Petate comes from the word in Nahuatl petlatl, which means mat. The petate is a mat made of woven thick palm fibers. The traditional petate is made of woven and dry palm fibers. Endemic varieties of palm are used in various regions.
Petates are usually woven in a quadrangular or rectangular form, in a flat manner.
The origins of the petate date back to Mesoamerica and originally was used as a mat for sleeping. Interestingly, the petate has had other uses.
During Aztec Mexico, the petate held much value. Only rulers could sit on the icpalli, which was a throne made of the mat. The petate was used to serve as the base for the throne. According to authors Leonardo López Luján and Guilhem Olivierin, the Nahuatl phrase in pétlatl, in icpalli (the mat and the throne) was the expression for power and authority. So relevant was the petate, that it appears in several Aztec codices.
In the Zapotec culture, the petate symbolized the life cycle. It was the connection of life and death, where the life cycle began, transcended, and ended. Newborn life began with the petate. In a marriage ceremony, the bride and groom received blessings, while on a petate. Finally, the deceased were enveloped in a petate.
Later, according to the social position of the individual, petates were of high quality for elite residences, or very simple, with no decoration.
In Oaxaca, it was a representation of social status. A family with many petates was considered prosperous.
Moreover, the petate has been used as a base to grind food or serve food.
The petate was also used as a base for an altar, where gods were venerated.
In general, the petate has mainly been used as a mat for sleeping. During the day it can be rolled up and hung. It can be extended on the ground and used as a mat for lying down. In regions with a very warm climate, the petate can be used to sleep outdoors.
It was used to wrap and transport goods and wares.
It has also been used as a place where women kneel and grind corn in devotional reverence.
A petate can be used for drying seeds, grains, tortillas, and other food, in the sun.
It can also be used as protection from rain.
Throughout the countryside, petates are often used to lay out produce to sell, just as in Aztec times.
Today, the petate continues to be produced in Mexico. The creation of a petate is a difficult task, which involves multiple, complex, and time-consuming steps.
Many Mexican artisans produce very decorative petates in a variety of colors.
Palm fibers are also used in Mexico to create other artisanal items.
The fibers of the palm are also used in Mexico to create other artisanal items. These are known as “artesanias de petate” (handicrafts made from the fibers of the palm) and can include hats, baskets, toys, dolls, and masks.
Overall, the petate is a natural and organic mat that offers rest to anyone who lies on its palm fibers. You can take on with you to an outing, a picnic, the beach, the park.
Here are some sites where you can purchase petates made in Mexico.
López Luján, Leonardo y Guilhem Olivier, “La estera y el trono: Los símbolos de poder de Motecuhzoma II”, Arqueología Mexicana, n. 98, 2009, pp. 38-44.
Vela, Enrique, “La cestería prehispánica”, Arqueología Mexicana, edición especial, núm. 91, pp. 28-33.