Marine purple dye: a color from indigenous Mexico

By Camilla Fratini and Dzahui Bautista Moreno | 12 August 2022

The project aims to investigate and document, through the ethnographic research and the collection of audio-visual material, the production of the marine purple dye in the indigenous communities of the West Coast of Oaxaca State (Mexico). The dye is produced through the fluid that a particular marine gastropod mollusc secretes from the hypobranchial gland. The indigenous Mixtecs obtain the color, destined to dye some of their traditional textiles, without harming in any way the animal and the environment – a completely eco-sustainable activity. This practice has its origins in the pre-Hispanic time when marine purple was a color considered of great value, both symbolic and commercial, and was widespread throughout Central and South America. Nowadays, due to the disintegration of local economies and the spread of synthetic dyes, only a few Mixtec families engage in pigment production, and the practice will be soon lost. The loss of knowledge and practices related to marine purple, historically known as Tyrian Purple, concerns the whole of humanity, which would thus lose an heritage that, disappeared for centuries in many other areas of the world, is now only barely preserved in one small corner of the planet.

Recovering the history and the marine purple production methods, the project intends, on the one hand, to highlight the contradictions arising from the processes of valorisation of intangible cultural heritage and, on the other hand, to investigate the potential of the marine purple dye as a tool for building an intercultural dialogue in museums, through active participation of indigenous communities.

 

PI:
Camilla Fratini

Collaborators:
Dzahui Bautista Moreno

Location of Research:
Pinotepa de Don Luis and Huatulco National Park, Oaxaca, Mexico

Host Institution:
Sapienza university of Rome, Italy

 

 

Top Banner Image: Mixtec traditional garment dyed with the purple color. (Photo: Camilla Fratini)