Connecting values and culture
Kuzao Zomo Women Entrepreneurs Association, was founded in June 2016 by 15 women of the Mapuche-Lafkenche indigenous community of Allipen (translated as place to see abundance), a community that surrounds the coastal Budi Lake, located in Chile, the only salty lake of the Americas. As a women-managed association, their mission is to revitalize cultural value and skills of mapuche traditional arts and crafts, together bringing back old ways of weaving and dyeing.
Mapuche Peoples believe all life belongs to Itrofillmonguen, a concept representing all interconnected diversity of life. As People (Che) of the Earth (Mapu), women are striving to connect their values and culture while contributing to their households, a challenge that confronts many indigenous communities around the world.
Coastal Lake Budi, home to 112 Lafkenche communities dedicated to artisanal fishing, family agriculture, and textiles. As a way to create economic resilience, communities in Budi are creating areas of Mapuche tourism. Budi greets about 10,000 tourists a year (see www.lagobudi.cl) with a flourishing tourist regional arts and crafts market, becoming ever more important in the region.
Traditionally, there were practical forms to complement their indigenous ways and lifestyles, such as the raising of llamas and sheep, gardens and agricultural plots of native foods such as quinoa and potatoes, natural dyes using plants and lichens, and medicinal knowledge. Mapuche women, during pre-Columbian times and even during the Spanish presence (the Mapuche Peoples were never conquered by the Spanish), gathered to jointly make their textiles, basketry, and clay works. Part of this was used for their own homes, but an important amount of their production was traded in frontier lands where they would exchange for horses, wine, sugar, mate (tea), and tools. Thus, the women were central to their family economy and their communities.
Over time, the women learned to continue weaving as a practice they copied from their mothers and grandmothers, but the collective gathering became lost as women began to have more solitary roles in their family farms, and community involvement became less relevant in the shift towards modern times. As a result, many techniques and materials became lost or undervalued.
In recent years, the international appreciation of indigenous arts have generated a new sense of revival for Mapuche crafts, and through international eyes, are considered to be arts in themselves as a representation of history and mapuche aesthetics. For instance, using high quality wool fibers to make mantas and ponchos to keep warm during winters, or vegetable fibers to use for sturdy tools and storage, was a traditional practice used for trade. Today, Kuzao Zomo’s mission is to collectively bring back these old forms of crafts, and not only re-create the same traditional tools and supplies (rugs, placemats, baskets, etc), but also incorporate arts and decoration as well (animal figures, murals, dolls, jewelry).
As in pre-colonial times, collectively, the Kuzao Zomo women work on their patterns and design, combining this process with the raising of sheep, recollecting herbs and ingredients for natural dyes, and teaching each other weaving techniques in the brink of disappearing. Their challenge is to meet the standards of a dynamic global demand for authenticity while creating fashionable indigenous arts and crafts. To do this, the women search for ways to collectively ensure learning, innovation and quality standards, while creating intergenerational transmission of Mapuche women’s values, symbols and techniques.
Kuzao Zomo envisions a change in bringing back the old, as part of an innovative jump to the new.
Rather than have one figurehead that heads the whole group, the Kuzao Zomo Association collectively participates in the the design mechanisms. Through workshops and meetings in each others’ homes –and soon in a new workshop space of their own the women gather to discuss how their products meet the criteria and demand of their ideal clients, while creating instances of mutual learning to revitalize ancient techniques.
This combination of collective design and re-establishing a circular economy, is complementary to the increasing international and tourist demand for high quality products that are locally made, environmentally sustainable, and expressive as a culture. The women have invested for themselves their own workshop, equipment, and sales outlet- a place where women will gather to jointly design and make their crafts, while sharing their finished products to domestic and international visitors of the Lake Budi region, an emerging cultural tourism destination.
For more information on the work of the Kuzao Zomo group, you can contact at firstname.lastname@example.org