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Alba Jeny Calambas Ussa: Kansuy Craftswomen 

Handmade Bags Carry Cultural Traditions

Weaving has always been an important part of the Misak indigenous community’s cultural heritage. Children are taught to weave and crochet by their mothers who learned ancestral knowledge of traditional techniques from the generations before them. The craftswomen of the Kansuy artisans’ cooperative dedicate themselves to the preservation and advancement of the craft. Using a variety of simple hand tools including spindles, crochet needles, lace looms, and vertical looms, the Kansuy artisans create traditional Colombian mochila bags to earn an income that allows them to improve living conditions in their community.

Nearly all the materials used by the Kansuy group come from community resources. They harvest wool from their own sheep, and spin their yarn by hand. This yarn usually goes undyed, but greens and grays may be extracted from indigenous fauna. For other colors, like red, the group purchases pre-dyed raw material in the desired hue. With their yarn prepared, mochila bags are crocheted from the bottom up. The bags resemble modern bucket bags, and are complemented with woven straps, embroidery, beading, and appliqués. Some appliqués are made by the few men in the cooperative who weave decorative bands of colorful chaquira beads on lace looms. These embellishments allow the Kansuy artisans to develop their own aesthetic language and style, while preserving their culture’s traditional identity and symbology. 

Alba Jeny Calambas is coming to the International Folk Art Market as a representative member of the Kansuy group. She lives on the Guambía Indigenous Reservation in Cauca, Colombia. This region is the ancestral land of several indigenous communities who have fought for survival and the acknowledgment of their culture. For Alba Jeny, like other Kansuy artisans, craft has given her life meaning and a method of preserving her elders’ knowledge for all Misak people.