Friar Landa’s description of the Ichca Huipil

This detailed ceramic funerary figurine from the island of Jaina (off the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula) depicts a warrior wearing an example of an ichca huipil that is in the style of a short sleeved brigandine. It also shows the beaded sort of texture that would support William Gates' ( translator of 'Yucatan, Before and After Conquest', 1978) supposition that the ichca huipil was a garment of tightly knotted cotten, and not packed with salt, as many others have asserted.

This detailed ceramic funerary figurine from the island of Jaina (off the west coast of the Yucatan Peninsula) depicts a warrior wearing an example of an ichca huipil that is in the style of a short sleeved brigandine. It also shows the beaded sort of texture that would support William Gates’ ( translator of ‘Yucatan, Before and After Conquest’, 1978) supposition that the ichca huipil was a garment of tightly knotted cotten, and not packed with salt, as many others have asserted.

Friar Landa in his 1566 manuscript “Yucatan, Before and After Conquest”, gives a couple of contemporary descriptions of the ichca huipil of the Yucatec Maya groups. On page 15 he describes the ichca huipil as “…strong cuirasses made of quilted cotton.” On page 50 he says “They (the Yucatecans) wore protective jackets of cotton, quilted in double thicknesses, which were very strong.” The translator of this book, William Gates, has appended and footnoted Landa’s description here. Gates says in the footnote of page 50 “Landa here again makes the curious mistake before noted, of stating that they wore strong quilted coats of cotton and salt, in two layers. (see page 16).” Well on page 16 Gates says in his footnote “A curious error in the Landa manuscript occurs here, stating that they wore ‘heavy coats of salt and cotton.’ The garment is the well-known ichca huipil, corrupted in Yucatecan to esuypil, of heavy quilted or tied cotton strong enough to withstand arrows. Now in Maya taab (with double a) means to tie, while tab (short a) means salt.The error in the text would seem to have come from a mistranslation by Landa of what was told to him in Maya.”

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