NOTE: Haven't been writing much lately as the last week in Saraguro was a flurry of visits to women's cooperatives, and a lovely final Saturday trip to the community protected forest reserve of Huashapomba with Enith Paqui and her sons and sister and cousins. Here is my last entry from Saraguro--I may add one or two final entries as a follow-up, but this may be the final entry for my summer 2009 research trip. I know from a few comments and e-mails that at least Mitra, Mags, Linda, Jim, Brian B., Leah, Amanda, Baci, and Luke (and, though I never heard from you--as I talk to Mitra, I know others have been reading--Hela and others) have at least occasionally been reading these postings, and I want to thank you all for being my invisible but palpable audience--It has made me think more carefully and write more clearly to know that someone I know is reading what I put here. Immense gratitude to you all!
I have written a book proposal while in the field, and will be submitting it to presses during the fall--wish me luck! Here is one final story from Benigno from the very last minutes of my time in the field in Tuncarta this year. Enjoy!
The Lake at Lluzhinplan
After we eat breakfast there is about an hour left before
time to catch the bus in Saraguro. Benigno says, "Let's go see one more place.
I have one more story for David's last hour in Tuncarta for now."
We walk up the road a ways, passing his neighbor, Angel, who
is stretching a hose to begin flooding a pile of dirt he is going to make into
adobe blocks. We shake hands and I say goodbye to Angel, who I've met before,
but never really talked to much.
Behind the top of the hill, Benigno shows me a marshy spot
where a small pond seethes with large tadpoles and near-frogs.
"This whole area used to be a lake," he says. "The
grandfather of my grandmother knew the story of what happened here. It's not a
tale, but a real story of something that happened.
"One night, late, a young boy, about 10 years old, was
walking his family's sheep home on that path right there." He points to the
stone line path that is still in place, though the road is only about 20 yards
on the other side of it. "He was walking just at this place, when the sheep
started bleating, and startled, and ran as fast as they could to get away from
the lake. The lake was seething with waves, like on the ocean, and the waves
came out of the lakebed and tried to grab the boy and pull him in. He ran,
really scared to his house. 'Papi! The lake tried to grab me,' he said. His
father knew then that there was a huaca
(malevolent spirit) in that lake. The next day he brought an offering of cuye asado with salt and put it right
there, over there on the hill for the huaca.
But the huaca didn't like the
offering, and the waves kept splashing and crashing on the hillside. The father
went back to the house and got a whip. He came back and he lashed the waves
with the whip, telling the huaca to
leave. A great cloud lifted up out of the water and floated off down the hill,
carrying most of the water and the huaca
with it. Ever since, this hasn't really been a lake--just that small pond there,
and a marsh filled with these reeds."
Here Benigno grabs a handful of the four foot long spikes
of the water plants at the edge of the marsh.
"They're called lluzhinplan--that's
what the lake was called, and now this place is still called lluzhinplan."
We look around, and I feel the way that this community
swells with powers embedded in places. Benigno is a pragmatic, realistic man,
with eyes and ears that hear and see multiple dimensions in the inhabited
landscape around him--the stories tie him to the flow of times and places that are
not only what lies in front of our eyes, but also extends into the past and
future as well.
"This isn't something made up--a cuento," Benigno adds. "This is something that really happened."
"How long ago would this have been?" I ask.
He thinks for a moment, calculating the years of his
grandmother's grandfather's life. "About 200 years," he says.
We start back down the road--time to drive to town for the
bus. While we walk, we talk about the next time I come to visit. Benigno has
been collecting these stories for years--says he has enough of them to fill a
"We'll work on that book next time," I say. "I have a good
program on my computer we can use to lay it out and prepare it for printing.
Maybe we can publish it in a bilingual edition, like the Neruda book we were
reading the other night."
Benigno thinks this is a fine idea, and, like me, I think he
is looking forward to the opportunity to work together again the next time I
put on my pack and set out on my travels.
Yesterday Anita completed knitting her first sock! The women here knit a lot, but all of the people I´ve asked say they don´t knit socks. I had the pair Mitra made for me before I left with me, and Anita was determined to figure it out. I got a sock pattern from the INternet, but since it was in English ¨knitese¨language, and I don´t knit and my dictionary des not have translations for ¨knit 1, purl 2,¨Anita was mostly on her own. She figured out how to knit in the round on connected needles, how to make the cuff, how to turn the heel and how to finish the toes pretty much simply by looking at Mitra´s example.
The result is not perfect, but she learned the basic and will perfect it, and perhaps a new trend will have begun in craftwork here.
Here´s the sock Mitra made, whcih served as a model.
Here is the sock Anita made following the model (she wanted a shorter sock, without a long length up the calf. She is disatisfied with the color, and wants a more elastic yarn for the future, but she is a wizard with handcrafts and made this as a teaching model for herself.
And finally, here is the maestra, wearing her first sock creation.
Yesterday I went to the last meeting of the
Calcutas that I will be in town for. Most of the women set up at two tables on
Aleja's porch to finish working on their cloth paintings. Doña Rosa Ordoñez and
Doña Marianita sat at the table inside and worked on necklaces.
After about an hour of painting and
visiting, Anita asked if I had my computer to show the photos I've taken, and I
set up inside for them to come and view the photos. We looked at the group
portraits, individual portraits, painting class day, and all of the photos I
have from Linda of the Santa Fe Market. They were interested to see the Market,
including the clothing from all around the world, and the artwork, especially Maasai
beadwork, and the other pieces that were beadwork. The woman who went to the
market in 2006 (don't remember her name), is the daughter of
Maria Carmela ("Carmen") Medina Minga).
After we watched the slideshows I asked if
I could have a few minutes to talk with them about the idea of carrying their
personal beadwork to try to sell in the States. I explained that I want to help
the group, and their individual families, but want to do this in a way that is
fair and equitable. After I explained my conditions (see earlier notes), Aleja
elaborated a bit on each point to clarify for the women. Then I went outside to
let them talk it over in privacy. After about 10 minutes, they came out and
resumed their spots for painting. Anita explained that they had decided each
woman will make two necklaces between now and Sunday, and so each would send
two personal pieces made especially for the purpose of sending with me.
process of democracy and equality seems deeply rooted in these women, and they
made this decision using discussion, and I assume some form of consensus
building. I really admire the way that every decision seems to be done in this
manner--open, and with a real concern for fairness. I gave each woman a piece of
stiff paper to attach to each piece with their name, and what they think is a
fair price for the necklace. (I had bought the paper in Cuenca to make Spanish flashcards, but
largely it has remained unused in my backpack.) This should make record keeping
easier for me.
