The beginnings

And this is how everything started.....

?It was a fall afternoon and a friend and I were waiting for our children at the school door, and exchanging ideas about what each one of us was trying to do in the different rural zones in which we were settled. Olga S. de Artagaveytia at the ?Rincón de la Urbana, Department of Cerro Largo, and I (Manila Ch. de Vivo) in Paso de los Mellizos, Department of Río Negro. This meeting marked for me the beginning of Manos del Uruguay. Next day, we met at Olga?s house, with her, her mother, and Beatriz de María who, during her life, was a very-difficult-to-replace leading light for Manos.

Shortly after, three other friends joined the group: Sara Beisso, Dora Muñoz, and María del Carmen Bocking. We all had as a goal to find income sources for the hundreds of craftswomen in the provinces. We thought about future cooperatives, but we started to outline a project that would operate under cooperative principles only eight years later. When the groups themselves assumed the responsibility, the 17 existing cooperatives were regularized. The fact is that we were looking for an organization not only for craftswomen, but belonging to craftswomen. To reach the place Manos del Uruguay occupies today, a lot of work, faith and enthusiasm were needed; as well as a lot of training and support from the Uruguayan Cooperative Center, from ACDE [Christian Association of Company Directors], the Bank of the Republic of Uruguay, the IDB, presided by Enrique Iglesias, and from so many others?
(Manilla Ch. de Vivo ? Manos del Uruguay Founder).

The beginnings

The founders, and at the same time the first members of Manos Board of Directors, conceived the idea of helping to commercialize the crafts of women and men of the rural zones of the provinces, the manual skills and creative potential of whom was completely wasted.

The founders, or their families, were the owners of agricultural and livestock establishments and had contacts with the rural schools of the area, where the teachers usually organized groups to perform different activities. Among those groups there appeared sometimes those who made crafts in wool, leather, for example, leather-tanning, horse blankets and ?ponchos? [wool blankets used by the ?gauchos? in South America to keep themselves warm in cold weather], products that were impossible to place at remunerative prices in the rural zones or in small towns, due to the population?s low purchasing power.

?When school was over, some pupils that wanted to do more were always hanging around...and then they started to make handicrafts. The bookshelves started to fill up with handicrafts that, as they were gradually being covered with dust, so were people?s illusions.? (Founder).

From the business as much as from the promotional point of view, these groups were the germ of the idea of Manos creation. In this sense, it is important to highlight here that the founders ? that were subsequently the managers- of Manos del Uruguay belonged to high social strata, whose families were connected by a friendly relationship; and, simultaneously, they were connected with the country?s most influential social, political and business sectors. This fact facilitated the free use of premises, vehicles and raw materials, as well as the contacts necessary to obtain social contributions, bank loans ? for which, many times, the families of the founders acted as guarantors- as well as the access to people traveling abroad. In this way, these travelers, showing the garments and trying to open new markets, became Manos del Uruguay honorary representatives abroad.

The founders, as much as many other volunteers, generously dedicated their time to Manos, and they still do so at present. In the locations where the groups were formed, also teachers, professors of the Labor University, nuns, as well as the people in the area, gave Manos their disinterested support, which, in one way or another, helped to achieve this project.

It means that Manos del Uruguay was born and grew as a genuine collective effort. And, without the influence of all the above-mentioned factors, it would have been very difficult not only to conceive the creation and development of the company, but also its productive as well as promotional success.

It was in the summer of 1968, in Punta del Este, when Manos del Uruguay sold its first garments; the same happens in Montevideo, in the Prado neighborhood in the winter of that same year, at the ?Rural del Prado? [the industrial and stockbreeders? fairground that takes place every year] organized by the Rural Association of Uruguay; both are places that traditionally concentrate people with high purchasing power. After the notorious success of these sales, the founders understood the need of creating an organization, for which they needed specialized advice as well as a long-term planning regarding the type of enterprise they wanted to create. And this is how a closer connection with the Uruguayan Cooperative Center [CCU for its acronym in Spanish] was born. They not only wanted to do something for craftswomen, but also to face the work with them, to gradually get the workers to make their own decisions in all aspects.

