Self-Determination through Artisan Cooperatives

The Shipibo-Conibo have one of the most elaborate and intriguing polychrome pottery designs in the world. The geometric designs are called quene, literally “symbols of ethnic identity”. For centuries these geometric designs have been a symbol of Shipibo identity and have differentiated them from other surrounding indigenous groups .

The designs are codes for songs and chants that relate to their spirituality and shamanic visions during healing ceremonies. Female shamans “see the songs” and “hear the designs” at the same time in a phenomenon known as synesthesia – the blending of the senses. These melodic designs are then recorded into cloth or on pottery in the form of these geometric designs.

Most of the pottery, today, is made for the tourist industry and export markets. However, many community leaders expressed an interest in bringing traditional pottery back into everyday use instead of buying mass produced cheap plastic goods in Pucallpa.

The Shipibo-Conibo have been organizing themselves into artisan cooperatives for the sake of cultural and economic self-determination. Not only do the self-motivated craft co-ops help the Shipibo to retain their cultural identity, but they are also economically empowering because of the high export value of well-made Shipibo crafts. “The Shipibo artisans are an example of how we can combine the skills of our ancestors and the customs of everyday life,” says Chanan Meni of Dinamarca. “This project reaffirms our cultural identity in its different aspects: elaboration of our art, designs, and songs by facilitating the infrastructure and adequate spaces for the artisans’ activities.”

“What the west has to offer is good, but we want something different, because we are different” says Chanan Meni when talking about reviving traditional Shipibo artwork.

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