Photo: Lorran Meares
Wounaan Hösig Di represents more than just fine art—it’s an opportunity for communities within Panamá’s Darién rainforest to boost their economies. By engaging in a patron relationship with master weavers of the craft, Jennifer and Ed Kuyper help to alleviate poverty in the region; not only at the individual and family level, but also at the community level. Through this relationship, these fine artists earn three- and four-figure prices for their hard work and dedication—far more than their counterparts in Third World countries around the world, and a direct result of the mandatory education system that Panamá, itself, instills.
The talented weavers of Hösig Di know the value of their craft, and as a result, they have become more empowered to price their skill similar to that which artists in the United States might receive; a unique trend for indigenous peoples in remote locations. In fact, the most talented weavers will not accept any less. As a stable and primary source of income for Wounaan families, the money these weavers receive is used to pay for their children’s education—including books, uniforms, paper and pencils—as well as medicine, trips to doctor, surgical procedures, clothes, shoes and other necessities these families need for everyday life. Furthermore, as they live in a remote village, this money goes towards food that cannot be grown or gathered in their region, as well as wheelbarrows, concrete, modern conveniences, lanterns, flashlights, and plastic tubs to do laundry at home, instead of in the river. Finally, if the weaver is not able to gather the chunga fibers she needs to make her baskets, she has to use that money to purchase some herself.
Though a solitary task, weaving is, historically, a communal activity—bringing women together to talk amongst themselves throughout the course of its construction. Through this process, these talented women not only preserve their Wounaan culture worldwide, but they also garner the support they need from their surrounding community to cultivate master artists.