Traditionally clothing communicated a person’s social status within their community. Participation in cofradías, Catholic confraternities, increases one’s social status in many Maya villages. In other communities, one’s position in the cargo system, a hierarchy of civil and religious offices, contributes to a person’s status. In many of these communities, a person’s social status and position in the civil-religious hierarchy is marked by the carrying cloth (tzute) he uses or the type of sandals he wear.
High-backed sandals such as these indicate that a man is a pasado, a highly respected village elder who has passed through all of the positions in the civil-religious hierarchy. He has served his community well and can be relied on to instruct the younger generations based on his years of experience as a village leader. The tradition of elders wearing such sandals originates in the pre-Hispanic period. Ancient Mayan statues depict elders and leaders wearing sandals very similar to those worn by village elders today.
This tzute (headcloth) on the left above, when worn by a man, indicates his high status as a member of acofradia or Catholic confraternity. This tzute is made of cotton, except for the silk tassels. It is brocaded with animals. The image on the right is a detail of the brocade. The rest of the cofradia outfit is shown below and includes a wool jacket and pants. While the jacket is plain, the pants are embroidered with various designs using silk floss. This outfit would be worn only on special occasions and for cofradia events.