Lately, I have seen some Doula and Midwives community discussing the cultural appropriation of the rebozo. I honestly believe the rebozo is an amazing technique that, if learned properly, can be very helpful for doulas and midwives from all over the world. My objective is to point out what it is important to consider from a cultural perspective, when using a rebozo, to support women during childbirth.
If you still don’t know what a rebozo is, let me give you a brief explanation. The rebozo is a hand-made shawl-like cloth (also can be described as a scarf, poncho, or stole depending on its dimensions) that takes some weeks in the making and it is normally made of natural fabrics such as cotton or silk. The waiving of rebozos has been part of the Mexican culture for centuries, although it was not always called that.
From before the Spanish conquerors arrived in Mexico and Central America, the ancient cultures such as the Mayans, Mixtecs, Aztecs, and many more have developed waving and embodiment techniques to create cotton clothing and accessories, including the shawls that later became known as Rebozos. The colors, fabrics, and designs are characteristics of not only the region they come from but also the influences the family had from other cultures.
When the Spanish and other cultures arrived in Mexico, the use of these colorful clothes evolved with the introduction of new materials and modern waving techniques. The edges of the rebozo became hand-knitted works of art resembling the Spanish lace “Mantillas” that the Spanish women used on their heads, those ones influenced by the Chinese shawls, and other mention the North – American Indians because of the patterns. This multicultural fusion created the rebozo as we know it. The name “Rebozo” comes from the art of “rebozar” which is a kitchen technique of covering the food with some extra flour and then fried it, and it also means “to cover” something or someone.
Nowadays the Rebozo is a piece of art and fashion that characterizes the Mexican Culture, even though it is also given some uses in some countries in Central and South America. The rebozo on its more modern way and as fashion icon, is used in Mexico by all social classes and in many different contexts. I for example, used it on my wedding day! A beautiful mint hand-made silk rebozo was part of my wedding outfit and I loved it. Many people use it as an accessory in special events such as weddings and graduations, others use it as dresses, scarfs, blankets, etc. The rebozo is ours, and we are happy to share it with the world because we are very proud of it.
And, as I explained before the rebozo style is characteristic of the region it is made of, there is not just “one type”. Every year in different towns, there are festivals celebrating the artisans that create the rebozos. The ones that make the rebozos are very skilled artisans, normally from indigenous communities, that have inherited the craft for generations and now they are making efforts to keep the tradition alive by opening “Rebozo waiving schools” and welcoming people from all over the country and abroad.
But what about the rebozo used during childbirth? In this case, we need to go back to the pre-conquer times. The traditional midwives were common in all Mesoamerica and some of them used clothes, wraps, and ropes to help the mothers during labor. After the conquer the use of the rebozo extended by traditional midwives spread especially in the south of Mexico and Central America, in areas like Oaxaca and Chiapas, where traditional midwifery was not yet regulated, and it is still a way to support the women in communities where access to gynecological care is hundreds of kilometers away. The art of using the rebozo as an extension of the midwife hands has grown and adjusted to modern times and now it is used in many countries by professional midwives. These because the use of this technique has been passed to not only Mexican midwives and doulas but also foreigners that travel to Mexico every year to learn about it.
The same as rebozo artisans are fighting to keep their tradition alive, the traditional midwives are opening their knowledge to people outside their communities that are committed to learn from them and honor the traditions. Doulas like me, that we are not from an indigenous background, at least not that I know, but modern women who are looking for gentle ways to support other women. Moreover, as far as I have noticed when talking with traditional Mexican midwives, they are glad to show this knowledge to professionals outside our borders because they believe that this will keep the tradition going on for future generations.
What I believe is:
Who has the right to learn it? Everyone with the blessing of a traditional midwife from Latin America from the regions where it is used like Mexico and Guatemala.
Who has the right to teach it to other professionals? I believe only a traditional midwife or doula should teach it, and we need to offer proper compensation for their knowledge. Now there are some midwives who are offering their knowledge online and there are also some organizations that offer special training if you travel to Mexico for learning.
Who has the right to use it within the childbirth context? All birth professionals who have been properly trained by a Traditional Midwife and, most important, are willing to give respect to this traditional technique.
What rebozo should I use? Please buy it directly from the artisans and direct distributors so this art does not fade away. The price not only supports their families but also offers validation to the traditional rebozo waiving and gives you a unique piece that will last all your life. Avoid buying cheap industrially made copies, especially if you are a professional using the rebozo as an important part of your work.
I believe that in this way we can honor the rebozo the way this beautiful technique deserves it.
Naoli Vinaver - Traditional Mexican Midwife
Trueba, G. (2002). Comfort Measures of Childbirth: Using the Rebozo. Midwifery Today, BirthKit, 4–5.
Bernal, M. (2018, November 5). Tendrá Tenancingo su primera escuela del rebozo. El Sol de Toluca. https://www.elsoldetoluca.com.mx/local/tendra-tenancingo-su-primera-escuela-del-rebozo-2619789.html
Notimex. (2018, January 23). Rebozo mexicano: Una tradición que podría llegar a desaparecer. El Sol de Toluca. https://www.elsoldetoluca.com.mx/cultura/rebozo-mexicano-una-tradicion-que-podria-llegar-a-desaparecer-686811.html
Aristegui Noticias. (2015, May 14). “El rebozo. Made in Mexico”, en el Museo Franz Mayer. https://aristeguinoticias.com/1405/kiosko/el-rebozo-made-in-mexico-en-el-museo-franz-mayer-video/