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Yucatan Before and After the Conquest, by Diego de Landa, tr. William Gates, [1937], at


The Indian women of Yucatan are in general of better build than the Spaniards, larger and well formed. They lack the large haunches of negresses. Those who are beautiful are quite vain of it, and indeed they are not bad looking; they are dark-skinned, caused more by their constant bathing and by the sun, than naturally; they do not powder their faces as our women do, regarding this as immodest. They have a habit of filing their teeth, saw fashion, as a matter of elegance; this is done for them by the old women, using certain stones and water.

They pierce the cartilage of the nose within, to take a stone of amber for adornment. They also pierce the ears for rings, in the manner of their husbands; they tattoo the body from the waist up, leaving the breasts for nursing reasons, the patterns being more delicate and beautiful than those of the men. They bathe constantly, like the men, in cold water, but with little reserve, going stripped into the places where they go for water. They also bathe in hot water, heated by fire; this is however rather for sake of health than cleanliness.

Their custom is to rub themselves with a red ointment, like their husbands; those who can do so add an odoriferous and very sticky gum which I take to be liquidambar, and which they call istahté. This ointment they apply to a sort of briquet like soap, decorated with fancy designs, rubbing it on their breasts, arms and shoulders, until they are very gallant and odorous, as they feel; it lasts a long time without disappearing, according to the quality of the ointment.

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They wear the hair very long, which they used to and still do arrange in very fine tresses, parted in two parts, and made use of to build up the coiffure. When the young girls go to be married, their mothers go to such pains in arranging their hair, and use such skill, as that I have seen many with their coiffures as fine as those of the most coquettish Spanish women. The little girls, not grown up, wear theirs in two or four plaits which become them well.

The Indian women of the coast, of the province of Bak-halal and of Campeche, are more modest in their costume; besides the skirt which they wear from the waist down, they cover the breasts with a double mantle fastened below the armpits. As to the others, their sole garment is a long wide sack, open at the sides, reaching to the thighs and there fastened by its own ends; besides this they have only the mantle in which they always sleep. and which when on the road they carry doubled and rolled, and wrapped up.

Next: XXXII. Chastity And Education of the Indian Women of Yucatan. Their Chief Qualities and Their Household Economy. Their Devotion and the Special Observances at the Time of Childbirth