This article focuses on female-gendered activities in Mesoamerican culture and reveals a strong link between conception, pregnancy, and childbirth on the one hand and weaving and other activities that produce cloth on the other. Supporting evidence from sources such as codices painted during the Postclassic period (13th to 15th centuries) in the northern Maya area indicates that these associations have a longtime depth, spanning at least a millennium. Ethnohistoric sources from highland Guatemala, paired with contemporary practices in that region, provide further insights into beliefs and rituals associated with childbirth and midwifery among prehispanic Maya populations. A review of colonial-period Nahuatl sources provides a comparative perspective for framing the Maya data within the broader context of pre-Conquest Mesoamerica.
Despite the events that have transpired during the past five hundred years in this region, this study finds that many of the elements that were key to this conceptual framework during the Pre-Hispanic period continue to be important today, although their range is more restricted now than it was during the Postclassic and colonial periods. Striking commonalities, as noted, are those that link weaving activities with pregnancy and childbirth. Additionally, objects and iconography related to women and birth—in the form of serpents, umbilical cords, and ropes—tie the act of birth to primordial creation events and highlight the association between midwife and creator grandmother.