I mentioned in an earlier post that there was some controversy about the costume designed by the Guatemalan entrant in the Miss Universe pageant: she had worked with a designer to fashion an outfit based on a ceremonial men's traje from Chichicastenango. One of the national Maya associations had issued a statement condemning her action as a violation of Agreement 169 of the International Labor Organization (ILO) that specifies the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples.
However, one of my male Maya friends from Chichicastenango was less upset than some of the women. He thought that the response and condemnation of the woman was more about machismo than anything else and he didn't find her use of the traje as especially problematic.
The furor seemed to have passed, but I recently took at look at the website of the Casa de Cultura of Chichicastenango, which sponsors an annual pageant of its own, to select the local reina indígena, who goes by the title of Ixkik Umial Pop Wuj, and saw a lively discussion about the traje.
One of the declarations read: ESTIMADOS AMIGOS Y AMIGAS: NUESTRO PERFIL SE BASA DE CIRCUNSTANCIAS DE LA REALIDAD CULTURAL DE CHICHICASTENANGO, NO SOMOS ESPECULADORES Y TAMPOCO COMPARTIDOS QUE NUESTRA IDENTIDAD SEA DESPRESTIGIADA. NUESTRO TRAJE CONLLEVA ASPECTOS DE LA COSMOVISION BASTANTE PROFUNDAS QUE NO TOLERAMOS QUE SEA PROFANADA.
Or, in English, "Dear friends: Our profile is based on the cultural reality of Chichicastenango. We are not speculators and do not support our identity being undermined. Our clothing bears aspects of the cosmovision that are so profound that we cannot tolerate them being profaned."
There was a range of opinions. A non-indigenous woman responded that although she was married to a Chichicasteco and had worked for 12 years in defense of indigenous women's rights she had never put on traje because she felt that she lacked the dignity to wear a huipil and corte. Another women responded that to wear traje was showing respect and admiration for different cultures.
On the Facebook page of the director of the Casa, Tomas Morales Calgua (he is a publicly known figure and the Casa is a public institution, so I feel no need to disguise identities here), was a comment specifically about the Miss Guatemala controversy, that generated 127 comments the last time I looked. Tomas' declaration (written with 26 other people) stated: "This is the high insult, that our Chicasteco men's traje, which is not fantasy clothing nor should it be worn by women. Alejandra Barrillas, Miss Guatemala, you should really have thought about a fantasy costume, but not to denigrate clothing that carries in its embroidery a history that is thousands of years old. Where is the respect for traditional clothing that is contained in both international treaties and national laws?"
One commentator, who turned out to be Cuban, and thus not Guatemalan and definitely not Maya, thought that the ceremonial traje should not be defended, as it was a kind of clothing (short fitted pants and a very tailored jacket) that had been brought by the Spanish. Why defend colonial clothing, he asked? There was a vigorous argument between him and several others who argued that since he was a Kaxlan (pronounced cahshlan), which means Castilian, or Spanish, or any kind of foreigner or a white person (depending upon how it's inflected).
Others seemed to agree with the original declaration. One of the last comments addressed how Chichicasteco culture is "rolled out" when dignitaries from other countries come to visit, and that traditional culture should not be treated as a theater piece or a spectacle.
I don't know any of the participants in the debate, but it was interesting to scan, and I will have to explore it more closely as I try to work through my own understanding of the politics of representation.