The duffel bag is an iconic object of Mexican culture, traditionally used as a bed. But it also has other applications and meanings. The word petate comes from the Nahuatl word “petlatl”, and it is a type of mat made of braided palm strips.
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In pre-Hispanic times objects made from strips of palm or mat had another value. For example, only rulers could sit on icpalli (thrones made of matting). Likewise, the mat was considered a symbol where life and death converge, and was a key element of the pre-Hispanic altars.
Although its popularity has been decreasing, it could be said that the ‘petate’ was a Mexican sleeping bag. During the 19th century, it was common to see the “petatero” or ‘petate’ vendor on the streets, a job that has clearly disappeared in our day.
The ‘petate’ is generally associated with its use as a bed. It can be laying on any surface where you intend to sleep or rest, it does not matter if it is indoors or outdoors. However, in addition to sleeping on it, it can be used for many other things.
In the field it is usually used to dry the seeds and grains in the sun. Whereas, in places like the Sierra de Oaxaca, it was considered a symbol of social status. Also, it is used as the mat where women kneel to grind corn on the metate.
It is worth mentioning that the palm weaving technique that is applied with the duffel bag is used in countless handicraft products such as toys, masks, hats and baskets.
How is it done?
Its elaboration is not as simple as it seems. Palm leaves are first cut and dried in the sun. Then the ones that are in the best condition for knitting are chosen and knit until the piece is finished.
It is worth mentioning that the population of artisans who dedicate themselves to palm weaving has decreased considerably due to the lack of employment in their localities.
Colloquialisms and expressions associated with the ‘petate’
The duffel bag is so representative of Mexican culture that its use in colloquial language continues to be daily bread. We are sure that you have used or heard the following sentences at least once.
“Se petateó.” Commonly used to indicate that a person has died. It is worth mentioning that the verb petatear is recognized by the RAE.
“Esas pulgas no brincan en mi petate” (those fleas don’t jump on my petate)This popular saying refers to when someone expresses their rejection of another person in a friendly, professional or sentimental way.
“Huele a petate quemado.” (It smells like burnt petate) It is common to associate the smell that occurs when someone smokes marijuana, with the aroma of a burnt petate.
“Las mueres, pa’l metate y pa’l petate”. This popular expression of a macho style is not an example of respect at all. It is used to indicate that a woman should be a good cook and a sexual partner.
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