As many of you probably know, I volunteered last year at Maya Traditions Foundation (MTF) in Guatemala. During this time, I worked alongside intelligent Mayan women who are now giving back to their own communities and empowering other Mayan women with the skills and education to overcome poverty. As part of the ethical travel program of MTF, I visited several communities to contribute to the empowerment of indigenous women weavers.
In this post, I will share with you my ethical day trip experience to the Waqxaqi’ Kan Cooperative of Chuacruz, a rural village in the mountains by Lake Atitlán.
The Waqxaqi’ Kan Cooperative of Chuacruz
Chuacruz is a small, rural village in the mountains by Lake Atitlán, close to the city of Sololá. The community members are Kaqchikel Maya and speak the language of Kaqchikel. The Waqxaqi´Kan was founded in 1982. The artisans from this cooperative are famous for creating ikat dots and small weavings. They wear huipiles, the traditional blouse, which feature bright colors and traditional designs. The red represents the blood of their ancestors, the green the plants and animals of the region, the black darkness and night, and the white the purity of Maya women. Each of the colors tells a story and connects the textiles to the cultural history of the region.
The Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) had a brutal effect on the community of Chuacruz, resulting in many of the women becoming widows and main caretakers of their families. In order to support their families and rebuild their community, the women joined together to organize a sustainable, fair trade cooperative to sell their textiles as well as to share communal land for crop cultivation. They now support themselves and their families through the art of backstrap weaving.
Maya Traditions Foundation
Maya Traditions Foundation is a nonprofit social enterprise that aims to empower women artisans, their families, and their communities through Fair Trade and Social Programs that help to rescue, preserve, and promote their ancestral culture with a focus on backstrap weaving, thereby taking part in a larger positive social change for indigenous communities. The organization strongly believes that an alternative, sustainable, and culturally rich tourism industry is possible. As a non-profit social enterprise, they continually seek to support their indigenous artisan partners, their families, and their communities through social programs that work to build capacity, preserve local cultures and environments, and motivate women to strengthen their entrepreneurial ecosystems.
A day trip to the Waqxaqi’ Kan Cooperative of Chuacruz
Together with the project coordinator of MTF, I traveled on a local chicken bus, which is already an experience itself, to Chuacruz. Guatemalan buses are former American school buses that have been colorfully repainted and are usually filled to the brim with locals. The drivers zip through winding and mountainous roads with speed and ease as the passengers fly across their seats. When we arrived at the cooperative, the women artisans greeted us cheerfully.
After a cup of tea and local pastry, the leader of the cooperative started to explain about the cooperative’s history and existence. The project coordinator of MTF spoke the languages of the women artisans and translated into English for my understanding.
The Backstrap Weaving Demonstration
First, the artisans showed how they spin raw ixcaco cotton. The fiber used is fine, soft cotton. Based on the ancestral use of ixcaco, this heirloom natural-colored cottons in brown and ecru are the signature colors of the Waqxaqi’ Kan Cooperative’s weavings.
Then the yarn was hand wrapped into balls.
The thread was stretched around the warping board to create the design. Here, the artisans can establish the final length and width of the piece as well as creating specialized patterns such as Maya. Once completed, the warp threads were carefully removed from the warping board and transferred to the backstrap loom. Once the loom was set up, weaving could begin. During the weaving, most of the artisans will apply brocade to the backstrap woven textiles.
Once done with the weaving, the textiles were joined using randas.
After the demonstration we had traditional lunch and spent time talking with the women, visit their lovely organic garden, and to buy some of their Fairtrade textiles.
I loved this day trip and backstrap weaving demonstration in the cooperative of Chuacruz. The authentic cultural experience, provided by MTF, was really special. It was a great way to experience cultural immersion, meet local artisans, taste a traditional meal, and to buy Fairtrade textiles. I am really grateful to have experienced this trip and this volunteer work at MTF. In the past months, I have felt like I was doing more to help this world and yet less stressed out than I have ever felt before.
NOTE: this post is not sponsored and contains my personal and honest experience!
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