Saweto is an Ashéninka village on the Alto Tamaya river in Peru, near the Brazilian border 18 hours by boat from the nearest city of Pucallpa.
With a population of 45,000, the Ashéninka are the second largest indigenous group in Perú and they live throughout the central Amazonian region. Just a small proportion of the population live on the Brazilian side of the border. Ashéninka means ‘my relatives’, ‘my people’ or ‘my nation’ and is their preferred name.
TMAC works with a small community of around 120 Ashéninka people who retain a very traditional way of life. With no electricity or access to clean water, the community live in wooden houses on stilts a short walk from the river. Around 50% of the population are under the age of ten and there are only a handful of adult men. This leads to a strong female presence, with mothers, daughters, sisters and cousins running the day to day life. Meals take place communally, bringing together all the families under the cover of a central wooden jalapa. Food for the children is placed on a giant leaf and they gather around cross legged and eat with their hands.
Bathing takes place in the river itself, as does clothes washing. Responsibilities for child care, cooking and running the community are shared out among the women.
There is a basic primary school, football field, water tank and a tractor in Saweto. Clothes hang from washing lines on the wooden porches of the wooden huts. The houses are on stilts to protect their inhabitants during the rainy season. Days start early when the dawn comes and end early when night falls. With no electricity a couple of candles light Saweto at night and the community gather under the main Jalapa to talk, sing and, since we started working with them, make the beaded bracelets you can find here in the TMAC Boutique.
On 1st September 2014 four indigenous Ashéninka leaders were murdered while defending their forests. They had been denouncing the increasingly violent illegal loggers operating on their ancestral lands for over a decade with little recognition from the government. Following their murder, the women of the community; widows, mothers and daughters took up the fight for their land titles and justice for the murder of their family members.
But with no men, there is no income. The only job opportunities available to the woemn of the Asheninka are working in the kitchens far from the community to cook for loggers or to become sex workers.
TMAC is working to create a sustainable income stream for these women, which does not take them away from their families or require them to work in unsavoury roles.
The women of Saweto make one-of-a-kind beaded bracelets. These unique pieces are made up of thousands of tiny beads. These bracelets were traditionally worn by both male and female members of the Asheninka for ceremonies and important events.
The colours represent different elements of the rainforest, river and community situated within it.
The women want each unique bracelet to represent hope, love and protection. These qualities are woven into the bracelets to spread these qualities throughout the world. The women of the Asheninka have felt hurt and pain beyond which any human should have to experience. The clear message from all of them today, however, is not one of hate, it’s one of love.
Since the massacre in 2014, the women of the Asheninka have taken up the battle to fight for their land rights and continue to live in Saweto. To do this they urgently need income to cover the costs of trips to pucallpa for court hearings. In addition to this, the women are passionate about creating the best possible opportunities for the children of the community, to provide them with an education and to ensure that they continue to retain the culture and heritage of the Ashéninka people.
The money they make from the sale of these bracelets will go towards these core issues that they are facing.