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Tenango embroidered representation of the Otomi culture

Tenango embroidered representation of the Otomi culture


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When we talk about Mexican embroidery, it is important to highlight that there is not a single style or a single technique, on the contrary, in Mexico various types of embroidery coexist and there are great textile artists. The tenango is a type of embroidered textile that is made in the municipalities of Tenango de Doria, Hidalgo, and Pahuatlan de Valle, Puebla. They are blanket canvases of different sizes, in which the embroiderers illustrate the flora and fauna of the region and scenes of daily and festive life. Each figure is embroidered with cotton threads using the “cross past” technique.

San Nicolas is an Otomí – Tepehua community located 8 kilometers from the Tenango de Doria municipality, in the mountains of the state of Hidalgo; Known as “the cradle of embroidery” because a large part of its population is dedicated to the drawing and embroidery of the tenango which in Nahuatl conception means “place of the walls”. For the artisans, the embroidery of these artistic pieces are artistic representations of their culture, their environment, their festivals, their dances, their beliefs, the flora and fauna that surrounds them; Generally, they are embroidered with colors that represent the state of mind of the person who embroiders them.

The tenango not only represents an embroidery technique or the style of the region, the tenango is cultural heritage that symbolizes the importance of a date, the remembrance of an event, the meaning of an identity and the importance of local biodiversity. The tenango is often embroidered with motifs representing festivities, the day of the dead, the harvest, religion, daily life, natural landscapes and animals, demonstrating respect and symbolic devotion.

Each color used for tenango embroidery is specially selected in relation to the meaning of the image to be embroidered. In the past, embroidery was only made with red and black threads, which represented good and evil. Subsequently, they began to experiment more with embroidery and the colors they wanted to implement, adding much more vivid colors, also designed to give a special meaning to each one. Using green as the new representative of vegetation, orange as fire, blue as the moon, brown as earth, red as good and black as evil.

Embroidery arose in 1960 thanks to the commercial exchange between San Nicolas, Tenango de Doria, and San Pablito, Pahuatlan de Valle. During the days of the market, embroiderers from Tenango came to sell napkins and blanket tablecloths made with the “cross stitch” technique. One day, whoever bought them suggested that they change the “stitch”, an “easier” one, which would allow them to do the embroideries in less time. The embroiderers decided to use the technique “to the crossed past” and since the textiles were exchanged immediately, they preferred to continue with this way of elaboration.

During the first years napkins and tablecloths were made; The drawn figures were embroidered with colored cotton threads, alluding to the traditional blouse of the region, and with red and black colors, representing the cave paintings found in the El Cirio cave. Subsequently, since the 1990s, due to the increase in distribution channels and market demand, they decided to make other objects that they did not commonly embroider, such as clothing, pillowcases, curtains, bags, bookmarks, and earrings, among others.

Nowadays, textile production is carried out both in Tenango de Doria and in Pahuatlan de Valle, and for several years, in the municipality of San Bartolo Tutotepec, due to the quantity and variety of embroideries that are now manufactured in the region, the embroiderers of Tenango de Doria have established certain categories to define their textiles as authentic and thus be recognized. An original tenango is one elaborated in its entirety by the same person, that is to say, that the drawing has been made by also the embroiderer. Textile manufacturing is considered a creative activity that cannot be interrupted; As they draw, they think about what colors each figure should have.

Currently, this form of production is unusual given the dynamics of the market, which is why the embroiderers have added to the definition of original embroidery, that it be done by someone who belongs to one of the towns of Tenango de Doria, as a kind of “Appellation of origin”.

Another characteristic is the way of embroidering, the technique “to the crossed past” must be carried out properly to prevent the blanket and the traces of the drawing from being seen through the threads. The back of the textile should not have folds and the stitch should only be seen as a line that marks the outline of each figure. For the embroiderers, the technique is one of the identification criteria because it expresses specific knowledge of certain localities, which through learning from generation to generation have been perfected.

The choice and combination of colors also allows defining whether or not it is an original tenango; for embroiderers they must be contrasting with each other, different from the representation of the figure and, by means of them, mark the details of the drawing. Some use the first combinations, black with red, and others prefer to embroider with colored threads. Recently, they embroider with a single color, either by request of the buyer or because this allows them to finish an embroidery in less time, thus they do not invest time in choosing and combining colors according to the created composition.

With each of these elements or with all of them together, the embroiderers determine if a textile was made in their locality. Likewise, these elements are used to establish borders in terms of ethnic identity; They are forms of manufacturing that correspond only to the population that belongs to one of the localities of Tenango de Doria.

In April 2016, the Pottery Barn and Williams Sonoma stores incorporated into their sales catalog pillows embroidered with the technique and iconography typical of the tenangos. Through social networks, a Mexican woman residing in Chula Vista, California, requested signatures that were gathered on the page for the company to stop the production of “Otomi textiles” in China and to stop marketing them. Although the required number of signatures were not obtained, the pillows were removed from the display areas of the stores located in Mexico City (Polanco and Plaza Oasis).

We cannot continue cultivating the plagiarism of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of the Original Nations for commercial purposes that favor private consortia. Both these motifs and their technique have an owner and it is the indigenous communities who have preserved them through the tradition of their preparation until today. Similarly, civil associations have denounced the cultural appropriation of the tenangos, considering them part of the cultural heritage of Mexico.

The tenango is a unique piece, a craft created in the day to day of the artisan, the inspiration is always different, every day is different and that is why from its conception a tenango is a remarkable and unrepeatable piece, not only in its design but also in the orientation of the embroidery and the combination of colors. The embodied drawings are particular interpretations of reality and come from the imagination, which makes all the embroideries unique.