I explained that I am not going to go to
markets or make extreme efforts to sell these pieces, but would rather sell
them to interested students, friends and community members. I do think I will
try to set up a few "necklace wear parties" to give a brief slideshow/talk
about the women, and try to sell things in this manner--part of the process of
telling these women's stories. I think I could make an interesting 15-20 minute
talk to prime the interest of people in Duluth.
Might also serve as the base of a talk to potential funders or donors for more
expansive financing for the women's house in Tuncarta and/or the desired center
As I was writing out fieldnotes Anita
came and said we were going to go for cocos--small coconuts, about the size of a
We went down to the aguate field I have
visited before, Benigno carrying a homemade ladder, two lengths of rope, and
his machete--Anita carrying Aruni on her back and Sauri along, too. Later Prici
and Misael joined us after helping a cousin carry some bottles down from the
road to a house.
I took lots of pictures and videos while
Benigno proceeded to make himself several ladder steps up the 45 foot trunk of
the coco palm, using only rope and some lengths of wood he cut from a nearby
tree. He slowly got himself high enough to chop at the racemes of cocos with
the machete, and dropped seven of them--having Anita check whether each cluster
was ripe by dropping a few cocos and having her crack them open with a rock.
It took 1 hour and 20 minutes from the time
we got to the trees and Benigno started looking for a suitable stout, straight
branch to cut into 3 foot sections for "steps" on his makeshift ladder, to the
time he was back on the ground having cut down 7 large bunches of cocos. Anita
sent one bunch off with a kid who walked by on the trail and he took the bunch
to his family. She also called Jonathan (Rosa Medina's son) over and sent a
bunch with him. That left them with 5 bunches of cocos for the time it took to
gather. Benigno said another crop will be ready in about 6 months. As soon as
the first bunch was down, Anita, Misael, Sauri and Prici began breaking cocos
open using a large rock as an anvil, and a smaller one as a hammer. The crab
apple sized fruits split open to reveal a round, white chunk of coconut flesh
about the size of a large shooter marble. We ate a bunch right there, me eating
them plain, and the other passing around a chunk of panela (caked brown can sugar) to bite from and mix in their mouths
with the cocos. Any time they found a piece of coconut that was split into two,
rather a solid single globe, there was a cry of gemelos! (twins!), and the lore is that if you eat gemelos you will end up with twin
children yourself. Misael, particularly, enjoyed shouting gemelos and laughing whenever he found one.
Nearby were the remains of a former
greenhouse that had collapsed--posts had rotted away. Benigno plans to build a
new one there to grow babaco, and maybe some indigo in the future if I find and
bring him seeds. Also nearby was a small piece of pasture, about 1 ½ acres
where their sheep and cow (with young bull baby) were staked out. They rent
that pasture for $100 every two years.
After Benigno finished with the cocos, he
took me and Misael down the hill to see a white earth mine that he says is
pretty old. He led us quite far down the hill to a steep bank that overlooks the
place where the Rio Hierba Buena passes under and alongside the Panamerican Highway.
Here there were several small mine site into the side of the hill. After
getting past the overburden of soil (a foot or so of black dirt, the hill is
composed of fine white rock that is very soft. Benigno says that in the past,
people who were more wealthy and wanted to make a fine house would mine some of
this rock, mix it with water and animal dung, and use it as a white plaster on
the walls of their house. The practice was more common he said, in the post
Inca period because the Incas used stone for building rather than adobe bricks.
But as people shifted to adobe, which is mud colored, the high style became to
use this plaster. Some people do currently use the white earth still, but not
many because construction is increasingly done with bricks and cement blocks,
which are usually just painted with commercial paint. The current owners of the
site charge $2 for a large back, about the size of a 50 pound bag of rice.
Climbing back up we passed a spot where
someone was working on making adobe blocks for a house. The person had made a
mucky spot of mud by hoeing up a small retaining wall of earth, looked they had
chopped up the earth with a shovel or pick, sprinkled straw and maybe some dung
over the whole area, then flooded it with water. Nearby there were several
hundred blocks laid out to dry. Benigno says you build a form out of wood with
open top and bottom, fill it with the mixture, then step on it to pack it together
firmly and add more mixture. Then slip the form off and let the block dry--it
becomes very hard he says, and will act as the basic material for the house,
including providing load bearing support for upper floors and roofs.
Quick Note: I´ve mader several entries today (it´s market day and I´ve been in town all afternoon). The camera card reader is working again, so there are pictures, and a reminder, too, that comments now work, so respond to the entries if you feel so inclined.
I've been asked by a couple of different
members of the Calcutas cooperative if I will bring their personal beadwork to
to try to sell for them. This has caused me some discomfort, trying to figure
out how to help these women, while being fair and open to all of them. After
thinking this through, I've decided I will offer to carry work from any of them
who want to send it. So anybody who might be reading this, please be advised I
will have beautiful beadwork for sale when I return to the States, and all of
the money I collect will be passed directly back to the women who made the
On Tuesday at the meeting I will explain to
all of the Calcutas that I am willing to take necklaces for them to try to sell
in the States, but only with these conditions understood:
1)First, they need to understand
that I am not a businessman, but a professor. I only sell the things that I
carry as an adjunct to my work as a professor--that is, I talk about the
cooperatives to my classes, to community groups, etc. If, after these talks,
people want to buy a necklace, that is when I sell them. I do not go to
markets, or go to lengthy measures to market this work, and will not do so now.
If the things sell, it is because of the good will and interest of the people I
speak to about Las Calcutas and the artesania
2)Since I met these women through
the Calcutas, and I think the Calcutas' work is important, any earnings the
women make from pieces that I sell will have to be partially shared with the
Calcutas. 10% of any cash I receive for the private work the women send with me
must be paid into the Calcuta's common fund.
3)They must only give me quality
work, made with quality materials--no beads that will lose their color or
obviously shoddy work will be accepted--I will reserve the right to say I won't
take pieces that I think are inferior or not likely to sell.
4)They must understand that I may
not be back for up to three years, and they may have to wait that long before I
would bring any earnings back to them.
