EDITOR’S NOTE: The transition of Thrums Books to Schiffer Publications is complete, but my passion for books and the shared experiences they invite us into has not waned. I’ll continue to write as my internal thrummings compel me. Thanks for reading.
THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE
When I was eight years old my family moved from the little town in northeastern Oklahoma that was the center of my universe, and that was also centered at the confluence of two big rivers. Two weeks later, the town was under water. I heard from friends (even children wrote letters to each other in those days) about whose houses had swirled down the river, who had typhoid fever from drinking contaminated water, whose pet cat had disappeared into the drink. It sounded horrible but, since I was a few hundred miles away from the action and very young, also sort of thrilling.
There’s no thrill, only horror, in what we’ve been seeing in communities that have figured prominently in several of our Thrums Books. San Juan Cotzal, one of the three villages in the Ixil Triangle of the western Guatemala highlands, is home to what I consider the most beautiful huipils on the planet. There’s deep poverty there in the best of times, but rainfall from Hurricane Eta has taken out bridges, cut off access to markets and food supplies, swept hillsides into valleys, and left many homes chest-deep in murky water. The same goes for the neighboring village of Chajul, where the huipils bear bold images of invincible double-headed eagles. The first cry for help from the weavers was not for charity, but for a way to sell their weaving so they could help themselves.
WHAT DO YOU DO WHEN NOBODY COMES?
On the other side of Guatemala, in the Department of Alta Verapaz, the small community of Samac is deeply under water. When we were there meeting with Amalia Güe and the weavers of Ixbalam’ke weaving cooperative in 2017, the sun was shining, the bean pot was simmering over the wood fire, and the women were creating lovely gauzy shawls embellished with hand-picked motifs from ancestral times. Today, you’d find a shambles of shattered wood planks. The corn fields have slid down the mountain, and the coffee harvest is drowned under many feet of muddy water, along with many weavers’ homes. The weavers have rescued their backstrap looms, but how can they sell their beautiful weavings when nobody comes? This is their livelihood.
RAIN, AND MORE RAIN
Across the Ucimacinta River and west to the Chiapas community of Chenalhó, the hurricanes wreaked similar damage—heavy rains for twelve days and counting, no dry firewood for cooking, volcanoes damaging flimsy shelters. And then there’s the coronavirus pandemic, and ongoing armed violence by paramilitary groups against relief workers. When we visited Chenalhó and nearby Tenejapa with the late Chip Morris in 2014, the Tsotsil people were preparing for Semana Santa, Holy Week, dressing their saints in traditional handwoven finery and planning for profoundly spiritual celebrations.
Christine Eber, a cultural anthropologist and author who has worked with weavers in the region for many years, shares concern for the Mujeres Por La Dignidad (Women for Dignity), the Zapatista cooperative she assists, as they cope with these life-changing challenges.
So what can we do, those of us who live such relatively privileged lives? How far can we spread our concern and our charity? As we shelter at home?
We can read books. Since I no longer publish books, I can say that without any fear of sounding self-serving. But how does that help anybody, you might ask. The books I’m mentioning here can help you celebrate the weavers and the traditions they represent; they can help you feel deeply what is in danger of being lost. They can stir your generosity of spirit, your natural impulse to give what you can.
SOME BOOKS TO READ:
By Deborah Chandler and Teresa Cordón. Photography by Joe Coca.
Intimate portraits of twenty Maya weavers, mostly women. The beauty of the work they do, the challenges and joys of the lives they lead. Available now at amazon.com, schifferbooks.com, bookshop.org, and gazellebookservices.co.uk.
By Walter F. “Chip” Morris
A winding road trip through some twenty of the villages of the Tsotsil Maya with their distinctive textiles, startling folk tales, strangely hybrid religious practices, and colorful markets. Available at amazon.com, schifferbooks.com, bookshop.org, and gazellebookservices.co.uk.
By Christine Eber
A coming-of-age novel set in the Maya township of Chenalhó, Chiapas, a place the author depicts beautifully and with clear understanding. As Magdalena tells the story of Lucia, their friendship and their struggles, a larger narrative unfolds, gradually revealing the complex culture of Chiapas, the weavers and their lives. Available at amazon.com or palabrasbookstore.com.
SOME PLACES TO GIVE:
GoFundMe Samac – for weavers in Alta Verapaz, through friends of IFAM (International Folk Art Market) organized by Heidi McKinnon and Alicia Castro Chicol
www.weaving-for-justice.org working in solidarity with women’s weaving cooperatives in the highlands of Chiapas, Mexico.
www.mayaedufound.org in support of higher education for Maya youth in Guatemala, Belize, and Mexico.
limitlesshorizonsixil.org creating opportunities for education of young Maya women in Chajul, a community in Ixil, Guatemala.
Ripple Effect, working on rebuilding homes and providing safe water systems in the Ixil communities of Chajul, Nebaj, and Cotzal.