Tag Archives: baskets

Handwoven Basket Fair: San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca

Today was the first of two Sundays when the Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia holds its annual basket fair.  Next Sunday, February 2, is the last day.  They open in the compact zocalo at 9 a.m.  By the time we got there, close to noon, there wasn’t much left.  Before I could say basket, two that caught my eye were snatched up from under my outstretched arm.

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The bamboo used to make the baskets is picked young and green, much easier to manipulate.  Then, it is washed and stripped.  After the basket is complete, the sturdy handles are wrapped with palm leaves. Most of the Zapotec women in the central valleys of Oaxaca prefer these baskets for daily shopping use.  The handle fits easily over the crook of the elbow, is smooth and comfortable.  

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Both men and women are basket weavers.  They are also makers of corn husk flowers, lamp shades, bird cages, decorative woven bottle coverings, and traditional storage baskets for maize.

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Some of the workmanship is so fine, one wonders how fingers can weave the course strips of bamboo, let alone strip the cane and prepare it for the weaving process.  The basket I bought is above, left, held by the weaver who made it.  He was happy and so was I.

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Basketmaking in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca is a craft in decline and I have included this link to an academic paper that references San Juan Guelavia and their struggle to keep this craft tradition alive.

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I hope you get to the Feria (fair) next Sunday.  I paid 140 pesos for a beautiful handmade basket, quite large.  That’s about $11 USD.  A day’s wage here in Oaxaca.  Who knows how long it took to make!  Looks like more than a day to me.  A basket this size for sale at the Tlacolula market would cost double the price, maybe more, and still a bargain at that!

Boys play while parents shop

Boys at play while parents shop

In addition to the baskets, there is lots of home-style cooked food like quesadillas, tamales, and hot steamed corn-on-the-cob.  Come and linger.

Where to Find San Juan Guelavia:  From Oaxaca City, take any bus or colectivo taxi heading to Tlacolula or Mitla.  Get off at the San Juan Guelavia crossroads (which is about 1/2 mile before you get to Teotitlan del Valle, and maybe five miles beyond El Tule).  There are village taxis and tuk-tuks that will take you along the beautiful curving road that leads to the village, set about three miles off the Panamerican Highway 190, nestled in the rolling foothills of the Sierra Madre del Sur.

The Basket Makers, Benito Juarez Market, Oaxaca, Mexico

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.