The word “Chachal” in Quiche language means necklace. These beautiful objects have a fascinating tale of history, culture, art, and economics that begins during the Pre Columbian period hundreds-thousands of years ago and continues to the present where they still worn by many Mayan populations. Like many aspects of Guatemalan culture, the chachales are a blend of ancient native elements with the influence of the European conquerors. For the Maya, necklaces and other types of jewelry were a sign of rank in society. At the time of the arrival of the Spanish to the Americas in the 1520s, the elite Mayans wore red coral bead necklaces as a symbol of wealth and prestige. After the Conquest, and given the scarcity of these coral beads, they started to incorporate pendants created from perforated whole silver coins (the new symbol of economic power and wealth) from Mexico, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia, which were all locations of Spanish mines and mints. They also started using Christian crosses, amulets, and figures re casted from silver colonial coins/macacos.
As coral became scarce European traders from Venice manufactured red beads as substitutes and introduced them into Guatemala as trade goods. Red beads have long held a certain intrigue around the world. Thousands of years ago in early Aleppo (modern-day Syria), red carnelian aleppostones were fashioned into beads and worn to protect from the evil eye and disease. The word morphed into cornaline d’aleppo, and these Italian red glass beads that resembled the applestones came to Guatemala during the Colonial Period as the most famous trade bead ever used in Guatemala. Still manufactured today, red glass beads with a white center or “heart” replaced coral in Guatemalan chachales. As time evolved, other glass or ceramic red trade beads imported from other European bead centers also made their ways into Chachales to serve as a symbol for abundance as coral did in ancient times.
Another interesting trade bead appeared in late 19th century and also became very popular. Commonly known as “Vaseline” beads because the earliest ones that were produced had a distinctive opaque color that looked like petroleum jelly. Manufactured in Bohemia (one of the most important bead production centers in Europe), they were partly mold faceted and partly hand faceted.
Azabache/jet faceted beads of the early Colonial period manufactured in England and the later black faceted crystals from Bohemia/Czechoslova of the 19th-20th centuries were other gorgeous types of beads that were used in chachales for protection and to ward off evil.
As time went on in Guatemala, different areas of Guatemala adopted different colors of beads. We love this chachal featuring a wonderful variety of Czechoslovakian trade beads in various colors, shapes, and textures:
Chachales were (and continue to be) passed on through the generations…some have been completely restrung; some have had pieces taken away and new pieces added to the original piece. Regardless…each necklace has a unique past. Do you want to wear a stunning piece of a jewerly that has an incredible ancient past? Find these & more for sale on Coleccion Luna Vintage...