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  • hardie karges 6:48 am on February 19, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: handicrafts, ,   

    World Crafts 

    The party’s over for world handicrafts, not for lack of skill or quality, but for lack of interest, or marketability at least.  The crafts that are a product of hundreds of years of cultural development can be run through the Western consumer-culture meat-grinder and spit out within a matter of a few years, if not months.  The best products might have a life span of ten years or so, but more than that is very rare and at a very reduced level of activity.  Ironically, while tourism can dilute traditional cultures, it can stimulate crafts production.  Little by little, the product is adapted to the tourists’ tastes to the point where it actually becomes a viable product in foreign markets.  Unfortunately it can seldom keep up with the demand for novelty required in Western markets and a once vital industry can dissipate to virtually nothing.  Hopefully there’s still something of a local and tourist market left.  Of course, by then the product has changed beyond recognition so indigenous use is out of the question.  After exposure to the whole process of tourism and mass production, their tastes may have changed beyond recognition anyway.  In some cases they may have jumped to a new level in society.  In others, they may simply have lost touch with their indigenous culture.  In still others, they might continue making knockoffs to order, generic ethnic product from the lowest bidder.  It’s no accident that some of the nicest products come from the politically most hideous countries.  Hopefully something is gained positively and permanently from free enterprise to more than compensate for whatever might be lost.

  • hardie karges 10:06 am on February 18, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , handicrafts, La Paz   


    I miss Teodora.  In all my history working as a handicraft producer/importer/exporter, working with Teodora was the most fun.  She’s a chola, a partially acculturated citified Aymara Indian.  She’s way cool, wearing the little traditional bowler perched on top of her head, just like the pictures.  She lives in El Alto, a suburb of La Paz, Bolivia, not more than about a long stone’s throw from the international airport.  The altitude there’s about 13,000 feet, and there are peaks all around over 20,000.  The sun beats down unmercifully, but it’s not hot at that altitude, just bright.  The clouds look like you could just reach out and grab a handful.  That’s where Teodora runs her sweater business.  It was hopping a decade ago back when I still had a US-based business.  I made a video of her and her crew going through all their phases of production, a dozen or so friends and family working it all out by hand.  I went back last year for the first time since then.  It’s pretty quiet now, the crafts business being what it is.  If indigenous people get better incomes now doing other things, then more power to them.  I would’ve made more money doing other things, too.  Others made lots, but I didn’t.  Many more than that made nothing and went on to one job after the other, selling real estate, insurance, whatever.  It may not be much, but I’ve given some people some work, and I’ve allowed some people to maintain a traditional lifestyle with a decent income rather than live in the shantytown of a city without much of anything.  For an indigenous person with traditional lifestyle, even poverty in the countryside has more dignity than anonymity in the city. 

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