Highway 200 passes a block north of the main Pinotepa market, by the big, fenced-in secondary school, on the west side, about a mile west of the central plaza. Despite the Pinotepa market’s oft-exotic goods—snakes, iguanas, wild mountain fruits, forest herbs, and spices—its people, nearly entirely Mixtec, are its main attraction, especially on the big Monday market day.
Men wear pure white loose cottons, topped by woven palm-leaf hats. Women wrap themselves in their lovely striped purple, violet, red, and navy blue pozahuanco—saronglike, horizontally striped skirts. Many women carry atop their heads a polished tan jicara (gourd bowl), which, although it’s not supposed to, looks like a whimsical hat.
Older women (and younger ones with babies at their breasts) go bare-breasted with only their white huipiles draped over their chests as a concession to mestizo custom. Others wear an easily removable mandil, a light cotton apron-halter above their pozahuancos.
To a coastal Mixtec woman, her pozahuanco (wraparound skirt) is a lifetime investment symbolizing her maturity and social status, something that she expects to pass on to her daughters. Heirloom pozahuancos are of hand-spun thread, dyed in several shades.
Women dye them by hand, always including a pair of necessary colors: a light purple (morada) from secretions of tidepool-harvested snails, Purpura patula pansa; and silk dyed scarlet red with cochineal, a dye extracted from the scale insect Dactylopius coccus, cultivated in the Valley of Oaxaca .
Increasingly, women are weaving pozahuancos with synthetic thread, which has a slippery feel compared to the hand-spun cotton. Consider yourself lucky if you can get a traditionally made pozahuanco for as little as $100. If someone offers you a look-alike for $20, you know it’s an imitation, made of machine-made polyester thread and synthetic dyes.
A few women can ordinarily be found offering colorful pozahuancos, made with cheaper synthetic thread, for about $30. The women told me that traditional all-handmade pozahuancos are more commonly available in outlying market towns, notably Pinotepa Don Luis .