Saving the World, One Gift at a Time

December 20, 2011

The final weekend of the annual Cultural Survival Bazaar ran from Friday through Sunday at the Prudential Center Newbury Arcade. Handmade goods of every imaginable ilk– from jewelry to woodcarvings, rugs to pashminas, toys to collectible art– were on display from local artisans, as well as many of the international groups Cultural Survival (CS) supports.

CS is a Massachusetts-based non-profit organization dedicated to preserving cultures threatened by globalization, pollution, corporate greed and warfare, among other issues (both in the United States and abroad). Buyers were able to cover their holiday shopping needs and do good for the world at the same time.

Some of the bazaar’s vendors included a diminutive elderly couple who sat smiling demurely behind tables draped with intricately embroidered textiles. Their parents, the woman shared, emigrated from China to Laos, and passed on their traditional fiber arts. An American vendor, married to a woman from Bolivia, explained the hypoallergenic properties of his booth’s 100-percent alpaca knitwear (all ethically sourced and made by a Bolivian women’s collective). Wood carvings of animal-themed napkin rings, sculptures, and salad serving sets, and miniature carved-gourd tree ornaments, were on offer from the Samburu Maasai, a tribal group, which has been victim to prolonged police brutality and afforded no protection by the Kenyan government.

Among the most popular attraction at the bazaars is the yarn-painting demonstration. Cilau Valaldez, a representative of the Huichol people indigenous to Mexico, creates the vibrant and elaborate, mandala-like yarn paintings by gently pressing brightly hued string into patterns on a beeswax-backed board. The demonstration takes place at the booth for his artistic fair trade collective, Galeria Tanana, which also produces beautiful beaded jewelry in a colorful style unique to the Huichol. Humbly insisting the work was not all his, the handsome young artist quipped, “It’s a group of artisans, back in Mexico, but they send me, because I’m the only one who speaks English.”

Despite being renowned for their art, which helps to support and improve the community, the Huichol need Cultural Survival because their reservation lands are currently sought by a large Canadian silver mining enterprise.

In addition to art and craft booths, the bazaar’s schedule included performances by Ecuadorian music and dance group Yarina, Native American storytelling by Leonard Four Hawks and discussions of Lakota culture with Tim Swallow (a Native musician, whose traditional prayer-song CDs were on sale, as well).

An opportunity to teach children about selflessness and the true spirit of giving, the annual bazaar emphasizes goods handmade with love, rather than mass-produced, and diminishes the commercialism inherent in the modern holiday season. All the better to be a part of saving an important and disappearing way of life, in the meantime.

Cultural Survival runs three bazaars each year on successive weekends in late November to mid-December. Learn more about Cultural Survival, the people its supports and plans for next year’s bazaars at

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