5)Any pieces that do not sell by
then, would be returned to them--I will not pay myself for the pieces that do
I suspect these five conditions will deter
many, if not most, of the women from sending anything with me. Anita affirmed
that it would be a good idea to present this opportunity to all the women
openly and equally in order to assure good relations next time I visit--to avoid
jealousies if some find out that I did this for only certain individuals in the
While I worked on the porch on the necklace
I have been working on for the past week, Benigno finished up his work
installing the water in the new kitchen, and now it is complete. Anita moved
the propane tank to the new stove, and shifted the plates and pans and
vegetables and such in the afternoon, and she and Prici made supper in the new
kitchen. We ate there and offered a round of applause to el maestro for his work. Took a picture of all of use (without
Misael) eating the first meal in the kitchen. Misael wasn't around all day
because he was at a minga helping Eloy and Laura shift all the concrete blocks
stacked on the roadside up the hill about 100 yards where they are building
their new house. It took all day, and Misael came back about 8:30 exhausted and
grouchy--he had obviously worked very hard all day, and he hadn't been around
for either lunch or supper, so not sure what he ate at the minga, usually seems to be mote and chicken caldo. He cried and grouched for about half an hour before being
sent to brush his teeth and go to bed.
Late in the afternoon a young guy from
Tambopamba stopped by to get some help from Benigno on repairing a pair of
pants. Benigno greeted him very warmly and took him inside the sitting room
where they visited while Benigno worked at the sewing machine to fix the pants.
I noticed the young guy (later found out he's 21), spoke quietly and with a queer
timbre to his voice. He seemed a little frail, too. Later, over dinner, we got
talking and somehow I got on the topic of Doug and his death from cancer. Anita
explained that the guy who had visited earlier, ?NAME?, also has cancer, and has had
2 of 5 chemotherapy treatments so far. His hair has fallen out--a symbolically
significant thing when long hair is considered a distinctive marker of Saraguro
ethnic identity. His cancer started in the bronchial area, but has spread to
the esophagus and lungs. I explained that Doug died of esophageal cancer, and
that the prognosis for this guy was probably not good. Suggested he should seek
out a shaman, as modern medicine really doesn't have a lot it can do to cure
this particular problem. I said, "I bet he has trouble eating, doesn't he?" and
they said yes, that he hardly could eat anything. I said that people diagnosed
with this rarely live more than a year, and reiterated that maybe a Shuar
shaman or someone like this might be consulted.
A brief bit about my "focus group"
interview with the CEMIS cooperative on Friday. CEMIS is the cooperative that
Linda Belote and Anne Severine successfully sponsored for this year's Folk
Market in Santa Fe.
We met in the small room that serves as a
meeting room and store to sell their work. The room is on Calle Loja, and is
the front part of one of the members' house--she rents it to the group. There
were about 15 women in the room and we sat on benches around the perimeter,
with a round table spread with collares at the center. Zoila introduced me to
the group, and directed my attention especially to Balbina (did not get the
rest of her name), who, with her husband was one of the founders of CEMIS, in
the early 1980s. Balbina was the person who was to give me the history of the
group, and I briefly misunderstood and thought we were supposed to arrange a
meeting for another time to do this. But she clarified and said she would
rather do it with her compañeras
present. So I started by asking a question, saying I'd like to understand the
history of the group. Balbina said, "Do you want to do this by asking
questions? Or can I just talk?" "I don't need to ask; I don't need to talk," I
said. "You go ahead if you know what you want to say."
So Balbina launched into what was more or less
a prepared oratory. She started with an invocation and welcome in Kichwa, which
I, of course, could not understand. Then she switched to Spanish to formally
welcome me, and to give a fairly lengthy thanks to Linda and Anne and the Folk
Market for their assistance and the success of the group's visit this year to
the market. She expressed hope for future collaboration and then gave the
details of the history of the group, which I will need some help translating,
as she spoke pretty fast. They started in the 1980s and have been a functional
cooperative for almost 30 years.
One distinctive aspect of this group is
that it is composed of women from several different communities--Ilincho,
Lagunas, Kiskinchir, Ñamarin and others. They meet in the center of town, and
their dream, like that of the Calcutas, is to build a casa propia to house their work, and to serve as a community center
for various programs and support of women and their children. Their success in Santa Fe ($15,000 in 8 days!) has whetted their appetite,
and they really want to bust into other markets in the US and other
countries as a way to raise funds for their project. They have apparently been
selling in the various cities of Ecuador for some time, but
competition is stiff. They estimate that they need perhaps $110,000-115,000 to
buy a lot and build a women's building in the Saraguro center--things are more
expensive there than in the campo,
where the Calcutas, for example, think they might be able to build their center
for about $40,000-$50,000. This is the cash amount each group thinks they need,
with the intention that they would be able to generate in kind matches of about
the same amount through mingas (group
labor days), and donations of wood and other resources owned by various
At several points during the hour-long
group interview the women talked to one another quickly in Kichwa, and though I
didn't understand a word of it, it was pretty awesome to hear Kichwa being used
as a living, vibrant language. All I usually hear are word definitions and
occasional place names. The women laughed a lot and it was exhilarating (and
mentally exhausting!) to keep up with the thoughts and questions of a room full
of smart, savvy, organized women.
They've invited me back to their next
meeting (next Friday) when they plan to ask me some more questions about
possibilities for markets in the US, and when they plan to feed me--wanted to
know if I am a vegetarian or have particular local foods I won't eat--I suspect
there may be a cuy meal in the offing.
For three days this week
(Tues./Weds./Thurs.) over half of the Calcutas (I counted 12 women) and many of
their kids have had a day-long course in fabric painting. Offered as part of some
missionary activity of the out of Loja, for only $100 the women were given
instruction in the method of transferring patterns from paper to cloth using
carbon paper and tracing, and they learned how to use acrylic paints to put
color on the cloth. The patterns were brought by the teachers of the course,
and largely consisted of line drawings of flowers, fruit arrangements, and for
the kids, "Strawberry Patch" type "cute" little girls and boys with baggy
pants, hats, etc. The point was to learn the technique, not necessarily to
express their own visions of art or life. Most of the women chose to work on
tablecloths with fruit patterns. Enith Paqui took to the technique quite
quickly, and where the other women worked hard to finish one, or perhaps two
pieces, she completed several, including matching wall paintings of a
Starwberry Patch boy for her two sons, two flower wall hangings--one on which
she plans to calligraphy a poem, and a larger table cloth. She worked quickly
and well, and her pieces, though based on stock drawings, show promise in their
technique. She asked if there were classes for this kind of thing in the States
and I said I thought there were. She said she wants to check into taking some
classes there when she goes back at the end of this month.
