Fieldwork Commences--with the Cooperation of Two Kind Women!

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Ana Maria Huayas Japon and Rosa Chalan

With the kind help of these two women--Rosa Chalan (l) and Ana Maria Huayas Japon (r) I started to "get to the business" of doing my fieldwork for the season. These two women live in Cuenca and sell their artisanias in a cooperative building called La Casa de las Mujeres. Rosa moved to Cuenca seven years ago so her 7 kids could to college here (I mentioned Diego in an earlier entry). Ana has lived in Quito and other places in Ecuador, and moved to Cuenca to be closer to Saraguro and her extended family. She doesn't have any kids. Rosa is 42, and Ana is 45.

The business setup of the stall is interesting. Ana is the owner of the stall, but Rosa and another woman also work there and make things to be sold there. Ana is university educated, but largely make sher living from making and selling beadwork and other artesanias. She has spent time selling from street stalls (traveling around to different towns), as well as in a stable market in Quito. But the moving sales got old and tiresome, and Quito is far away from "home." When an opportunity opened in the cooperative building in Cuenca (the government wants to promote the traditional artesanias of the region), Ana moved here, even though there are fewer tourists and competition is stiff. It seems to be working for her.

Both of these women learned to do beadwork at a young age--in their pre-teens--and have been making huallcas (the distinctive necklaces you see in the photo), and other things ever since. But an interesting difference between them is that Rosa learned from her mother and her grandmother, while Ana learned from her friends in school. Ana made a point of getting ready for this photo by putting on her tupo--the pin with the sun-like head and a red stone in the center, and Rosa told her she should put on her hat--a stiff felt material painted white with the black pattern on the underside of the brim.

TAna Maria Guayas JaponShe also made a point of changing out her earrings; she was wearing some small, "modern" ones while she sat in the stall working--so she switched to her larger silver dangly ones--which are considered more traditional. This last thing is an interesting point, because the International Folk Market in Santa Fe where Linda Belote helps to sponsor Saraguro participation, has been prickly about allowing the Saraguro cooperatives to send earrings for sale--calling them "not traditional." This is a shame, because the cooperatives could sell a lot of earrings, and they take less time to make, and hence would make a good return on their labor. The Market has set itself up as a bit of a gate-keeper defining what is "traditional folk art" and what is not.

I find this pretty funny given that the Saraguros have only been making these kinds of beaded necklaces since perhaps the 1950s when they began to have access to glass manufactured beads. The beads they use are manufactured in China and Czechoslavakia (haven't seen evidence of using Japanese beads, which are more precise (laser cut) but also more expensive. The International Folk Market has African peoples selling baskets made from electrical wire with brightly colored insulating sheaths--"traditional" say the Market's judges. But because they have not seen photos of Saraguro women wearing beaded earrings, they say "not traditional." It's an interesting dynamic that I hope to explore when I write about the cooperatives and Linda and Ann Severine's work to help them sell at the market.

Saraguro Blue Beaded Bag.JPGI'm very grateful that these two women tolerated my fumbling Spanish and gave me some of their time today. I did buy a nice beaded bag from them for $40--the convention here is to haggle over prices, but as a beadworker myself, I know how much time it takes to do this kind of work, so I paid the price they had on the tag. Something to thing about when you travel and buy craftwork--yes, you want to get a good price, but there are also some things that take a lot of time and are worth the asking price. This kind of beadwork isn't like machine-embroidered shirts (see earlier kokopelli entry) that can be cranked out pretty fast--every single stitch in this bag was made by hand--Rosa said it took about a week and a half to make--crikes! that's worth a lot more than $40!

After I interviewed these two artists I managed to make a local phone call with the cellular phone I am carrying (thanks again Linda for the loan!) to arrange a meeting with the guy, Pedro Arizaga, I met on Sunday who is a dentist and was selling very nice beadwork, including Saraguro style necklaces, in the central park. I sat with him while he ate lunch, and we talked about what he does with the beadwork.

He commented that the Saraguros use colors that don't always appeal to non-indigenous folks, and that the styles are always the same--not entirely accurate, as Linda Belote's extensive collection dating back to the 60s suggests there is a lot of creative exploration of patterns and colors. He is also able to locate and buy beads of high quality to use in his work. I'm going to get together with him tomorrow to see more of his work, maybe take pictures, and interview him about what he does with the beads. Like myself, he says it is a form of relaxation and meditation, as well as an income maker. He showed me the aguja (needle) that he keeps in his wallet so he could bead any time he needed to (and when beads are available!)

One really interesting thing he said is that he has several times dreamed new patterns, and the three times this has happened, the item he has made sold within minutes of when he put it out on the Sunday after it was finished. This is unusual, he said, because often he won't sell anything in a given week. He also was happy to report that he made $80 this past Sunday after I stopped and talked to him, and he felt like my genuine interest in what he was doing helped to set the tone for the evening and bring him good fortune.

Pedro also plays music and sings in a choir that is preparing for a concert at the end of the month. He invited me to come hear their rehearsal tomorrow night, and I will go. They'll be singing an African spiritual, an African American spiritual, a Spanish folk song, and Ecuadorian folk song, an American folk song, and a piece by Mendehlson--should be interesting!

Alright--long enough entry except for one final picture (for Roshi, who loves dinosaurs). I walked passed a bar/restaurant (actually they called themselves a fast-food--comida rapida--joint) today that had a cool name and logo. Below is the sign that was in their entryway. I don't think there's concordance between the name and the creature depicted in the logo, but at least he's a well-dressed (note the tie) carnosaur! Ciao!

Thumbnail image for Diplodocus Bar in Cuenca Ecuador

1 Comment

bin que ver que el Folk de Saraguro este por todos los citios Ver y Mujeres trabajadoras en el campo artesanal.

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This page contains a single entry by David Syring published on July 21, 2009 9:39 PM.

Minor Frustrations and Connections at Days End was the previous entry in this blog.

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