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Wool animals are made in San Juan Chamula, Chiapas by Tzotzil women. Colorful and joyful the hand crafted animals that express the soul of their makers have quickly become a favorite among Mexican folk art lovers.
The Tzotzil language belongs to the family of the Mayan languages. Tztoziles have not only preserved their language but most of their costumes including their traditional dresses.
Traditional men's clothing consists of a shirt called coton, short pants, neckerchief, hat, and wool poncho. Traditional women's clothing is a huipil and an enredo, a cotton sash, and a shawl. The garments are woven by the women with wool and cotton.
The Tzotzil from the area known as Chamula resisted the Spanish conquistadores and when they lost the war fled leaving nothing for the invaders. Unable to obtain service or tribute from them, the Spaniards left, and the Tzoltzil returned to their lands.
Later on the Tzotziles were assigned as vassals to the encomiendas given by the Spanish Crown to the conquistadores.
Once the Spanish colony was established, the Tzotzil were exploited as laborers by the Spaniards who owned most of the land and dominated commerce. A rigid caste system which divided the different ethnic groups led them to revolt in 1528, 1712 and 1868.
The situation of the Tzoltzil worsened when in 1863, laws enacted by President Benito Juárez stripped the Indian towns of their corporate lands, forcing the Tzotzil to become debt-indentured laborers on farms owned by the Ladinos.
The Revolution War did not change the living conditions of ethnic groups in Chiapas and from the 1980's as the coffee prices collapsed and many laborers were left without work the Tzotzil were forced to found other economic activities.
Originally wool animals were crafted by the women with the remnants of the cloths woven for the family and were given to the children as toys. Soon costumers' preferences and suggestions encouraged the artisans to make different animals and to use bolder colors.
As it has happened with other indigenous artisans in the country some Tzotzil women have organized themselves in cooperatives that sell their crafts to fair trade centers in Mexico City. This way they help each other and they have an outlet outside Chiapas that pays a fair price for their crafts.
In the recent years as the stuffed animals from Chiapas have become more popular some mass produced imitations made with wool or even cotton machine woven cloths can be found in curious stores. The difference is obvious for those who have seen the authentic animals.