At the end of the third day, the two male
ministers came to have a closing ceremony and to pick up the two female
teachers. First the women of the Calcutas who wanted to speak gave their thanks
to the teachers and the ministry for their assistance. "Mary," the group's
president was not there, so Anita, as past president, spoke and thanked them
for coming, and for teaching the women a new skill. She said they hope to
continue to learn, and any future help would be much appreciated. Aleja and
Enith both spoke along the same lines. I got my camera on, on video, for the
end of Aleja's speech, for Enith's, for Mami Petrona's and for a second piece
The older of the two men then spoke, too,
saying things such as, "What you really accomplished these three days was not
these individual works, but the work of community making." Also said that they
hope to continue the relationship, that this workshop, the work of their hands,
was really just a seed, a beginning. He offered a prayer, and at the end they
gave the women a set of books that I think are somewhat proselytizing, but also
offer some practical wisdom. In a place where people do not have a lot of access
to or money for books, but where they see the value of them and avidly look
over books they receive (evidenced by the enthusiasm everyone has shown for the
collection of Apache tales and legends and the Atlas of the Earth that I
brought), the symbolic value of giving free books to everyone certainly
Two things I found ironic or disconcerting
about the closing of the workshop:
First, I thought it was ironic that the
minister chose to preach about the need to make community, and how they had
started to do so here during the workshop. The women of this community and this
organization have been working in some form collectively for their entire
lives. They already know more about community making than could fill a dozen
books--whether we're talking about family based collective effort or
community-wide mingas, or the
informal social support network that includes people with a milk cow sending
milk daily to relatives with babies and no cow, these women already know what
functional community means. To have a man from the city come to them with his
words of wisdom on this topic seems pretty patronizing to me as an observer.
The second disconcerting thing was more
personal. I had only been around the margins of the workshop--popping in at the
end of the first day, when I helped Anita (at her request) finish tracing her
first pattern onto a cloth, and visiting briefly with some of the other women.
I came back from Saraguro and an interview with Zoila Chalan (see below) for
the last hour of the final day, and helped a bit with hanging finished pieces
on the walls for a final display and some photos. Took photos for Enith with
her camera, as she asked, and took photos of a couple of the women with their
completed pieces so I could bring them prints later (as they requested). Then I
took video footage for them of the closing ceremony--this was the extent of my
involvement with the class. So I was a bit startled and disconcerted when both
Enith and the minister verbally thanked me for my assistance. I guess the
presence of an outsider, and an U.S.
outsider at that, made them feel compelled to acknowledge me, but really, I had
nothing to do with any of the substance of what these women were doing. Made me
uncomfortable to be singled out like that for no other reason than I occupy the
structural position of someone from a distant, "elite" society. But, this is
inevitably part of my presence here.
Next week the Calcutas will resume their
regular Tuesday afternoon meeting and collective artesania work session.
Woke at dawn from a strange, fairly intense
dream. I had returned to the States from my fieldwork, but instead of returning
to my current family, found myself with my childhood extended family on my
mom's side at a party--various cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. I was interacting
with folks, talking, telling a bit about my trip, when suddenly, I found I couldn't
understand the English they were speaking. It sounded all garbled and
nonesensish--I imagine the way English must sound to Anita and Benigno and the
others here when it is spoken fast between two native speakers. I kept sating,
"No entiendo," and at first the people at the party laughed and thought I was
joking around, but eventually they began to grow annoyed. Then malevolently
angry, faces becoming grotesque and scary--distorted as in fun house mirrors.
Woke up short of breath and afraid.
Perhaps some of that dream had to do with a
brief haunting image I got yesterday during the jaunt that coopted my interview
with Rosa Medina (more about that jaunt below). We visited a small cave by the
river, where a black pool of water is separated from the main flow of the
river. After our trek was over for the morning we stopped in at Jose's sister's
house because he wanted me to try some wajango,
a slightly fermented beverage made inside the penco (agave) plant. While we were there, he prompted his sister to
tell me what she had seen inside the cave long ago. She said she had seen a
dark male figure with two faces rising out of the water up to his chest. She
ran from the place and her friends, who had not gone into the cave with her,
ran away, too. Jose said he, too, has seen strange things in there, but he did
not go into specifics--when we were at the cave he several times called it misterioso.
About the adventure that led us to the
cave. When I got to Rosa Medina's house, her husband, Jose Fernando, was there,
along with their three kids. First they took Misael and I upstair to the
topmost room of the house where they have a small recording studio set up for Jonathan,
their oldest son. He is a singer and plays guitar. The room is a 10X10 cubicle
with a computer, a small mixing board, a microphone on a stand and a guitar
leaning in the corner. They wanted to show us a video of Jonathan when he sang
a ballad at the event help in honor of President Rafael Correa's visit to
Saraguro last March. The video was likely done by a local production company,
as the sound and video quality was good, and the whole piece was introduced and
narrated by a Saraguro man in traditional dress. Correa spoke to the crowd a
little in Kichwa at first, and wore a poncho he had been given--this brought a
lot of applause. There were a couple of singers-- Jonathan sang solo with the
live band playing with him, and he was very good--impassioned and strong-voiced,
and conscious of the need to "put the song over" to the crowd. After each verse
the crowd gave him a round of enthusiastic applause.
Then Jose wanted to know if I had seen the
Tuncarta community cemetery, which I hadn't, and he explained that he also has
a seed field of a plant growing next the cemetery, a plant that he hopes to
develop into a commercial crop.
So, we were down the stairs and out the
door, all of us--Jose, me, Misael, Rosa, Jonathan (11), and his two younger
sisters (perhaps 8 and 4)--for what turned into a two our adventure to the cemetery
and field and to a lovely spot down on the river that Jose and Rosa only recently
purchased (about 1 month ago), and which he has visions of turning into a
tourist destination. More about that below.
