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 art.
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
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
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 seriously.
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!