Mayan Basketmakers – Guatemala


PAMBE Ghana’s Global Market purchases many pine needle baskets from Mayan Hands, a Fair Trade nonprofit organization dedicated to providing economic and educational opportunities to Mayan women so that they can bring their families out of extreme poverty as they continue to live within the culture they cherish.

Here is how Mayan Hands representative Anne Kelly describes one of the basketmakers who works with Mayan Hands:

Artisan Spotlight: Cecilia

Cecilia is a determined woman and her persistence has reaped benefits not just for her, but for other women in her community as well.  Like many Mayan women, she is a weaver and adept at handwork, but could not make a living weaving. After finishing school, she worked in the fields, then took a basketry class in hopes of earning income. However, the organization that sponsored the class gave her few orders and paid too little. She picked up sewing piecework for another organization, but orders were few and far between and payments were always late.

She’d heard about Mayan Hands and three times traveled hours from her rural community in search of our office and the opportunity to present samples of her work. The fourth time was the charm. She met our fieldworkers Nancy and Mayra who recognized the potential. Cecilia and her compañeras started weaving coasters, our simplest pine needle product, which allowed them to earn income while mastering the finer quality Mayan Hands required. They progressed through more complex designs as they honed their skills. Their stitching is now fine and regular, and they are creating their own new designs. Their Catarina Basket has catapulted to the bestseller list.

The women in the cooperative elected Cecilia as their leader. She coordinates orders and presides over the weekly Sunday morning meetings when the women gather to weave baskets together before going to church. Children dart in and out among the women as chickens scramble at their feet and they catch up on family news as they work. Cecilia talks with each woman, checking in on the progress of her monthly order, reviewing quality, and reminding the women to do the stretching exercises that will help prevent repetitive stress injuries. She’s a natural teacher and has even traveled to teach a group of Mayan Hands basket makers who live a day’s journey away.

Cecilia says that being able to count on income month after month allows her to plan for the future. “I am very grateful that now I have opportunities. I am happy that I can help my parents who work very hard. I am saving so that I can continue my education. I want to be a good leader of my group and help the women in my community.” We’re thrilled that Cecilia plans to apply for a scholarship to continue her education.


Fair Trade for the Long Haul: 

Planting Pine Trees Now for Pine Needle Baskets of the Future

Here is how Mayan Hands founding member Brenda Rosenbaum describes a recent project to plant pine trees in the villages of the basketmakers, so they won’t have to travel so far to get the materials necessary to make their baskets:

Mayan Hands artisan partners use the longleaf needles of Pinus montezumae, a tree native to Guatemala, to make their beautiful and fragrant baskets. The trees are often difficult to find and the women must travel long distances to gather the fallen pine needles, pay for transportation both ways, and then pay per pound of needles they collect to the owners of the land where the trees grow.

Agronomist Diego Ujpan demonstrated how to plant the saplings and explained how to care for them. Diego had sown the seeds and nurtured the seedlings for several months until they were ready to be planted in the women’s communities.

At the heart of the celebration was a ceremony led by a Mayan spiritual guide. Mayan people’s reverence for Mother Earth and their close attachment to the land that sustains them are well known. After lighting a fire at the center of the circle of women, the spiritual leader asked permission from Mother Earth to plant the pine trees, and blessed the trees so that they have a long life and help the environment while, at the same time, they provide the raw materials for the baskets.

One by one, the women approached the fire to pray, candles to add to the fire in one hand and a tree in the other. They asked Mother Earth to help with the growth and healthy development of the trees. The spiritual leader talked about how the environmental problems afflicting Guatemala now are a result of recklessness and lack of respect for the Earth. Participants discussed the problems they witness in their own communities: the intense heat, the decrease in water provisions, pollution of drinking water. Women who live around Lake Atitlán talked about the recent fires that have destroyed hundreds of acres of forests in the mountains surrounding their villages.

After the celebration, each woman carried a tree back to her community. The rest of the trees were distributed via pickup truck the following week after the women turned in their products to our Panajachel office. All in all, 1500 trees were distributed.

Our artisan partners are excited by the prospect of having the pine needles they need for their baskets nearby and are grateful for this opportunity to assist in the regeneration of the Earth. They resolved to talk with their children and grandchildren about the importance of caring for the environment. And Mayan Hands will continue to collaborate with the women on activities that foster the protection and conservation of the environment, a central tenet of our fair trade work.

To take a closer look at all the Pine Needle Baskets available on the PAMBE Ghana’s Global Market website, click on any of the images below:

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