Magazine article Women & Environments International Magazine

Embera Women's Cooperative; Basket Art Helping Resist the Impacts of War

Magazine article Women & Environments International Magazine

Embera Women's Cooperative; Basket Art Helping Resist the Impacts of War

Article excerpt

The Colombian civil war extends beyond its own border and threatens yet another people and its art. This newly formed women's co-op is helping the culture of an indigenous people and their rainforest resources to resist the impact of war

The Wounaan (wow-nahan) and Embera are indigenous peoples who live in the Darien rainforest along the border between Panama and Colombia. The Wounaan and Embera are world class master artisans known for their fine baskets and high quality carvings in wood and tagua. The women do the weaving and the men do the carving.

The rainforest lands of the Indians are being invaded and destroyed by cattle farmers, gold miners, loggers and guerrilla warfare. The border jungle provides a good place to hide and harbor guerrilla forces. Most recently, a Canadian journalist crew was kidnapped by the warlord Castano, who claims they were caught during a fight between left wing guerrilla's and paramilitaries. Panamanian Police stated however, that it was the right wing paramilitaries who initiated the attacked on two villages and left 5 dead. As the war in Columbia rages on, it is a serious problem for the Embera and Wounaan. This is their land. This is their home and daily life depends on resources from the rainforest.

Women have been weaving their beautiful baskets for generations and over the years the crafts have found a small market in the tourist stalls of Panama. Traditionally the income is very small as middle men take the lion share of profits from the art which has already been undervalued. The reduction in traveling tourists due to the war and now Sept. 11 only adds to the diminished returns. Income from the baskets is the only significant source of cash income for the Wounaan and Embera women. A source of cash income is especially vital to mothers who have lost their husbands. Earning an income from their traditional skills allows them to stay in their villages with their families, buy food when crops fail, buy medicine when they are sick and pay for their children's education. …

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