|A woman weaving with a back-strap loom, San Antonio co-op|
During our recent visit to Lake Atitlán, we made it a point to visit as many women's weaving cooperatives as possible. We stopped at four in San Juan La Laguna, which is well-known for the use of natural dyes and organic cotton, and we also visited the women's co-op of San Antonio. The work involved is absolutely incredible, and the products are quite beautiful. The Mayan women of San Juan cooperatives for example, actually grow their own cotton, harvest it by hand, spin it using ancient techniques, then they extract natural dyes from a variety of plants, fruits, vegetables, flowers, even certain insects, and ultimately dye the thread. After all that, they make these incredible, intricately designed weavings with either back-strap or foot looms that become traditional clothing, bags, pouches, scarves, hammocks, tablecloths, etc. using ancient techniques and meaningful designs passed down through generations. Several of these cooperatives give demonstrations, and we highly recommend paying them a visit. You'll be amazed at how industrious and skilled these women artisans are.
|Cooperative Weaving Women, San Juan|
Most importantly, on this visit we were able to learn more about the story behind these cooperatives and why it is so important to support these amazing women. Well, Guatemala's Civil War of the 80's was particularly hard on the indigenous population and there were many government sanctioned massacres of the Mayans, which are the main inhabitants around the lake. These communities lost most of their men, so to this day, there are a lot of widows who have very few options for making money to support their children. We also came to find out that the women who do have husbands are still not provided for because their husbands are farmers (campesinos) who make no more than 35 to 40 Quetzales after working in the fields all day (about $5). This is not enough money to feed and clothe any family, and due to religious philosophy and/or lack of sex education, many of these women have several children - even eight or ten - and no way to support them. This is how the cooperatives were born. The women realized they could make enough money to support their families and feed their kids by banning together, getting organized, and using their talents to share these weavings with the world. This also allows them to keep their ancient cultural practices from going extinct.
Naturally dyed thread from boiling down different plants, fruits, vegetables, barks, even insects
Asociación de Mujeres en Colores Botánico, San Juan
Buying direct from these cooperatives means the women are getting the most money possible for their work, and for doing a good deed, you receive in exchange a high-quality product that will last a lifetime. But the experience of supporting these women, helping keep their traditions alive, and learning about their culture is truly priceless.
|One of the many amazing textiles made with organic cotton and natural dyes|
from Cooperative Weaving Women in San Juan
|Organic cotton and naturally dyed thread, San Juan La Laguna|
(If you visit any of these co-ops as a result of reading this post, please tell the women you heard about them from us!)
San Juan La Laguna -
Getting there: San Juan is easiest to reach from San Pedro. It's the next village over. You can take a tuk tuk there for the same price as rides within San Pedro - Q5. You can easily catch one back for the same price.
Cooperative Weaving Women - You can watch a quick demo of the cotton spinning, and see all of the botanical sources of dyes they use. They have lovely goods for sale. Located 30 meters to the left of Hotel Maya. There's a high-up sign that points into the alley they're located in.
Tel: (502) 5822-7541
Just down the street from that co-op toward the lake, pass the intersection and you will find two more great co-ops to visit. (After crossing the intersection, look for the orange sun on the white wall to the left and you'll know you're headed in the right direction. There's also a high-up sign on the corner directing you toward the Association of Women in Botanical Colors).
|Ayana with Dominga and her daughter Francisca|
First, you'll see one that just looks like a humble storefront, with clothing and bags hanging in the doorway. Go inside! You'll meet Dominga who is 87 years old and has delightful wares to sell made by local women. She has done a lot to preserve these ancient cultural traditions, and her daughter Francisca is the president of the organization they are officially forming with 5 other women called the Cooperativa de Mujeres Tejedoras de San Juan La Laguna (Cooperative of Women Weavers of San Juan). It has another name in Tz'utujil (the main Mayan dialect of this area) that sounds like "Chej K'em". They don't have any contact info or an internet presence, but just visit and you'll feel like you've stumbled upon something special. It's like walking into a magical world of ancient textiles. They will give you a very good price too since they aren't as organized yet as some of the other co-ops. They can really use the help.
|Dominga @ the Cooperativa de Mujeres Tejedoras de San Juan La Laguna,|
We stumbled upon this hidden gem last year when we were in town for Semana Santa
Walk down a door or two and then make a right to find the Asociación de Mujeres en Colores Botánico (Association of Women in Botanical Colors). They've been there since 1971, and have been an official organization since 2002. 33 women are involved on a daily basis, and another 15 women work with the cooperative part time. They had to flee from Guatemala City where they faced extortion and death threats. In addition to using organic cotton, they also have amazing scarves they make from silk they harvest by hand. Each of these scarves takes them 3 months to produce. They have an onsite museum, illustrating their processes of extracting natural dyes. Ask for Socoro.
|Amazing scarf made from hand-harvested silk, dyed naturally,|
Asociación de Mujeres en Colores Botánico, San Juan
Another one that's well organized and easy to find strolling around San Juan is the Asociación de Autoayuda Chinimayá (ASOAC) - Association of Self-sufficient Chinimayá. They have 29 active members and are one of the more successful co-ops. They have demos and also offer local, wild-crafted honey. Look for this golden building with purple accents.
Tel: (502) 7823-7770/71
San Antonio Palopó - The view from this small village is one of the most breath-taking on the lake. These women are extremely talented, organized, and very open to visitors. The first time we visited with our family and one of the women named Candelaria offered to dress us in traditional clothing just for fun. Ask for her or her daughter Vivian if you want to learn more about what they do. There are 15 women who work together in this cooperative.
|Ruslan with Candelaria and her daughter Vivian, San Antonio Co-op|
Getting there: San Antonio is two villages away from Panajachel (the most populated and touristy town on the lake) yet not many know about it. For an interesting cultural experience and a great view, find out from a local where to catch the pickup truck in Panajachel that goes to San Antonio. It will go through another small village called Santa Catarina, and should only cost you Q5. Takes about a half hour. Since this town is so far off the beaten track, it is not on the route of public boats, but you can easily book a private boat ride from Panajachel or San Pedro.
A Solid Recommendation ~
For a private boat to San Antonio or a tour around the lake to other remote villages call Rolando at (502)5467-9084 or his brother Victor at (502) 5687-8932. They offered to take our family around when they visited Guatemala, and we all loved it. We really got to see a different, more authentic side of the lake. These brothers are very good people who grew up in San Pedro and they can also set you up with a well-priced room in their hotel there called Casa Rolando. They will treat you like family. Rolando is also a scholar who has studied all over Guatemala and has a wealth of information to share about the lake, its villages, and Mayan culture.