Oxlajuj B’atz’ Maya Women’s Center: Hands-on Cultural Tours in the Heart of Guatemala

  • Oxlajuj B'atz'
  • 6 August 2012

This article was published by our friends at The International Ecotourism Society, who have agreed to its republication here. View the original article on their Your Travel Choice blog.

Thirteen Threads (Oxlajuj B’atz’/Trece Hilos)

Oxlajuj B’atz’ (OB) – meaning “Thirteen Threads” in the Maya Kaqchikel language – is a non-profit organization in Guatemala supporting indigenous women’s empowerment and education. OB offers travelers the opportunity to tour rural Guatemala and to learn about Mayan women achieving economic independence through innovative and sustainable development projects.

 A visitor learns traditional back-strap weaving from an Oxlajuj B’atz’ Maya teacher

A visitor learns traditional back-strap weaving from an Oxlajuj B'atz' Maya teacher. Photo courtesy of Oxlajuj B'atz'

OB’s tours offer artisan classes at the Maya Women’s Center in back-strap weaving and natural dyes, basket weaving and rug-hooking taught by women from the OB cooperatives. They also offer a chance to see destinations such as Antigua, Chichicastenango, Panajachel, Santiago Atitlan and Sololá in the beautiful country of Guatemala.

On the one had, one of the purposes for OB to establish these tours as a part of its programs is to connect the women in these cooperatives with potential buyers, and ultimately, markets for their products. Another purpose is to promote sustainable development and preserve indigenous cultures in the region in a way that would not sacrifice the natural or cultural uniqueness of the Maya people. On the other hand, the benefit of these tours to visitors lies in the opportunity to experience the natural beauty of Guatemala, to be immersed into Mayan culture and to spend quality time with the hard-working, hospitable women of the Oxlajuj B’atz’ cooperatives.

 Waqxaqi` K`an Women’s Cooperative, Chuacruz community

Waqxaqi' K'an Women’s Cooperative, Chuacruz community. Photo courtesy of Oxlajuj B'atz'

Women’s Cooperatives: Empowering Women, Inspiring Change

The Oxlajuj B’atz’ Maya Women’s Center organizes tours to visit rural communities in Guatemala and local women’s cooperatives, including the following examples.

Waqxaqi’ K’an: Cooperative of Women from the Chuacruz Community
Waqxaqi’ K’an, which means “the 8th Weaving Day” in the Mayan language Kaqchikel, is a cooperative of 22 Mayan weavers made up of widows and their daughters who formed in order to earn an income after the violence of the civil war in the 1980s. In November 2002, the women realized their goal of building their own cooperative center in Chuacruz. In 2010 they formed their own legal association and in March 2011 the cooperative won the Oxlajuj B’atz’ annual prize in honor of International Women’s Day for the best participation and cooperative development in 2010.

Yolanda Calgua, founder and leader of Chuwila Women’s Cooperative

Yolanda Calgua, founder and leader of Chuwila Women’s Cooperative. Photo courtesy of Oxlajuj B’atz’

Chuwila: Cooperative of Women from the Quiejel Community
In a village in the mountains outside of Chichicastenango, five K’iche’ Maya women joined together to promote their backstrap weaving. This region is famous for its playful and complex use of color. The tapestry brocade weaving is intricate and results in unique geometric designs. Although the women possess this unique and beautiful skill, it has been difficult for them to find a way to make a living due to the remote location of their community and over-saturation of the textile market. In recent years, Oxlajuj B’atz’ has hosted a series of workshops on rug hooking with textile artist Mary Anne Wise. The women of Chuwila have been developing this new skill, which incorporates their famous designs in the medium of a hooked-rug.

Lajuj Ix and Las Estrellas: Cooperatives of Women from the Sololá Community
The Lajuj Ix and Las Estrellas women’s cooperatives are located in the cornfields above the town of Sololá in the highlands of Guatemala. These women weavers organized 20 years ago after the violence of the Guatemalan civil war in need of an income to provide for their families. They make table runners, cotton knitted or woven bracelets, earrings, key chains and many other products for export. Some years ago a needle-felt artist from New Hampshire came and taught them needle felting, with which they now make a variety of wool animal figurines. Some members of the group have also started their own businesses and diversified their products. For example, they produce and sell natural shampoo and jam, products which they learned to make through Thirteen Threads workshops and now sell in Fair Trade stores.

Learn More About Oxlajuj B’atz’

Read The International Ecotourism Society’s interview with Beth Davis about Oxlajuj B’atz’s work, challenges faced and the reason for incorporating ecotourism into its programs: Oxlajuj B’atz’ Maya Women’s Center: Empowering Women, Inspiring Change

 Three Generations of Weavers – Lajuj Ix & Las Estrellas cooperatives

Three Generations of Weavers – Lajuj Ix and Las Estrellas cooperatives. Photo courtesy of Oxlajuj B'atz'

In the interview she says that “The name Oxlajuj B’atz’ means ‘Thirteen Threads’ in the Maya Kaqchikel language. The name was chosen by the Maya women artisan members of the organization because 13 is considered a sacred number in their culture and traditions. For instance, the Maya believe that there are 13 points of power in the body and there are 13 months in a year. Also, since weaving is such an integral part of their life, they think of their connections in life as being joined by threads.”

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The International Ecotourism Society

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES) is a non-profit association committed to promoting responsible tourism practices that benefit conservation and communities. Representing the voices of stakeholders from all corners of the world, TIES' global network supports and is supported by members from over 90 countries, who are leading the vital efforts to make travel and tourism more sustainable. Your Travel Choice Blog is an interactive platform supporting TIES' mission to engage, educate and inspire everyone to make travel choices that make a difference.
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Central America, ecotours, fine arts, Guatemala, handicrafts & shopping, indigenous culture, local knowledge, North America, personal experience, poverty, women,

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