In this way, Manos del Uruguay Partnership, a non-profit organization, was created, having their first by-laws approved by the end of 1968. In August of that same year, 281 craftswomen were brought together in 12 groups located in different zones of the country. By the end of 1969, the number of members had increased to 750 and the groups to 49.

On the other hand, in addition to connecting to the CCU, the founders looked for advice.

?Volunteers, absolutely volunteers. There were a lot of advisers all of them were volunteers, just as the founders. At that time the number of hired personnel was very low, we were 7 or 8, since what we precisely pretended was to have very low fixed costs. And there were a lot of voluntary working hours in all the areas: in the administrative area, in the commercial area, in the advice to given to the managers. The expenses were minimal. No rent was paid because it operated in a lent house, in the cellar. No electricity bills were paid either because everything was lent or donated. There were no vehicle-related expenses, because the vehicles also belonged to the families of the founders (...) The help and support were huge, and, as there were a lot of people who contributed, it is a little bit difficult to mention them all, and the things that were made for the development of Manos del Uruguay at its beginnings?. (Head Office employee).
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Without that real communion of efforts, Manos wouldn?t have become what it is today.. Nevertheless, the true characters of this history are the craftswomen.

We transcribe here below some fragments of testimonies of craftswomen who worked in Manos del Uruguay at its beginnings.

Our point of departure

?.....I went to school up to Third grade. But when I turned eleven, one day they told me ?Well, you are not going to be a teacher, or a doctor, or anything else, you already know how to read and write, so you?re not going to school any more? and that really hurt me...? (Rufina ? Egaña)

?I never went to school. Never. Because the school was very far away, and my mother never sent us to school. She never sent her girls to school.? (Alejandrina ? Picada de Salomé ? Río Branco).

?...There were many people who were not from the zone, but from the countryside, and there are places in the countryside where there were no schools. That?s what happened to me. I went to school here, in Río Branco, but my father had a farm land far away from the city and he didn?t have anyone to look after him, so we had to leave the city when I was in 3rd grade. And then, school was over, because it was so, so far away that we couldn?t travel even on horseback. It was impossible to travel more than two and a half leagues every day?. (Nair ? Río Branco ? Dragón) [1 league = 2.6 miles]

Our life before joining Manos

?I lived in a small shack. Yes, at first I lived at my mother?s house, for a long time, and then we built a small shack. I washed the clothes of people who worked in the fields, but washing was really a hard task. As I didn?t have running water, we had to carry it in from the wells, which were three blocks away... my children were small. They helped me, because I also made pies and cakes for sale, and they kids went out to sell them....I also sewed, or washed, or anything else...I sewed for all the people in town. I had a lot of sewing work before. The problem was that...here...in town...sometimes it took a long time to get paid....It is very different, besides I was not entitled to family allowances, or social security, or anything? (Marina ? Rodó ? Egaña)

?I used to work as a maid....and a neighbor once asked me if I would like to work forI Manos del Uruguay. Because, maybe, I would be better paid, and it was a lighter work, wasn?t it? And then I went and I spoke?. (Gregoria ? Guichón).

?...And, when I joined Manos del Uruguay all my children were small and I lived in a shack. I lived up there, much farther away than now. The shack was long, divided in two by a piece of nylon. My bedroom, and then the ?gurises? [South Cone: familiar term for ?kids?] bedroom. The boys slept in the kitchen, and during summertime, they slept outdoors. The kitchen was separated from the house. Yes...the kitchen was separated because as I used wood fire sticks to cook, and as we had no flue, all the smoke went inside, so the kitchen was separated from the house. There was no chimney...I only had a small range. But it was made of straw, a range against the wall, and on top it had a metal sheet, so as not to smudge so much the outside of the pots, but it didn?t have a flue. (...) Yes, before things were much more difficult, we were much poorer than now... (with my husband), the biggest argument was when I joined Manos Oh, yes! He wanted to leave me. But I, with the help of my people, I continued to work, because in the old days things were very difficult...only poverty and misery to bring up the kids?. (Morena ? Piñera)

?I worked in Rausa....and, for instance, we picked up sorghum seeds, they put us in the storehouse, by groups, to classify the seeds...Well, it was a very rustic job. It was a seasonal job?. (Laura ? Solís Grande)

..And thus, the groups were formed

?....as she realized I needed to work she asked me, and I said yes, I wanted to work. Then I went to the Nuns? house, and there they taught me. I didn?t know how to spin, they taught me how to spin and I started to spin.....The Nuns helped me, they bought me a spinning wheel, and, later, I paid them for it. When I got a job, I paid it back to them?. (Elba ? Guichón).

