Last week I had the lovely opportunity to work with a group of women artisans from a community just outside of Gualaceo. Upon arriving at the host’s house, I was surprised to find that over 13 women had shown up. This was in large part due to the close knit nature of the artisanal community within Bullzhun, a paroquia of Gualaceo. From the very moment I introduced myself, I could tell it would be an amazing experience.
The women began explaining that the tradition of weaving machanas had either been knowledge passed down from their mothers or had been an art they decided to take up themselves. I found this interesting as I assumed it would be a skill traditionally passed down from mother to daughter. Next we started the general process by picking niacha in large quantities, a bright yellow flower that would be utilized in the dying process. The flowers were placed in a pot of boiling water above an earth fire. After about 20 minutes, the water was a deep yellow color and the Lana del borego (Sheep’s wool) was added. The sheep’s wool was constantly stirred and absorbed a good deal of the dye almost instantly. If the natural dye did not give the sheep’s wool the desired color, then an artificial dye would be added to the mixture to ensure a color with depth. The women would then remove the sheeps wool and rinse it in cool water to allow the wool to retain the color permanently. At this point I was reminded the process had only just begun as the women began to show me how to go about creating the unique and intricate designs of each machana. This was done by using plastic to tie off specific parts of the wool which is tight wound around two poles. The manner the artisans went about this varied, however, the majority used a method of tying off sections of the machana in diagonal and intersecting lines. Once this step had completed, the artisans would then dye the machana in a different color, allow it to dry, and then cut off the plastic ties. The final product was a beautifully crafted art that featured an arrangement of colors which aesthetics I appreciated.
The process as a whole takes about three days to create one machana. As the day progressed, a few of the women spoke of the origins of their specific style of machana crafting. Of those, I was particularly moved when hearing that one of the older women, Rosa, had not attended a single day of school in her life. As a result she took up making machanas from a young age, mentored by her grandmother. For some time following this conversation, I could not help but wonder what my life might be like without the luxury of being a full time student. Even amongst differing landscapes and customs, I found that it often takes powerful anecdotes to convey the hidden realities of the people before you. For that I cannot help but appreciate Rosa on a daily basis as her story is a reminder to make the best out of any situation.