Montecristi, Tejidos de Origen – Chapter 1: The journey begins

Life endures in time It is life that weaves encounters, relations, stories Everything that seems pure coincidence has been woven under the shine of life Nothing happens if this great weaver hasn’t dreamed it I’m in the province of Manabí where the main symbols are the ceibos (type of tree), the Manabas, who are kind and easy-going, the sal prieta and the tonga Ancestral landscapes, culture, customs, and trades survive in this province, inherited from one generation to another This is a zone of weavers par excellence They are fishing villages, seaside towns, and, of course, most of their products come from the sea The sea begins to give them products, so, the land provides balsa wood This way the people also gain power over their environment There are a number of anchors around, even some that people used to swim to the ocean depths, especially at Isla de la Plata, and Salango Island, to gather one of their most ritual objects: spondylus shells Archaeologists have shown that, in the area now known as Ecuador’s Coastal region,

human groups have existed for some 8000 years They have gradually been finding, from different epochs, evidence or representations of human figurines with ornaments on their heads The people in these villages along the Manabi coast worshiped the sun Some days we bless the sun, and other days we hide from it The sun is relentless For these peoples, it was very important to protect themselves from the sun In figurines from the Jama-Coaque culture we find that these seafarers used hats for protection Although it would sound very correct to say that the pre-Hispanic peoples weaved toquilla straw hats to cover themselves from the sun, this theory has not been confirmed These ornaments may have been made from natural fibers But, so far, archeologists have not issued an official written report that confirms having found any evidence that this was the case In 1534, Father José Maria Cobos was already on these lands He marveled at the objects the indigenous peoples used as head coverings They were like bat wings, he stated very clearly, like vampire wings When he asked the natives what they were made of, they said they were of threads made from bat skin The priest was very surprised at this and decided to investigate further until he found a palm plant that produced the fiber these indigenous peoples used to weave That woman is wearing a “pava” hat, like the ones used today That is a “pava” hat If you look carefully, It is a woman with her ornaments, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, skirt and, of course, a hat After eight years away from my country,

I have returned to visit the oldest communities with the longest tradition of weaving toquilla straw I am travelling around Manabí, exploring its back roads and discovering its secrets Today is Saturday, so there are not many customers It is a day for getting everything ready for tomorrow, cutting and storing, because most customers come on Sunday On Sundays, we keep ten to twelve people busy working The traditional dish is chicken, but we have a variety of dishes: we have goat, duck, chicken We also prepare “tonga” which we have started making with spicy pork sausage because it goes well with peanut sauce During the World Cup, my husband had the idea of offering a tri-color dish to represent the national flag, and people liked the novelty of it It had spicy pork sausage, duck or chicken, and pork Even if I give you my secret ingredient, the seasoning is what counts So We prepare this food with onions, green peppers, seasoning and natural coloring, and then we cook it We offer chicken The chicken is a little tough because for these dishes we buy it a little tough, and then cook it longer, see? The peanut comes from the mill as paste We thin it out and add a little onion and green pepper Then we cook it We add a little salt and sugar, because sugar brings out the peanut taste The “tonga” is a traditional food because for example, in the countryside, in the mountain, people often had to work far from home So, usually they would take their food, the chicken or any other dish, wrapped in plantain leaves That is how the “tonga” came to be Many visitors come here, sometimes friends but nobody goes away hungry, and that is what distinguishes the Manaba My grandmother used to say: there should always be food on hand for visitors, even if only a fried plantain Because people passing through may be hungry, and we should be ready to feed them whatever we have, even if only some fried plantain At present we have thirty five students,

from fifteen to sixty five years old The most important part is learning how to weave the hats So we have four local tutors with a wealth of experience in weaving Almost all the people of the village weave It’s a tradition, an ancestral heritage As this work was disappearing, we see the need to create a place to continue with this art They first start practicing the assembly Then they learn and start tearing and selecting the straw Once they know that I give them the straw for them to tear, assemble and weave the hat Some started froms scratch Most of them knew nothing But they have learned! Besides the trade’s technology, they also have training sessions, like marketing, commercialization, basic accounting They are given the title of toquilla hat craft weaving masters I am a toquilla straw weaver I provide my family with what I know, making hats No craftsman or weaver makes the same hat Not even the same person can make two identical hats To have this designation will give the hats the means to continue breaking barriers Jorge Carranza Holguín I am a farmer We, the Montubios, know I tell my children: the plant is like us If you cut here, this gum, I tell them

this gum is like cutting a finger, it’s the same It’s like us: we clean up, we get dressed, we eat, sleep, rest – all of that That is maintenance, because if you don’t clean it, the weeds appear, and it’s over So you clean it and clean it till it’s time to grow Toquilla straw is planted First it is pulled out, and planted where it is clean At first I planted only four little plants but then, whit the rains, the plants grow and grow, plant and plant the amount of plants continue to grow This plant produces all the time All the time When rains become scarce, when the water stops, profits are also less But when the rain comes you take the product today, and in fifteen days you can take it again Parents were serious before My father loved agriculture Well, he wove hats, but not the good ones It was the thick hat, the cheapest My children know how to weave, all of them Those in Spain, those in Venezuela – all of them And they weave well There was a time when nobody wove because the price was bad One couldn’t afford anything So people started to leave This job was not enough to make a living Now it is getting better Now it is Why it was so bad? Because this hat was only in Montecristi It wasn’t like it is now Now it is in the whole world And lots of people arrive from everywhere looking for the hats This toquilla plantation I keep it in good condition because it provides my food and anything And as it produces it must be maintained I take all the straw home And my wife dries it and sells the dry straw This is the product… This one this is the heart; this is the product When I come I cut it here Here it comes. You cut it with whatever you have Like this, for example Like this, in the middle of both sides Like this Like this This is cooked, smoked and dried When it’s dry, you put it under the moon, to settle down Then it dries, and the next day you wash it with blue soap, “Ale” soap After washing it, you boil it for ten to fifteen minutes, and you smoke it again And after smoking it, you take it and start working with it We don’t know who the master was when this hat was first made But this work started centuries ago, not yesterday, but centuries ago During this journey I met hat weavers, finishers, finishers, merchants Fingers that dance to wed dry straws, that must be be woven in cloudy days, because the sun cracks them up So, we got to know toquilla straw from harvest, a plant element that was used by the first settlers of this province This journey has just begun