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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.