Preservation of Traditional Indigenous Art

Initiated in the 1920s, the colonization of the Paraguayan Chaco brought about profound changes in the region. Military occupation, the Chaco War, and land commercialization have had an impact on the loss of living space and traditional livelihoods for indigenous peoples. The Nivaclé, Ayoreo, and Enlhet people once inhabited vast territories where they practiced hunting, fishing, gathering, goat and sheep herding, and agriculture during the rainy season. Their subsistence-based way of life transitioned to wage labor, making them cheap labor for cattle ranches and agricultural farms. The growth of urban centers and development has led to rampant deforestation in the region, further altering their way of life and their relationship with the environment.

The loss of traditional activities like plant gathering for textile production had a significant impact on the role of women in their communities. The crafting of bags used for carrying utensils, clothing, tapestries, and decorative objects gradually disappeared in favor of an increasing reliance on buying manufactured products. The transmission of knowledge from mother to daughter no longer had a reason to exist in this new context.

Considering that the South American Gran Chaco was recognized as the richest region in mesh weaving tradition, and to prevent the total disappearance of ancestral knowledge, the commercialization of artisanal pieces revitalized the work of women. Crafting requires no money, as the raw materials are found in the forest. One of the textiles is made from the fiber of “caraguata” (bromeliads). Fibers are extracted from the leaves, then dried and bleached in the sun. For thread production, two filaments are rolled on the thigh towards the knee, forming two thin strands that are in turn joined with other filaments by reversing the gesture. Once completed, this extremely durable thread is dyed in vegetable baths made from barks, roots, seeds, and resins according to the desired color. Subsequently, this thread is crocheted using simple or interconnected stitches, braided in a cross, plain or spiral, in networks with a variety of knots. Each woman has her own patterns with which she creates different designs. Although they may repeat, they are never copied identically but are assembled spontaneously, and the final result is always a unique work.

The reintroduction of traditional art plays an essential role in preserving the cultural heritage of these communities. It helps keep their culture alive and reinforces their identity. While the sale of the artworks can provide essential additional income for their livelihood, it is their creation that allows these women to remember and express their free spirit. Artistic creation is the link that connects them to their ancestors, brings them closer to their roots, and perpetuates their legacy.