caitesandals 97.99.12.jpg

Time Period: unknown

Category: Accessories, shoes

Accession Number: 1997.99.12

Donor: Unknown


Description:

These sandals are quite an interesting find. They are definitely a child’s pair of shoes because they are so small. They are 16cm long and 7cm wide. The sole is lined with a thin paper that looks as if it was used to measure the child’s foot. This paper has the number 23 written on it, which could either be the size of the shoe or the corresponding customer number. This paper was used to outline the foot of the child to make sure the sandal would be custom fit. Since this paper lining is still attached, these shoes have never been worn. They have light brown leather straps that go around the ankle and then buckle. There are 6 different holes to adjust the tightness of the strap. There is also a strap the goes across the toes. The leather on this strap weaves in and out. The bottom sole of the shoe is made of an old tire and is nailed onto the rest of the shoe. It is also sewn on the outside rim with tough fiber-like thread. On the bottom you can see cracking in the leather around the nails. Since the soles are made of old tires the sandals scuff hard surfaces very easily and leave a dark grey mark. Since the leather looks worn, it can be concluded that it is recycled leather meaning that the person who had intended to buy these sandals was not wealthy and could not afford a nicer leather.

History:

These sandals are most commonly known as caites, which is the common name for sandals used in Central America. The word caite comes from the Nahuatl word cactli and while the evolution of this word how is not known exactly, the designs of these sandals are part of an ancient tradition associated with this region.[1] The first appearance of this type of sandal dates back to 1200 B.C.E in the Olmec culture of Mesoamerica. The Olmec people were known as the “people of the land of rubber” for they had figured out how to take the sap from the rubber tree and mix it with other ingredients until it became firm yet flexible. They then used this material to make many items, most importantly, shoes. Unfortunately the Olmec culture collapsed around 400 B.C.E, although the exact reason for their extinction is not known.[2] Over the years, the Zapotec people of Oaxaca Valley adopted the Olemc techniques and innovative ideas of dress.

The Oaxaca Valley was a geographic region located in what is now the State of Oaxaca in Southern Mexico. The Zapotec people inhabited this area in 500 B.C.E. and are said to be one of the earliest complex societies in Mesoamerica.[3] Paintings and carvings done by the Zapotec people depict gender-neutral beings, wearing nothing but sandals and other accessories. Sandals were a sign of nobility and wealth among the people, only those who could afford them would wear them. The law was that if a commoner was caught wearing sandals in any form, they would be sentenced to death.
During the 16th century Spain conquered South America and the Zapotec tribe was nearly extinct.[4] The Oaxcaca Valley and surrounding areas started seeing Spanish influence in their textile production. A few years later espadrilles, or rope soled sandals, appeared in Southern France, Spain and Portugal. Spanish espadrille fashion became integrated with the traditional sandals of that region. In Brazil, Columbia, and Mexico they started using woven leather to make sandals known as huaraches.[5] These sandals were extremely long lasting; originally they were made of all leather; later designs included woven string soles and occasionally thin wooden soles. This type of sandal also had social significance; they denoted rank and hierarchy. A simple piece of leather with a strap established a separation between common folk and noble figures. Those who had no sandals were seen as lower than those who did.[6] The materials used to make the shoe also denote social class. A sandal made from the skin of a jaguar was more valuable than one made from a deer, since the Jaguar was an animal that was adored and worshiped.[7] Huaraches were given as rewards to acts of nobility or heroism in war.[8] This was the only way a commoner would be allowed to wear huaraches.