The field turned out to be about 100 yards
X 150 yards and was on a slope high above the river. The plant, called achira, is a perhaps 1-meter tall
flowering plant, a species related to slightly taller such flowers that people use
for ornamental plantings. The red rooted and white rooted varieties that Jose
is cultivating to generate future planting stock are both used for food. The
white variety, especially, is used to make a fine white flour called chuño, which is used in fine pastries
and such. It is this product that Jose hopes to open the door to a commercial
market, and hence economic opportunities. The plant is propagated like bananas
from cuttings, and he hopes to turn most of his cultivable land into a
plantation of such plants. Jose said he doesn't think it is native to Ecuador.
Perhaps it is Japanese taro used to make taro root starch? The leaves are about
20-inches long, and 10-inches wide at the center, tapering at the tip and
bottom. Strong central rib, with many parallel veins radiating from the rib.
Stalk is thick and fleshy, and leads down to the rounded top of a starchy root
with either a white sheath over it or a red one. The plants were just beginning
to send of flower stalk, perhaps 1 meter high with several orange flowers
separately erupting from the tip.
We climbed down the fairly steep ravine to
the river--any possible pride I might have had for my dexterity was tempered by
the fact that Rosa did the same in long skirts and dress shoes, and her
children all went along, too, including the 4-year old, who only occasionally
needed to be carried by her brother or helped past a steep eroded spot. Along
the way we saw a planting of sango(?)--a
large leafed plant (leaves look like giant elephant ears), which grew on the
steep slope where the temperature was very warm from solar heat, and at a spot
where a spring was bubbling through the scree to provide constant water at the
roots. There are two varieties, again a white and a red, and the fleshy trunk
is eaten with crumbled cheese--Rosa said it's
We climbed down to a really beautiful spot
on the river, just below a series of dramatic rapids and falls. I climbed onto
a rock in the middle of the river with Jose and Misael and Jonathan, and then
Jose wanted me to stay there while he worked his way upstream and onto some
larger rock outcrops in the midst of the stream. He wanted photos of himself on
each rock. So he scrambled around and up and I took photos at several points
for him. He was dressed in slick, black dress shoes and black dress pants, a
white dress shirt and a black jacket, but this did not slow him, and he climbed
places I would not try with my stable hiking boots and camping pants.
All the time we were there, Jose talked
animatedly about his plan to make this spot over into a tourist destination. He
led me down into the cave, really a sort of tunnel that opens on one end
upstream in such a manner that at high water river current washes into the
opening and drops about 20 feet into a sandy-bottomed hole with a rock roof
overhead. A dark pool, about 20 feet wide and stretching back under a large
boulder into darkness is also fed steadily by an underground stream that
tumbles out of the earth over a few stones into the pool. Jose says he has
caught several large trout from this pool, and speculates they get washed in at
high water, and since there is no clear opening for the fish to get back to
main current, they get stuck in there and grow fairly large. I imagine the
population of that little spot would be rapidly depleted by serious fishing.
Jose wants to get the commercial crop of achira going in order to generate
capital to develop this spot for tourism. He wants to build a small rustic
hostal on piece of fairly level land he has on the lip of the river canyon,
then build a comfortable path with handrails down to the spot on the river by
the cave. There he would build a small cabaña, perhaps a footbridge over the
river, and some ladders. Tourists could fish, swim, rock climb, etc. In
addition, Jose could act as guide to look at wildflowers, trees, etc. He also
would like to guide folks up to the paramo
(the beginning of the route to the Oriente is not far from here), to show them
places such as Condorcillo and Tres Lagunas--highland lakes also stocked with
He wanted to know if I thought this was a
good place for this, and if I thought this was a good idea. He is clearly
excited about his recent ownership of what is, indeed, a special place. I said
that I thought it would be attractive to tourists if they developed a 3-4 day
tourist package that included one day for knocking around at this spot by the
river, a day hiking into the paramo
for sightseeing and fishing, and a day for cultural tourism in Tuncarta itself,
perhaps to see some significant spots, and participate in a cultural event such
as a meal/fiesta with folkloric dancing and music and chicha sampling and such. He got excited by this idea--said there is
a 100-year-old house that would be a site worth seeing, and might also work as
a location for an event. I said I
thought this would be great, and the women who make artesanias could demonstrate and sell their work, too. He was
clearly thinking about his own interest, but also had a strong sense that this
kind of development could be beneficial to the entire community.
On the way back up the hill we stopped and
tried the wajongo at his sisters. It
was not strongly fermented and tasted rather like the kombuchu tea made by
fermenting sugar with a Japanese fungus--a little carbonated, tart and sweetish
at the same time, and clearly a "living" food. I liked it.
By the time we'd drunk the wajongo, it was already a few minutes
past noon, when I had my next interview scheduled, so we had to cut the visit
short without having sat down for the interview with Rosa.
So, I've arranged to return on Wednesday morning, both for the interview and to
put the pictures I took into their computer.
By David Syring on August 6, 2009 2:07 PM
Have been thinking about some of the lessons I´m learning here about doing fieldwork, living life, etc. Here is Techno-pelli´s shadow on the path down from Namarin to Tuncarta. The stuff I´m putting here is a list of things I need to remember, and maybe it´s partially a poem, and possibly it might be useful to other techno-pellis out there.
NOTE ALSO: The comments function should be working now, so if you would like to add your own advice for a techno-pelli, please feel free to do so. Thanks to one of the readers of htis blog (you know who you are) for reminding me to be thoughtful and ethical about what I post here, You´ll see a couple of the things on the list relate directly to your comments.
for a Techno-pelli
all the pockets.
Not everybody likes your music,
or your visit to
You're welcome in many places in the community--
But not here!
Or not now!
Tractor time costs more--
you can wait--
watch, maybe you'll learn something,
and pitch in if they'll let you.
Sometimes there are only three stones
firm in the
muddy path--step carefully.
People will ask for your help--
give as much as
don't promise to change lives--
know your true worth and limits as a traveler.
Sometimes your technology won't work.
technology won't be appreciated.
Sometimes your technology will be useful to people you visit.
Be aware of when each of these appear true.
Most of the places you walk in your
are walked daily
Sweet treats in your pockets
Kids can be helpful guides, but remember,
they don't know
all the houses.
(they do know the location
of all bad dogs.)
Dogs, horses, sheep and some people
much like strangers.
