Words & photos by Roxanna Minnona
From Ethiopia to Italy and Peru, Roxanna Minnona’s travels took her on a personal journey into the ancient and sacred traditions of textile weaving communities. Along the way she discovered a way we can all make a difference to preserving the ancient traditions and support Indigenous communities.
I once made a promise to myself that if ever I found, authentic quality fabric from natural fibers, like the stuff that from times gone by that you just can’t find anymore, I would invest in it. Not just because I love beautiful fabric, but because of everything that it represents.
As it happened, during my travels to South Africa last year I met a group of Ethiopian women who make cotton fabric by hand using ancient traditional methods of splitting the cotton flower open and meshing it together. This cotton is extremely high grade, thick and will last at least 100 years or more. No chemicals are required in the process, but it is very labour intensive and time consuming.
In contrast, most of the cotton available today is mass-produced by multinational companies, using genetically modified cotton that is grown with fertiliser and processed with harsh chemicals. What’s more, it is mostly produced in poor countries where communities are struggling to make a living and put food on the table for their families. These toxic processes have a devastating impact on their health by contaminating the rivers and waterways that are essential for growing food, drinking water and washing.
I love planet earth and I mourn the destruction, poisoning and exploitation She is subject to. In the throwaway consumerist society we live in we have lost sight of the fact that what happens on the earth happens to us.
Native and Indigenous peoples living traditionally know and understand the sacredness of the earth as every aspect of their life depends on Her. This affinity with nature and tradition is evident in their labour of love and how they sing and smile while creating their textiles.
Before arriving in South Africa I travelled to Italy and I was so excited at the potential to find some real Italian, quality clothes. But after searching high and low, I found nothing of the kind because expensive, synthetic clothing and poor-quality cotton dominate current fashion. I was so disappointed.
My partner’s mother grew up in Calabria, in the south of Italy, and she showed me handmade hemp that their family made. They grew the hemp, spun the fiber and wove the fabrics. The piece she showed me was 70 years old and was in great condition. I felt a tremendous sadness that this piece of cloth was so valuable, so durable and yet so rare! And I wanted to know why did we stop making great textiles?
So when I met the Ethiopian tribal women, I realised that the price I had to pay for their product didn’t matter because I had promised myself that I would invest in things that touch my heart and I also knew the money was going to them and that I was helping to keep this rare and nearly extinct tradition alive.
The woman I purchased from was selling on behalf of her family back home. With tears welling, she told me about how her mother had kept the tradition alive despite her extended family teasing her. They all thought she was crazy and wasting her time. But she passed her knowledge on and now the village is doing this work and selling the pieces to keep the tradition going.
What’s a “sacred textile”?
Although there are many incredible antique fabrics available, in my spiritual studies I have learnt that it is important to avoid buying secondhand items, (such as jewelry and fabrics), that may have been made with ‘black’ magic or carry the energy of deceased people that may be incompatible with you.
A textile can be anything you want it to be and the uses are only limited only by your imagination. What makes a cloth ‘sacred’ is the intention it is made with and the purposes it is used for. In Peru a “sacred textile” is traditionally called a “Mesa”.
A Mesa is a cloth that is specially woven for a healer/shaman with specific intentions and frequencies encoded into the weaving that are attuned to that particular person, their spirit and the forces that they are initiated to work with in their healing/shamanic practice. The healer / Shaman will use the cloth to transport their healing tools and medicines as well as use it to lay out an altar when practicing their craft.
The Mesa is representative of the world in sacred balance and wholeness. Whenever it is opened, energetic forces are activated to move a person into “ayni” (balance). The energy medicine of the Shaman and other indigenous peoples from around the world is based on calling on and working with a force of nature or an elemental power infusing all animate and inanimate matter. In the West it’s more commonly known as moving chi or energy.
So, it is very special to have a cloth made by hand with prayers and intentions woven into it just for you regardless of whatever traditions or initiations you’ve encountered.
In the mass production of our consumerist society we have forgotten the preciousness value “Sacred Textiles” and the role they play in our life. Whilst the title mesa is given to this cloth used in this tradition, it is no way limited to this tradition alone. It is a beautiful gift to have a sacred Textile made especially for you in reverence to your spirit. How you use it will be guided by your spirit and can be incorporated into any training or initiations that you may have done or do in your life..
In Peru: Ilaria’s community of women weavers
Later in my travels to Peru, I met another artisan community – this time a group of women weavers. Here’s some of their story (in pictures)…
During my time with this community in Pisac, I feel in love with the way that the local people still live more or less communally. There is an abundance in their way of life that we miss out on through our western approach to currency. But all the same, this money is part of our modern world and sharing their craft keeps their culture alive.
We can all make a difference
We have the power to take a stance against manufacturing processes that harm people and planet by refusing to buy those products. By investing in what we value and buying what we want see more of on the planet.
We have the power to stop the exploitation of vulnerable producer communities by buying locally made wares and produce local artists, seamstresses and Indigenous peoples that are still living in their old ways.
A special offer for you
If you would like to support old world culture, planet earth AND own a beautiful handmade sacred textile, you can purchase a fabric from Ilaria’s community. They tend to the alpacas, they spin the yarn, they dye it and then weave it all by hand.
The fabric is made from pure, naturally dyed, chemical-free alpaca wool.
The money will go directly to the women making them and their families and community. And by purchasing a sacred textile cloth, you are helping to:
- Keep this sacred old world commerce tradition alive
- Empower women and communities to live in harmony with the earth and all her creatures
- Maintain a clean, healthy, toxin-free environment for native people to live in
- Put your spending power in integrity with your beliefs.
How to order and pricing
If you are interesting in purchasing a sacred textile from Ilaria’s weaving community, please email firstname.lastname@example.org by no later than 16 January 2016.
I’ll send you photos of the designs and colours available (which are made to oder). The fabrics vary in sizes of 1 or 2 meters wide. The cost is AU$150-$250 per piece + postage.
© Roxanna Minnona, 2016. All rights reserved.