Rumen of donkey hats

There are many handcrafts mastery carved by the magic hand of people from Oaxaca. One of those almost forgotten arts of creating manually genuine high quality products is the elaboration of hats in Miahuatlan de Porfirio Diaz.

We met Don Lucino Martinez, alias "El Machin", at his old fashioned barber shop and he received us with a huge smile and lots of jokes; he told us that he would translate the text into English and when we asked for the name of a gadget of his rudimentary workshop, he just said "Tocho" and then translate it as "penis". Despite his translation abilities and his natural tendency to laugh and tell jokes, Don Lucino is the most famous hat maker in town. He learned how to make hats from his grandfathers Jose Martinez and Apolinar Garcia and then from his father Pedro Martinez. The Martinez is the only family which elaborates this kind of hats, called Rumen of Donkey because of the shape of the hat. Don Lucino proudly tells us that he has had the privilege of being interviewed by newspapers and broadcasters from all the country and, generously, he adds that he is privileged in receiving Exploring Oaxaca in his humble workshop.

The process of making a hat is amazing, it lasts more than a week only to elaborate one of them; it begins with the new wool of the sheep after the cutting. The wool is never washed, this would damage it. Then the wool is carefully cleaned by hand and it is hit with a stick. After that it is brushed with the "Carda", a rudimentary gadget made with two pieces of wood with metal wiring. The process continues with the arch or "Arcada", Don Lucino tells us that his wooden arch is more than 150 years old, it belonged to his grandfather. At the arch the wool ends cleaner and softer. After the arch, he makes sheets with the wool. Then the process becomes more complicated; the wool is put on the hat block or "Horma" and immersed in hot water. The hat is waxed. Then it is colored in hot ink. It is important to mention that he uses ejote de huizache, a string bean, to dye the wool for black and gray hats. The hat in process, on the hat block, is put over an oven and heated only by steam. Then comes the ironing.

These unique hats are used in traditional dances: The gray one is used in "El Guajolote dance" from Miahuatlan. The white one in "El Palomo dance" from Ejutla. The black one is the most luxurious and it is used in "El Jarabe Mixteco".

Fortunately the Martinez family continues the tradition given that Mr. Fernando Martinez, Lucino's brother, has taught his sons how to create these amazing hats.

Don Lucino is a talkative man and he tells us that, many years ago, when peasants came to the open market, they used to carry some fruits and vegetables on the wings of the hats.

Don Lucino usually works at night or at dawn because he says that the heat during the process is really high.

We left Don Lucino at his old fashioned barber shop, a really warm man, proud of what he creates, joyful to show, patiently and politely, everybody his art, because what he does it is truly an art, one that has to be preserved for future generations, the art of creating Rumen of Donkey hats.

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