Sunday, May 15, 2022

Weaving a rebozo.

Even though there are plenty of hot social topics in the news this week, I decided to take a break from that sort of thing and post about my new weaving project: a rebozo for my costume as a volunteer at El Rancho de las Golondrinas. But wouldn't you know it -- the use of rebozos is in the midst of a cultural-appropriation brouhaha. 

I'll explain all that in a sec. First, I want to tell you what the heck a rebozo is. 

Dama con rebozo - Juan Rodríguez Juárez
Museo Nacional de Historia, Mexico City

The striped wrap that the woman in this painting is wearing around her shoulders is a rebozo (one that's a lot fancier than the one I'm making). Basically, a rebozo (it's pronounced reh-BOH-zoh) is a long rectangular piece of cloth. Wikipedia describes it as looking like "a cross between a scarf and a shawl." It originated in Mexico, but it's unclear when; a number of indigenous cultures use similar woven articles. The earliest description by a European was written by Friar Diego Duran in 1572. Other influences on rebozo design were probably the Spanish mantilla (you might have seen pictures of these lacy shawls -- Spanish women would stick a tall comb in their hair and drape the mantilla over it); a Moorish garment called a rebociño that's similar to a mantilla but shorter; and, much later, the Filipino mantón de Manila (flamenco dancers wear these).

Anyway, back to Mexico. Women used the rebozo as sort of an all-purpose garment: over the head, for protection from the sun; around the shoulders for warmth; and as a carrier for all sorts of things, including babies.

In fact, the rebozo has experienced a resurgence over the past several years, both as a baby carrier and as an aid to women in labor. Here's where the cultural appropriation thing comes in. There's a movement among some doulas against White women using rebozos to aid women giving birth. One blogger calls the rebozo a "sacred garment" and says there have been cases where inexperienced White doulas have actually harmed their clients by using a rebozo in techniques they haven't been properly trained in.

I don't know anything about rebozo-related birthing techniques, so I can't speak to that part of the critique. But a rebozo -- a utilitarian piece of cloth -- is a sacred garment? Where did that come from?

The only thing I can think of is this: During the Mexican Revolution, women called Adelitas used their rebozos to carry both babies and weapons past checkpoints. Because of this, the rebozo became a symbol of women's strength and feminity. Frida Kahlo wore them. Mexico's then-First Lady, Margarita Zavala, wore one when she met with our then-First Lady, Michelle Obama, in 2010. 

Today, rebozos come in all sorts of patterns and colors, often with intricately-woven fringe.

Mine isn't going to be anything like that.

The rebozo came to New Mexico with Spanish settlers in the 17th century -- back when it was a simple rectangular shawl, used both as shade from the sun and as a carry-all. This is the historical period I'm going to be representing, so there won't be anything fancy about my rebozo. Here I have it started on the table loom: 

Lynne Cantwell 2022
It's going to be light blue with very basic fringe. With any luck, it'll be about 21 inches wide and about six feet long when it's done. The yarn is 5/2 cotton -- if you're a knitter, that translates to laceweight -- and I'm making it very drapey, to make sure I have enough yarn to finish the thing.

I'm hoping that no one reading this accuses me of cultural appropriation. Granted, I'm not Hispanic. But my rebozo's intended use is as part of a historical reenactment. I won't be using it to carry a baby, and I certainly won't be employing it to help any pregnant women give birth.

I'll post a photo when it's done, hopefully next week.


These moments of weaving blogginess have been brought to you, as a public service, by Lynne Cantwell. Get vaxxed and stay safe!

No comments: