News and Facts about Cuba

A Woman Made Of Yarey Palm And Willpower

A Woman Made Of Yarey Palm And Willpower /14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto

14ymedio, Sol Garcia Basulto, Camagüey, 6 August 2016 – The fiber rubs
the fingertips and leaves a pleasant burning, almost a caress. The life
of Syria Noris Rodriguez revolves around the fronds of the yarey palm,
with which she creates hats, bags and baskets. In the municipality of
Rio Cauto, in the province of Granma, this petite woman with deft hands
maintains a tradition languishing under the passage of time and fashions.

Siria’s whole house has a peculiar aroma, where the scents of the Cuban
countryside mix with the sweat that flows when facing the sewing
machine. She spends hours there, stitch by stitch joining the dry palm
fronds that will rest on a farmer’s head, in the hands of housewife
heading to the market, or in the beautiful bassinet where a newborn sleeps.

Siria’s creations end up with ordinary Cubans, not on the shelves where
tourists buy souvenirs of their trip. It was not her decision, but that
of the bureaucracy. She didn’t have the prerequisites – an academic
background as an artist and membership in the Cuban Association of
Artisans and Artists (ACAA) – to place her works in the commercial areas
of hotels, bazaars and boutiques.

Not being a member of ACAA limits the economic dividends Siria can get
for her work. So after several decades of weaving the fiber, she doesn’t
live much better than those who receive a salary for working eight hours
a day for the state. If she takes a day off she has to sew more when she
returns to her machine. There are days when she wakes up dreaming that
someone will knock on the door and take a mountain of hats, to be able
to put something on the dinner table.

In the family workshop, everyone helps out. There are sisters,
grandchildren and neighbors who work with the drying, taking care “not
to spoil it,” says Siria. After the leaves open “you have to make the
yarey fine” and only then can you make the braid, like a belt, with
which all kinds of objects can be woven.

“A hat for an adult has a braid of 15 or 16 rounds, and that’s a full
day’s work,” says the artisan, without taking her eyes off the long
fiber she is feeding under the needle.

She and her siblings learned to work with the yarey from their mother,
Petronila Mendoza, who learned it in turn from her mother and she from
hers. “We have worked for generations,” says Siria, who shares the
workshop with her older sister while acknowledging that “everyone who
comes by the house helps out.”

The palm fronds must be bought from farm workers, some of whom exchange
them for hats or baskets for later use in the fields.

Sometimes there are some bad fronds, but this woman’s sharp eye sees
them at once. “The weather affects it, the best hours for weaving are in
the morning and at night, because the rest of the time the palm is too
hard because there is less moisture in the air,” she explains.

A man’s hat can sell for a price that varies between 30 to 40 Cuban
pesos, depending on size. “Anyone can buy this, of any profession,
whether a farmer or a vendor,” she adds. She remains hopeful that the
tradition of weaving yarey palm fronds will not die out because there
are a lot of young people “interested in learning.”

Sometimes Siria gets up feeling pessimistic and thinks about leaving her
work with this natural fiber. “It’s too hard,” she comments, but then
immediately recognizes that her work is entertaining. “I start weaving
and it clears the mind and I forget the pains.”

Source: A Woman Made Of Yarey Palm And Willpower /14ymedio, Sol Garcia
Basulto – Translating Cuba –

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