Indigenous women would improve their incomes and continue to protect their culture if traditional knowledge handed down to them were protected by law.
The traditional knowledge applied in the creation of Amazonian textiles and the skills of the women who keep these traditions alive was put on show at the First Yánesha Exhibition and Fair. The event brought together seven associations of indigenous craftswomen who exhibited the garments they produced using native cotton and vegetable dyes.
The event was held on 8 March 2013 in the district of Palcazú to mark the occasion of International Women’s Day and was organized by CHIRAPAQ, Centre for Indigenous Cultures of Peru, the district council and the combined efforts of the craftswomen from the native communities of Santa Rosa de Chuchurras, Loma Linda, Asolis, Santo Domingo, Nueva Aldea and Siete de Junio.
As inhabitants of the Communal Yánesha Reserve, the initiative taken by these women shows great respect for Mother Nature. Each one of these works is created using native species obtained from the forest managed by the craftswomen and from the seed banks possessed by each of the association. This promotes the conservation of the forest and the sustainable use of natural resources.
The Yánesha people have several native cotton types which are in danger of disappearing. At the present time there are few families who still cultivate these varieties. Harvesting is done by hand and the fibre is used within the same family to make bags and some other traditional textile items. The Yánesha women who have adopted this alternative are its principal defenders. ‘We’re now looking for black cotton.’ says one of them.
Other cloths are dyed with the bark, leaves, roots, seeds and fruits of trees, shrubs, lianas and palms which yield dyestuffs, and dyeing techniques have been handed down from generation to generation. The Yánesha designs, which relate to the considerable mysticism and energy of nature, constitute the final touch which gives these products added value.
The vast symbolic iconography of the Yánesha people has been infused into this process by the wise women of the communities. ‘Knowing the meaning of each of the designs we draw makes us part of our people. I say to myself ”This is me.” and it makes me feel proud to be Yánesha.’ explains Mariluidis Chapeta, vice-president of the Arankom Craftswomen’s Association.
The event was quite unusual and indeed unique in the zone, as it was the first time anyone had organized an exhibition of the Yánesha culture in which the driving force and principal participants were the women. The event enjoyed an enormous turnout and members of the general public were impressed by the variety of colours obtained from natural sources and they admired the creativity and beauty with which the works were produced.
‘When people saw our bags, they wanted to know what plants we’d used to dye them. They wanted to buy the cloth samples we had brought. They also asked why, if we produced such attractive articles, we hadn’t put them on show before.’ says Marilú Machari, moved by the experience. She is a member of the Yerpuentour Craftswomen’s Association of the native community of Nueva Aldea.
CHIRAPAQ encourages the development of the productive skills of the indigenous women for the exercise of their individual and collective rights, as well as promoting the protection of their intellectual property.
In the Selva Central it is working on the revaluation of women’s contributions to the preservation of their culture and encourages their recognition and that of their contribution to the family economy. This work is promoted in alliance with the Federation of Native Yánesha Communities FECONAYA and, internationally, with help from TEBTEBBA Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy, Research and Education, and the TAMALPAIS association.
The revival of ancient knowledge and recovery of the forest’s resources give life to these actions. Nevertheless, the techniques, knowledge and designs of the Yánesha women are vulnerable to exploitation by third parties. Spaces such as these can, independently of state programmes and policies, make known the authorship of indigenous peoples and achieve the economic empowerment of women.