariatides of Tula. A stone sculpture that shows an ancient Mexican cactli. Carved into the heel is a symbolic design. Teotihuacan culture. National Museum.

Image III. The feet covered with a combination of crossed straps. Fragment of a life sized sculpture. Aztec civilization. National Museum.

Image IV. Legs and feet of Xochipilli or the god of flowers. This beautiful sculpture from Tlalmanalco in the State of Mexico presents one of the most original examples of Aztec footwear. National Museum.

Image V.

Human foot from a fragment of a fired white clay statue. Zapotec Footwear. National Museum.

Image VI.

Colossal legs, part of a male statue. The cactli shows straps that pass through the toes and in crossing are decorated with feathers. Pre-Aztec civilization. Teotihuacan culture. National Museum.

Image VII.

Fragment of a statue. a masterpiece of sculpture. Indian foot which shows clearly the peculiar shape of ancient Mexican footwear. Cloured clay. Zapotec Civilization, Oaxaca. National Museum.

Image VIII.

Current shoes whose form is still used by some ‘mixes’ in the mountains of Oaxaca. Maintains heel exposing the top of the foot and toes.

Image IX.

‘Cactli’ used by the Maya Indians, especially during festivities. The heel and the rope which passes between the toes is woven from sisal fiber. (State of Yucatan.)

Image X.

Curious design of the footwear as worn by Yucatec mestizos marking the transformation of old ‘cactli’ to the current haurache.

Image XI.

Rudimentary type of Huarache where part of the heel has been replaced by a simple strap. The ankle strap has disappeared and the upper is starting to be covered with knotted and crossed strips. (Region poplaca, Puebla).

Image XII.

Another type of primitive huaraches worn by miners in the state of Zacatecas. Its appearance has earned it the name ‘rooster’s foot ‘.

Image XIII.

On the back of a peeling wall hang huaraches at this humble display in a small market.

Image XIV.

This can be considered a luxury Huarache for its carved strips and studded sole. (State of Queretaro).

Image XV.

Current slipper  design of embroided satin and worn by yucatecan mestizas.

Image XVI.

Design similar to the Queretaro style Huarache who’s leather strips have a bright decoration of metal rivets. (State of Mexico)

Image XVII.

Original way of intertwining strips on the Huaraches worn by porters in Morelia. (State of Michoacan.)

Image XVIII.

Type of Zapotec footwear from the Oaxaca Valley.

Image XIX.

Mixtec Huarache with short heel and thick sole. (State of Oaxaca).

Image XX.

Special style of weave that with slight variations shows the popular footwear in the State of Jalisco.

Image XXI.

Less accessorized are the shoes of Cuernavaca, who’s decorative skills are able to weave fine patterns with the leather strips to parts of the small heel and instep. (State of Morelos).

Image XXII.

Note the beaded decorations of this suede footwear used by the kilcapus Indians.

Image XXIII.

Apache suede sandals embellished with beads and metal. (State of Chihuahua).

Image XXIV.

Similar to the above, these are sandals related to the  Atapasca culture, Red Skin and Angolquin.

Image XXV. Appearance of a huarache stand where a mix of different styles from different places of origin to meet the market demands.

Image XXVI. Huarache of Sinaloa made in various manufacturing centers of the Republic.

Image XXVII. Characteristic footwear from Colima with top woven in a brick weave and punched decorations.

Image XXVIII. Huarache generally worn in the north of the Republic. (San Luis Potosi, Zacatecas, Aguascalientes, etc.).

XXIX. Saint Child of Atocha of Spanish origin that is worshiped in the ‘Real de Plateros’, Fresnillo, Zacatecas. His primitive clothing and sandals are periodically replaced according to the taste of the faithful.

XXX. Womens footwear from Cuernavaca. If you compare the style of these shoes with the image XXI, its easy to see its origin. (State of Morelos.)

XXXI. With a simple design of woven strips many huarache sandals are made exactly the same in different regions of the country without presenting local features.

XXXII. Original and beautiful huarache from the State of Mexico.

XXXIII. Legs of a soldier standing guard. The use of the leggings and sandals combination vividly reminds us of the ancient Mexican warriors.

XXXIV. Timeless artwork. So ancient is this monument which was carved by aboriginal sculptors and yet still so current, even translating to the present form and proportions of Indian feet today.

This volume, the No. 2 of the collection SERIES IN ART was printed in the workshops of Santiago Galas graphics and Brother.  For its composition Cochin 10 type was used. Wood prints and drawings that illustrate this booklet were executed by Gabriel Fernandez Ledesma.


5 Comments on “Calzado Mexicano, Cactli Y Huaraches – A Book About Mexican Footwear”

  1. Angel says:

    Thanks, I have always wanted to document my parents styles of huarache, Sinaloa-Tres Picetes (maybe raramuri influence), and Zacatecas-(lots of leather and only big toe shows?).

  2. good sharing of this book hat is impossible to be found in Kern county calif. Bakersfield. I’m a very proud & serious folklorista who has made cactli’s from old american made sandles using tacks (upholstery) so we can dance every Dec 12 for Our Lady of Guadalupe. I would love to inherit your book if you need to get rid of it. It is very educational.

    • huaracheblog says:

      Sorry my inheritance is for my family. But you can make your own Calzado Mexicano book by printing all the pages on Huarache Blog. Huarache Blog also offers a free English translation of the book which is very useful for educational purposes.

  3. Eddie Morin says:

    Mr. Ledesma, I was so pleased to happen upon this website. It is a treasure trove of information with a special thrill considering the descendancy from the Aztecas and other Mexican cultures. Truly a marvelous collection of beautiful objects.
    Eddie Morin

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