We’re thrilled to introduce you to one of our talented rug hooking teachers, Yolanda Calgua. When asked what Yolanda most likes about being a rug hooking teacher, she replied, ‘teaching makes me happy; it’s a privilege to bring this opportunity to women in other communities. My hope is that they can make a better life for themselves and their children.’ When drinking water came to Yolanda’s village, income from the sale of her rugs enabled her to buy the faucets and piping for six families. Since then, she has supported her two children through high school and made improvements to her home. Yolanda still remembers hooking her first rug, it was made in memory of her grandmother and incorporated some of the designs that she remembered from her grandmother’s ‘huipil’ (traditional blouse).
My name is Yolanda Calgua and I live in a very small village called Quiejel which is one hour’s walk from the main road or twenty minutes by pick-up truck. The homes in the village are very basic; they are made from hand formed adobe mud bricks, they have dirt floors, a few homes now have cinder blocks. Two years ago potable water came to my village, income from the sale of my rugs allowed me to buy the faucets (and piping) for six families to tap into this big pipe. We grow vegetables, fruits, corn, and beans, we also raise chickens, turkeys and pigs, which we sell to supplement our income. We sell our products in the village market or in the nearby town of Chichicastenango. In the village we speak a Mayan language, Quiche, I am one of only a few women in my village who can speak Spanish. There is one school in the village. On average the women in my village have 6 to 7 children, they marry very young. Personally I have 3 sisters and 1 brother, my mother and father are still alive. I am 34, married, with 2 children, both of whom are at school; I want them to have better opportunities. For me it is a privilege to be a rug hooking teacher and bring this opportunity to women in other communities. My hope is that they can make a better life for themselves and their children.
My sisters and I have been weaving for as long as I can remember, following the example of my mother and grandmother. I have taught my daughter to weave; it is as much a part of the day’s domestic duties as cooking, cleaning and caring for children. The women in my group in Quiejel all own at least 2 looms each, (I have 4 looms). The women in the rug hooking cooperative also weave items such as huipils, fajas, cintas for personal use or for sale in the market. Alongside weaving, rug hooking is another way to keep our knowledge and memories alive. The rug is like a canvas which we fill with colors, symbols, designs that represent our Mayan culture. It was easy for me to learn another technique (rug hooking) because I know how to make the rug designs (from weaving huipils, cintas & fajas). I have been working with my hands since I was a little girl. I still remember hooking my first rug, it was made in memory of my grandmother and incorporated some of the designs that I remember from her huipil. I still remember the old huipil patterns and even patterns I never saw in person but were described to me. I put them in my rugs. My daughter has taken up rug hooking, too, and my husband enjoys helping me with designs and is building me a better hooking frame.
In each design my culture and my identity come alive. There are many events in my life, in my family and community that I am able to incorporate into my rugs. I see ideas for rugs everywhere. In color we represent the colors of Guatemala, in design we use the symbols from our native land, such as volcanoes which we represent by a diamond, or the sun which we represent by a circle surrounded by triangles. In Guatemala we have a special activity for Easter week, we have been making these traditional Easter carpets for many years. Through our rugs, people who are unable to visit us during Easter week still have the opportunity to learn about our culture.
It makes me happy that other people are interested in my work, it provides opportunities for me, my family and for my community. This art is something that fits around my life as a wife and mother; I can work on my rug at home and look after my children. It keeps alive our traditions in a way that is different from weaving. In any day, I like to switch between rug hooking and weaving, it’s good for my body to switch because in doing both things (rug hooking and weaving) I’m not always kneeling at my loom. I would like to have a better space to do my work, with a table to work on and a chair, too, and electric lights.