The Quechquémitl, Quezquemetl, also known as Mexican poncho is a garment of pre-Hispanic origin worn by the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica.
The word Quechquémitl comes from the Nahuatl language (language spoken by the ancient inhabitants of Mexico-Tenochtitlan): quechtli= neck and quemitl= garment. This "neck garment" could thus see its origin in the civilizations of the Gulf of Mexico.
Among the civilizations of the Gulf of Mexico, we find the Olmecs, the Totonacs and the Huastecs. For more information, the exhibition "The Olmecs and the cultures of the Gulf of Mexico" stops at the Quai Branly Museum in Paris until Sunday, July 25, 2021. Due to the current health situation, the museum is closed until further notice, but you can enjoy a virtual exhibition of these cultures here.
A symbolic garment
Several female figurines found in the excavations of the archaeological areas bear a quechquémitl, which is thought to be associated with fertility goddesses and would be exclusive to the female nobility of the Mexico City region.
In each quechquémitl, there are symbols that tell a story: that of the craftsman who made it or that of his village, his community, his cosmogony. Its elaboration and composition will depend on the region where it is made. For example, in the states of Puebla and Veracruz, the quechquémitls are elaborated in cotton and wool, regions where the temperatures can become cold.
In pre-Hispanic times, the quechquémitl was a garment that had a variety of symbolism. A very significant example was the two main types of quechquémitls that existed: with or without fringes. This allowed to know if the woman was single (with fringes) or not (without fringes).
As mentioned before, the region where the Quechquémitl is made will decide the way it is made, the symbols, the weaving or the embroidery. The one elaborated by craftswomen of the Mazahua community, in the center of Mexico, will be totally different from the one elaborated by the Tenek community (Huastèques) in the Huasteca Potosina, this one uses more colored embroideries.
The quechquémitl is formed by two rectangular pieces of cloth, often hand-woven, which are sewn together to form a poncho or shawl like garment, which is usually worn hanging from the shoulders.
The quechquémitl with the huipil are two women's clothes of pre-Hispanic origin, which are worn by women of different communities during festivities and rituals.
Even if its use has decreased, it is a garment that has been able to adapt to contemporary times and thus to the taste of modern women.