Morelos Handicrafts: The Product of Human Creativity

In the state of Morelos, several towns have preserved traditions in the elaboration of various types of handicrafts that have positioned Morelos as one of the places with more options for handicrafts in the country.

Morelos Handicrafts: The Product of Human Creativity
Morelos handicrafts: an anonymous production. Images: Gobierno Morelos

Many national and foreign visitors proudly return to their places of origin with handicrafts they acquired in Cuernavaca's Zócalo. Many times they boast these handicrafts as authentically Morelos, without realizing that they are the product of the creativity of migrants from Guerrero. What happens, then, with Morelos handicrafts, is there production of this type?

To answer these questions we have to refer to the following reflection: if handicrafts are the product of human creativity, this implies a whole process of who made them, what for, how they made them, and under what circumstances they did it. In this sense, let us first describe the craft tradition.

It is a knowledge that is taught and transmitted from generation to generation, it fundamentally involves manual work with individual techniques and the production of handicrafts is generally complementary to other economic activities carried out by the family to achieve subsistence.

The handicraft activity is mainly located in rural areas and is a secondary activity of the peasantry, for whom their agricultural production is the main source of income for self-sufficiency and commercialization; therefore, handicrafts only increase the income of these families to a subsistence level, not a profit.

Craft production has its logic, in which the materials or raw materials used to elaborate the objects, the technology, and the final product are related, according to their particular form of reproduction in the domestic unit or family. In this way, many of the instruments or work tools are made by the head of the family or acquired in the industrial market, but they are of a very basic, rudimentary, or simple type.

Artisans do not have a rigid schedule; it depends on their rhythm, defined by the need to earn money and by the agricultural cycle; the labor force is made up of the children and the wife, with the father being the master artisan; in this way, there is a division of labor by sex and age.

Subsistence production or production for subsistence, "to survive" or "to get by", satisfies the self-sufficiency needs of the same producer or artisan, but generally produces more than what is required and the surplus is offered to a local and an extra-local market. Because of the latter, the artisanal activity must also be understood in terms of the differential consumption of its products.

On the one hand, the one destined for popular consumption is directed to peers, to people of the towns or communities that are not dedicated to it and that need the handicrafts for domestic and daily use. On the other hand, that which is made for consumption by tourists is aimed at people with higher incomes than those of the people of the villages, for whom the value acquired by the products is aesthetic and sumptuary.

Within the local market (from producer to producer) we could speak of "a production of the poor for the poor", where it will satisfy daily or seasonal needs. where it goes to satisfy daily or seasonal needs. This type of handicrafts, which due to the logic in which they are produced have little monetary value in the face of the global commercialization system, has an accessible price for the very low-income of agricultural producers.

Morelos Handicrafts in Cuernavaca: A History of the Craft Tradition
Morelos Handicrafts in Cuernavaca: A History of the Craft Tradition

Handcrafts, Household Goods, and Agriculture

The main products are construction materials such as palm roofs or adobes (in rural areas, not in urban areas such as Cuernavaca, where this type of material is used for luxurious houses); household goods such as palm weavings to make chairs or furniture, a product of the creativity of artisans from Temixco and Jojutla; pottery pots, apaxtles, pots, jugs, comales, etc., molded in Cuentepec, Acentepec, Acentepec and Cuernavaca, molded in Cuentepec, Acamilpa, Tlayacapan, and Telixtac.

The carpentry as developed in Hueyapan and Tepoztlán; the coarse and imitated pottery of Colonia Tres de Mayo in Emiliano Zapata; and the basketry of large bread baskets, baskets, chiquihuites, atarrayas, pizotes, and woven reed traps in Jojutla and Tepoztlán; basketry for collecting and storing the harvest, saddlery for saddle girths, huaraches and straps worked in Yecapixtla, Jojutla, Cuautla, Quebrantadero, Temimilcingo, Tilzapotla, and Ixtlilco el Grand.

The wrought iron of the Cuautla and Quebrantadero workshops; the carving of wood to sculpt saddles and yuntas; and, finally, the clothing such as the woolen gabanes, shawls, sashes, and chincuetes that are woven on a backstrap loom in Hueyapapan.

To satisfy seasonal consumption, which is linked to festive use, there are handcrafted articles used in ceremonies, rites, or religious, civic, political, or historical celebrations. In this category are the clothing of the dancers and their accessories such as the famous chinelos, whose manufacture has spread to almost every corner of Morelos, highlighting the designs of Yautepec, Tepoztlán, and Tlayacapan, the Moors and Christians, the native dances such as the Aztec, the conchos, etc.

