Every trip has an uncertain beginning, despite having some ideas or plans in our minds, the final destination is always responsible for adding a magic touch to make it special, and this occasion was no exception. Chiapas was a trip where all senses are exposed and where emotion and pride of our culture invites you to shout it to the four winds.
From the first moment we stepped on Chiapaneco soil, its warm climate welcomed us accompanied by landscapes that were impossible to miss: mountains covered with an intense green. Every where you looked, was always warm with the same nature, adorned with a sun about to hide behind that wonderful landscape.
Cooperativa Jolom Mayaetik
If this welcome of nature had not been enough, the reception of the Jolom Mayaetik’s Cooperative, Elvia, the president of the cooperative and Marla was even warmer, they opened their doors to share with us what they have been doing over 28 years since its foundation. To date the cooperative has managed to unite 250 women from 10 communities. Beyond being a simple meeting point to disseminate and promote their artistic work, they are allowed to continue training in technical specialisations to express their creativity in different applications, as well as orientation with courses about women’s human rights, human development support and the necessary training to turn this cooperative into something completely self-sustainable and cutting edge. In this way it promotes it’s growth based on its capabilities as women through its greatest cultural expression: textile design.
Taller de Telar
The cooperative has a small pedal loom workshop where the colours of the threads, the wood smell coming from the the structures of each tool and the meticulous work absorb you. Here is where the most detailed designs take places and the skill of the assembly of the threads, the precise counting of each of them and the combination of colours is reflected in each cloth they make. During Veronica´s training , a young woman who is learning the art of weaving that put to the test her concentration, patience and mathematical agility to not lose any thread in the way, we met her instructor; Don Marco who told us in a melancholy tone and pride about how his passion for textiles started, the memories he has had since he was a child, his family tradition and how that pushed him to follow his passion in other parts of the world allowing him to specialise in this technique. And today he returns to his roots and shares his knowledge with new generations. Right here we meet little Angelina, who continues her studies but does not miss the opportunity to learn everything she can from her teacher. Showing us all the equipment with which they work and always with a beaming smile, she explained us step by step from where the first thread is placed to how the pedal’s move combination gives a unique result. To make sure that each explanation she was giving was correct she say’s – ” I explained correctly, isn’t that right Don Marco?”
San Andrés Larrainzar
Shortly after this, our road to San Andrés Larrainzar began, to meet one of the communities collaborating with the cooperative. During the trip Juanita accompanied us, who became our guide, translator, Tzotzil instructor (Ancient Mayan Language of the Centre of Chiapas that is still spoken) but above all, she turned into our link with that unknown world behind each fabric and embroidery. Their talks delighted us with stories from the origin of the Jolom Cooperative, the initial links with the Zapatista National Liberation Army (EZLN) and how that force was fostered within the communities, the current society perspective in terms of religion where there is greater freedom to choose a belief without needing to be judged or even expelled from the community, unlike a couple of decades ago, the characteristic garments of each region and the variants of the more traditional styles occupied in special events and the modern designs that paint the roads of the town of San Andrés with their white blouses contrasted with reds and some touches of blue and purple, or my favourite story; how she remembers the time she sold her first yellow and blue embroidery when she was barely a child, and that to this memory she remembers it as her happiest days; when she saw one of her creations valued.
San Andres’ community is located in the region of Los Altos, Chiapas, the name itself can give an idea of the location considering its 2300 meters above sea level, however until you are there you can not really perceive the true meaning. In particular the house of Manuela and her daughters Margarita, Emilia, Angelina, Micaela and Cecilia is very close to heaven.
Once we arrived at their home we were pleasantly surprised: where we were asked to sit down to eat before anything. Personally, I think what makes a good dish lies in its origin and preparation, however, the environment, the intention and the company make it unique…that and being able to demonstrate your maximum skills with the tortilla is another! Simply to lick your fingers.
With a happy heart, we began to appreciate the work of the back strap loom. With total precision to maintain the same distance between each thread, little by little the motifs appear in different sizes and colours. Together with the pressure of their own body and the strap fastened at the waist, all this in an environment full of tranquillity. In the background the sound of newborn chickens, turkeys, the wind on the palms and the arrangement of the loom lowering to create each line of design.
Juanita explained to us how each of the artisans made their design and did not require a pattern to follow since “she knows what’s next”. In the background, Mama Manuela observes peacefully what she once learned as a young girl and now its has been transmitted to her daughters offering them more opportunities working in community and preserving their culture.
The next day we went along with Juanita and Hilaria to Bautista Chico, another community in Chomula where she is from, during the way Hilaria tells us about the material of one of the most traditional skirts of this region made with black sheep wool. Simply to make a garment of this type may require the wool of 4 sheep which takes up to 9 months to achieve the required amount.
On the way to Bautista Chico you can see how gradually the community is growing from seeing a modest construction adapted as the school’s town or the simple fact of seeing new wiring and thus offer electricity in the most rural areas. Even so, this place continues to maintain its day-to-day activities; grazing or carrying material on their backs regardless of the journey or age.
Once on foot, we follow a narrow path marked only by the treading of the habitants, framed by some remains of corn’s recent harvest and flowers. As we got closer we listened to the sound of the regional language, a group of women talking in Tzotzil laughing. The first person we ran into was Antonia with her two children, Ernesto and Rebecca, who could spend long hours entertained with the colourful flowers and dandelions while their mother continued weaving in the sun with the company of the rest of the women in the community.
Juanita and Hilaria make the presentation while the rest continued with their labours, each one with a different embroidery as varied as the ages and colours of their costumes. Pascuala meanwhile finalising the sample of the new Montes & Clark collection took care of each one of the details with tones similar to her dress; fuchsia or as we say Rosa Mexicano, pink and blue.
Along with her are another fifteen women with their different stories and experiences sharing the laughs and curiosities of the little Hugo and Fernando running around. Like Daniela who at her young age works together with Melissa, her 8-month-old baby who, with the help of Micaela, helps her hold from time to time while she takes a break from weaving her bracelets. Antonia, who could not hide her redness and smile after each photograph, was engaged in brushing the wool until she was sure it was ready for her next process. Near them was Maria Lopez Lopez who despite being around 90 years old, said her name with force and total clarity and continued her embroidery in detail while the little Diana behind her back peeked with curiosity to see her progress.
This beautiful community also integrated by María, Guadalupe, Micaela López, Juana, Verónica, Ana, Julia, María and Manuela dedicate their mornings and afternoons to continue with tradition and with the firm intention of being able to contribute something more to their community with the help and dissemination of Jolom Mayetik’s Cooperative.
These images and paragraphs are still far from being able to convey the true essence of each of these stories, however, hopefully they serve to appreciate in all its expression the value of owning some of these weaves and embroidery: the hard work and the true meaning of pride that each stitch represents.
There is not yet a capsule that can retain the best and most significant treasures of a place, however today I have my small piece of Chiapas represented with an embroidery. Within one second I see its details, I´m back to those beautiful spots in the highlands of Chiapas, see their landscapes that leave you breathless, taste their specialties all based on seeds, eggs from their small farms and freshly cut chiles from the trees, perceive the smell of burned firewood leave each of the houses of the communities we visited, hear the sound of the birds and the Tzotzil prevailing in both small and large, touch the timid hand of each “Maya Weaver” where The true strength is in their work, dedication and noble spirit.