At the Calle Fr. Bartolome de las Casas mid-block entrance to the Benito Juarez Market, the indigenous women who weave baskets sit like sentries or a welcoming committee, surrounded by their wares.
They arrange themselves cross legged or perched on their knees or atop small stools, however they can find comfort. On their laps, they cradle narrow strips of palm.
Their fingers are fast, with years of experience weaving the natural material into baskets, tortilla warmers, containers for jewelry or small gifts. They use an ancient weaving pattern called petate, taken from the Nahuatl word for bedroll.
The oldest one, Margarita, is from the time when indigenous people slept on woven mats which they rolled up neatly during the day to make room for the cooking fires. Her sight is not as good as it once was, but her fingers know the way. Perhaps the arthritis will not slow her down. Her comadres (women friends) are younger and more agile. They banter, keep each other company, cross sell, look out for each other’s well-being.
I discovered that to buy from one means to buy something from each of them. Imagine, an intricately hand-woven basket for less than $5 USD and some for as little as seventy-five cents. I walked away with at least ten beautiful, lightweight baskets (important for the 50 lb. airplane bag weight limit) to give as gifts. They are perfect wrapping containers for Oaxaca chocolate, coffee beans, and other treasures! Who could resist these women and their contribution to the weaving culture of Oaxaca.
Two places open for Oaxaca Photography Workshop: Market Towns and Artisan Villages. The course starts June 29.