Paper, History

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Part of the Huexotzinco Codex, written on amate.

Amate (Spanish: amate [aˈmate] from Nahuatl: āmatl [ˈaːmat͡ɬ]) is a type of bark paper that has been manufactured in Mexico since the precontact times. It was used primarily to create codices.

Amate paper was extensively produced and used for both communication, records, and ritual during the Triple Alliance; however, after the Spanish conquest, its production was mostly banned and replaced by European paper. Amate paper production never completely died, nor did the rituals associated with it. It remained strongest in the rugged, remote mountainous areas of northern Puebla and northern Veracruz states. Spiritual leaders in the small village of San Pablito, Puebla were described as producing paper with “magical” properties. Foreign academics began studying this ritual use of amate in the mid-20th century, and the Otomi people of the area began producing the paper commercially. Otomi craftspeople began selling it in cities such as Mexico City, where the paper was revived by Nahua painters in Guerrero to create “new” indigenous craft, which was then promoted by the Mexican government.

Through this and other innovations, amate paper is one of the most widely available Mexican indigenous handicrafts, sold both nationally and abroad. Nahua paintings of the paper, which is also called “amate,” receive the most attention, but Otomi paper makers have also received attention not only for the paper itself but for crafts made with it such as elaborate cut outs.