Weavers of traditional ancestral designs argue the Guatemalan government has a responsibility to protect their Mayan culture from outside exploitation
Indigenous women in Guatemala are fighting for collective intellectual property rights over their traditional Mayan textiles in the face of a lack of government will to protect the cultural heritage that represents thousands of years of Indigenous community resistance, Mayan organizations argued in court on Tuesday.
“What we want is a law to protect our textiles because it is something that is ours, we learned from our grandparents how to weave,” said Kaqchikel weaver Marta Puac, one of dozens of women from different communities who went to the Constitutional Court in Guatemala City on Tuesday in support of the initiative.
The case, led by a group of women from the community of San Juan Sacatepequez northwest of Guatemala City—with the support of an association of Mayan lawyers—calls on the court to push Congress to introduce new laws specifically aimed at protecting Mayan cultural patrimony and and intellectual property.
Puac explained that the women fear that in the future their textiles could be subject to a patent from outside their community that would effectively rob Mayan people of their designs and culture. “We’re defending our identity,” she said.
In the hearing, representative Angelina Aspuac argued that the Guatemalan government uses Mayan culture as a selling point for tourism without taking steps to protect the communities’ collective rights over what she describes as a kind of living culture. She also argued that there is a question of labor rights at stake since it is Indigenous women who weave the iconic textiles while others reap the majority of the economic benefits.
Another Indigenous activist, Josefina Con Cuc, explained that the case seeks a “guarantee” that Mayan people can continue carrying forward the cultural heritage of their designs to future generations.
“The art of weaving is a form of ancestral knowledge that woman have preserved for many years,” she said. “And it is part of the knowledge that continues to be threatened and for which we are resisting.”
According to the women behind the initiatives, the lack of state action to recognize collective rights to traditional textiles goes hand-in-hand with other threats to their cultural protection, including increasing industrial production, commercialization of culture and unfair market access for Indigenous women.
The women hope the case will also help them increase their incomes and see more equality in labor relations involving intermediaries, who may be less able to exploit their work with intellectual property rights in place.
Banners in support of the ongoing case in court Tuesday included signs reading “we are the daughters of grandmothers who will not die, they will live on through the universe of our textiles.”