Cultivating a New Generation of Traditional Shipibo Weavers

(Women learn from Shipibo elders an all but forgotten craft)

Women, young and old, in the Shipibo community of Roya, in the district of Iparía, have taken the initiative to recover the once common skill of spinning cotton and weaving cloth. Through Alianza Arkana’s program, Jema Jakoanti (Clean and Healthy Community), Roya’s artisan collective of mothers and teens chose to relearn this ancestral skill and are taking steps to ensure its preservation.

Roya is one of 16 communities where Alianza Arkana is setting in motion their community Permaculture project, Jema Jakoanti. Alongside the design and implementation of a ZeroWaste Management Service, we also work with community groups such as artisan collectives and Mother’s Clubs to strengthen capabilities and networks.

When we began working with the artisan collective of Roya this past September, they shared with us that they were to organize a project through the District Municipality of Iparía, but were waiting for cloth to begin the work. We asked if any of them knew how to make their own cloth. While some of the women said their mothers used to weave, none of them remembered. Most had never been taught this essential skill.

Ultimately, we encountered one Great Grand Mother in the community who still spins and weaves the same way generations of Shipibo women before her did. Serlinda told us that she was taught by her mother at a young age and has been practicing this beautiful art ever since. She declined to tell us how many years young she is, but she was keen to share her knowledge with the younger generations of her community.

Learning to carve weaving tools.

Together with the president of the artisan collective, Melia Rodriguez Vela, we organized a four-day seminar this past August in Roya, bringing two additional traditional Grand Mother weavers and one Great Grand Father carver to assist with the activities. Ercilia is one of the last women weavers in her community of Puerto Firmeza, where this skill is soon to be taught in the community school through Alianza Arkana’s intercultural education project, Soi Sani. Angelina and Manuel both come from San Francisco, the site of our first ZeroWaste project.

The seminar consisted of demonstrations in preparing fresh picked cotton from the seed to the spindle, then preparing the belt strap loom and the weaving process. Meanwhile four fathers worked with Manuel to carve the different wooden tools needed for three loom sizes: (small) for bracelets and anklets, (medium) bags, and (large) traditional wrap skirts known as a CHITONTI for women and long tunics known as a TARI or cushma for the men.

After two days of demonstrations and practice each of the 13 mothers and 4 teenage girls prepared a small loom and began weaving their first strip of cloth with the guidance of Ercilia, Angelina, and Serlinda. The men were hard pressed to learn quickly from Manuel and supply the freshly carved tools for the women.

In addition to learning these skills we also organized with the collective to plant nearly a hectare of cotton, natural dyes, and artisanal seed bearing plants. This plot will be cared for by the artisan collective and will also make good use of the compost they are producing with their community ZeroWaste project.

The collective of women have been refining their skills and have already woven a number of multicolored bracelets and anklets, and are now beginning to weave traditional bags. These items will be available in our upcoming end-of-the-year fundraising campaign to help continue the preservation and innovation of this beautiful craft.

Deborah Rivett, Thursday, 08 November 2012

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