For dogs, a stone in your hand (even
can be useful.
Bring everything inside you,
not just your
and use it all, every day.
You're first human,
Women standing at the top of the cliff path,
their morning chat while hand-spinning wool,
not want you to take their pictures. Don´t ask.
Young men of the community might keep their
have their reasons.
Old men will ask you questions you can't
about why your
country is wealthier than theirs.
Old women who have never worn shoes
will probably not talk to you--
there's a good chance they do not speak
the same language as others in the community.
People will tell you a certain old woman
is more than
this may or may not be true.
Morning yoga is a good way to keep mental
balance while journeying.
By David Syring on August 4, 2009 1:48 PM
The good news is that with the help of ¨Shane¨ from UThink support services, the comments on the blog should now be enabled. I simply had the spam filter set too high to accept comments.
So, please feel free to comment on any of the posts that have interested you so far, and on future posts.
The bad news is that in an effort to clear space on my laptop for more photos and recordings, I accidentally deleted the driver fro my SD car reader, and am now not able to move photos from my camera to my laptop (and thence to my USB flashdrive, which I use to bring photos to the Internet place in Saraguro to post to this blog). So, I have tried downloading a driver that I think will get the thing working again, but if it doesn´t work, this blog is going to be a lot less visually interesting for the remainder of my trip, which ends on August 23.
So, comment away, and I hope to get photos up and working again soon--what would a techno-pelli be if he/she didn´t have to contend with technical difficulties caused by the technology (and dumb decisions to delete made too late in the evening!)?
Note: This entry and the several that follow derive from individual interviews with the women of Las Calcutas that I began conducting this week. The order of the entries has gotten a bit jumbled, so you might want to first read the entry two below, which describes the interviewing process.
My final interview for this morning was Luz Magdalena
Macas Minga (Doña Luz). She is a 40-year old indigenous woman who only
moved back to Tuncarta from the Oriente two years ago, after her husband died
of either a heart condition or a stroke. She has six kids ranging from 21 to
about 3 years old, and works now to hold together her livelihood by combing
artesania work with agricultural work. She does more embroidery than beadwork,
but does, like Doña Mariañita, do some huallca weaving on commission from other
indigenous women, especially for friends and acquaintances she has in the
Oriente. She said most of the Saraguro women of the Oriente do not know how to
weave huallcas, though they do desire them and want to wear them. So she makes
some income in this manner, with the client providing the beads and paying her
for her work. She was working on a single-color one similar to that of Doña
Marianita, with metallic green beads purchased by the client in the United States.
She said that her friends will call her and tell her what size they want (for
example this one will have 60-70 filas
(rows) to be complete--a lot of rows because of the small size of the beads).
The client will also tell her what colors or pattern she desires. The small
beads, while requiring much mre work than larger beads, results in a very
supple and soft feeling fabric, and seems to be treasured by many of the women
here. I've seen Anita wearing a similar one. I asked Doña Luz what kinds she
makes for herself, and she retrieved her basket of personal necklaces. It
contained about 6 huallcas, three of some varied colored patterns, which she
says she made for her daughter, but which her daughter no longer likes or
wears, and two solid colored huallcas made with bugle beads and seed beads--one
gold and one green. The only patterned model that she herself wears turns out
to be a Caracoles worked in green against a black background, with a maragarita
base row. I find it interesting that her
preference is for solid-colored huallcas, with the exception of this one pattern. She allowed me to take a photo of her wearing the Caracoles.
In addition to the interviews with the
women, I talked with two men who were out and about as Misael and I traveled
between the houses of the women I was interviewing. The first, Aparecio
Sarango, lives by the school. He was an older man, perhaps 60, who wanted to
talk to me about what I grow back home--the assumption being that everyone must
plant something. He expressed some surprise when I told him that I grow peas
and fava beans and cabbage and carrots and such--wanted to know if they were the
same as they grow here, and I said yes. He wanted my advice on how to get good
crops out of ground that is tired (cansado),
without resorting to chemicals. He said that he is worried for the young folks
about cancer and illness caused by chemicals. I said that really, I think he
and his community knows much more about how to farm here than anything I could
share. They already know about using legumes to replenish nitrogen in the soil,
and other such techniques--really, what could I possibly have to offer in the
way of advice on this topic? He lamented that there is no market for many of
the crops they can grow, such as cabbage, and as a result the people of this
place are very poor. One of his main complaints was that they are so poor they
cannot afford to buy meat.
Also chatted briefly with a guy who said
his name is Miguel, and who travels and works in the United States. He is Misael's padrino, and leaves again for the U.S.
on August 14. In the past he has worked on the same farm in Wisconsin
as Maximo and Segundo Gonzalez, but he now lives and works in Maryland. He said there is a community of
Saraguros, primarily folks from Oñacapac, living in Virginia,
and a few in Maryland, but that the larger
number of Saraguros in the U.S.
live in Wisconsin and in New
York and New Jersey.
"But most of them have short hair," now he said, as if that called into
question their ethnic identities, which in some ways it does, as explained in
the Belotes' article "Drain from the Bottom." He was wearing a University of
Houston sweatshirt while he and another guy worked on digging a hole for a
septic tank for a house that was not his own. It was obvious from the smell of
the canal that ran beside where they were working that the house desperately
needs the septic tank. Misael had only a few minutes earlier noted how bad it
smelled. When I asked Miguel what they were doing, he said they were working on
digging a hole for the septic tank. "That is our intention at least," he said,
as if the outcome might be in some doubt--a way of expressing that one does not
really have absolute control over what happens in the world. I laughed and
said, "Well, I hope it will become a reality." He laughed, too, and then Misael
and I took our leave and headed back up the road to the house for lunch.
Realizing that the chocolate bar I gave him
was really not much compensation for three hours of patient guidance and wisdom
about where nasty dogs were and how to handle them, I gave Misael two quarters
I had in my backpack--they happened to be actual U.S. quarters, and he commented
on this and appreciated them very much for that reason.
de Jesus Lozano (Doña Mariañita), was a pleasure to
interview. She is an indigenous woman whose mother taught her to bead when she
was 14. She brought out her photo album and showed me pictures of her life--a
lot of pictures of when she was a young woman and underwent the "novio
ceremony" to become married to her husband. Beautiful blue cloths wrapped
around them, a ceremony at the church, a return to the house of her
mother-in-law riding horses in the midst of a procession of musicians including
a drummer and an accordion player. This is a photo of her today. Below is a photo of her about 20 years ago, which she allowed me to reproduce using my camera.
