We recently interviewed Chiara, a young Anthropology student. She completed an internship in the Chaco region, one of the most important geographic regions in South America. Chiara's main interests are climate justice and women's empowerment, so she decided to face an incredible experience: working with Fundación Gran Chaco.
Gran Chaco region in green
@CIA World Factbook
Fundación Gran Chaco was founded in the early 2000's near the province of Formosa with the goal of supporting the activities of indigenous communities.
As Chiara told us, one of the main occupations of indigenous communities is the production of goods, an activity in which women are mainly involved. Originally, manufacturing was not a profitable activity, but since the Fundación has been promoting different projects related to manufacturing, the women have been able to support themselves and take a first step towards economic independence.
A wichì woman working chaguar
Every craftsmanship is associated with tradition and each indigenous community has its own way of making. The Wichì and Qom are the most important ethnic groups in the Chaco region.
The Wichì inhabit the eastern part of Chaco, while the Qom live in the West side. The Wichì women process chaguar, a succulent plant that grows in the undergrowth. The women select and collect the best leaves - only some leaves can be used and only indigenous people know how to recognise them. They then beat the chagua leaves to extract the fibres. When they are done, the fibres are dried in the sun and then woven so they can be further processed. At this point in the process, the women dye them with natural pigments extracted from berries and trees. For example, red can be extracted from different types of plants. Finally, fibres are ready to become beautiful objects.
When it comes to Qom, their craftsmanship does not differ much in terms of procedure. They use palm fronds instead of chaguar. The palm may be dried in the sun and then woven, or it may be woven first and then dried in the sun, depending on the object to be made.
Qom women selling their products
Chiara explained to us that the final products are sold in the surrounding towns with the help of the Fundación. The logic behind this is to promote a circular economy that guarantees the women a fixed income - because not every artisan is able to sell her products.
Finally, it is important to mention that the entire process, as you can see, from the collection of the plants to the sale of the final products, is completely sustainable thanks to the respect for tradition.
We hope that Chiara's experience, which we have shared in this post, has given you a new knowledge about the production of indigenous products and has given you a new perspective on one of the many incredible experiences that we can have! Let this story inspire you about sustainable items: environmental-friendly production is still possible and you can always apply traditional techniques to a contemporary way of life.
Written by Vittoria Martignago