Guatemalan Headwrap Tocoyal

Unlocking the Symbolic Power of Tocoyal in Mayan Culture: A Tale of Strength in Guatemala

Did you know that in Guatemala, the traditional Mayan attire includes an intricate hair wrap? 

Indigenous Guatemalan women have always worn traditional garments and many continue to pass this tradition to the younger generations. In some villages, the traditional Maya dress includes a long and beautiful Mayan hair wrap. Hair worn in this style is called a Tocoyal. Each village in Guatemala carries a different tradition and different technique on how they style and wear their wrap. Even the names are different in various Guatemalan Maya villages. For example, in Chichicastenango they call them cinta, or ribbon. In Santa Catarina and nearby towns they call them listones. In Santiago Atitlan, they call them tocoyales. And though they have different names, they have the same cultural significance and cultural meaning. ⠀⠀⠀⠀

The Maya Tocoyal is a symbol of strength and Maya culture.

The traditional head wrap of the Maya culture, the Tocoyal, is a symbol of strength and culture. Just as our Maya traje (or traditional Mayan clothing), each piece of clothing tells a different story, each hair-piece tells something different about the weaver, their village, and their Mayan ancestors.  


The cinta, or the hair ribbon, is at times the most important part of the weaver. It can be worn in different ways depending on the village and some can be plain or embellished with glitter, some have more elaborate designs, tassels, or pom-poms.  Guatemalan traditional clothing represents the heart of the Maya culture and has many symbolisms: The length of the tocoyal represents life. An elder woman uses a tocoyal up to 75 feet long. The designs on the huipil (Maya blouse) represent nature; there are birds, flowers and patterns in the shape of volcanoes.


There are many styles of Guatemalan hair wraps. They can be thicker —these are very special and unique which tend to be worn mostly by women in traditional villages or by older women, or worn for special events and holidays. These, too, tell a story.  

Guatemalan Clothing

Tocoyals are a symbol of love and respect for the Maya culture.


The Tocoyal is most commonly associated with the traditional women of the village of Santiago Atitlan. The Tocoyal is wrapped around a woman’s head and looks very much like a hat but without a crown. The length of the Tocoyal represents the length and fullness of the wearer’s life. An older woman may wear a Tocoyal that is 20 meters long. 


There are several meanings to a Maya head wrap or Tocoyal. To many weavers, their head wrap symbolizes the continuity of life since it's passed from generation to generation. 


According to the Mayan culture, a Tocoyal has several meanings. For many Maya woman, it represents protection, respect to their husbands and to others it represents pride in their Maya culture. The shapes and patterns of these head wraps represent the weaver's feelings and her surroundings. Different Maya communities carry different symbolisms for this beautiful ribbon: 

  • Some indigenous Maya communities say that a tocoyal means the continuity of life, because this tradition gets passed on from generation to generation. ⁣⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
  • The thinner ribbon or cinta is usually worn around the crown of the head, wrapped around braids in a spiral, or wrapped in a ponytail like. In certain regions, the hair ribbon carries cultural significance; it represents the Serpent for protection, Kukulkán, a two-headed serpent.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
  • For others in the Tz'utujiles Mayan culture, it is said that this wrap must be worn on the head because the figures and colors woven along the wrap is what the heart of the woman who carries it feels.⁣⠀
  • A Mayan head wrap can also have a more practical and multiple purpose. The Maya women uses a tocoyal for protection from the sun and to keep her hair in place. 
Guatemalan Hair Wrap Tocoyal

instructions on how to wear a tocoyal; Mayan Cinta:


We are happy to share these beautiful and authentic Maya ribbons with you. Many love using them as decorations around the house or as belts, but with lots of practice, we hope you can also wear them as head wraps. Here are some useful instructions:


Step 1: Place the ribbon around your neck, making sure that one side is longer than the other.  


Step 2: Use the shorter side of the ribbon and wrap it around your hair; like you are securing a ponytail. The shorter side of the ribbon will end up on your opposite side. Do a criss-cross of both sides of the ribbon.


Step 3: Use the longer end of the ribbon and bring it over the front of your head, like a headband.


Step 4: Pull the other end of the ribbon under your ponytail and wrap it along your ponytail to the very end of your hair.


Step 5: Depending on the length of your hair, you’ll have some leftover, and that is okay. Bring both sides of your ribbon and cross them a the top of your head. Ensure that you pull the ends tight and tuck the leftover pieces underneath the ribbon. 


Practice as many times and play with different wrap designs. These stunning Tocoyals or ribbons can be used as curtain ribbons or add as an embellishment to any of your sewing projects, or even wear them as belts. The possibilities are endless!


We created a video with our artisan family in Santa Catarina Palopo, Guatemala to provide a visual and more guidance. We hope you enjoy it. 


Guatemalan Ribbon: The Maya Tocoyal carries Cultural Significance and Maya Pride


We are proud to share this Maya tradition with you. These stunning long narrow tapestry are filled with color and complex designs of Guatemalan indigenous weaving. Finely hand-woven, these hair ribbon features Mayan figures that represent the colorful daily life along with diamonds and zigzags representing symbols of protection running the full length of the hair ribbon. 


Acknowledging the talent and significance of these hair wraps is the best way to honor the talented weavers and the women that wear them with so much pride. 


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Maya Tocoyal Head Wrap: instructional video

Angelica Reyes-Johnsen