A couple of years ago I went to the town of Becal to see the famous hat makers at work. They are renowned for the best sombreros in the Yucatán
It was truly an art ! I was given a guided tour and great explanations of how and what goes into the preparation up to the finished product. They are quite expensive but given the work that is undertaken to produce one hat one can understand why.
To get to Becal from here is quite a distance to travel but do able but the other week I was so excited to find a hat maker much closer to home. Jorge (the hat maker) is actually a relation of a good friend of mine Martha, with whom I lived and worked for ,nearly two years when I first came to the Yucatan .
I was met by Rosalinda , the sister of Martha, on the highway and followed her to the home of her cousin ,Jorge the hat maker.
Jorge , a sweet and gentle man,came to greet us at the gate and promptly introduced himself as he bid me enter the front area of his house.
First he showed me how the palm leaves are cut and opened to dry then onto the softening room where sulpher compound is prepared . Wood put on the fire so that the suloher smoke reaches to all corners of the room. The strands line neatly on a rope along side hats that have already been made.
This process helps make the palms pliable to work with then they go to the cave where the temperature is humid .
His father and grandfather dug out this cave by hand, little by little until they reached the size and depths that would be suitable for weaving.
You will see many larger stones dotted around which they use as seats while the nimble fingers just work away, whilst gossiping or just chatting . I have never seen anything so fast., in and out ,in and out working like machines.
Then off to the sewing shop for the next process. I was astounded at the speed Jorge manages the machine and in 5 mins a hat was made!.
Placing the hats in the sun to dry off some more before the whole process is finished and ready to sell.
Jorge goes to Merida with his cache of hats and sells to the one or two stores that sell Yucatecan hand made articles. One of his busiest times for him is when there is a celebration like Dia de independencia or the upcoming Hanal Pixan (day of the dead) when all the school children participate in making altars in the centre of town . The traditional dress for the boys and men is to wear all white topped off with one of Jorge,s hats and looking muy guapo (very handsome).Sometimes the women wear them ,in this area, for the traditional dance of the pig but these hats are then adorned with flowers. They look ever so pretty !
Sadly though again this is on its way to be a dying art as the younger ones don’t have the same interest in “the old ways”
Jorge sells his hats for a pittance ,( my opinion,) and wonder however can he make a living doing just this. But he is happy and content and also proud of his work.
Did I buy a hat from Jorge….. yes of course I did and I made an order for him to make me some mats for the rooms , made from the same material.