Sacred sheep and woolen clothes made for dutzi black - a bag with a soul
First of all, sheep are part of the culture of the Tzotzils (indigenous people of Chiapas, a State in Mexico in the Mexican highlands); since they are sacred animals protected by the local religion, it is forbidden to hurt, to kill or to eat them. Secondly, they are also the exclusive responsibility of women, who take every decision over any issue related to these animals and also keep and manage any money derived from their sheep. The Tzotzils believe that every person has an ‘animal companion' who suffers the same fate as his or her soul mate. When a person is ill or dies so does his or her animal companion. Even when most animal companions are wild animals, it is recognised that sheep can be the secondary soul mates of shamans and healers, and this is the reason for not hurting or killing them. However, it is only sheep that are sacred, and cows, horses or pigs are just domestic animals for the Tzotzils, who raise them, kill them, eat them, or sell them as needed.
The importance of sheep is related to the traditional clothing of the Tzotzils. Clothes for ceremonial or daily use are made out of wool and any visitor to the villages or to the local markets will find men in their heavy black coats or their sleeveless white jackets. Women wear their black woollen skirts and their richly embroidered brown blouses, and they cover themselves with black shawls. Children's clothes, blankets and bedspreads are woven to blend fleeces of different colours, to create an infinite number of grey and brown shades. These woollen clothes are quite heavy and a hairy finish is highly regarded; they are also waterproof and last a very long time.
The traditional textile process is quite complex, and includes spinning the wool with a wooden spindle into threads of specific characteristics of tension and thickness to form both the weft and the warp for the loom. Also, the time-consuming process of weaving the threads with a back-strap loom is accompanied by a series of additional steps for washing, carding and felting.
Sheep husbandry among the Tzotzils also has an important economic role. Adequate amounts of high quality fleeces represent the possibility to weave clothes for every member of the family. Fleeces of such quality have a high value at the local markets, which makes them a valuable asset in case of urgent cash needs. Additional income is generated through the sales of surplus rams, old sheep, woollen garments and handicrafts, and surplus manure not used on the family land for crops.
For the women in the mountains of Chiapas, the best fleeces have long and loose staples formed by a considerable amount of long-coarse fibres with little or no kemp. Fleece colour is also very important, in order for the weavers to make all the variety of garments required by their families. All black, all white, or cinnamon brown fleeces reach the highest prices, because they are woven directly into clothes without requiring a complex dyeing process. There are 100% natural! NO dye!
Credit to the shepherdess
There are no shepherds. Only Shepaherdess. In other words, this is a business completely controlled by women ONLY. This is very important to me, because one of the strong points of dutzi design is supporting women all over the world.
By contrast, those humble shepherdesses that were considered ‘backward' for opposing progress and technology have not only been able to preserve their local sheep breeds , to improve their productive traits and to sustain their own livelihoods. Today, at least 150,000 wool sheep are kept in small flocks (of about 10 sheep) all over the mountains of Chiapas. The traditional sheep management system designed by the Tzotzil shepherdesses is efficient in terms of lamb and fleece production, it requires very little or no external inputs, and it keeps inbreeding at negligible levels.
Tzotzil shepherdesses must be credited for maintaining their sheep breeds that would be extinct by now if they had not systematically opposed official interventions aimed to dilute the genes of their ‘true sheep'. These local wool sheep of Chiapas should not only be seen as a pool of valuable genes, nor just the subject of genetic improvement research. On a wider perspective, Chiapas sheep represent the ability of human groups to design their own survival strategies and continue with their ancient culture. dutzi design is very proud to work with these women and this way be able to combine the ancient techniques with a modern design for the bags.