Somewhere in the southern highlands of Ecuador a woman sits and quietly draws one strand of thread to loop directly over the thread above, rather than passing through a bead, the ‘usual’ way of bead weaving. She is duplicating a beautiful floral pattern that lives only in her head. Later she will present this pattern to her community of bead workers and they will memorize the pattern in their heads.And this is how the tradition of beadwork continues in Saraguro.
Text by Jodi Winsor • Photos by Jennifer Esperanza
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Who are the Saraguros?
The Saraguros are subsistence dairy farmers who live in southern highland Ecuador, living at an elevation of 8500 feet, growing most of their own food—corn, beans, squash, babacos and tree tomatoes, and herding cattle and sheep. They are proud of their Incan ancestry, but their bead art does not come from that heritage. The need for pasture for their cattle led them to cross the Andes into the eastern slopes of Ecuador about a century ago. The Shuar who inhabited that region wore necklaces made of glass seed beads made in the Czech Republic that they acquired through trade up the Amazon River. They traded beads for cheese with the Saraguros. Saraguro girls and women wear the bead collars daily.
There is no other bead work like this on the planet.
How the Saraguros learned to weave these beads with techniques unknown to other indigenous peoples of South America remains a mystery. And, you might wonder how it is that Saraguro necklaces lie so beautifully around your neck. Their beading techniques require careful attention to thread tension (not too tight) but it is more than that. Their jewelry is constructed horizontally, and they have developed stitches in which the thread loops directly over the thread above, rather than passing through a bead, the ‘usual’ way of bead weaving.
This technique gives them much more flexibility in developing creative new patterns. Saraguro
bead artists develop and hold all their patterns in their heads. They do not use any written instructions or illustrations. When someone develops a new pattern, the others study it and soon are replicating this pattern themselves.
When I asked Jodie to explain what she does this was her answer:
I like to help people fulfill their true potential. This can be measured by a company increasing its revenue stream, an artist realizing their vision, a yoga teacher authentically sharing her truth, a non-profit fulfilling its mission, a holistic health care practitioner healing people, a lawyer building their clientele or an indigenous tribe supporting and feeding its community.
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