Manuel Jiménez was the man responsible for the beginnings of this particular artwork; he was also the only artist to work such a handicraft. His uniqueness is what allowed for his work to become very famous all across Mexico.
"Alebrije" is a slang term (generated from gypsy dialects) which means "a difficult tangled thing, shaped in confusing or fantastic figures". The original name is thought to be "Arrazola" which is of Basque origins in Spain, the name of the region's governor at colonial times. Since Zapotec is a tongue that does not include the letter "R", it is safe to presume that the previously mentioned theory is more acceptable for the origin of the word "Alebrije". The fantastic designs were influenced by the original "Alebrijes" made in Mexico City by the Linares family, created in a workshop which was located next to "Mercado Sonora" (Sonora Marketplace), located at the end of Circunvalación avenue in the country's capital city.
Arsenio Morales and the Ramírez brothers, Andrés and Miguel, three young and talented craftsmen who used to work with Alvaro Obregón, added their creative input to these figures. The materials used in these figures comes from branches of trees brought from the mountains, by the craftsmen themselves, carrying them on their backs, all the way back to town. These trips are executed on a daily basis, since the wood required for this handiwork must still be green.
The different shapes of the branches found on treetops invite these craftsmen to fulfil their imagination, thus forming the most beautiful figures of animals such as: lions, jaguars, iguanas, dogs, snakes, birds, goats and a wide range of fantastic and imaginary characters, helping themselves only with machetes and razors.
This kind of work can take hours or even days to be done, depending on the degree of skill the design and finishing touches demand.
Arrazola figures are painted in different colours, and decorated afterwards with drawings of stars and/or flowers.
The most charming details the figures offer is the shape they are given: animals, aliens from outer space, mythological dwarfs such as "naguales", angels or something totally unexpected. The only boundaries are marked by the artist's own imagination.
Costs vary according to the originality of the piece.
This handicraft can be found mostly in the following two towns:
• San Martín Tilcajete: Is located 18 miles (29 kilometres) South of the City of Oaxaca via highway 175 to Puerto Angel. Approximate travel time: [0:35]
• San Antonio Arrazola: Is located 6 miles (10 kilometres) Southwest of the City of Oaxaca via the paved highway to Cuilapan. After passing Xoxocotlán, continue another 3 miles (5 kilometres) and take the detour right. Approximate travel time: [0:15]