The Tlacolula Valley is located east of the city of Oaxaca de Juarez. The valley is home to the pre-Hispanic sites of Mitla and Yagul, as well as what’s claimed to be the world’s biggest tree. Many of the best weavings you’ll see can also be found in this valley. In fact, some of the communities we work with are considered to have the most famous weaving cultures in Mexico.
On our tours you will gain unique insights into our partner communities’ cultures and lifestyles. Read further to find out where we work and to learn more about each community.
Our Partner Communities
Teotitlán del Valle
In Náhuatl, Teotitlán means: “Land of Gods." It is considered to be the first town in this area founded by the Zapotecs. A legend says that the Zapotecs crossed the mountain named Picacho (which can be seen from the church courtyard), looked down from its peak and chose to settle in the valley below.
Teotitlán is famous for its weavings, which have been a popular artisanal activity since pre-hispanic times. The Spanish introduced the loom and wool yarn, which the Zapotecs incorporated into their existing weaving tradition – resulting in the beautiful tapetes (rugs) which are produced to this day. Most people in Teotitlán speak both Zapotec and Spanish.
In Teotitlán we work with many incredible artisan weavers as well as women who raise chickens, sell goods at the market, have small storefronts, and more.
Santa María Guelacé
In Zapotec, Guelacé means “corn field," or in Spanish, “milpa de elote." In Zapotec, gulá means milpa/cornfield and xeé means elote/corn, hence the name, “milpa de elote.”
Oral tradition says that the inhabitants of Guelacé are descendants of the people of San Juan Teitipac, the community to which the land of Guelacé once belonged when the area was being colonized by the Spanish. During this period, as the story goes, “in the season when the corn was tender” 26 people left their fields to set up their homes in what is now called Guelacé.
Guelacé is still a small community with about 800 inhabitants and still primarily dedicated to agriculture.
San Sebastián Abasolo
There are no historical documents that say exactly how Abasolo was founded, but there are three places in town where pre-colonial artifacts have been found. Current residents of the town consider the hill Danni Yeri a historic site because near the stream there is a tunnel, which they believe ancient peoples used to travel to the lands of Zaachila, a Oaxacan town some 20 kilometers away.
For some time, the land where Abasolo sits was considered part of San Jerónimo Tlacochahuaya's territory. In 1670 natives from Tlacochahuaya began to build huts out in the fields to tend their animals and crops. Over the years an entirely new community was formed. In 1878 San Sebastián Abasolo was officially founded and ceased to belong to Tlacochahuaya.
The town is largely agricultural, specializing in the production of beans, garlic, and chiles de agua (used to make the dish chiles rellenos). It is also common for families to raise sheep, chickens, cows, bulls and other livestock in their backyards. Many women in Abasolo produce Oaxaca’s famous queso fresco, a fresh salty cheese.
San Marcos Tlapazola
Tlapazola was founded in 1685, although there are some indications that people had settled there before then. Almost all of its population (approx. 1000 inhabitants) are indigenous and speak Zapotec.
Its name comes from the name of one of their saints, San Marcos Evangelista and Tlapazola, which means "lugar de la codorniz" (the place of the quail). There is not much information about the origin of this name.
The main economic activities in Tlapazola are agriculture and the production of red pottery, which is becoming increasingly recognized. A very big part of the population are in the United States, many working to send money back to Tlapazola.
Every year, San Marcos Tlapazola celebrates la Feria del Barro Rojo (festival of red clay) towards the end of Guelaguetza (July).
San Juan Guelavía
It is said that when people began to populate the area of Guelavía, they asked their neighboring communities for a saint to give them a name and to protect them. San Juan Bautista was given as a remainder from the parish office in Macuilxochitl, but when they realized how valuable the image was, they asked for it back.
According to the legend, the people gave back the image to the parish but the image kept returning to the inhabitants of what is now known as the community of Guelavía. This happened repeatedly - the image would reappear again in Guelavía despite having been moved to the parish. And that is where the name San Juan, for San Juan Bautista and Guelavía comes from. In the Zapotec of the region, Guelavía means "return at midnight".
The economic activity in Guelavía is varied, including many shop-owners, tortilla-makers and bakers. The community is known for baskets woven out of carrizo (reed) but this is most commonly the work of the men. The population of Guelavía is approximately 3000.
San Miguel del Valle
San Miguel del Valle is a Zapotec community and Zapotec is still most of its people’s primary language. Even though they are only 15 km apart, the Zapotec in San Miguel del Valle and Teotitlán del Valle have distinctly different dialects.
Many of our borrowers in San Miguel are embroidery artists. As you enter town you can’t help but notice the striking outfits worn by all the women in the community. The typical dress in San Miguel includes brightly colored dresses with elaborately pleated skirts and richly embroidered aprons. Though this is not the traditional dress of San Miguel it is the typical dress and it is distinctive to this town. If you know the area, you can look around a large market and see where different women are from by the cut of their dress and the style of their apron.
According our borrowers, it was not until the late 20th century that San Miguel developed its town center. Until that time most people in the community lived and worked on ranches and farms in the foothills of the Sierra Norte mountain range. Around the 1970s several forces converged that encouraged people to start building homes in town. The weaving trade in San Miguel was developing at this time, giving residents a way to earn money from within their homes rather than in the field. Men also started to go to the U.S. to work in larger numbers and the money they sent back helped pay for construction. At the same time services like electricity and water also became more readily available in town.
In San Miguel we work with a mix of artisans (weavers, seamstresses, and embroidery artists) and women whose businesses cater to the local community (women who make tortillas and tamales, raise chickens, have small store fronts, and more).