Tag Archives: cultural tourism

Textile Travel Guide and Tips: How To Be a Cultural Ambassador

Cloth Roads just published a blog post called Textile Travel Guide: 10 Tips to Be a Star Textile Ambassador. 

This comes as a just-in-time-reminder for me about cultural sensitivity and travel to indigenous parts of the world where handmade textiles still flourish. My trip to India was bumped up a day, so I am on an airplane this Monday morning.

It also comes just-in-time for many of you who are attending the International Shibori Network Symposium in Oaxaca, Mexico.

travel-freemium-small

If you go to the Cloth Roads website, you can join the mailing list and download the guide for free.  It’s common sense and worth the reminder. Some of the tips are to prevent what I’ve seen on guided tours, where participants launch into grabbing and shopping before the local women have a chance to present themselves and their histories.

If you are traveling in 2017 to countries where amazing textiles are found, please take this guide with you.

If you are traveling to Mexico, please bring Textile Fiestas of Mexico by Sheri Brautigam. I contributed two chapters, one about the rugs of Teotitlan del Valle and the other about the rebozos of Tenancingo de Degollado.

As I embark for Delhi, Gujarat and Mumbai, I think about what it means to appreciate cloth and the people of India and the people of Oaxaca who cultivate the raw material, weave and dye, sew and fashion.

We have two spaces open for February 2-10, 2017.

Mexico Textiles & Folk Art Study Tour: Tenancingo Rebozos and More

 

 

Dilemma: Teotitlan del Valle Panteon (Cemetery)

There were six of us trailing Magdalena into the village panteon at 5:30 p.m. for the annual ritual of sitting at the grave site to pay respects to loved ones gone.  It was All Souls Day, November 2 in Teotitlan del Valle.  The ritual in the village is an ancient one, predating the Spanish conquest of 1521.  On November 2 the souls return to their graves for another year after having made a 24-hour visit that begins at 3 p.m. on November 1 and ending at 3 p.m. on November 2.  The church bells toll for 24-hours marking the time and in the bell-tower you can see the men who have volunteered from each section of the village to pull the heavy bell chord day and night.

Earlier in the day after breakfast we had taken bundles of flowers to the graves of Magda’s son and husband, putting them in urns filled with water to keep them fresh.  The tombs throughout the courtyard were covered with lilies, roses, and marigolds.  Freshly quartered oranges, pecans, and peanuts were set in neat little piles to feed the souls before the returned to the earth.  In the morning, the cemetery was quiet, reflective, reverent.  It was empty except for a few men who were cleaning the dirt paths between the graves and keeping the urns filled with water so the flowers would stay fresh.  We tip-toed gently to read the names of the dead on the elaborate crosses at the heads of each grave.  Why, we asked, were there so many crosses on each grave site?  Magda told us that a cross is put there when a person is first buried and then second one is added at the one-year anniversary when the family gathers for a memorial.  Each family may have  several plots in the cemetery, and after ten years a burial place can be re-used — a much different and more recycleable approach to burial than in the United States.  Ten years is about the time it takes for the body and bones to decompose; new earth is added and the cycle begins again.

As we entered the cemetery at 5:30 p.m. we saw a large tour group of about 15-20 people with very serious cameras and flash equipment strolling the cemetery.  They were part of a well-known U.S. organization that organizes adventure travel around the world in addition to publishing a monthly magazine that has been in existence for well over 100 years.  The people were boisterous, took photos without asking permission, and invaded the tranquil ritual sanctuary of this small village cemetery.  The use of flash was ubiquitous.  I noticed the photographers just a few feet away from elderly couples sitting at the grave sites, their camera lenses pointed directly in their subjects faces, holding flash strobes, and taking photos repeatedly to get the best shot.  They didn’t appear to have much awareness of their impact. We were uncomfortable.  Our own small group gathered and decided that there was not enough ambient light by that time (there were few candles in this cemetery as compared to Xoxocotlan) to allow us to take reasonable photos without using flash and being invasive.  So, we decided to leave after about a half hour.

We talked about this experience over dinner and then the next morning.  It seemed to all of us that the well-known travel company had not prepared people for the cultural experience of going into a small village environment.  It appeared that their approach was not as participants but as observers — there to capture an image and leave. We discussed the impact of being from the U.S. and how others’ behaviors from the same country can reflect on all of us.  Each tourist has a responsibility to behave respectfully so that as a group we will be welcomed back.  As Americans, it is easy for us to forget the historical experience of our indigenous hosts.  We must own our own part in the history of colonizers. Americans and Europeans must be aware of our impact as we travel.  The cemetery experience brought to light both the positive and negative aspects of what it means to participate in ancient rituals and the responsibilities that accompany that.  Fortunately, we had the opportunity to be sharing the home of a local family and were invited by them to go to the cemetery.  We were not convinced that the other group even engaged in any conversation in preparation for their visit.

If you have thoughts and ideas about this dilemma that you would like to share, please add to the commentary.  Thank you.

Discover the REAL Teotitlan del Valle

If you were to arrive in the village with a taxi driver or via tourist bus, you would have an entirely different experience than if you chose to travel independently.   On your own, you might do some research in advance to identify the weavers working with the best wool, using higher count warp threads and only natural dyes, which could take time and study.  Then, you would need to figure out how to get to Teotitlan del Valle —  on a public bus,  a shared collectivo taxi, or a taxi hired for transport only.  I am the first to admit, jumping on a tour bus could be convenient (although, I’ve never done it, I can certainly understand it) and saves some time.  But it will cost you an authentic experience.  

My friends Eric Chavez Santiago and Elsa Sanchez Diaz are both graduates of the tourism program at Universidad Anahuac de Oaxaca.  Eric is  a very accomplished weaver who lectures and demonstrates weaving and dyeing techniques at museums, universities and galleries in the U.S. and Elsa is a cultural liaison and interpreter.  Both have 10-year travel visas to the U.S.  They want to create real experiences for visitors to meet Teotitlan weavers who are committed to working only in natural dyes.  If you go to our website:  www.oaxacaculture.com we have an explanation about the importance of continuing the traditions of using natural dyes — for historic and cultural preservation and for health.  The toxic chemical dye vapors that indigenous weavers breathe is creating early onset lung disease, emphysema and some cancers.  So, there are important reasons to support weavers who work with natural dyes, beyond the aesthetics of a more beautiful rug.  If visitors can differentiate quality and only purchase rugs made with natural dyes, then  more people in the village will dye their wool this way.   Elsa and Eric have contacted weavers in the village who they know work ONLY with natural dyes and have asked them to be part of  a self-guided walking map of the village that the two are creating.  The map will include local spots of interest,  lodging and dining suggestions, and contact information. Travelers can contact Elsa to purchase the map.  If travelers desire, Elsa will  personally guide them, and provide round-trip transportation to and from the village from Oaxaca City.  The idea is to showcase the village from the perspective of those who live there, engaging in discussions about customs traditions and history with local experts, exploring the back alleys to meet weavers, or perhaps dining in the home of an accomplished cook. Elsa and Eric want to offer day visits, overnight stays, and residencies and workshops for artists, university students and teachers.  If you’d like more information about this, let me know, or contact Elsa Sanchez Diaz directly at email:  elsasanchezdiaz@gmail.com   In Oaxaca, call her at 01(951)51-43069.