Mama Mochila: Spinning the Futures of the Next Arhuaco Generations
The Arhuaco community of Ati Gumake is located nearly 10 hours by foot or horseback into Colombia’s coastal mountain range. As a result of this remote location, artisans rely on stores and third party vendors that frequently take advantage of the community’s limited accessibility. Mama Mochila, organized collectively by Indigenous artisans Yolima Esther Torres Torres and Maria Cecilia Villafane Armenta, alongside co-founder Anna Andreyevna Gouznova, has been working towards a new vision for Arhuaco artists: one where dignity and inspiration define both the creative and business processes. Mama Mochila has made it possible for Arhuaco women to be fairly compensated for their skill and the time involved in mochila making. Mochila means “bag” in Spanish, and is the word used to describe this traditional Arhuaco craft.
“There are about 50 families in Ati Gumake, meaning Sacred Land of the Snake,” Gouznova explains. “Women artisans offer their crafts, handmade bags, for sale through Mama Mochila. The mochila is made from wool spun by hand with symbols representing elements of the Arhuaco culture. This is a generational craft, passed down through mothers and grandmothers. Mochilas are considered a woman’s expression of intention and love for her family, community and nature-based spiritual beliefs,” she says, adding, “creating a mochila is a metaphor for the process of creation and symbolizes a woman’s spiritual development. All Arhuaco women learn to make mochilas and develop their own style over time. Mochila symbols represent Arhuaco values in culture and nature.”
Gouznova describes the process of mochila making: “Every mochila starts with raw wool. Women and girls in each family come together to wash the wool in a nearby stream. Once the wool is dry, it is carded by hand to remove any plant material that may have been trapped in the fleece or any discolored wool clumps. Next, the wool is spun into a single strand yarn with a tool made from native wood, handmade as well, by male relatives. The yarn is then spun into a double strand with yet another handmade tool. With the yarn ready, mochila making begins. Using a large needle, the artisan begins with a single loop, stitching other loops along the edges, creating the round base of the mochila. Once the base is complete, the artisan will begin to use a complex geometric technique to create the desired symbol. The strap is handwoven. From start to finish, one large mochila can take more than a month to make.”
Arhuaco people see themselves as guardians of the natural world, tasked with ensuring that Mother Earth is treated with dignity and respect. Together, Arhuaco communities protest and work to change legislation that undermines the critical importance of a healthy environment. The Arhuaco are active in negotiating land rights, permits for industrial development, and grants to support Arhuaco communities. Arhuaco people also farm and grow all their own food, making them vulnerable to climate change. “Last year we had to buy almost all of our food, even malanga, a typically easy to grow vegetable. There was no simply no rain!” exclaimed Rosalia Izquierdo, a Mama Mochila artisan. The Arhuaco are working to become more secure in the face of climate change by investing in irrigation systems and rethinking crop planning.
“Artisans working with Mama Mochila know that their talent is valued and admired around the world,” says Gouznova. Even more so, she says, “Arhuaco women feel their craft and skill is at last being recognized as an outstanding tradition of cultural art. There is a tremendous sense of pride and self-confidence that fills artisans when they know their work is valued and appreciated by people all around the world. The Cultural Survival Bazaars offer a strong foundation for Arhuaco women and the next generation of mochila makers.”
To learn more about Mama Mochilla, visit: www.mamamochila.com
Join us at this Summer’s Cultural Survival Bazaar: July 28–29,Tiverton, Rhode Island. Visit bazaar.cs.org and facebook.com/culturalsurvivalbazaars for more information.
Florinda Torres Torres guides young women in the art and skill of mochila making.
All photos courtesy of Mama Mochila.