Maria Yolanda is our lead artisan, second in line is her daughter-in-law, Salome. She is a master weaver, a tribal leader in the community and is well known for her art. Maria discussed her work with us and said that in her lifetime she met many foreigners enamored by her designs. We stood under the tin roof, cinder block walls and shared with her our mission and the reason for our visit.
All the family was present (her husband, her male sons and their wives along with 5 grandkids.) We got the green light with the smallest gesture as she called upon her middle son to take the lead in the conversation. What we learned about Maria is that she is highly respected within the community of Risaralda, is often talked about by other Embera Chami groups and is a leading woman. She has attended artisanal conferences, easily comes and goes from the community into the city and makes it a point to educate her family in the trade. Many know of her and have asked for her to visit their communities to teach the women there. The quality of her handmade necklaces are one and only, as well as her designs.
We were surprise by her ability to understand the Spanish language and she often translated to her husband in the Embera dialect. She is a strong advocate for her family and continues to teach them the trade. She spoke of nature as her biggest inspiration, the insects she sees on the trails, the humming of the birds in the early morning and the spiders she finds in her home. In her patterns you will always find the following three themes:
A. Geometric shapes often featured in the Okama (necklace) which means “path around the neck" are her favorite to make. "Okamas" are a means of adorning and glorifying the symbolic weight that women carry on their shoulders. She explained the ends of the necklace finish off in an upside down triangle, a shape symbolic to that of a woman's breast, bearing their soul for the care of the tribe. The diamond shapes incorporated onto the bracelets represent the four seasons and the circles mean the rebirth of unity. The spirals often depict the balance between the spiritual worlds and symbolic of the path one takes.
B. Vibrant Colors represent Mother Earth and the biodiversity of the land. Below a break down of the use of colors and symbolic references in her designs.
- WHITE: clouds, peace, abundance in life and health
- RED: blood, race, soul, fire
- BLUE: river, sky, space
- GREEN: nature, leaves, mountains often represents the density of the jungle
- YELLOW: gold, sun, happiness and the warmth of light
- ORANGE: flowers reflected in the season they blossom
- BLACK: night, the unknown
C. Designs reference ancestral symbols that are intended to be used as amulets for protection, love, community spirit and joy. For example, the hummingbird's colors and it’s search for sweet nectar are referenced in red, yellow and orange. Colors remind one of the balance of good and the search of true light.
We greatly appreciate artisans like Maria Yolanda for taking on the role of caretaker, educator and talented artist. We thank her for sharing with others her valuable traditions and for allowing us to learn of her world as well as letting us introduce her to ours. Check our interview with her below.