?I went to the Industrial School, and from there Mr. Odriozola sent me to talk to Mrs. Ema, who was the person that was assigning the jobs. But he was the pioneer, the one who organized. We had to talk to him first, and then he sent us and there we talked to Mrs. Ema, and Mrs. Ema evaluated whether she could give us a job or not, according to the situation of the person. Because it was not that jobs were assigned just like that, it was according to the situation of the person. If the person had a good salary, her husband had a good job, then she said no, she said that jobs were only for people in need. And there I enrolled, and said, look, Mrs. Ema, I don?t know how to spin. And she told me: no problem, come on, I?ll teach you. And I learned?. (Ema ? Río Branco).

?...One day, there, I remember...I woke up early and I saw those people at school, all of them sitting at the school door. What are those women out there? And I realized they were not from the town. I said: ha! these must be the wool women that were about to come over. And I went over there to see if there was anything they needed. Right then I didn?t have this house...And I went there and they were precisely those women from Manos del Uruguay. And I brought them over, and we went out to show them the town, and everything, and then to my shack...? (Jurandy ? Dragón)

....And this is how we started, the wool had to be transported

?The wool came to the cattle ranch, and then the ranch foreman sent it over here. He brought it here, because it was very difficult to transport (...). Even us, when they told us the money had arrived, we went on horseback to the cattle ranch to cash it. Well, with a lot of sacrifice, but finally we got started" (Alicia ? Mellizos)

?Because, imagine, the wool had to be brought from the station, from AFE (Uruguayan Railway Company) station. The wool arrived at the station. Mrs. Ema notified us. All of us came over, with no exception. We went all on the truck, loaded the truck, we came back, got off the truck, arranged the wool, every thing in the stock had to be very tidy so that water couldn?t get in, so that the wool wouldn?t moisten. Then the day came when the wool was given out. When there was a lot of wool, it was given out at will. Sometimes I took fifteen kilograms and someone else took eight. But when wool was scarce, it was limited. If we were twenty, those twenty| were given, let?s suppose, a stock of six kilograms per craftswoman. Because we all wanted to make a little bit, we all wanted to work?. (Ema ? Río Branco).

?....and the production, we brought it on handcarts. All the craftswomen, like ants, with the bags..:? (Zulema ? Rodó)

?... And that was what we took away; we took at least ten, thirteen, fourteen, fifteen kilograms. Because, of course, at that time wool was horrible, and we had to spin with the useful parts, hadn?t we? And we had to take a big quantity in order to be able to separate only the good parts to work with. Can you imagine, with those bags on our shoulders? I tied the wool bags, we shouldered them and there we went with the kid. From there, from Garao, we came over to Picada. God forbid! By chance I had some of my workmates that traveled there by wagon, and they would carry the wool for me. It?s hard, yes, our life was very hard in order to be able to work, there, life was very hard. Now here, yes, here it?s happiness! (Alejandrina ? Río Branco ? Picada de Salomé).

?We were called the ?woolers?, the ?chinchibirras?. The ?chinchibirro? is a bird that makes its nest with wool?. (Group of Knitters of Poblado Uruguay)

?We were called cadger hands, just as when we were starting to do this (the premises). What were we cadging? Oh! Mr. So-and-so passed by, let?s stop him and ask him to bring us some bricks! That one, to bring us sand. Then they said, come on, you?re not Manos del Uruguay, but cadger Manos! And it?s true, yes, we were called like that? (Estela ? Mellizos).

This is how we spun and loomed in the old days.

Despite the absence of a craft tradition, many women from the rural areas spun and loomed. They made mainly horse blankets [used to saddle up horses, they were placed directly on the horse?s back, under the saddle].

