by Sofia Silei

After some of the most devastating years of civil war in Guatemala, many Mayan men were lost. As a result, women from different communities banded together and decided to use their skills as weavers to support themselves and their families. In this context, the Trama Textiles cooperative was born in 1988, providing a sense of purpose and empowerment.

Today it works directly with 100 women from 17 weaving communities in 5 different regions of the Western Highlands. It also works with various weavers and artisans throughout the country. Together, they all contribute to the success of Trama Textiles.

But what is the role of the cooperative? Many weavers speak Mayan dialects and do not know Spanish, so they are often forced to sell their products at a meager price, which does not compensate them for all the hours they spend working. Trama Textiles intervenes by helping the weavers manage their art and ensure they earn enough money to support themselves and their families in regions where it is more difficult to find work.

The association has a fundamental aim: “We don’t sell products, we sell culture.” This means that the traditions of these local people are paramount and must not be wiped out. Indeed, weaving is a centuries-old Mayan art that remains a fundamental part of Mayan identity today. Throughout Guatemala, each Maya town has its unique traditional dress, called “traje”, which distinguishes it from others. Each form of woven fabric has a precise meaning, as well as specific colours, and some pieces are so intricate that they can take months to make.

To organise the work, each village that works with Trama Textiles has its own elected representative who communicates with Trama and coordinates the delivery of the weavings. Every three months, the women meet in the Quetzaltenango warehouse to review the success of Trama Textiles and discuss possible improvements. Every three years, Trama holds a general assembly where all the women vote for new presidents and update their bylaws.

Although Trama Textiles has been successful in providing fair wages to its members, much of the indigenous population of the Western Highlands continues to live in extreme poverty, with limited access to education and health care. In rural communities such as the Trama textile cooperative, 65% of children do not complete lower secondary education and 78% do not complete upper secondary education. Therefore, in 2019, Trama Textiles launched the Almaya Fund, which focuses on supporting the families of Trama Textiles members. Specifically, Almaya aims to provide services and opportunities in these areas:

– Scholarships and school supplies for the children of weavers
– Health and welfare
– Education and training for weavers

From what we have read so far, the Trama Textiles initiative has had a profound impact on the community and is an example of how an effective network can preserve the culture of a people who have been subjected to the horrors of civil war. 

On the cover photo, screenshot of Trama Textiles’s website