Though there are many beautiful crafts in the state of Oaxaca, one of the most famous are the Alebrijes. Though, technically they’re the only craft from Mexico City, the oaxaqueños craftsmen have done a pretty good job as well. An alebrije is mystical, magical, fantastic creature with animal features, horns, tails and some human characteristics.
In the 1930’s, a Oaxacan piñata maker named Pedro Linares, who was living in Mexico City, got sick. While he was delirious, he saw in his dreams a colorful creature so amazing that as soon as he got better, he tried to create it in cardboard and paper mache (the building materials of a piñata). Linares claimed that when the creature appeared in his dream it was yelling “Alebrijes!”, thus that’s how he named those animals.
Linares’ family has continue doing alebrijes until present days and they’ve gained worldwide fame because of the variety of their work. Their process, however, is protected by law; in México the commercialization of crafts is illegal unless is acknowledged by the community and the region they are from. This means that no state, besides the Federal District (México City) can produce, sell or commercialize with cardboard and paper mache alebrijes.
In Oaxaca, unlike in Mexico City, the alebrijes are made out of wood, and that sole difference makes them legal to be a craft from Oaxaca. This is the mixture of what Pedro Linares created and the indigenous woodcarving tradition. Animal carvings had been a part of the Zapotec culture since before the Spaniards arrived. But, I really think the main difference is Oaxaca’s alebrijes last longer, because of the material they’re made of.
The reason the alebrijes are so popular is because of its explosion of colors, the imagination the craftsmen put into creating so many different creatures, the dedication on the details and the finishing touches. No two alebrijes are the same, and there is also no wrong choice, the one you chose is the right one for you.
So, what are you waiting for, come to Oaxaca and search for your own.
[photos courtesy of howlita, eeliuth and anjči]