?I knew how to spin with a spindle...I had a first cousin, who passed away, called Manuela, and she spun wool when I was growing up. She spun wool and made little sweaters or other things, I always saw her. And then she built it with, let?s say, one half of a ?mate? or a squash. And then they made a small machine, they put a small stick like this, and in the end of the stick a small nail, and in this way she spun the wool. It took time to make a sweater, because they had sheep and everything, it took time....I looked at her spinning at that time, many years ago, I?m going to turn sixty-two now, and maybe at that time I was seven or eight years old, it?s been ages,....old people used to spin like that". (Austinencia ? Poblado Uruguay).

We became spinners.

Almost without realizing, and certainly not without difficulties, craftswomen started to perform the trade with great competence. They were becoming highly qualified.

?I went to a ditch there, down there, which is full of sweet water, rain water. I went there very early in the morning, and I came back home only at 12:00 pm. I spent the whole morning washing the wool, with a washboard, washing it there until it was very clean, without any grease. And if it rained, we had a very hard work to dry that wool, we made big braziers, like this, we put coal in them, and with some wires I made a wire framework, and there I hung the wool and dried it, because I didn?t want the wool to remain wet?. (Teresa ? Dragón).

?(After washing it) the wool had to be pressed. We put a post, like, let?s say, like the kind you find in a football arch, that my husband had made. So, on that side, we put the post, and we hung the hank on this side, and underneath we put another post, and from there we hung weights, weights that we produced ourselves. We put, for example stones in one bag, blocks, everything that was heavy, and with a hook. Then, after we put the hank of that post above, and below there we hung it so that the hanks would remain stretched, and afterwards, we made the package?. (Laura ? Solís Grande).

And then we found our business premises

As the groups were consolidating, the need of getting our own premises became more and more urgent, as much to hold meetings, as to warehouse the wool and the production until the moment of sending it to Montevideo, to the Service Center, and, later on, also to work in them.

?During three years we used that room (a school room) that she (the teacher) needed so much. Even on the production delivery dates, we also occupied a whole long corridor, from end to end. We did that on Saturdays so as not to disturb the classes. We organized ourselves to do it on a Saturday or Sunday, out of class hours, because there was a group of children that precisely worked in that corridor?. (Fair ? Río Branco, Dragón).

?Yes, we were here, as housekeepers, when the cooperative was formed. And everything we did was with our money, except for the bathrooms that were a donation?. (Pitica ? Guichón).

?And while we did that, we worked on this side while the MEVIR [Movement for the Eradication of Rural Insalubrious housing] houses were being built, at the same time our premises were becoming famous. And I remember that all this here was all foundations, and we were always working with the peakaxes, peakaxes against the foundations. And each time we traveled to Montevideo, we had a meeting, and I was always the designated speaker, to tell everybody, because it was a great novelty the fact that we were building our own premises. And it was a novelty in Montevideo! Look at that!! The craftswomen themselves were building it!? (Estela ? Mellizos).

As they were very isolated locations, we had communication and freight problems.

?I lived nearby; you can see the house from the chapel. Then, when we had run out of wool, and then the wool finally arrived, Elida went there and put a white flag in the chapel. You could note the white flag on the roof. Then I already knew that the wool had arrived, and I came here to work?. (Graziella ? Solís Grande).

The garments we made were exported.

?All exports travel very very far away? (Knitting Group of Poblado Uruguay).

During the 1970s, the non-traditional exports promotion policy encouraged Manos del Uruguay growth.

