Joining an effort to create a natural preserve in the province of Chaco, in Northern Argentina, agronomist Paula Marra found herself embedded in the struggle of the local communities to sustain their rich cultural heritage and find economic stability.
El Gran Chaco is a vast region in South America. Hot and semi-arid, the region is home to a hardy and diverse vegetation that women from local communities harvest by hand, following ancestral techniques, to produce and weave textiles and basketry with an unusual feel and timeless simplicity. It was in this balanced coexistence that Paula saw a way for local artisans to sustain their culture, environment and communities.
Paula started Matriarca in 2013 as a socially-responsible program that helps organize indigenous women take their arts and crafts beyond El Gran Chaco, encouraging their self-determination and economic independence. A connection to the wider world, Matriarca monitors trends and connects local cooperatives and the private sector to help artisans fine-tune their production and reach a much larger audience. Today, the Matriarca program extends beyond El Chaco to the Puna, in the North West of Argentina, where local communities shear, spin and knit alpaca and llama wool to produce beautifully original and functional blankets, ponchos and shoals.
Together, Matriarca and more than 4,000 women are building a new value chain and growing a sustainable economy in the region—and in the process, keeping their craft and art alive through through the joy of people all over the world.
(Photo by Nicolás Heredia)
If you haven't had a chance to experience chaguar textiles, you’re in for a new wonder. Chaguar is a member of the bromeliad plant family (with looks resembling the aloe plant) yields strong and compact threads, which Wichí artisans skillfully turn into a compliant weave, with a soft move and an unusual, paper like touch.
Chaguar thrives at the heart of the Chaco forest, and Wichí women harvest it by hand deep in the wilderness. Venturing miles into ‘el monte’, in small groups, they spot and hand-pick their preferred variety (chutsaj in wichí language) and carry it back for processing. The women soak, mash, dry and spin the chaguar fibers, working them into a thread on their thighs, before soaking them once again, in dies. Wichí women favor subtle, muted hues, and use dyes they make themselves, using local tree barks, woods and fruits.
The last step is the weaving, done in traditional patterns, which the Wichí women use, almost innately, to complete their finished goods—bags, ponchos, clothes and nets that have served their users for centuries.
(Photo by Nicolás Heredia)