Venezuela has become a failed state. We’ve all viewed the scenes of 3 million people who have left their home country in recent years. They leave by foot, carrying whatever they can manage with little food or medicine. Finally, they arrive at a border crossing and await their future. How has this crisis affected the Ye’kwana whose baskets Cultural Cloth has sold since opening our shop?
With thanks for Laurie Wilkins, an American who has been working with the Ye’kwana for 17 years, we offer an update about the Ye’kwana basket makers.
The Ye’kwana live in lowland tropical forests along rivers where they hunt, fish and grow yucca for their subsistence diet. They move up and down rivers by canoe, using gas and oil. Vouchers are necessary to purchase gas and oil and other necessities. The vouchers are controlled by the government and are distributed at port cities. When the government is shut down, often for weeks or even months at a time, the Ye’kwana are stuck in these areas with little support while they await their vouchers.
Back in their home village, the Ye’kwana have become motivated to continue making baskets to sell to Laurie in order to create a safeguard against the uncertain political situation. That is provided they can still get the baskets out of the country. Across swaths of southern Venezuela, army units, Colombian guerrillas and crime syndicates jostle for control over gold mines funneling hard currency to President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
Extractive industries threaten the Ye’kwana’s habitat where they harvest their basket-making materials, principally the aerial roots of Heteropsis. More than one species is used in their basket making and leaves are used to make the dyes.