Lady Six Monkey (11th century) was a Mixtec warrior queen whose story is known from the Mixtec Group Codices. She and her arch nemesis, Lord Eight Deer, loomed large in the legends of Oaxaca for many centuries. (People were named after their birthdates, by the way.) Mixtec society was remarkably gender-equal, and both males and females could inherit the throne. The Spanish were astounded by the high status of Mixtec women; they reported that a Mixtec man would typically defer to his wife as the brains of the family and official spokesperson.
Our costume is inspired by the awesome Angus McBride illustration above, which in turn is based on the images in the codices (inset). McBride shows Six Monkey in the traditional dress of a Mixtec noblewoman: a blue wrap skirt and a quechquemitl (a fringed cotton poncho-like garment). The trickiest bit is the headdress, which consists of two major components: a yarn turban similar to the turbans still worn in Oaxaca, plus a crown of quetzal feathers mounted in gold. This is actually much easier to rig up than it sounds; we give you instructions below.
The pieces we suggest, from left to right:
1. Chevron-patterned poncho. Also available here and here. Chevrons indicate war in Mixtec iconography, which is why McBride put the warrior queen Six Monkey in a chevron-patterned quechquemitl. We chose this chevron-patterned poncho as a good substitute. If you have a genuine quechquemitl, then by all means use that; otherwise a poncho will work fine—just as long as it has the point in the front. If you want to try sewing your own quechquemitl, Mexicolore has a good page with instructions.
2. Navy blue wrap skirt (sarong). Women in Oaxaca are still weaving blue wraparound skirts; this sarong is an inexpensive substitute. We chose the navy blue to match the blue in the poncho.
3. Turquoise and gold necklace and earring set. The Mixtecs were famous for their wonderful gold and turquoise jewelry. The earrings that come with this set are nice, though of course if you happen to have giant ear spools, that would be even better. Firemountain Gems also carries an interesting turquoise skull necklace, in case you want to work in some of that motif.
4. A pair of gold cuff bracelets combined with two stretch turquoise bracelets. Just stretch the turquoise band around the gold cuff.
5. Gold gladiator sandals. Women in the Mixtec codices are actually shown barefoot, but we’re thinking you might need shoes. Mixtec men appear to be wearing a thong-style gladiator-type sandal situation, so we went with that.
6. Headdress. It looks complicated, but it’s really easy. There are two parts: the yarn turban, which is really just a doughnut of yarn twisted together, and the gold feather crown in the middle.
First you need to make the yarn turban/doughnut. Here are two pictures of a modern Oaxaca version (a petob)—what it looks like being worn and what it looks like off the head:
Getting this effect is as simple as buying some skeins of different colored yarn and twisting them together. And you can be creative, since there’s no reason to suppose that Lady Six Monkey, who lived a thousand years ago, was wearing exactly the same kind of headdress as a modern woman. For the costume, we chose yarn in mariana blue, sea glass green, and pitch black. When you get the skeins, just remove the labels and let them relax into a ring. Then twist them together into a yarn doughnut. Use short pieces of the black yarn to tie the rings together at key points.
To make the inner crown, all you need is a gold foil cylinder, some greenish feathers, and Scotch tape. Those weird little miniature top hats are about the right size for the gold cylinder, so if you have one of those you could cannibalize it. You would just need to cut the top off so you have a hollow open tube (and of course pull off the extra decoration—dice, bows, etc.) You could also just use a piece of gold foil art board; cut a strip 6 inches high, roll it up into a cylinder about 5 inches in diameter, and tape it together. Once you have your gold cylinder, you then tape the feathers inside. We chose peacock sword feathers; these are side feathers that don’t have eyes, so they can serve to represent quetzal feathers (there were no peacocks in pre-Columbian Mexico). Arrange them around the inside of the gold cylinder, taping the quill of each feather to the inner cardboard. You’ll end up with a cool-looking feather crown.
Then take your yarn doughnut and center it around the outside of the feather crown. If you’re using the little top hat, the brim comes in handy for anchoring the yarn, but you’ll need to experiment depending on how you’re wearing your hair. A boatload of bobby pins may be in order to keep the whole thing on your head.
What to wear under your poncho/quechquemitl: Lady Six Monkey may not have worn anything at all under hers, but you may wish to be more covered. You could just do a tube top, but a huipil-style blouse would be more historically accurate. If you don’t already have one, this store usually has a fairly inexpensive selection.