Photo: Charlie Eitzen
More than anything, the production of this prestigious Wounaan Hösig Di gives indigenous women a unique sense of power. By offering them the status of “master weavers” with world-class talents—as opposed to low-income earners supporting Panama’s tourist souvenir market—Jennifer and Ed Kuyper, owners of Rainforest Baskets, have inadvertently changed the way these women think. Through the success of their craft, the women have not only been able to raise their families out of poverty, but they have also been able to create a product that, after paying such careful attention to it for so many years, is as significant to them as if they had just given birth to another child.
By providing financial support during the long construction of many baskets , the Kuypers act as patrons, contributing to the economic and familial stability of the region. The location of the Wounaan and Emberá tribes, deep in the Darién rainforest and surrounded only by rivers, is only accessible by dugout canoes and modest boats. Through the income these Wounaan women receive, they are able to buy outboard motors for dugout canoes—thus fighting the threat of being forced out of their villages and into city slums, where they would have to survive on a salary of $1.50 an hour—as well as books and school supplies for village children, medicine and medical treatment beyond the scope of traditional Darién healers.
Within Wounaan homes, the work required to complete Hösig Di builds self-esteem for the artists who make them, protects the institution of the Wounaan family, and aids members of the tribe in their fight again threats from Colombian “guerillas.” Their work, therefore, is more than just a job—it’s a factor in the growth of their culture.