She had many picture of friends who are
foreigners and Ecuadorians from Loja and other cities, including photos of her
friend "Lynn" who is an anthropologist and appears to have been here perhaps 20
years ago. I believe this is Lynn Meisch--will have to follow up on this. The
interview with Doña Mariañita lasted about 45 minutes.
She was working on an all gold,
small-beaded huallca that was commissioned by another woman. She said she no
longer really makes necklaces for the market, because the shop keepers are very
cheap and do not pay enough for her work. She makes most of her work on
commission now, usually with the client providing special beads that she wants
used--for example the metallic gold beads she was using to make this single
color necklace were very small and fine and had been purchased in the U.S. by a
member of the client's family. Doña Mariañita will receive $30 for her work
(she would get at most $20 from a shop-keeper in town, and she would have had
to purchase the beads herself). With her permission I took several photos of
her and the work as we talked. I asked if she makes necklaces for herself (she
does) and if she makes them as gifts for friends. This last brought some
interesting information. She does not make necklaces as gifts, she says,
because she is very poor, and can't really afford the beads or the time for
such an extravagant gift. She said the large gold huallca she is making will take her two weeks of on and off work,
with perhaps two hours a day of labor, because she can't sit for longer than
that. She does, however, make the narrow loomed bracelets one sees here as
gifts for her friends. She had one she was working on, and she wanted to gift
it to me, but it was neither finished, nor quite large enough for my wrist. She
retrieved a basket from inside that had some beads, and which she thought had a
couple of other bracelets she had made, but they were gone. "Los chicos," she
said, meaning that her sons had taken them for their own uses.
She allowed me to take photos of a couple
of her old photos, including a shot of her mother and father some years ago.
She pointed out with pride all of the things in the photo that were her
mother's artesanias--including several
de colores huallcas that appear to
have been very much larger than the models I see women wearing now. Other
artesanias included woven wool blankets, belts, red ponchos woven in the colors
traditional to Cañar, and, of course, her mother is spinning with a hand spindle in picture. Her mother is looking at her spinning work, not the camera,
as if she could not take time away from this basic task even to pose for a
moment for what is clearly a family portrait--an interesting glimpse into the
work-focused mind of this woman. Everyone else in the portrait is looking at
the camera, the father with something of a smirky scowl. The elder brother even
holds the family puppy so that it is looking at the camera, but the mother
focuses on her handwork. Later I found out from Anita that Doña Mariañita's
mother, whose name was Asuncion Lozano, was the first woman in Tuncarta to make
beaded necklaces. Anita thought that Linda Belote might have known Asuncion.
Began individual interviews with the women
of the Calcuta's cooperative this week. Went very well, but am a little
mentally tired from the mental concentration it takes to conduct the
interviews. However, it is rewarding to be able to really be in the
conversation and understanding almost all of what the women are saying.
For a chocolate bar I hired Misael (pictured here) to guide
me to the houses, and also to have him with in the houses during the interviews
to belay any suspicions of misconduct. Started each interview by asking for
permission to record what we talked about, and then, after the recorder was
turned on, asked for formal permission to use what we talked about in my
articles and a possible book. All 5 of the women granted oral permission for
this. I also explained that I could use their actual names or a false name to
protect their identities in what I write. All but one woman wanted me to use
their actual names.
First to be interviewed was "Mary," the only one who wanted a
pseudonym used. Mary is not originally from Tuncarta--she's from Cuenca--and she is not
indigenous. She is a vibrant and talkative woman who chooses to live in el campo, preferring it to the city,
where her brothers live. She married a nonindigenous guy who has lived his
whole life in Tuncarta, except for three years he spent working in Spain. He's
been back from Spain
for 10 months. I asked her if it was hard for her when he was gone, and she
said it was very difficult, because the expectation is that spouses should be
side-by-side in daily life. She knew very little about how to live in the
country; how to tend animals, raise food, etc. While it was difficult, however,
the people of the community helped her, and she learned a lot. In many ways it
was significant for her growth as a woman to have to learn how to do everything
necessary for rural life. She feels empowered now, and has confidence that she
can do anything her life requires her to do. She has been a member of the
Calcutas for about a year and 4 months (since April of 2008), and it is a
testament to her growth as a capable woman that she was elected in January 2009
to serve as president of the group for a year, despite being nonindigenous, and
non-native to Saraguro. Despite her comment that she is shy, she smiles a lot
and talks a lot and is clearly well-liked by the other women of the group. She
said Aleja has taught her some about bead weaving, but especially mentioned
that Anita has been instrumental in her education into artesanias. She does not
really do beadwork in her own house, as she neither has the time, nor yet feels
confident enough with her skills to work alone. She hopes to learn more and do
more such work on her own. Her interview is recorded as 0071, and I will transcribe/translate
her comments later. We talked for more than half and hour, and it was an
easy-going and pleasant conversation. She clearly understood what I am doing,
and spoke openly about interesting topics. Her four dogs are named Tarzan!, Oso
(bear), Koki, and Churipa.
In contrast, the next interview, with Carmen Yolanda Sarango Inga, also a
nonindigenous woman, was a little more difficult and shorter. Carmen Yolanda
has lived all her life in Tuncarta, and been a member of the Calcutas only
since January. Her two boys (both younger than 4) hovered around, as did some
puppies. She enjoys beading and is learning how to do it from the group, with
again, Aleja and especially Anita mentioned as her primary teachers. She has
been doing some beadwork in her own home, but really is only beginning to get
mastery of the technique.
