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The Chaguar Process

Wichí Women like colors. They are soft and elegant. They walk in the woods slowly but without pause. The Wichí people have ancestral techniques in knitting. They knit using threads obtained from chaguar, a native plant of the mounts in Gran Chaco, similar to the aloe vera. The most used specie is the Hyeronimi or Chutsaj in wichí languaje.

With the threads obtained after a very long and laborious process, the wichí women from the past knitted the vests for war, the fishing nets and the yicas (bags) to gather wild fruits. Today they make crafts that are starting to be recognized and valorized all around the globe.

The word “chaguar” comes from the Quechua language; and in areas where the Guaraní has influence. It is also known as Caraguatá It is a plant that is found in the semiarid region of Chaco, which is conformed by the provinces of Salta, Formosa and Chaco in Argentina and parts of Paraguay and Bolivia. Its resistant thread is used since immemorial times by the Wichí, a nation of hunter-gatherers, to make domestic objects such as bags, ponchos, clothes, nets, ropes, and for subsistence activities.

It is not cultivated; it grows under the shadow of the middle stratum of the forest of Chaco, and is reproduced by stolons.

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The process to obtain chaguar thread takes the following steps:

Harvest: The women walk through the woods searching for chaguar. As the leaves have thorns, they collect the plants with a stick. Sherd: The women select the leaves and extract the prickly coverage.

Degumming: The women hit the threads and the leaves to eliminate impurities.

Bleaching: They rinse the clean threads and dry them in the sun. The stronger the sun, the whiter the thread will be.

Making the string: The artisans separate thread by thread, which have different thicknesses. Afterwards, they twist the threads above their legs using ash to help them obtain a strong textured thread.

Dying: The women use routes, fruits, cortices and leaves from the native woods of Gran Chaco to get colors. The traditional colors are the ochers, blacks and browns.

Design: The designs arise from the cultural WICHÍ universe, a village of hunter-gatherers that have always lived in the mount following the rhythms of nature. The designs reproduce the shapes of the animals from the woods, with which the hunter stablishes an intimate relationship; they even get identified with the spirit of the prey. Some of the most common patterns are the loin of the suri, the eye of the owl, the chest of the woodpecker and the skin of the snake.

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The Carandillo Process

The women of the Pilagá community go in groups of four or five to collect the Carandillo leaves from the forest; for the best leaves they usually have to venture as far as 5 km into the forest

Once they reach the forest the women separate and each one searches on her own for leaves. They typically collect up to a hundred leaves at a time. The older women carry the leaves on their backs, the younger women on their heads. Twenty big leaves are needed for large basketwork products.

Since Carandillos grow in the wild and are not cultivated, the women carefully select only a few leaves from each plant so the plant can continue to grow and produce new leaves. From their ancestral knowledge the Pilagá women know that the best leaves are those collected on the day before full moon, when the biggest and best leaves are to be found.

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The Pilagá women take advantage of sunlight to go into the forest because of the inherent dangers of going there at night, when poisonous snakes and other wild animals put their lives at risk.  The  women leave home early and work all day collecting leaves.

The next task after collecting the leaves is the process of shredding them, transforming the leaves into the smooth, fine fibers used to weave baskets. This shredding is done with needles. Once the shredding is completed, the fibers are left out in the sun for a whole day to bleach them.

The final stage consists of weaving the smooth white fibers into beautiful baskets.

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The Wool Process

Sheep’s wool is the raw material used by the women of the Qomle´ec community to produce small animal ornaments, carpets and wall-hangings.

After washing the wool four times to extract all the dirt, it is hung to dry.

Once fully dry it is goes through the spinning process, giving rise to the soft threads used to weave a wide variety of products.

Before commencing the weaving process the women dye the threads using natural-based products from the forest which they themselves collect: the fruit, bark and roots of different trees and plants.  Finally, when the dyes are set, the creativity of the women comes into play as they weave the raw material into beautiful carpets, hangings and small animal ornaments mirroring the local fauna.

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The hangings and carpets are a wonderful illustration of skills handed down over many generations. By preserving traditional weaving techniques and using a precise thickness of thread, the Qomle´ec women are able to continue to produce designs that reflect their ancestral skills.

Although it is only relatively recently that the Qomle´ec started producing small animals, the technique is already being taught to others so that it will in time become part of the local artisanship alongside the more traditional carpets, hangings, bags, belts and sashes.