Interview with Eliria Mepaquito

My name is Eliria Mepaquito. I’m a Wounaan weaver from the Darién Rainforest of Panamá. My husband, Alfredo Membache, and I live in the village of Aruza. [Aruza is in central Darién, more than a half day’s dugout canoe trip from any road.] I have two children. Alfredo and I are staying at my sister’s house near Panamá City to help her with her weaving.

I was born in the village of Capeti, on June 17,1977. I have eight brothers and sisters. Capeti is located on the Rio Tuira in central Darién Province, and my village of Aruza is down river, a little nearer to the Colombian border.

I began weaving at age 14. I apprenticed mainly with friends and other adult women. I’m most content making geometric designs in oval shapes. Of course ovals are more difficult than round forms. It’s a structure that requires the most careful technical skill and concentration. I have two reasons. First, because I like to create difficult challenges for myself, and, second, because I am enchanted with the creative process

I consider very important the promotion and spreading of our culture as expressed in our basketry art. Any person or organization who contributes to this cause makes a great impact on our sense of international pride. I, like many other Wounaan women, developed agricultural and farming subsistence skills before becoming an artisan. Also, for many years I have performed the faithful duties of a church member, aiding my community as I have with individual families, especially the moral and political education of children and young people. Furthermore, I am recognized in my community as being “la artista” who encourages and supports other women to follow this same example, by teaching and organizing seminars.

Black, chocolate brown, and gray are my favorite colors because they are so elegant. To get the dyes, I use the asafran, p’ucham and bejuco plants. In this basket, the green is from soliman. Even though I can earn a lot of money from a basket, for me, as a mother, and also working for my family, it is the extreme poverty around me and the social injustice of being an indigenous person. The Panamanian government has only recently recognized us as “people.”

I feel very good when I can help by sharing my knowledge with others. But it is sad that I cannot help all the families of my community. Because I always work long hours, it’s very difficult to take care of the household necessities and still be there for other women, too.

I’m not involved in activities like [government]. Maybe at some time. Not now. [My dream for myself is] to be a humble artist who is most satisfied by helping her village. To achieve—by industriousness and hard work—a good house and to support the construction of my church. [My dream for my children is] to obtain for them a good background in secular studies, particularly a superior education that focuses on public speaking. [And for my people] to see better days of subsistence [economically] and to preserve the cultural values and traditions.

I hope that people will learn to appreciate and value our [basketry] art, our culture and give us their support as well.