Empowering Indigenous Women
Empowering indigenous women of a small eastern Panamá rainforest tribe precipitously close to Colombia wasn’t a planned career change for Jennifer and Ed Kuyper. It happened more by accident that we wandered into their journey of self-discovery.
Once on the path, we purposefully explored with them what it might mean to shift their way of thinking and working. The decision was and remains theirs: earn a meager income as producers in a cottage industry that serves the tourist souvenir market; or earn the status of master weavers who create world-class basketry that serious collectors would covet, thus making it possible to raise their families out of poverty. When a Wounaan weaver completes a basket that has taken her one, two or three years, she is as proud as if she bore a child.
Providing financial support during the basket’s long construction, we act as patrons, contributing to economic and familial stability. Income from exquisite Hösig Di baskets (which museum curators claim rival the finest historical/antique Native American baskets) enables women to buy outboard motors for dugout canoes, books and school supplies for village children, also medicine and medical treatment beyond the scope of traditional village healers.
Wounaan villages lie deep in the Darién Rainforest of Panamá and are accessible only by dugout canoes and modest boats. Rivers are this endangered rainforest’s highways. But a real highway linking Panamá to Colombia threatens to dismantle the way of life they have known for hundreds of years.
Basket making enables families to have the economic base necessary to fight that threat and to stay in villages rather than be forced into life in city slums (8 hours away by dugout) where they must accept menial labor at $1.50 an hour.
At home, in villages, artists build their self-esteem, protect the institution of family and help strengthen the fight against the ever-increasing threat of Colombian “guerilla” marauders who invade villages, rape, steal and murder.
For the first five years Rainforest Baskets proudly sponsored master weavers at the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market. Each of the artists whom we represented was selected for inclusion at Folk Art Market from hundreds of artists around the globe.
Insuring their firm and continued placement in the Market, they learned how to fill our their own application forms and provided the materials and resources with which to continue the momentum "under their own steam.
They are a tribute to womanhood and an inspiration to all women of color. Help us help them tell their story.