Global South Gift Ministry
Crafts from Northern Argentina
The crafts from Northern Argentina have arrived, and this Sunday our Global South Gift Shop will have its grand opening just in time to prepare for the gift-giving season.
Below is an article about the indigenous people, the Wichi, who are being supported by this ministry.
Introduction to SIWOK Crafts
The Wichi Indians are one of the largest groups of indigenous people who live mainly between the two rivers Bermejo and Pilcomayo, the latter forming the border between Argentina and Paraguay, since time immemorial.
Since the arrival in 1910 of British missionaries to help and support them in their struggle to continue living on their traditional lands, many Wichi have become Christians and now form part of the large Anglican Diocese of Northern Argentina where they are in the majority.
There are over 100 congregations among the Wichi and other tribes in Salta, Formosa and Chaco provinces.
As a result of many years of work in education and health, during which the Argentine government has gradually taken over the schools which the Church had started and also built several hospitals in the Chaco area to help the Wichi, the Church was able to set up ASOCIANA as the Anglican social programme in the Chaco.
Chris Wallis heads up this work and he is supported by a team of Argentines as well as Andrew Leake, grandson of a pioneer missionary in the area and son of a former bishop of the diocese. ASOCIANA deals with the vexed question of land rights for the indian communities (in which it works alongside the indigenous association Lhaka Honhat) and with health issues, marketing of honey to stimulate the rural economy, literacy and educational matters, and community development.
Until the Sixties, medical and educational care was provided by the missionaries with very little change in the basic sustenance of the people, through hunting, fishing, and gathering forest fruits, with occasional seasonal work in the huge sugar-cane estates to the south of their area.
The sugar estates are now highly mechanised. Drastic changes have confronted the Wichi people in the past forty years. The ipso facto possession of native land by the indigenous people is eroding as settlers encroach. Ecological changes mean that many fewer ocean-fish journey fifteen hundred miles upstream to spawn.
There are signs of hope as people struggle to survive, particularly through the growth of a native craft project. An Anglo-Argentine missionary promoted the latent skills of native craftsmen who now produce an ever-widening variety of beautiful, ornamental and practical carvings made from four local scented hard-woods lying around the forest.
The project has expanded into other villages as more people develop their skills and produce a widening range of articles. Our support, through promoting sales, can encourage ie, to support themselves, the natural initiative of the Wichi people. Church people and other friends in this country and elsewhere have helped to expand the market.
SIWOK Crafts Ltd exists to promote the sale of these crafts in the UK.
The Wichi still live at a simple level but more craftsmen are continually encouraged to hone their carving skills The leading village (which has doubled in size), now has an upgraded primary and a growing secondary school. The mortality rate has also reduced through child care and nourishment.
SIWOK Crafts Ltd is recognised by BAFTS (The British Association for Fair Trade Shops) as being a Fair Trade supplier and an approved importer. We supply retail outlets at a realistic price. Thanks to the many voluntary sellers all our profits are returned to support the medical, social the medical, social and spiritual work in the Chaco area where the goods are produced.
An Article published in Share, the magazine of SAMS, South American Missionary Society
Bill Mercer of Siwok Crafts Ltd tells how a native skill led to a marketing phenomenon and a better life.
If you visit Misión Chaqueña in the Argentine Chaco these days you won't see many men lounging around waiting for something to do! Nowadays lots of them are involved in carpentry.
This is down to the love and concern of one man, Alec Deane, an Anglo-Argentine agriculturist who went to work there in the late 1970s. He quickly realised that what the Wichi people most needed was permanent income and that one thing they could do very well was to carve the local woods.
Siwok is the Wichi name for the woodpecker, so it's an appropriate title for the carpentry workshop Alec set up in the mission. From small beginnings his idea expanded to another workshop employing the unemployed in Salta city, and thence to export markets in the US and UK.
Alec was always encouraged by the support of the late Bishop Bill Flagg (See "News" for obituary) whose vision was to widen the market throughout the UK, thereby improving the Wichi way of life while preserving their culture and restoring their dignity.
This vision to sell increasing quantities of Wichi woodcraft in the UK on his retirement has expanded, even though Bill is seriously ill. Five volunteers, three from the original team, decided to carry the banner for him and under The Lord's guidance they have gradually introduced changes, delegating responsibilities to each member of the group and introducing conventional business systems. From 1st April 2003 a Company called "Siwok Crafts Ltd" was formed, owned by a Charitable Trust, the volunteers being the Trustees. Full computerised systems have been installed and interlinked, with storage extended and reorganised. Ordering and serious marketing were undertaken via a colour brochure, stock list and order forms, with only essential costs taken from the sales revenue.
What happens to that revenue? Firstly, the Wichi are paid fairly for their work at source by Alec when he travels fortnightly to Misión Chaqueña to purchase the crafts. Secondly, the Trust has sent surplus monies through SAMS into a discretionary fund which distributes it where most needed in the Chaco.
During 2007 most funds will be going through Asociana, under Chris Walli's guidance, though some will go to the Siwok Foundation established by Alec to help the Wichi in Misión Chaqueña.
The goodwill that exists from Bill Flagg's time, when 'sale and return boxes' were the main point of sale, continues. We appreciate the many who sell in this way and we now offer a voluntary 15% discount on sold items, as a token of gratitude. We need more such helpers!
However, our main thrust now is to the retail trade and particularly those shops which major on "Fair Trade". Sales were given a huge stimulus again last year when Tearcraft (and, incidentally, the first ever Tearfund relief donation was to the Wichi) generously invited us to display Siwok Crafts' full range of 150 items at each of their UK Roadshows in the Spring 2006. This has meant we have gained many new agents extending from Ireland to the Outer Hebrides and Jersey. We are constantly seeking more! Meanwhile, we are very grateful to Tearcraft for repeating their invitation this year, concentrated entirely in the month of May 2007. If you know of any shops selling wooden crafts who might be interested in Siwok do please let us know.
This, together with the many SAMS Church Reps supporting Siwok Crafts through sale or return, has given the business a sound customer base from which to expand further and thus provide more employment for the Wichi and benefit to the whole region.