Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Crosscurrents: Land, Labor, and the Port. Textile Society of America's 15th Biennial Symposium. Savannah. GA. October 19-23. 2016.


Copyright 2016 by Laurie Wilkins and Ines Hinojosa.


The challenge of contemporary tropical forest conservation is to maximize community development while minimizing harvest impact on forest resources; to encourage indigenous participation in the research and development process; to insure the sustainability of both the resource and the enterprise; and to add value to forest products at the local level. From this broad conservation objective, non-timber forest products (NTFPs) emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as the forest enterprise that might be less environmentally destructive than timber extraction, cattle ranching, and cash crop agriculture, and contribute to rural livelihoods and conservation. Since that time, these concepts have been both widely promoted and challenged.34 Numerous obstacles to a positive outcome exist at the local level including a) linking products to market; b) inability to profit from sales while sustaining harvests; c) lack of appropriate business skill and sufficient capital to overcome fluctuating markets or trends.5 Additional constraints are low target species abundance, often long arduous journeys deep into the forest,6 and high transport costs to reach markets including local markets, which may not be profitable.7 The Ayoréode (plural for Ayoreo, but we will use Ayoreo for simplification) of Bolivia and Paraguay and the Ye’kwana of Venezuela and Brazil have been hunting and harvesting in vastly different ecological zones in South America for centuries – the Ayoreo from the dry tropical forests of the Chaco of Bolivia and Paraguay and the Ye’kwana from rain forests of southern Venezuela. Each group has intimate knowledge of the plant resources required for subsistence and survival, and these plants fulfill a functional, ceremonial, and even spiritual role in each society. We focused on the forest fibers with strong cultural components. We explore the rich basket and fiber weaving traditions of the Ayoreo and Ye’kwana with emphasis on two plant species that have persisted, even as the cultures themselves have changed, and the women’s innovations of products made with these fibers. We compare historical events, ethnobotany, processing and products, sustainability strategies, markets and challenges. Elements of the two projects address some of the above-stated obstacles and may contribute to positive outcomes, while recognizing government policies, devastating economic and destructive environmental policies that exist in these countries may lead to an eventual failure.