Remember Your Roots: A Conversation with Rosario

"Don’t forget what you inherit from your ancestors. Keep cultivating and planting seeds to share with the world."
by on Monday, May 8, 2023

Our Most Recent Interview with an Indigenous Producer in Peru

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Rosario displays one of her beautiful, naturally-dyed dresses. All the dyes come from materials foraged in the Amazon forest.

The senior citizens of the land of Peru continue to inspire and delight us with their knowledge and stories, and we are happy to share their stories with you. 

Let us introduce you to Senora Rosario who produces and sells traditional clothing that she dyes herself with dyes she makes from natural ingredients. The clothing is beautiful and meeting Rosario via Zoom was truly a special experience. Rosario, who is from the Indigenous group, Yánesha, has a lot of wisdom and insight to share with the world. 

The Yánesha are one of the 56 Indigenous groups who inhabit the Peruvian Amazon. Senora Rosario says she has always been proud of her culture. She told us that a lot of women she knows avoid naming their community or where they come from, but she is proud to be Yánesha. 

“Whenever people ask me where I am from, I say, I am from the forest.”

Here is a bit of the lively and inspiring conversation we had with Rosario. 

Producers Trust: When did you start working with textiles?

Rosario: When my youngest daughter was born, I had already begun working in artesania (arts and crafts). We dyed the fabrics the way my grandmothers taught me.  It might seem like we are corrupting our trees, but actually we are protecting them. We consider ourselves to be conservationists of our trees. We protect our forests and have various projects of reforestation.

We were also making necklaces then. I remember the first time some tourists came to our community. One hundred tourists came, and we made some very simple necklaces. We used these kinds of seeds. They weren’t the most beautiful, but the people liked them. 

Producers Trust: Can you tell us a little about your family?

Rosario:  I have three children. With my work, I have been able to support and raise my children for the past 28 years since I became a widow. My youngest daughter was only 8 years old then, and I didn’t want another partner or another commitment. I just wanted to use my hands and work with my artesania.  My oldest child is now 42 years old, the next is 39, and the youngest is 29 years old, and they are all professionals! They are all still my babies even though now they are grown. I feel very happy, and when my youngest child finishes her studies, then I can live and die peacefully. 

When I was a girl, I was really into crafting and fashion. My daughters are the same. I think this is in our blood. They all live in Lima now. My daughter likes to dress like me and to do her makeup in the traditional Yánesha way. 

Producers Trust: Would you tell us a little bit about how you make your clothing? 

We don’t use anything synthetic. It has to be natural. It has to be cotton. To make the dyes, we use various natural products from the forest. For example, we use the leaves of the eucalyptus tree for a very dark color. For yellow, we use turmeric. We make skirts, dresses, everything, even wedding dresses. 

For the process, we need a lot of dry wood. If you don’t use dry wood, the smoke from the wood will make you cry. The pots are very large, because we dye 20 meters of fabric at a time. We go into the forest to find the flowers and leaves and tree bark for the dyes. We make a fire from the dry wood and heat the water in the large pot. Sometimes it takes a half an hour to heat all the water. 

The bark is thick, so we have to pound it. We cut the leaves and flowers as if we were making a salad.

Then we add the ingredients to the hot water and leave it for one hour. Then we wash the fabric, hang it out, and then add it again. It’s a process you have to tend to, pulling it out and putting it back in, always working with your hands. This is why we say, whoever wants to learn to dye, must be able to burn their hands. Then we add a binding agent, like lime or ash, and then rinse and dry them.

Some of the dyes like to be dried in the sun and others must be in the shade. For example, the red dyes like the sun, and the red becomes brighter. Whereas the sun will fade the color of the yellow dyes, so we dry those in the shade.

Just the dying process takes many hours. This is why when people comment that the clothes are expensive, it’s because they don’t understand how long it takes. 

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Producers Trust: You sew the clothes too, right?

Rosario: My sewing has a history too. When I was 15 years old, I went to Lima. It was a novelty for all the girls my age then. Just like now how the novelty is Tik Tok, then we all wanted to go to Lima. I worked as a housekeeper for 3 years, but in that job I wasn’t able to also study. So I left that one to work with a woman washing clothes. With that job, I was also able to study. After my studies, I was able to return to my village, but I didn’t have a sewing machine or anything. I think maybe I was born with a lucky star, because around that time a foreign man was visiting our community and he gave me a sewing machine.  I still have that one. It was from the year 1980. 

Producers Trust: What do you like about your work?

Rosario: The most joyful one can feel is when you work hard and then see how beautiful your work turns out. When it doesn’t turn out well, it is frustrating and then you have to do it all over again. But it feels so good when it comes out beautiful. When you work you have to do it with love and affection. My life is in the clothes I make. Just like when you cook, if you cook with love, everything tastes so good. 

Producers Trust: If you could send one message out to the world, what would that message be? 

Rosario: In the first place, love yourself. Love who you are. Remember your roots and your culture. Always remember your roots, because without them we wouldn’t exist. And don’t feel ashamed. Be proud to be you. Like me, I am proud to be Yánesha. To the youth, don’t forget what you inherit from your ancestors. Rather keep cultivating and planting seeds to share with the world. 

We hope you all are as inspried by Rosario and her beautiful messages as we were.

Rosario told us that she hopes one day she can sell her clothes not just locally, and not just around Peru, but internationally. We hope to see her dream fulfilled!

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