The Chiman Bags' Project
By Claudia Burgos.
I have always felt that dreams are more than just diurnal remains and segments of the unconscious, but what about dreaming while awake? I can say that I’m a bird lover ever since I was a little girl given that observing them would carry my imagination to faraway lands. I genuinely believe that everyone has that special “something”, an image or a sign that affirms us being in the right place, for me it is represented by tropical parrots. When I first read Isabel Allende’s “City of Beasts”,* whom I consider magical in many ways, I vividly imagined every plant, river, sky, location, and character and I realized that in that process, I was also finding myself.
I come from a country with vast natural richness; from the snowy white peaks of The Andes that watched me grow up in La Paz, my hometown (located to 3600 meters above the sea level), to green lush valleys with wineries, fruit, and so inviting weather that is worth of entire afternoons of joy. Also, Bolivia has the Amazon tropics filled with jungles and all kinds of life. This is where a new adventure begins and brings us to the present.
I had always known that not too far away from La Paz, there were those fuchsia sunsets charming sunrays, but I did not imagine exactly what it was or how the ground would transform from one texture to the next. I always dreamed of crossing that line in my imagination.
One of my first experiences in working life, was a project which gifted me the opportunity to work on those vast, flat jungle surfaces and tropical Amazon weather that I had promised myself to get to know, all those years ago. It was a challenging year filled with diverse experiences but, as so often is the case, the difficult ones makes you stronger, and the good ones are long lasting.
I met wonderful people that accompanied and taught me that life is about what happens to us every day. I met amazing women whom I worked with in all the 21 rural communities we visited and after sharing breakfasts, lunch, and dinner with long talks, my work partner became my family away from home. Away from my family, and away from all the little thigs that makeup my day to day in La Paz.
I was able to observe and experience on firsthand, all the different ways of life, styles of cooking, and work schedule. Additionally I heard for the very first time, the chiman language, which I often produced laughs around me whenever I tried pronouncing its words; especially from the little kids who taught me their language and became my friends. They also explained their culture and beliefs, such as the legend of Dojity and Micha, two brothers with opposite personalities, one mischievous and one serious, representing the flora and fauna of the region.
Convinced that I was melting due to the scorching 40 C degree heat, I was falling in love to their beautiful landscapes, which my phone camera could never do justice to. The birds and the trees would never stop talking, I never stopped listening and it made me know that I was where I needed to be. And so, in between all that nature, I slowly soaked up all that the people and their way of life had to offer.
I vividly remember feeling love at first sight when I saw the tiny, spherical, handmade baskets called jipi japa, a kind of palm tree. The same material the locals use to make their hats to protect themselves from the punishing sun when harvesting rice. Those baskets used to carry bread, fruits, cheese empanadas (typical of the region), as well as their personal objects and in some occasions, even their small pets. I liked them so much that I immediately started learning about who, how and what they are made of and found that it’s a long-inherited tradition of the Chiman women who even build their rooftops using the same technique which consists of weaving the long, strip-shaped Jipi japa plant creating any form they desire. I was awed by it and so, I bought one for myself, then one for my sister and next thing I knew, I had several of them.
That is where this project is born, from respect and admiration for the chiman women, who built their roofs, hand fans, and bags themselves for generations using this beautiful, yet resistant plant and braiding technique. It is born from the sisterhood I witnessed from these wonderful ladies, spending entire afternoons sharing their materials, helping each other, and discussing their fears and joys. This is the essence of a job done by women for women.
At the end of the year, after twelve long months working with these women, I get to know them well. They are mothers, daughters, sisters, wives, lovers, and friends with their own concerns, and bills to pay, but above all, their own dreams and aspirations. Dreams that are in fact achievable goals given their grit and hardworking nature. That is why my sisters and I started this project; to create beautiful products honoring the Chiman tradition. By combining Chiman traditional skill, great sense of design, the enthusiasm of the talented Chiman women artisans in colaboration with Sutisana in La Paz (Sutisana is a purpose-driven organization of talented women artisan who works with leather), and us (me and my sisters), to transform this magic into an ethical and sustainable business that will be part of Yanawara collection.
The purpose of this project is to relay these women’s lives and traditions to a global audience and create a network of women who build their dreams with their own hands, always aiming high. After hard work, countless mishaps, and unwavering perseverance, we’ve been able to leverage the talent of these strong, lively, and entrepreneurial Chiman ladies to produce the Chiman bags and ship them halfway across the world to the United States in order to tell their story and also ours.
Full of resilience and work since the creation of this project, in a time where the pandemic has knocked on the door of everyone in the world and shifting everyones lives, we came to realize that one of the most viable economic solutions for this and other communities, Will be the artisanal industry.
Artisans will be able to produce from the safety of their homes, allowing them to support their families in this current overwhelming world were are living in, working day by day and fulfilling their expectations and dreams.
*Isabell Allende a Chilean journalist and author representative of the genre magic realism.
*Chiman Language, Indigenous language of the region.
* Dojity and Micha, Indigenous legend of the Chiman people.
All photography credits to Claudia Burgos and Karen Peña.
Claudia Burgos | Psicologyst | Chiman bags co-founder
Born and currently living in La Paz – Bolivia, she is the youngest daughter of three women. She is a 26 years old psychologist with a focus on gender, development and equal rights.
Pianist, music, art, creativity and universe lover, also considered a free person.