Today I want to share a little background of the “hands behind the craft” The Embera Chamí and their finely detailed jewelry did not gain popularity amongst the Colombian people overnight, this intrinsicate pieces that showcase skill and beauty are the true display of resilience and determination of a community who refuses to disappear.
Back in the 90’s Colombia’s population faced armed conflicts as result of the political affairs and drug cartels in the nation, Paramilititarism and sub-armed groups arose in the country sides taking over small villages and remote indigenous reservations as their operating bases.
Amongst the affected groups the Embera Chamí considered at the time one of the largest native communities of Colombia was violently forced out of their homes and over and over seeked for shelter in different regions of the mountains until they were finally pushed to the main cities into states of homelessness. Such change generated a huge impact in the traditional way of living of this native group, it changed the course of its people up until today, altering tremendously the core of the natives as a community, forcing them to learn how to survive in environments foreign to their generational passed down knowledge.
The Embera Chamí were obligated to set aside their native language and learn Spanish, they traded their traditional diet that consisted of cultivation and foraging of roots, herbs & fruits endemic to the region, for the convenience of prepackaged and industrialized foods, they were obligated to “hide” their spiritual beliefs and practices in order to “blend” with the townsfolk and avoid retaliation and labeling by religious institutions.
Prior of this challenge the Embera Chamí practiced bartering & trading amongst each other, therefore concepts of money were necessary for them to learn in order to guarantee the survival of its people. but how?
That's when they resorted to use their weaving, a traditional skill carried over by the leading women and some of the man for many generations.The weaving techniques of their traditional jewelry represents in material form the work done during healing rituals, is a physical manifestation of shamanic knowledge, the colors and patterns are a reminder of their connection to the oneness, the creator of all and a remembrance of their role as guardians of the sacred, the mountains, the water, fauna and vegetation of the land along with the keeping of ancestral medicines.
The undeniable beauty of the elements created began to be traded in the streets, applauded and admired by locals and foreigners who in most occasions astonished by their appeal and looking for a “deal” never questioned the significance of these elements for their culture.
As a collective the Embera Chamí inhabited the cities for over a decade, a few efforts made by the government in recent years have granted small portions of land to some families but not all of them had yet the chance to return to their origins. This is where back in 2018 Josh and I stepped in hopes of setting a new wind for change.
We were drawn and compelled to reach out and dig further into the stories this beautiful items had to share and that’s exactly how mr. Francisco N. appeared into our life, Don Francisco, was working but for some reason that day, he paused, with his serene gaze he stood with us and listened. We exchanged a few words, and more than a transaction we showed our profound interest to learn. He, prudent but confident, began to share the story of its people with us. We exchanged some more words and explained what we wanted to embrace. He listened attentively and right before we departed he looked deeply into our eyes, then placed into my hands a small offering of lovely earrings saying “I Believe In You”.
Those words marked the beginning of a friendship forged by trust and transparency, since our encounter we became allies. We feel beyond honored to learn from them, their traditions, challenges, beliefs, their happiness has become ours. We can’t describe just with words what it is like to feel embraced under their wing, loved and accepted unconditionally by a culture that does not categorize people by status or materialism to feel a family-like connection that extends beyond bonding by blood.
Don Francisco has given his life to fight for his people, and preserve the tradition. The spirit of the elders and ancestors that live within him, have given him and his family strength and helped them to regain a small portion of land in the region or Risaralda, Colombia back in 2019 where about 48 families reside, led by one oh his children, Don Jose N.
The challenge they face now is to wash off the cultural disruption from their young ones. Since the original displacement took place at least 3 generations have slowly lost their ways, skills have been forgotten and the conveniences of the cities have taken over making traditional practices look like a hurdle. That is precisely where Josh and I took the initiative to help.
From our point of view the Embera Chamí are far from a weakened culture, it is embarrassing to me as Colombian to witness my own people take advantage of the natives and their “lack” of knowledge regarding finances and such, to enlarge their pockets under “humanitarian” marketing at the expense of the difficulties the Embera Chami had to suffer. To my eyes if an injustice is taking place and the observer does not interject, that makes the witness of such injustice equally guilty.
The Embera Chamí on the contrary are extremely intelligent and resourceful people, regardless of the difficulties they have faced in the past, they are on a daily basis making a conscientious effort to perpetuate the knowledge that remains alive, taking care of their elders is of extreme importance because they are the ones who still remember the original ways, the Embera Chamí hold very close the family bonds, though family original language is still spoken, traditional clothing is still crafted and worn, weaving makes for a collective experience and by continuously embracing the practices that also include traditional medicine under the guidance of the “Jaibana” they hope will allow them to once more live in peace amongst the sacred lands they were called to be stewards of.
Our effort is precisely that, changing the common misconception of indigenous cultures as disempowered people of a different era, the idea that natives reside in the past and are just but a tale or an small portion of individuals “stuck” in the primitive way. But how?
Through the revival of legacy, by offering a closer view from the inside of the communities, by bringing back story telling, making of the native language a ceremony to be celebrated, by showing that the rarity and limited resources that are in existence are but an inmaterial treasure that must not cease to live. By utilizing technological & language tools to spring board their message into further lands. Through the creation of a platform that offers them an open space to share their message with those in the wold who seek to find it.
Hand by Craft is that, a connecting plaza, a link between cultures, an example of the union between non indigenous and native cultures, a leading movement that seeks to join the advantages of technology to help the transferring of knowledge and propagation of it into remote regions across he globe.
We were given permission and began to operate on March of 2021, since then we have been able to trade the Sacred Medicine Jewelry on a monthly basis, proving consistent economic flow to Don Francisco’s reserve and have been able to do our first donation based offering during November of 2021 equipping the collective learning room of the Risaralda reserve with 30 desks/chairs, an small contribution that impacts positively the wide range of students under Don Jose’s apprenticeship.
Aside from that we want to thank Don Francisco N. and his family for allowing part of our team in Colombia to visit their location and document from the inside the absolute beauty of their culture. While we are able to put all the pieces together and share it with our viewers and supporters around the world, we look forward to continuing working under your guidance, representing in an honorable way the legacy the Embera Chamí represent.
From the people, for the people.