?Manos had very clear from the beginning that it had to be an organization focused on exportations. And with that beforehand definition, it made all the efforts to go out and search international markets. As it is very difficult to do all that without economic resources, because the first thing you have to do is to study, or to travel, and this is very expensive, Manos tried to make use of everything at hand. It formed exports committees through international companies? managers to attack Holland, Germany and U.S.A. These managers, given their connections with the Head Offices of these multinational organizations, obviously had their contacts, and it was quite easy for them, or easier for them than for the rest, to take their connections abroad. And Manos, at that time, took profit of everything that people who traveled abroad could do. Or United Nations, OEA, or diplomatic missions, politicians, acquaintances, to everybody who traveled abroad we put in their bags some garments so that they could exhibit them abroad. That is to say, we used everyone who boarded a plane. (....) I went to all acquaintances and told them: ?please take this for me, its price is that much, let?s see if you can sell it, please show it everywhere you go?. That was pretty much the system. It was a very direct action, but with great conviction that the development of our organization depended on its opening to markets abroad (...). Our first client, who I told you was from France, arrived in Uruguay in a connection with the Productivity Center, that was the name of the Technology Center at that time, due to a problem of the ILO (International Labor Organization); besides, personally, the man was looking for cheeses. And there, I don?t know how, the word ?craft cheeses? came up, cheeses from the department of Colonia, or the cheeses he could find, so he was brought here. And then is when the first export business started, although it was never very important, since in France we never made significant shipping figures. But it was really a great prestige for Manos del Uruguay to be able to export crafts to France, textile crafts. Besides, a Manos garment appeared on an international fashion magazine cover (Elle). And to be able to sell in Europe, nothing less than in France, which is a country with very special, very developed crafts characteristics, and with a highly qualified fashion business.. and especially in the textile business there is a connection there with Italy that give France a very great prestige; it is necessary to go back 20 years, and try to imagine what selling in Paris was like.. Today there can be other fashion centers, with development even in some very sophisticated markets like Japan and some Eastern countries, but at that time, selling in Paris was a very important credential, that was hugely important to Manos to create brand prestige. So, it was really important? (Employee of the Head Office).

?And we didn?t know what exporting meant. Afterwards they explained to us what exporting meant, that things were exported to other countries. But we thought that the raw material was made to stay here in Uruguay. However, it didn?t, it went to other countries. But of course, there were many more demands and everything. Even more, because it didn?t depend only from Uruguay. And we had to increasingly improve in everything, everything. In spinning, in everything, complete?. (Fair ? Río Branco ? Dragón).

And undertaking the action of exporting implies to comply with the demands that exporting requires, as much in quality as in deadlines. Reaching the goal demanded an intense work on the part of the coordinators and of the different teachers

If was difficult for the craftswomen to understand that the vessel carrying the exports could not wait for the river volume to decrease, so that they could deliver the production.

?And some had the misfortune of going to Montevideo, to the Head Office, where we had to go to fix the sweaters. We went because the export had to go out, and they couldn?t send the garments back here. We had to go quickly and fix them. It was not very nice down there! And they even helped us in Montevideo, because otherwise the export could not go out, because it had to go out at 4 pm and we finished at 3:30 pm. We finished the corrections, and everything was like that, to fix the sweaters, to make the packages and everything?. (Knitting Group ? Mellizos)

Between 1976 and 1985 Manos del Uruguay was granted every year the awards given by the Banco de la República Oriental del Uruguay as top one exporter of wool crafts.

In 1985 Manos del Uruguay performed an exhaustive study from which it came up that the wool crafts exports represented, at that time, 18% of the total Uruguayan exports in that area.

And this is the way we were organized at the beginning

?Then there came Elida and Haydé, who also started to work, but we did not work as we do nowadays that we have an organization. At that time we worked one day and two or three days we dropped it. When we started to work it was hard, very difficult, because we did not have all the advances we have at present. And we did not work as we do now; we worked in the afternoons only. I remember coming back home from my job at the school, and going to work in the loom, but not like at present, no, now it?s much better, more organized...and how much trouble we had to get organized!? (Asunta ? Solís Grande).

And there was a certain division of labor

?Do you know? One day, while I was cleaning some drawers there, I found the notebooks where we noted down the wool. We made small sewn notebooks, because now, they give each one of us an individual form. Before they didn?t give us anything, the one in charge of the form filled it up, and that was it. She filled it up, and we didn?t know anything about it. We produced and noted down: four kilograms of wool rovings, two and a half kilograms of basic wool, basic as we called it. And there we had what we had made per month, for later, when they came over to pay us. Of course, so that everything was right, you know...? (Teresa ? Dragón).

