Early on the morning of May 3, at the onset of Guatemala’s rainy season, twenty-two women representing ten Mayan Hands cooperatives gathered in San Juan La Laguna for a blessing of young pine trees now entrusted to their care. This is the next phase of a project to plant Montezuma trees in the women’s communities.
Mayan Hands artisan partners use the longleaf needles of Pinus montezumaem,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.