El Salvador


El Salvador A short few hours south of the Guatemalan highlands is a different world. After decades of strife during which much of the native population was killed, and then the rich lander owners were killed and the land redistributed, El Salvador lost much of its rich past history.Since the end of the carnage toward the end of the last century, there are efforts being made to resurrect what remains. One such effort is underway at la Hacienda San Juan Buenavista, an indigo plantation on the west coast of El Salvador. This is a picture of the plantation as it was in the 1970s.

GraceDuring a civil war that lasted from 1980 to 1992, many of the wealthy landowners whose families had lived in El Salvador for generations were killed and their land was taken and given to the peasants.Grace was the daughter of one of those landowners. Her father, and grandfather owned a huge indigo plantation. She, along with her mother and brothers and sisters were sent to New York for safety. Before her father could join them, he was killed. Grace was eight. Her mother vowed never to return.

But later, when the war was over and she was approaching thirty and had two children of her own, she ventured back to see the land she loved as a child.She did not tell the villagers who she was until she had made inquiries about what had happened to the plantation and what the local people thought of the family that had owned it.She found that her family had been well liked; the property had not prospered under its new owners because they did not know how to manage it.Much of original plantation was up for sale.

Estancia03She decided to buy back the parts of it that she could. Some of the local people who had worked for her father came back to work for her. She is replanting the indigo and has resurrected the vats that are used for processing it. Most of the buildings had fallen into disrepair. Little by little she is restoring them.And this year she has scored a major contract with Brazil who will buy all the indigo she and other growers in El Salvador can produce.A nice success story for all involved

And in San Salvador Margarita Lainez works to restore the lost weaving traditions of her country. Her studio supports classes for local individuals and she teaches weaving classes at the university. Although the weaving there is non-traditional, many of her students are now designing for major international markets.



SunsetWould I return? In a heartbeat. These women and men of Guatemala and El Salavador have survived much. I can learn more from them than they can from me. Together maybe we can weave a real peace.

Guatemalan Diary – Part 3 – More Guatemalan highlands and El Salvador

My first adventure out of the country continues.

The next several days we traveled to the pueblos of Guatemala to visit local industries and weaving coops. During the final weekend we went south to El Salavador and saw the miraculous resurrection of a century old indigo plantation and the studio of a woman who is trying to reintroduce the weaving tradition lost during decades of political upheaval.

There follows a whirlwind tour that only barely hints at this remarkable journey.

San Andres Xecul As you drive across the valley and up the hill to San Andres and gaze at rooftops full of drying yarn, it is clear that this is the home of many dyers. Dyeing yarn for the weavers is the major cottage industry of this pueblo.


Young boy tending a dyepotAn extended family both lives and works in these multi-storied workshops with everyone, including the youth, contributing. The safety of working with the dyes and chemicals is overshadowed by the need to make a living. Guatemalan pueblos are not yet ready for OSHA.

From high on the third story roof you can see many such small businesses in this hilly mountain village as colorful yarns dry in the sun.




SanAndresXecul01The town is also known for its church which is a folk art masterpiece.





SanAndresXecul02And about a mile up the hill is another small chapel that can be seen from the church. It is up this hill that the Easter procession climbs in remembrance of Christ’s climb to Calvary.





Chirijquiac We drove across fields rutted with dirt to the tiny settlement of Chirijquiac to see the women of the area who have formed a coop to help them improve the marketability of their weaving.



Chirijquiac02The women, who only speak one of the Mayan languages welcomed us into one of their tiny homes. Through an interpreter who spoke Mayan and Spanish they told us about their work.




In the courtyard the women demonstrated how they worked and we had a lively discussion that included many hand gestures and a fair amount of laughter.

Workshop with large loom



We traveled to another pueblo where the standard of living was a little higher. There a workshop had been established at the home of one of the weavers who had a larger house. She had a larger loom and was better off because her husband, whom she had not seen for five years, was in the U.S. working and sending money back to support his family.


The youngest member of the coop, Angelique, still just a teenager, had joined so she could learn to weave better and sell enough to make money to go to college.




Clemente is a master weaver and so is Clemente’s father. For ten years Clemente has worked with the coops of UPAVIM to help weavers improve their work to attract a wider market. We visited his father’s workshop. And later the new workshop Clemente has started. He has left UPAVIM to start his own business and hopes to help make Guatemalan handweaving economically viable.

Young man weaving a wide piece of cloth
Clemente’s father has a separate building for his workshop. Men, some young, some older, work at about a dozen looms. Their young sons run through the workshop and sometimes help with warping the looms.











At Clemente’s new workshop he is developing more modern techniques for producing traditional textiles. Complex designs are worked out for production on the early version of a “computerized loom. Holes punched in the wooden slats move as the loom is treadled and indicate which shafts rise.

The main industry in Salcajaj is weaving corte, the lengths of fabric for women’s skirts. Many of these have intricate patterns that are made by tie-dyeing the threads before they are woven. In order to do this the warp threads, sometimes up to 100 yards in length, are stretched for a block or more down the streets.




After they have been tied and dyed, they are restretched and untied. Then through an intricate sorting process they are rearranged to form the pattern that appears in the cloth. Amazing !