Pedro de Alvarado’s account of the long-coat ichca huipil

A beautiful example of the long-coat ichca huipil, here seen on another Jaina island funerary figurine from the classic Maya period. Aside from his long-coat, a couple of other articles of armor are present on this figure that will be discussed later. This picture is from the Kerr portfolio at the FAMSI website.

A beautiful example of the long-coat ichca huipil, here seen on another Jaina island funerary figurine from the classic Maya period. Aside from his long-coat, a couple of other articles of armor are present on this figure that will be discussed later. This picture is from the Kerr portfolio at the FAMSI website.

An interesting description of the long-coat ichca huipil from the conquest era comes down to us from the so-called conquistador of Guatemala, Pedro de Alvarado, from 1524. In a letter to Hernando Cortes, Alvarado describes a battle with the Highland Maya in which his army engages warriors clothed in this extremely heavy version of the ichca huipil.
‘… because they came so heavily armed that those who fell to the ground could not get up – their arms being corselets of cotton three fingers thick, reaching to their feet, and arrows, and long lances…’
These long coats are mainly to be seen on classic era ceramic figurines, so it is great to have an account from the conquest era showing that the use of this form of armor continued in use (at least in some areas) for probably at least eight hundred years. The translation I used is from the book ‘Invading Guatemala’ pp. 41-42.

The Anonymous Conqueror’s description of the Ichca Huipil

A portrayal of the ichca huipil from the codex Azcatitlan. This post-conquest Nahua codex clearly shows the fastening at the front, least of the ichca huipils used by the nations in the valley of Mexico.

A portrayal of the ichca huipil from the codex Azcatitlan. This post-conquest Nahua codex clearly shows the fastening at the front, least of the ichca huipils used by the nations in the valley of Mexico.

The Anonymous Conqueror was an unknown soldier with Cortez’s army, who later wrote a detailed account of the people, manners, architecture, warfare, armor and weapons of the Aztecs. He left some very valuable descriptions of the war gear of the Aztec and the surrounding nations. This description is from Chapter 4 of his account.

‘The armor which they use in war are certain loose garments like doublets made of quilted cotton, a finger and a half thick, and sometimes two fingers; they are very strong.’

A terse, but fairly detailed description.

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.”