?I was the one in charge of filling in the form. It was a hard work. I didn?t know anything, I had only finished third grade at school. It was such a hard work!! And there was a butcher at the corner, and the butcher?s wife did understand, because she worked with him. And I thought: let?s say that one kilogram of wool costs ten pesos. And I said, if one kilogram of wool costs ten pesos, I must know how 100 grams would cost. And I didn?t know. Well, then I went to the butcher?s to ask: if one kilogram of wool costs ten pesos, how much do 100 grams cost? And she taught me, the butcher?s wife taught me. And also when I had trouble to fill in the forms, because I made mistakes and couldn?t fix them, and then she helped me to fix them. And I learned a lot, much more than I did at school, because today I know how to do calculations and everything?. (Zulema ? Poblado Uruguay).

Continuous training became necessary

?Before, when I joined Manos del Uruguay, I considered myself a poor speaker. I was not much of a speaker, no, but I don?t know, I was not fluent or self-confident. And with the courses in Montevideo, I began to adjust, I speak more now. Even during the courses down there, I talked quite a lot. But I don?t know. The courses in Montevideo have helped me a lot?. (Sonia ? Dragón).

?...it was hard. I don?t know, we learned a lot of things, we did quite well, and we went out a little bit, didn?t we? At least now we are not ashamed of going out here or there, talk a little bit more, or whatever. Because at that time, one had that resentment?. (Miguelina ? Poblado Uruguay)

?The classes were very nice, we learned tons of things, because we didn?t know anything....It was very hard to me, because as I am very backward in everything, it was very hard to me. But learning, one learns right away!"

?...I even had to ask my children for the multiplication tables. Because I had to learn all that again, because I didn?t remember anything. And Berta!! I was so nervous on those days when she came over that I didn?t want anything else. I had a terrible nervous stress due to those forms! I always thought they were perfect, and she always found some mistakes. Blessed be God, I will never learn to do that job! She left and I started to practice alone. That was the way I figured things out. And with Rose. Rose knows. Until eleven o?clock at night with Berta, fighting against those forms, me and Rose. Then Rose began to fill in the loom form, and I filled in the yarn form and the monthly controls?. (Nair ? Río Branco ? Dragón).

?....I felt very isolated. And besides ?people laugh when I tell them- but it?s true: not only did I feel isolated, but also incompetent, I was shy. No, it wasn?t shyness, it was a question of lack of contact with people, lack of opportunity to express myself and say what I felt. Then, I came to talk to my son?s teacher, of any thing, and I didn?t say anything, I blushed, my voice faltered. And then I wondered: how come that a mother with seven children, who will have to face life so many times, can be in this situation. It?s not possible, and well....Today I don?t say I was shy, because, otherwise, I would still be shy. It was a lack of opportunities and of learning how to express oneself?. (Rufina ? Egaña).

Our families

To be able to work, many of us had to face family problems

?It took me two months to join, after they had brought the loom. The loom was brought in February, and I joined in April. It was so hard, so hard with husbands! It was so hard to join! But it was same with all husbands. In the countryside, women did not work?. (Elida ? Solís Grande).

?..in the interior, in the countryside, I know of craftswomen that have attended a production meeting, for example, and their husbands have left them out, with the doors, closed, they wouldn?t let them in. Sometimes you have to argue with your husband; sometimes you have to kind of quarrel. Because husbands do not want their wives to work, they don?t believe it?s correct, they are not used to it, their mothers did not work. It?s different nowadays with young women, because when they get married they are already working. So, the men who marry them already know they work, or that they travel, all those things, it?s an all-inclusive package. While with us it was different, it was not an all-inclusive package. Then, of course, some of us have been able to do many things, others couldn?t?. (Dora ? Rodó).

?For him it was horrible when I spun, he said it was dirty, or whatever; that wool was dirty, he didn?t want me to spin. And later I told him I was going to join the knitting group, because you know....the fields were very, very poor, and we didn?t have anything. And I had two kids. And then I said, ok, I will join the knitting group. And he didn?t like it very much either. But when he saw that I was doing well in the knitting group, and that I was happy, he started to help me out with the kids?. (Graziella ? Solís Grande).

?Now we don?t, but before we worked all Saturdays. And Sundays were to do the laundry of the whole week, and to clean. And the problem is that on Sundays sometimes people dropped in on us, and you didn?t know whether to attend to the visitors or to cry. But I never wanted to quit until I retired?. (Pitica ? Guichón).

