We are tsotsil and tseltal indigenous artisan women of the Highlands region of Chiapas, Mexico, who have been walking together in search of new possibilities that will allow us to strengthen our family and community economy. We participate in social, political, and economic spaces because we believe that the commercialization of our products does not resolve the multiple problems that we confront every day: poverty, marginalization, and racism. Assuming our organizational process, making decisions with regards to our cooperative, and administering it ourselves has allowed us to begin to construct our autonomy.
Our cooperative is composed of over 250 women from the municipalities of San Andrés Larrainzar, Chenalhó, Oxchuc, San Juan Chamula, Zinacantan y Pantelhó. It is from this diverse group that we have been able to produce all of the traditional designs from these regions. We continuously attend training workshops in the areas of administration, accounting, new designs, dressmaking, and topics for reflection such as indigenous and women's rights, rescuing historical memory, etc. to strengthen ourselves, keep us going, and allow us to reach our objectives.
The growth of the Jolom Mayaetik Cooperative and the Center for Training has shown us that the creation and use of collective spaces for women allows us to develop relationships, both within our communities and also between our communities and the larger public, of a more equal nature. Our work thus contributes to the development of a more just society.
For thousands of years, rituals have given each indigenous group a meaning of life. Without doubt, the survival of weaving, techniques, colors, and symbolism, has preserved the representation of the Mayan world: fertility, life, death, beliefs, and deities. The cosmology and history of an entire culture is written on every weaving and serves as a communion between mortals and deities. Found in every texture are the diamond or in occasions a zigzag representing a snake, both symbols of a universe in harmony, or the maize plant, symbol of mother earth with its multiple arms with which it embraces her children.
Though the majority of us weave with the back-strap loom, some of us embroider as well. Whether it be in weaving or in embroidery, all of us use cotton and self-produced wool. Nowadays with the search for diverse markets, current cultures partake in this millennium old legacy. Ancient techniques such as the back strap loom or natural dyes are intertwined with techniques brought from outside such as the pedal loom or more modern ones such as sewing machines. This allows young women to work without having to migrate to the cities and continue developing the culture of textile. This way we can still create traditional designs, while at the same time creating new designs.
Jolom Mayaetik shares this search with the French civil association: “El Camino.” Through this search we learn to adapt ourselves to the demands of the market without forgetting the traditional designs. These are novel products that incorporate new artistic designs with traditional symbols and technique to create new ideas for the diverse world market.
Each municipality has its own traditional style and traditional designs. Below are links to each municipality, and will describe their weaving techniques and show their traditional dress.
When we started the cooperative Jolom Mayaetik we wanted a different kind of cooperative. We wanted a space where we could have more freedom and do new and creative things. Apart from the commercialization of our products we are taking workshops, we go on sales trips, and we have visited other states and countries. This cooperative is different because it is us who administer it. It is us who go on the trips and speaking tours. Through the cooperative we are able to participate in courses and workshops. With the cooperative we have the option of political participation. And we are independent of the government.
In this learning process we have been accompanied by an organization called Kínal Antzetik (Land of Women). They visit us in the communities and prepare workshops of administration, accounting, and sales and thanks to them we have learned how to organize ourselves and drive and administer our cooperative.
Now we are working on the construction of an educational center in conjunction with the women in Kinal Antzetik. There we have workshops of marketing, natural dyes, computation, Spanish, English, women’s rights, and indigenous rights. In this space we are also constructing a space where women can stay when they travel to San Cristobal from their communities.
Other projects include working in our organic garden, and producing our book. This book is about our lives as indigenous women. We are producing in cooperation with the women of Kinal Antzetik. You can read the first chapter here (we are sorry, but it is not available in English at this point). If you have more interest in these projects you can write us here.