Traditional Artistic Heritage
We are embera Wounaan also Known as Nonaan or Choco, located at tropical humid rainforest, we live along the river San Juan, Department, Colombia Pacific`s Coast, to the north bordered with Darien Plug. According to statistics: one of the rainiest places around the world, we are called “the water people”. There are no pavement roads, the river provides mobility and food, we live in shelters. The region greatly damaged by the devastating winter that affected Colombia in 2010 and 2011, became the worst emergency suffered in the last 60 years. Material damages were devastating and families lost most of their belongings, livestock and crops, including large quantities of hectares of Werregue. This community lived until a few years ago in a place far away from the Rio San Juan, but killings, disappearances and threats from violent actors, forced them to move and relocate at a leased land belonging Afro-Colombian community. Nowadays armed forces such as guerilla, paramilitars and criminal gangs isolate the region, forcing them to remain at their shelters mostly of the time. There are no hospital facilities and no medicines, people go to traditional doctor or cross the river to the nearest village in emergency cases. These handicrafts contain messages from the Wounaan. Inspired by nature. The knowledge was learned from our grandparents and they did it as well, we are proud to carry on this artistic legacy to new generations because it has to be permanently transferred, as it is one of our main cultural expressions and also represents an income for people to buy food, medicines, cloths and other goods in exchange of their common effort. We have been attending to the most important folk art festival in Colombia “Expoartesanias” since year 1991 uninterruptedly. Our mission is support and work assistance to those artisans engaged in handicraft production, creating a sustainable economy that preserves the cultural heritage legacy of our ancestors. We will be positioned at local and international scene as the best handicrafts producers, with high quality standards, innovation and creativity. The Wounaan Woven baskets with guerregue o Chunga Palm “Astrocaryum standleyanum” are worldwide recognized, according to the book “Best baskets in the world by Nancy Schermer”. Natives of Colombia are located in a very difficult access area, it means less contact with civilization, that’s why their handcrafts preserve ancient patterns, designs and techniques.
Our artistic baskets weaved with guerregue have been within tradition generation after generation, our parents and grandparents were taught by their grandparents and so on, since ancient times, initially informally within families and nowadays new apprentices are learning and they are also responsible for preserving cultural meaning and artistic heritage. Initially baskets were used only by shamans to prepare natural medicines or keep amulets and charms of power. After conquering the church became the main promoter of wounaan´s art, carrying baskets to cities and making them visible at handicraft markets. Adapted baskets started to be used by modern civilization to decorate and keep value items. With increasing demand more people are involved weaving new designs and developing new colors. New sustainable techniques have been implemented on planting and harvesting.
Techniques and Materials
Our women weavers use spiral Technique, weaving guerregue “Astrocaryum standleyanum” palm and inside crafts are stuffed with Palma Quitasol (Mauritiella macroclada). Men and women share tasks such as planting palms, harvesting, driying and then scraping with a knife to remove the tough inner fibers, then split fiber into fine strips, Sun dried and finally strips are shined by friction, The shiny colors are extracted from wild plants. Knives, sickles, axes and needles are used.
These artistic baskets are used in many different ways for instance to keep out of reach of children or in a safe place, valuable personal objects as well as some kind of food and fishing accessories. Traditional doctors use them to keep natural medicine and charms. They also have decorate purposes.