?...I have changed in everything, in everything I?m going to tell you, in my house, in everything, I have changed in everything since the beginning until now...And everything, even the things at home. Because before I didn?t have anything, and now I have everything, thanks to my job, you know. I have ten children. And from the younger to the eldest, they look after the youngest and do all the housework. Now the youngest is five years old, and she has already started to go to school?....I make them understand that Mummy is working, and that if you want things and want to eat such or such foods, or you want to get dressed with such or such clothes, you have to help Mummy, because otherwise Mummy won?t be able to make it?. (Elba ? Guichón).

?Now he even cooks for me! The problem is that here, in the countryside, the only available job is the cooperative. There is nothing else. At the beginning, it?s like everything else; he believed that I couldn?t go on working here. But now, he has already got used to it. When the teacher asked my youngest kid at school to draw the cooperative, he drew a loom, with the all the wool colors?. (Graziella ? Solís Grande)

We got to know the world

Little by little we got to know other places, other people.

?For me, it has been a different stage in life, the stage before Manos, and this one, with Manos. Because before joining Manos del Uruguay, I didn?t feel like I do right now, I felt completely dependent on others, first on my parents, afterwards on my husband. Buy what I wanted? Impossible! Now I don?t buy what I want either, because I can?t afford it. But sometimes I do buy what I want, I pay in installments, because now I can do it. Besides, how many things I?ve learned, how many places I?ve been to. I, for example, the furthest I had ever traveled before joining Manos del Uruguay was to Mercedes, the capital of the Department, because there they issued the identity card, and the electoral card. I have an aunt there; I had reached that far, from Cardona to Mercedes. When I joined Manos del Uruguay I went to Montevideo for the first time?. (Dora ? Rodó).

?Well, it was hard for me to go. I didn?t like to go either. I went there and I spent the days in Montevideo wishing and counting the days and the minutes to come back. Besides, I couldn?t, everything was so hard to me. Now I go, I spend the days at ease, I eat, I sleep, and I have no problem. Before, I woke up with each car that passed by. You can realize that I spent the whole night awake, of course. It was the habit, I arrived here and at night everything was completely silent. The only thing that could bother you at night was a dog?s bark?. (Tona ? Solís Grande).

The ?poncheras?, the women of manos del uruguay

[?ponchera = women who manufactured ?ponchos?, a large wool blanket used by the ?gauchos?, name given to the men who rode the Pampa, the plains of Argentina, Uruguay and parts of southern Brazil, earning their living on cattle farms ? Collins Dictionary definition],

?Well, when Manos was not a cooperative yet, when we just worked in groups, we had the idea to go out and start selling ponchos in cattle shows, and in some other places, in other departments. We went to the department of Treinta y Tres, to Zapicán, Vergara, José Pedro Varela, Nico Pérez, José Batlle y Ordóñez. Besides, you see, when there were no shows, or when it was raining, we went selling ponchos door-to-door in towns. We sold ponchos, quilted jackets, sweaters (...). We went to the fairs; everybody was in uniform, with ponchos...all in uniform. And that?s the way it began to take shape?. (Lidia ? Río Branco).

?We went willy-nilly, proud of ourselves, bold, because we didn?t even have a place to stay overnight. We always traveled by train, which was the cheapest. At three o?clock in the morning I remember, the train departed Río Branco, every day, now it doesn?t any more. We stayed at the station until dawn, sleeping on the benches, on top of the ponchos, and covered with some poncho. When traveling there we were not cold, the problem was when we came back. Because as it always happens, you see...as we had to carry many bags with ponchos, everything we could carry ?it was better this way, the more we carried, the more we sold. On some occasions we came back with some ponchos, and then we could cover ourselves. But when we came back with no ponchos at all, we were definitely cold, and that was it. Because, no, we hadn?t taken any warm clothes. Going with the ponchos, being among the wool, and coming back with cold?. (Delcira ? Río Branco).

Translator?s comment: The translation into English of the above personal testimonies has tried to capture as much as possible the local color, as well as their simple and colloquial language, and the very essence of these craftswomen feelings.

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