Here is something to remember about Catarina Aguilar: as a young married woman living in San Juan Cotzal, one point of the Ixil Triangle that at that time was a long way from anywhere, she would leave home for days at a time to sell her weavings. Nearly unheard of, she told us that, “My husband trusted me. But it’s also important for a woman to know her own worth, to create respect for her in others.”
When we returned to the Ixil Triangle to deliver copies of Traditional Weavers of Guatemala – Their Stories, Their Lives to the artisans in the book, we called ahead, of course. After numerous tries, we finally reached Catarina’s husband Gabriel, who told us that Catarina had died nine months before, (probably of esophageal cancer). She was the second artisan to die before we could deliver the books, which made the deliveries that much more poignant for their families. And so we met with Gabriel and his daughter María.
María was taught to weave by her mother, and has been a fine huipil weaver since she was a child. She showed us panels that she and her mother had woven, all beautiful. But most of what we talked about was the spiritual journey that began for her while her mother was ill and that steadily grows stronger. That journey now includes leading small groups of people on pilgrimages up some of Guatemala’s volcanoes, both active and dormant. When they reach the top, late at night, they have candlelight prayer services, mostly while fasting. When the services are concluded they climb back down the volcano, in the dark before the dawn. Much of the focus of these pilgrimages is around health, and María looks great, like a new woman since the last time we saw her. Her mother’s illness was part of the impetus, but it is far more complex than that and was a fascinating story. We came away inspired.
Thinking about Catarina’s sales adventure trips that were so unheard of for a woman 50 years ago, then thinking about the prayer pilgrimages María is leading, it all ties together. Catarina taught her daughter to believe in herself and go forth as she is led. All that and she weaves too! A fine legacy indeed.