“Value” is in the Eye of the Beholder

When it comes to handmade items it is common to hear people saying things like: “they are too expensive” or “I know someone who can make it for way less”. It is easy to say so when they don’t know what goes into the making of such unique items.

Handmade pieces may take days or even weeks to create. In addition, they are a reflection of the culture behind each community and have a powerful impact on their members. Take for instance the products made from iraca fibers in Sandoná, Nariño – Colombia. Sandona’s master artisans have worked the iraca palm fibers for generations. Sandoneños, as they are known in Colombia, transform the Iraca fibers into the most amazing crafts; from the traditional hats to small decorative bowls, hanging mobiles, handbags, round woven placemats, and the most incredible array of woven baskets.

The Department of Nariño

Nariño is in the southwestern corner of Colombia, bordering with Ecuador. The department is known for quilted mountains, vast green, cold temperatures, and agriculture. However, many might be surprised to know that Nariño also includes the coastal town of Tumaco. A vivid village on the Pacific coast with tropical hot weather and a vast community of Afro Americans.

Sandoná

Sandoná is a small city located just a few miles from Pasto, the capital of Nariño. The town is dominated by a large gothic-style basilica in the town square.

picture of basilica in sandona, nariño where skilled artisan women weave iraca into large woven baskets, hanging mobiles, round placemats, and decorative bowls
Photo courtesy of Diario Del Sur

Residents of Sandona work mainly in agriculture, growing among others, sugar cane, beans, and corn. However, the town has also become synonymous with Iraca Palm weaving. For centuries the people of this region have been mastering the art of weaving the palm into all sorts of fashion and home decor treasures. Artisans from this region have traveled the world with their work, gaining recognition and international prizes for the quality of their crafts.

The Process of Weaving the Iraca Fibers

At first glance, it is difficult for the untrained eye to conceive the quality and amount of work that goes into making an Iraca piece. The whole process starts with the Palm, (scientific name: Carludovica palmata), also known as Panama Hat Palm.

The iraca palm is up to 3 meters (10 ft) tall and normally takes up to 3 years to reach maturity. Once the plant has reached this stage, the buds are harvested, set to dry and bundled to be taken to the market. There, the artisans pick out the best bundles which they hand dye in different colors.

Woven by Women

With this process now completed. The women, traditionally the ones who do the weaving, gather in shared spaces to work and transform the strands of iraca into works of art that are later sold in the national and international markets. Sandona’s women weave in groups using techniques that have been passed on to them by their mothers, and many generations of women before them. Such techniques are also part of their cultural heritage, received from their indigenous ancestors.

Picture of four women from sandona working on an extra large woven basket made from iraca palm fibers

A Matter of Time and Many Hands

Many of the items they make require more than one set of hands to complete. The Extra Large Woven Baskets are just one example of an Iraca piece that takes 4 women at least a week to complete. The results are baskets of such craftsmanship that are not only beautiful, but useful, easy to maintain, and luxurious pieces of home decor. In addition, these woven baskets will perdure the test of time and remain beautiful for years.

The work Sandona’s women do is not just a labor of love, it is also the way in which countless mothers are able to make a living for themselves and their families. It is the resource that enables them to give their children an education. It is also a way for them to pass down their knowledge, heritage, and traditions to the new generations. Consequently, it has an enormous impact on the people of this region and their way of life. Being able to own one of Sandona’s Iraca crafts, woven by these beautiful and strong women, is really a luxury to be appreciated and treasured.

The Value Behind Sandona’s Iraca Woven Masterpieces

So even though their weave and compositions might look replicate at first glance, that is only because the artisans from Sandona make them look easy and effortless. Thus, the real value behind Sandona’s Iraca Woven Masterpieces reveals itself.