Tag Archives: baskets

Annual Basket Fair in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca: River Reed Weaving

The Feria del Carrizo is happening this week in the Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia. The last day is February 7. This annual fair is growing and this year there were hundreds of people on opening day, Sunday, January 31.

I have made this an annual tradition and this was my fourth year here. I love arriving just before 10 a.m. when the weavers are setting up shop and the cooking fires are roaring. This couple, above, still makes the reed fish traps. They make great lampshades or dried flower holders!

 

Just in time for a breakfast of traditional hot chocolate made with water (or milk, if you prefer). It’s a great accompaniment to hot off the griddle fresh made corn tortillas stuffed with yellow mole and chicken (above right) or squash blossoms , quesillo (string cheese) and mushrooms (above left). This was prepared by the volunteers from the Museo Comunitario, the community museum. Super Yummy!

 

The Community Museum is small, just two rooms and admission is by donation. Usos y Costumbres villages maintain museums to keep cultural history. San Juan was closely tied to neighboring Dainzu (now an archeological site) and Macuilxochitl (across the highway) was once the regional center.

Ancient map reproductions show this as well as a diorama of how salt was extracted from the earth by local women using clay vessels from nearby San Marcos Tlapazola. Villagers were active in the Mexican Revolution that hit the region hard because was dotted with haciendas that indentured indigenous labor, eradicated with the Revolution.

 

Of course, the food goes on all day and if you wait long enough and stay for lunch you can enjoy barbecue goat tacos along with a shot of Tobala mezcal (or Madrecuixe, as your taste dictates) straight from the palenque. Buy a bottle for 200 pesos, about 2/3 less than comparable quality in Oaxaca city!

 

The weavers in San Juan Guelavia work in river reed called carrizo. Their baskets were used by farmers, traders and cooks for centuries, long before the Spanish conquest in 1521.

Anthropologists have written and talked about the risks to this artisan craft of the Oaxaca valley. So much of the reed weaving is now replaced by plastic baskets because people everywhere love the bright colors.

But, preferred among the local ladies is the traditional market shopping basket –that round Carrizo basket with curved palm covered handle that fits comfortably in the crook of the elbow.

I use the low-sided baskets as “shipping containers” inside my luggage. I’ve put mezcal bottles and ceramics inside, wrapped in bubble, surrounded by soft clothes packed snugly and nothing ever arrives broken. Use a flat round tray to cover your stuff and secure with duct tape. Very easy!

 

Above left, the ladies prepare atole, a traditional corn drink. Mix it with chocolate for a special taste. Always served at festivals, it’s the drink of the Zapotec and Aztec gods. Above right, a grandmother ties the sash on her granddaughter’s skirt in preparation for the parade.

Above: This year, there were lots of necklaces strung with reed and bright beads. Some dangled with mini- baskets mini-atole cups (all handmade).

 

And, above right, toy trucks and airplanes and whistles for the children, bird cages and shelves for home decor.

 

How to Get There From Oaxaca City: Take a taxi or collectivo or bus that goes to Tlacolula. Get off at the San Juan Guelavia crucero (crossroads). From there, take a moto-taxi (we call them tuk-tuks into town.) The village is situated about a mile inland on the west side of the Carretera Nacional MX190 better known as the Pan-American Highway.

Handmade Basket Fair, San Juan Guelavia, January 31-February 7, 2016

Each year, the traditional Zapotec village of San Juan Guelavia showcases its handmade baskets made from strips of river reed, called carrizo in Spanish. (Thanks, Christopher Hodge for this tidbit of clarification. Carrizo is not bamboo!) This is another artisanal weaving tradition in the Tlacolula valley. If you are on your way to the Tlacolula market this Sunday, making a stop off the Pan-American Highway-MEX 190 is well-worth your time to explore the 5th Annual Basket Fair or Feria del Carrizo. 

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You might even want to stay awhile. The food is delicious. This is homemade, home-cooked food done with local flair. Barbecue, quesadillas, roasted chicken, tortillas made on the comal griddle, atole and mezcal tasting makes this a very special event.  There are even mezcal bottles (empty) covered in basketry.

And, you’ll drive along a beautiful curving road lined with maturing agave fields to get there.

The handmade baskets take center stage. They come in all shapes and sizes. Some are plain, coarse and used as storage containers. Others are finely woven and decorated with mini-baskets, which the local Zapotec ladies love for gathering fresh food at the daily markets. Last year there were bamboo fish traps, lamp bases, bird cages, floor mats, and also very pretty flowers made from corn husks. I love these baskets to use around the house for storage and to give as house gifts filled with fresh fruit. The handles are wrapped in palm leaves.

This basket making from San Juan Guelavia is a long-standing tradition. Help preserve it. The way of the world is giving over to plastic and we have a chance to make a difference and buy directly from the makers — usually the generation of grandfathers and grandmothers who are trying to keep the tradition alive.

But to do that, we know that there has to be customers!

San Juan Guelavia is just before you get to Teotitlan del Valle on the right (west) side of the Carretera Nacional as you are heading toward Tlacolula from Oaxaca city. Enjoy. Maybe I’ll see you there!

 

 

4th Feria de Carrizo Continues Sunday in San Juan Guelavia, Oaxaca

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More handmade bamboo baskets than you could ever count!  Handmade cornhusk paper flowers in every color of the rainbow are yours for a dollar each. Want a bamboo airplane or dump truck for a child to play with or a birdcage to hang from your veranda? How about a market or waste basket or something grander to store laundry or anything else you want kept out of sight?

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The Feria de Carrizo in San Juan Guelavia is all this and more.  This Sunday, February 1, 2015, is the last day. Get there by ten in the morning to get first choice.  Sample great food prepared on the spot, al fresco.

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Save your breakfast until you get there. Take your pick from barbecue goat, chicken enchiladas with red sauce, chicken and pork pozole, hot chocolate, atole, homemade empanadas with tortillas fresh from the griddle. The food is all made women from local village organizations and the proceeds help fund the health center and other municipal endeavors. Notice the innovative wheel barrow stove! Mexicans are incredibly resourceful.

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What makes San Juan Guelavia special and this festival unique is that the bamboo is grown in the village, stripped by hand, woven by hand, and is a dying craft worthy of preservation. Bamboo baskets, once used throughout the farming communities of Oaxaca, have now largely been replaced by plastic. The handwork ranges from very fine to utilitarian and considered an art form.

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The local market is open, too. Last Sunday there was a farmer selling quail. Fruits and vegetables abound, including perfectly ripe avocados for five cents each. I couldn’t help myself and picked up a sapote negro, too. Stock up on garlic from neighboring Tlacochuaya or mangoes from the coast. The homemade ice cream, called nieves, was some of the best I’ve tasted anywhere in Oaxaca.  Try the mamay (a tropical fruit) and nuez (pecan nuts).

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One of the great things I discovered at the basket festival is a little tiendita on your left just before you get to the zocalo. They sell wild herb tobala mezcal, called arroqueño, produced by El Cortijo. I bought three bottles and will probably go back for more. It’s delicious and makes great gifts.

CarrizoBest-4 CarrizoBest-9Susana Harp is this year’s madrina, the benefactress of the Feria. She was there last Sunday, and though she didn’t perform live, her songs were broadcast throughout the gathering area.  CarrizoBest-5

 

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.