Telares Indígenas Nicaragua is a small group of enterprising women weavers living in the village of El Chile, in the north of Nicaragua. They weave beautiful fabrics in vibrant colors from re-used cotton and sew them into bags and purses of all shapes and sizes.
Nicaragua has a centuries-old weaving tradition, but for a few decades in the 20th century, its people were forbidden by their government to practice the craft. Some speculate that the government wanted to free up labor to work in factories, while others call it a deliberate attempt to weaken indigenous culture. Whatever the reason, the prohibition was effective; no one dared defy the dictator.
When the Somoza regime was overthrown in 1979, the country's rich history of indigenous weaving might have remained lost were it not for the fortitude of the El Chile community and the efforts of an enterprising Argentine named Marta Ruíz - along with a little help from the revolutionary government.
El Chile has always been known for its weaving. The people of the small mountain town have been cultivating cotton as long as they can remember. That's why, when Marta arrived in Nicaragua in 1984 looking to revive the craft on behalf of OXFAM-Belgium, she was directed straight to El Chile.
When she got there, Marta went looking for someone who remembered how it was done. She found four elderly women, but they were afraid and didn't want to start weaving again. Finally one younger woman, Plácida Hernández, came forward saying that she'd seen her mother do it and thought she knew how.
From Plácida's tentative knowledge and Marta's aid, El Chile's weaving culture sprang up again. Father Ernesto Cardenal, Minister of Culture, was a supporter of the project, and the government paid to train women in weaving so that they would not starve while they learned the craft. Over 100 women learned how to weave in that early group. From those young women sprouted Telares Indígenas Nicaragua and three other small groups.
The weaving itself used to be done between a belt on the weaver’s waist and a tree branch. The first generation of women were trained in this way, but when Marta was able to import wooden looms from Europe they switched production over to the looms, which enabled them to work more quickly and improved quality and consistency. “Telares” is the Spanish word for looms.
Telares Indígenas Nicaragua is a collective of women, which means all eight of them participate in business decisions and share profits according to what they produce.
The organization has changed their lives. Almost all of them own their own lands and homes, and they are able to support themselves and their families, even when the harvest is bad and others in the village are forced to seek work elsewhere. They can pay for doctors, school supplies, and transportation to send their children to schools that are free, but far away.
The older women, those originally trained by Marta and Plácida, are now passing their knowledge on to a new generation of weavers, and the art lives on.
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