Zenu Folk

Traditional Artistic Heritage

Zenus are members of an ancient culture, located at northwest Colombia, Cordoba, Department. Their roots come from Zenus aborigins of pre-Columbian times more than 3000 years B.C.(Reichel Dolmatoff).Traditionally skills and techniques are learned through apprenticeships at informal community settings, women weavers braid by hand, and men sew braids together using a pedal (Singer´s) sewing machine. Last thirty years this knowledge has been transferred from grandfather to father and so on to youth and children. Entire families and villages are involved in production. The “Sombrero Vuletiao “is world famous and it is part of Colombia´s natural costume, it has been inside the culture over the last 300 years. Most of the symbols woven represent clans, boundaries, they have been within the tradition after many generations as a legacy from ancestors, with some of them the meaning is unknown or has been forget it, but the symbols remain the same, we can find geometric figures and animal representations. Job is specialized according to the stage of the process where groups of families attend to accomplish a task: cultivate, recollect, process fibers, weave them, dye them and sewing hats. Everybody contributes with heritage skills acquired by their family tradition over time.

These extended families are organized by communities, joined by 200 members direct and 400 roundabouts indirect, from a pure Zenu ethnic heritage, all of them working on this folk art. Headed by Mr. Reinel Mendoza a prominent member of the community whom leaderships and promote annual festival “Sombrero Vueltiao”. The shelter is grouped in neighboring houses, taking care of properties, children and animals, as well as decisions in common council sharing responsibilities. Mr. Reinel Mendoza and Mr. Magno Caternino Mahecha have been working tiressly to improve life standards, focusing on those underprivileged and marginal,(women, children and elder people). “ A common effort a common reward”. Says Mr Reinel Mendoza. The most important success achieved according to Reinel Mendoza`s words is “making them visible to the markets abroad. “Handicrafts definitely are an important part of our lives, we look foward and wait excited to be part of experiences to keep growing such as IFAM”.

Some international organizations have been interested in helping our community for instance, the Japanese government donated a modern hospital a couple of years ago, central government has been forced to control the paramilitary and guerrilla violence in the vicinity of the shelter. Mr Magno Maecha Lopez has been more than 20 years within the community, helping and providing support in marketing plan strategies and helping artisans to access international markets also supporting logistics with his knowledge about exportation laws and government requirements..

“we provide business skills training, resource management advice and services to strengthen links and build ability to enter into the market system and manage resources properly, but we don’t just yields revenue there are many other benefits on social topics, now the community have access to drink water, after dealing with government bureaucracy and fortunately there are no longer energy blackouts.  An extra effort has been done sending to university and other kind of educational institutions our youngs while children are studying at school.

Although goverment investments to access clean water and basic services have been done, they are not  enough and serious health problems are still happening. We could say that living conditions in the community can be improved with an extra effort and searching cooperation outside the country. “The battle does not end and there are many things we want to do and learn, to make it better” Pointed Mr Magno Caterino. “We look beyond and new generations are learning our legacy, so they need to be prepared to access a global growing market”.

It is also said that rounded hat “Vueltiao” is the most recognized Zenus artisan work, it may be inspired by collection baskets of corn and after observation of Spanish hats. It means an adaptation of an utilitarian object into a functional.

This product preserved, Zenu`s ancient culture,  rooted in traditions that mantain cooperative learning and cultural expressions, our weavers create and sell high quality art work, on a well finished handcraft, able to be adapted to new market needs, ready to innovate based on roots.

As leaders Mr Reinel Mendoza and Mr. Magno Caterino have been working closely to increase the revenue for families, involving more and more members on each family adding value to the production chain and sharing benefits from profits to improve life standards for those in need within the community, “ a common effort a common reward”.

Since Mr Reinel was a child this knowledge has been passed from generation to generation. Once he sewn his first 6braids at the age of nine, he has dedicated his entire life to be an artisan, pursuing the wellbeing of his community. Paradoxically this foreign recognition is the one that makes the community feel proud about their work as artisans and get consciousness about how they are inheritors of an ancient culture that needs to be safeguarded. We have a micro economy, our production chain includes: hats, bracelets, bags and other utilitarian objects to suit the needs of demand. Innovating with new ideas in designs keeping technical and cultural heritage. A high quality items begin with a high quality weave, more small fibers means quality and just the masters artisans , work with those weaves. Materials are very expensive so we need to guarantee the best manufacture.

Materials

These Items are made out of arrow cane ( Gynerium Sagittatum) a tall grass. Leaves are dried and then scraped with a knife to remove the tough inner fibers, thick central vain of leaf is used. The fibers are split into fine strips and woven into “braids”, strips used can vary from 15 to 28 on each braid. Women are usually the weavers, they represent 60 percent of workforce, they dye fibers with local natural plants. Men take care of planting arrow cane and harvesting, they are as well in charge of seaming with an old Singer treadle machine. Each job is specialized according to the stage of the process, groups of families attend to labor and contribute with heritage skills acquired by family tradition trough the time, at the inner of each community.

Techniques

Weavers are usually women, firstly they dye fibers with local natural plants or terra colors, black in fact dark brown is obtained from mud mixed with a leaf from the plant called "singa Mochila" (justicia Secunda), Then fibers are buried underground and sealed up to two weeks to obtain its dyed color. Green olive is made out of boiled water with avocado leaves and nuts and with other natural dyes,

After all arrow cane is braided. Sometimes it can contain up to 28 fibers wove by hand. While men are planting and harvesting of arrow cane, they are also in charge of seaming with an old singer treadle machine.

Common use

The symbols and the motifs woven into items, they idendify an individual and the communities where is he or she from. Probably they represent hierarchy and status, designed mixing hundreds of symbols that also become ideo phonemes to build a collective knowledge of labors and occupations. A low quality hat is used during work days and the finest quality are wore at holidays or special events. Sports delegations wear it in world events and very important people such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez Literature Nobel, President Bill Clinton and Pope Jhon Paul II , just to name a few personalities. This is a totally unique style of folk art, it has evolved from an ancient cultural tradition to nowdays.

This product preserve, Zenus ancient culture rooted in traditions that come from cooperative learning and cultural expressions, our weavers create and sell high quality art work, on a well finished handcraft, able to be adapted to new market needs, ready to innovate based on roots. As a leader Mr Reinel Mendoza and Mr. Magno Caterino have been working closely to increase the revenue for families, involving more and more members on each family adding value to the production chain and share benefits from profits to improve life standards for those in need within the community, “ a common effort a common reward”. Since Mr Reinel was a child this knowledge has been passed from generation to generation. Once he sewn his first braids at the age of nine, he has dedicated his entire life to be an artisan, pursuing the wellbeing of his community. Paradoxically this foreign recognition is the one that makes the community feel proud about their work as artisans and get consciousness about how they are inheritors of an ancient culture that needs to be safeguarded. We have a micro economy, our production chain includes: hats, bracelets, bags and other utilitarian objects to suit the needs of demand. Innovating with new ideas in designs keeping technical and cultural heritage. A high quality items begin with a high quality weave, more small fibers means quality and just the masters artisans , work with those weaves. Materials are very expensive so we need to guarantee the best manofacture.