'We are embera. We come from nature, we are children of water, okendo, our mother earth, that's why we defend it'*
The Embera Chami are one of the 90 Indigenous tribes that have resisted European colonization since the 16th century in Colombia. As warriors and protectors of their traditional cultures they have preserved their language, oral tradition, cosmovisions and social and political organisations.
The Embera are fundamentally connected to their natural environment, they see water, rivers and mountains as channels of communications with the spiritual worlds. As defenders of their lands and territories, they hold valuable knowledge and techniques to preserve the environment and traditional knowledge.
Today the Embera Chami live amidst a humanitarian crisis; in fact the tribe was declared in danger of physical and cultural extinction in 2009 by the Constitutional Court of Colombia. The Embera have been detrimentally affected by the armed conflict, mining projects and extractive policies, violence and forced removal of their lands. Violent armed groups have targeted community leaders, leaving their people in a highly fragile state.
Embera Chami communities extend across the North West of the country, in the Departments of Antioquia, Caldas, Chocó, Risaralda, and Valle del Cauca. Large numbers have moved to capital cities who depend on the income from their handcrafts, including beaded jewellery.
Bead Works - Okamas: the journey of life worn around the neck
Embera women are the leading artisans, responsible for passing on this traditional beading knowledge to the future generations. All the pieces are needle-woven and hand-treaded; a wood loom is used for the special large pieces.
The beaded necklaces are called Okamas in the traditional Embera culture, meaning the path that travels around the neck. Okamas are highly symbolic and tell the story of the journey of life, common elements among them are the unique geometrical designs allegorical to the natural environment.
Men pieces are known as Otapas, traditionally worn by men to nominate their role in their community. Beaded pieces are also believed to hold healing and protection properties, with symbols that have profound meaning to the communities.
None of the pieces sold by Mami Watta Collections are traditional or ceremonial pieces. All the items sold have been carefully chosen in consultation with the artists who want to expose their works of art with the world.
Who we work with
We work closely with the Siagama Wazorna family who produce all of our beaded collections. A family of talented artisans from Risaralda, Colombia.
*(National Congress of the Embera People, October 2006)