In 1844 Charles Goodyear accidentally invented vulcanized rubber, which led to the creation of rubber tires. By the 1930s rubber soles made from old tires became a popular trend.[9] It was also at this time that shoes had less and less of a social role. Since new types of shoes were appearing and different materials were being used, the use of sandals began to shift to the commoners. The cactli sandal of Guatemala was seen at this time and utilized the use of old tires to make soles. The villagers would travel into garbage dumps to find old car and bike tires which they would then cut the outer-soles from. All of the sandals were custom made. One’s foot would be outlined on a piece of paper and that would serve as the template from which the soles were cut. The rubber outer-soles were then nailed to a leather inner-sole the same size and shape. The straps are sewn on with a thread made of thin fiber. This thread is also used to reinforce bond created by the nails in the sole. The entire process can be done for a pair of children’s sandals in two and a half hours, and three hours for an adult pair.[10] Cactli, or caites, are open sandals; they expose the heel and ankle and are fastened by leather strips tied in various ways. The caite is ventilated, which does not allow the growth of bacteria that cause odor. “The caite maintains the natural alignment of the foot because the sole is thin and flexible, promotes correct posture of the foot arch. There is a downside of the caite, and that is that the foot is exposed to some shock.”[11] Caites are influenced by the style of huaraches and the stitching technique of Spanish espadrilles.

During this time and into today there are two main social classes of Guatemala, the Ladinos and the indigenous Guatemalans. The Ladinos are the wealthy population, usually of European or Spanish descent.[12] They live in the capital city of Guatemala where their dress is largely influenced by western fashion. “Their most desirable clothing is imported from the United States.”[13] The indigenous Guatemalans are descendants of the ancient Mayan’s, they love in rural towns and villages and make their living on small farms or by selling handmade items. Their dress is more traditional Guatemalan dress. If a farmer from a rural town was to go to Guatemala City, he would immediately be recognized as a peasant because of his shoes.

Caites are not seen as frequently in Guatemalan culture today. This is because not as many people make them, since there are now machines that can complete the task much more efficiently. Some indigenous Guatemalans still hand-make caites and huaraches, however, the demand is not as high. Many young Guatemalans, especially boys, are no longer interested in wearing sandals, they would much rather wear tennis shoes.[14] The younger generations do not see the caites as fashionable and would rather wear a pair of sneakers made in America. Although the social stigma that used to come with caites is not as prominent in todays society, the younger generations still fear being labeled because of their footwear.


Researcher:

Brenna Calderara, TMD224H S14

Last updated:

May 4, 2014

Other Images

caitebottomview97.99.12.jpgSandalsideview97.99.12.jpg
  1. ^ Joyce, Arthur A. Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Chatinos: Ancient Peoples of Southern Mexico. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
  2. ^ Duiker, William J., and Jackson Spielvogel. The Essential World History. Boston, Massachsetts: Cengage Learning, 2014.
  3. ^ Joyce, Arthur A. Mixtecs, Zapotecs, and Chatinos: Ancient Peoples of Southern Mexico. United Kingdom: John Wiley & Sons, 2010.
  4. ^ Duiker, William J., and Jackson Spielvogel. The Essential World History. Boston, Massachsetts: Cengage Learning, 2014.
  5. ^ Willey, Gordon R. “The Early Great Styles and the Rise of the Pre-Columbian Civilizations.” American Anthropologist 64(1962): 2-10.
  6. ^ DeMello, Margo. Feet and Footwear: A Cultural Encyclopedia. California: ABC-CLIO, 2009.
  7. ^ Benson, Elizabeth P. The Cult of the Feline. Washington, D.C: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library, 1972.
  8. ^ Schevill, Margot, Janet Berlo, and Edward B. Dwyer. Textile Traditions of Mesoamerica and the Andes: An Anthology. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1996.
  9. ^ Huarache Blog, http://huaracheblog.wordpress.com/.
  10. ^ Hendrickson, Carol. Weaving Identities: Construction of Dress and Self in a Highland Guatemala Town. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1995.
  11. ^ Huarache Blog, http://huaracheblog.wordpress.com/.
  12. ^ Rousso, Kathryn. Maguey Journey: Discovering Textiles in Guatemala. Arizona:University of Arizona Press, 2010.
  13. ^ Hendrickson, Carol. Weaving Identities: Construction of Dress and Self in a Highland Guatemala Town. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1995.
  14. ^ Hendrickson, Carol. Weaving Identities: Construction of Dress and Self in a Highland Guatemala Town. Austin, Texas: University of Texas Press, 1995.