The next interview was with Carmen
Yolanda's older sister, Maria Elena
Sarango Inga. They live fairly close together and close to "Mary," leading
me to wonder whether the lower part of Tuncarta is the primary location for
nonindigenous campesinos in the community to live. Will have to ask Benigno and
Anita about this--would make some sense--it's closer to the highway (although now
that a new entry road into Tuncarta has been made, their houses are "off the
beaten track"--buses and such no loger pass close to their places. Maria Elena
was even more difficult to interview as she didn't really seem to have much to
say about beading or the Calcutas. She enjoys the beadwork and the company, but
has a short time of experience with it. Her younger daughter, Jenny, leaned on
her shoulder for the 20 minutes or so that we visited, and expressed interest in learning to bead as
well. She was at the meeting last Tuesday and seems to be paying good attention
and learning. Maria Elena makes her primary living by selling fruit in the
market in town, which she buys in Cuenca
and brings down to Saraguro. Because she spends most days selling in the
market, she has little time to work at home, and does not do beadwork at home
I also left my digital recorder sitting on
the table and running for most of the meeting, so collected a lot of good
"table gossip." It is such a small and unobtrusive thing, that it in no way
affected the flow of the conversation. I feel I had permission to use it
because I put it on the table, explained what it was, and used it to record me
asking for permission to interview each of them and record the interviews. I
recorded about 1 ½ hours of the meeting, including at several points my asking
general questions that I was curious to hear their collective response to.
First I asked them, what makes a necklace
model beautiful, and which are their favorites. The first answer was that they
think all of the patterns are beautiful, but that the necklaces that sell the
best and fastest are especially beautiful. I laughed and said, "So it's the
money that is the most important," and they agreed and laughed, too. But I
pressed for more. "But you all wear necklaces and have preferences for the ones
you like most. Which ones are best for this?"
Almost immediately the answer from several
of the women was, "De Colores," the oldest and simplest pattern that is made up
of successive rows of different colors. It is the pattern of the first hullca I
made under Anita's direction, and is the pattern Prici is working on for her
first couple of full huallcas.
"Why?" I asked. The answers came rapid fire
from many of the women. "Because it is typical." "It is traditional." "It is
the oldest pattern." "It is the pattern made by those who came before us, and
so is the best." "It's important to preserve our culture."
This was very interesting to me. Anita
elaborated, "We like the other patterns, and wear them, but de colores is the
best because it is the one our ancestors made."
So, this was one general question that
brought interesting responses. A second one I asked was, "What do your men
think about your artesanias?" This brought laughter. The oldest woman spoke up
and said her husband doesn't know anything about artesanias. Anita took the
lead and went around the table and asked each woman to check in on what her
husband thought of the artesanias (including jokingly asking a girl of about 10
what her spouse thought--to much laughter). The most common answer was that the
men support the artesanias, especially because it brings in money. Several of
the younger married women said their husbands encouraged them to learn more and
more so they could make distinctive pieces that will sell and bring in cash.
A third general question I asked the group
was, "I've noticed you don't usually use white as the basis for your
patterns--why is this?" The initial answer was, "Because black goes with every
color and with any clothes." Then, as with the questions about preferred
patterns and what their men think, they turned it into a joke with much
laughter. "We use black because we're black! If gringos did this kind of work,
their the ones who would use white as the base!" This got everybody going
again. They really have a lot of fun at the meetings while they work, and it
made me think of all the ways that the ethnographic literature describes
women's work as an important opportunity for sociability and diversion.
Definitely the case here!
A final general question I asked was taken
more seriously. I explained to them that I had seen a mestizo man who made and
sold beadwork in Cuneca, including Saraguro style necklaces. "What do you think
of mestizos and mestizas making and selling this kind of work?" There was a
telling few moments of silence as the women reacted to my question and thought
about whether they wanted to tell me, a gringo, their true feelings on this.
But after a moment, they began to speak. "They are robbers," said one woman.
"Thieves," said another. "They are stealing our culture, and it's not right,"
said a third. "This is proper to us; we are the ones who invented this
artesania, and it belongs to us." "They are copying us."I pointed out that perhaps I should not be
learning how to do this work; that perhaps I was another example of someone who
was stealing from them. But they protested and said, "It's okay as long as you
only sell in your country, because we can't go there to sell." "But there are Saraguros who sell beadwork in the
States. If I go to my country and make and sell your work, aren't I also a
thief?" They did not seem to think so. But, of course, I really am not
interested in selling Saraguro style work that I make myself--that feels too
imperialistic to me, and it's not necessary--I have other income, and I can
carry their work to the States to sell so that I can show others their amazing
I do think this resentment of mestizo/a
competition is significant, and suggests a strong cultural self-confidence on
the part of these women. It is good to see this discontent expressed strongly
and with confidence, and I hope to make my small contribution to their cultural
confidence by writing well and openly about the work they do together.
I also explained that I, myself, am part of
a cooperative in the United
States, and they wanted to know what kind. I
explained that I have bought a farm in cooperation with four other families,
and that we hope to build houses for each family on this farm. They laughed and
said they need to buy a really big piece of land together so they, too, can
build houses for each woman in cooperation. I explained that the same
cooperative principles that are part of their charter are used all over the
world. Most of them were not really familiar with these principals, but they
agreed that cooperation was key to making their lives better. It will be
interesting to hear each woman's individual responses to my questions about
what is good and what is not good about the cooperative for them.
I sat in a corner and drifted a bit
mentally while they chatted and beaded, with occasional exchanges on various
topics. For example, during a lull in the conversation at the table I said, "I
want to plant a seed of an idea. Linda and Ann have possibly one or two more
years to help you all take your work to the market in Santa Fe. After that, you will need to do
much of the work yourselves. It would be a good idea for you to work with the
other cooperatives to do this." One of the 7 cooperative principles that is in
their charter is "Cooperation between cooperatives." They thought about this
for a moment, and Anita said, "Perhaps. But each group has its own ideas. These
ideas might not line up." "Yes, but you will need to be filling out the
application and making your arrangements alone eventually, and it would be a
good idea to share the skills needed to do this." They thought about that, and
seemed to be considering what they think of it--the conversation did not go much
further than that, but I feel like I've done my small bit to plant the seed of
Late in the meeting they took attendance,
and noted who was absent. Anita's apprentice/helper Carmen was not at the
meeting, but she seemed to be excused because she is working on her house to
get it ready for the graduation party on Sunday. Several other women's absences
were noted with a mild tone of disapproval. The group takes attendance
After the meeting, Anita and I walked up
the road home together--she knitting on a sweater for Prici while we walked--and
I said that I hoped I hadn't made a mistake in telling Linda that the
Kiskinchir group was not going to be ready in time. Anita seemed to think I had
not erred, and we got back to the house, where I had to take my leave and go
rest a bit before supper--it takes a lot of focused mental energy to try to
communicate with and understand the conversations of a boisterous group of
women speaking rapidly in a language that I have only partial control over!