A few nights ago, Linda Ligon, Deborah Chandler—who’s visiting from her home in Guatemala—and I found our way to the Indigenous Film and Arts Festival in Denver. The January feature was Weaving Worlds, a 2007 documentary by Navajo filmmaker Bennie Klain.
Weaving Worlds records the lives of several Navajo weavers and their struggles to maintain traditional ways of life. It’s an extraordinary film told through the voices of the weavers and their families as well as the reservation trading store owners. You witness the conflict between the traders and the weavers. You see the challenges Navajo artists face in terms of competition from knock-off designs made in China and elsewhere. And then you see the Peabody Coal Company siphoning away precious water resources. It was a hard movie to sit through in many ways.
But what stayed with me beyond these injustices and hardships was the weavers’ vital connection to their sheep and the land, to family, and a bone-deep desire for self-sufficiency. Their weaving fuses together all aspects of their lives in a single expression, a fullness of spirit.
Of course, weaving is all about expressing relationships, and you can see this in the fabric from Peru to Mexico and well beyond. In Faces of Tradition: Weaving Elders of the Andes, Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez and Christine Franquemont write, “Every cloth carries with it a narrative of moments in lives lived.” And in Traditional Weavers of Guatemala, Lola Sapalú, says “The cloth lives an experience.”
In Maya Threads: A Woven History of Chiapas, author Chip Morris goes much further, “The design of the Universe is woven with clarity and purpose, line by line into Maya cloth. . . . A Maya woman weaves the cosmos as it awakens.”
It seems that the Navajo, too, are weaving the world. Their sustained vision and courage seem as fundamental as wool, water, and kin.