mates burilados from huancayo, peru

When we were in Peru in 2006 - actually on the last day of the trip - we met a young man from Huancayo named Cristian Alfaro Nùñez. He was selling the most amazing craft work we had seen in our three weeks in his country.

The Nùñez family makes mates burilados, which translates literally as "engraved gourds". Here's what I wrote the day after we met him.
In an alcove to the side of one of the exhibits, a young man sat in a room full of a kind of handicraft we have not seen anywhere else. He gave us a beautiful description (in Spanish, dumbed down for me, I believe) of how they are made and what they mean.

They are gourds, meticulously engraved in the most painstaking detail, then rubbed with the black ash of a certain plant, then cleaned with another solution (all from plants found in the rainforest), so the inky colour stays only in the engravings. The drawings are playful and light, depicting festivals, music, work, family life, and other aspects of rural life in Peru.

I cannot begin to describe the intricacy of the drawings. We were positively flabbergasted. Some of the engravings were huge, on giant horn-shaped gourds. Others were small, about the size of a pear, or even smaller, the size of a small egg. The workshop of artists who make them are entirely the young man´s family.

Off to the ATM we went! We simply could not resist buying these unique figures from the artist themselves. After much decision-making - they were all so beautiful - we bought one medium pear-sized gourd, and a very small egg-shaped one. (They were priced according to how long they took to make.) When I asked the boy for his photo in front of his work, he gave me his email address and asked if I would send him the photo. Great!

I don't know if there's anything about this work online. He called it Mates Burilados. (I asked him to write it down with his email address.) Mates are the gourds; the etching instruments are burillas.

. . .

Allan took several close-ups of the amazing mates burilados, but, engrossed as I was in trying to communicate with the artist, I forgot to tell Allan about the close-up setting on the digital camera. So unfortunately, most of those are too blurry to post, and I'm still kicking myself over it. However, you can see the artist himself, Cristian Alfaro, and a few of his family's creations.

Here is Cristian holding one of the huge gourds, with a selection of them behind him. Please click to enlarge.

Lima, part 2

But to appreciate this work, you must see it up close. The intricacy and detail is mind-boggling. Here is one that we own; I placed it next to an apple to give you size perspective.

mates burilados 003

And here is some detail.

mates burilados 002

Cristian and I have stayed in touch since then. Sometimes I stop writing to him, not because of lack of interest, but because my written Spanish is so bad. It takes me forever to compose a simple email, and it's such a painful process, that I become frustrated and quit. Sometimes I use an online translator, but those are suspect. When I run Cristian's email through the translator, it sounds ridiculous, so my email must sound the same to him.

* * * *

When we were in Windsor last week, we went with Gito to a Ten Thousand Villages store to find a gift he needed. I have been to a Ten Thousand Villages in Toronto, but I didn't realize that it's a chain.

From the Ten Thousand Villages website:
Men and women around the world have a simple dream – to earn an honest living, provide a home, food and education for their children, and to be gainfully employed in a job that brings dignity and joy. Ten Thousand Villages partners with thousands of talented artisans in a healthy business relationship.

Often referred to as 'fair trade,' our philosophy of helping to build a sustainable future is based on the principle that trade should have a conscience. Through 'fair trade,' artisans receive respect, dignity and hope from working hard and earning fair value for their work.

Ten Thousand Villages is a not-for-profit, self-supporting Fair Trade Organization (FTO). FTOs are non-governmental organizations designed to benefit artisans, not to maximize profits. They market products from handicraft and agricultural organizations based in low-income countries, providing consumers with products that have been fairly purchased from sustainable sources.

Ten Thousand Villages is a member of the International Fair Trade Association (IFAT), a global network of Fair Trade Organizations. IFAT's mission is to improve the livelihoods and well-being of disadvantaged producers by linking and promoting fair trade organizations and speaking out for greater justice in world trade. Over 270 FTOs in 60 countries form the basis of this network.

There are TTV stores all over Canada and many in the US as well.

One of the many great things about this organization is that the artists are paid up front for their work, not on consignment. If the work doesn't sell, TTV takes the loss, not the craftspeople. TTV teaches business practices so the craft community can set up a sustainable collective and work with other buyers.

* * * *

In the store in Windsor, I suddenly remembered Cristian and the gourds. I asked the owner if TTV carries engraved gourds from Peru, and he looked it up: they don't. I got some information on how to suggest a work to the head office, and I tucked it away to deal with later this summer. I thought I would take some photos of the gourds we have, and also send some links to photos online, although there isn't much.

Then yesterday - great coincidence! - I got email from Cristian. Someone has created a website for his family's work! It's not finished yet, but it is really well done.

Mates Burilados y Bordados: La familia Alfaro Nuñez de Cochas Grande, Huancayo, Perú

Now I have great incentive to speak to Ten Thousand Villages, and a way to showcase the work.

Please check out the Alfaro family's website. I'm going to put them on my sidebar, and I'll keep you posted if I make any progress with Ten Thousand Villages.

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