There are also abundant potters, whose ingenuity molds the sahumerios to receive the dead at All Saints, for the limpias and for the offerings against the air, and also the figurines of the air made of clay in the shape of animals, archangels, and other amorphous figures that are made in Tlayacapan.

Another craft that stands out is the famous escamadas: the candles beautifully and profusely decorated with multicolored flowers impregnated with diamantine, very much to the taste of the patron saint celebrated, molded by the skillful hands of the artisans of Tlayacapan, Axochiapan, and Ocotepec.

Morelos Handicrafts and the Craft Tradition
Morelos Handicrafts and the Craft Tradition

Craftsmanship: Its Usefulness, Its Utilitarian Value, and Its Consumer-Awareness

Crafts for ritual or ceremonial use require specialized knowledge, the product of an apprenticeship that the master begins at an early age and that over time will allow him to contribute his novel elements to fulfill a specific function, which will allow him to maintain the essence of the creative activity. Craftsmanship in general is a product of the interests and objectives of the person who makes it, to satisfy the material and spiritual needs of the people as a whole.

That is to say, although it is individual work with its contributions, it reflects the collective expression; it is an art created by artists of the people for the consumption of the same, therefore, and reiterating on the matter, it gathers and expresses the feeling of a group and its aesthetic conception, at the same time that it carries a utilitarian value that remains constant in its daily life.

When handicraft production meets an extra-local consumer public, that is to say, national or foreign tourism, it acquires other characteristics of the essence and therefore objectives. Its use value is transformed into an aesthetic value determined by the consumer: what he finds beautiful is what he buys. Thus, the chinelo mask that kept in anonymity the dancer who made a promise now adorns the wall of the one who acquired it.

The chiquihuites that contained the corncob to be shelled and the bowls for the kitchen are transformed into flowerpots located in the corridors of the garden. And so, each object that for the artisan and his people had a meaning that identified them with their cultural forms is now valued with criteria foreign to the original ones, they are given a mere ornamental value that is loaded with symbols of a supposed national identity.

The Product of Human Creativity: Morelos Handicrafts
The Product of Human Creativity: Morelos Handicrafts

Handicrafts of Morelos: A Cultural Context for Tourism

For the most part, Morelos artisans continue to produce for a local market, and for this reason, their objects are not known to tourists, unless they get close to their daily life by visiting and living in their context, in their fairs and festivities. There one discovers handicrafts that, although not as colorful and decorated as those from Guerrero, Oaxaca, or Chiapas, are beautiful and above all satisfy real consumer needs.

However, not oblivious to the tourist demand, artisans have increased the production of ornamental pieces such as clay fountains painted with fashionable colors, pitchers and flowerpots of profuse shapes and colors made in Amayuca and Salvatierra; rainsticks, teponaxtles, curtains, and mobiles made of bamboo in Tepoztlán; and cages of Arabian shapes in Tetelcingo.

All of the above was introduced some decades ago to the state by residents from Mexico City or abroad. The wood carving of pochote houses and miniature chinelos in Tepoztlán and the elaboration of miniature cuexcomates in Chalcantzingo are manifestations of the creativity of the people of Morelos.

The latter is an activity of recent development, which emerged just seven years ago thanks to the ingenuity of a master for the construction of life-size cuexcomates (more than two meters high) who came up with the idea of making them in miniature; and so the traditional Morelos granary now adorns a table, a desk or a bookcase of a professional or civil servant.

The consumer of this type of craftsmanship demands individual and manual work, creative, but at the same time with a fine finish and in detail. This implies for the artisan to have better equipment, for example, gas ovens to fire the clay at high temperatures, in addition to the need to hire non-family labor for times of high demand. Mass production continues to be a minority because the consumer demands good creative and innovative work, but manual and traditional.

We can conclude then, that there is a very diverse and vigorous handicraft production in Morelos, the result of a great tradition but immersed in a subsistence system, so it is little known and valued by other groups of society. Thus, when we visit a town to attend a fair, let's take a walk through the tianguis or the market and observe the crafts that are sold there; let's approach people's homes and discover their crafts; so we can give them their fair value, recognizing the true artisan handicrafts production of Morelos.

By Tonantzin Ortiz Rodríguez

Sources: General Direction of Popular Cultures and Morelos Regional Unit of Popular Cultures, Correo del Maestro No.32.