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  • An Ingenious Indigenous Handicraft: The Chacara Bag

    Chakra bag

    During my drives to Isla Palenque, I try to fit in a stop or two along the way to sample a new Panamanian treat or find an undiscovered nook of the Chiriqui region. During one such adventure, I pulled over to the side of the Interamericana Highway to get a closer look at some strikingly beautiful and wildly colorful woven goods for sale. I was immediately drawn to a ubiquitous satchel that I had seen carried by many Ngobe-Bugle tribespeople; the vendor told me that it was a chacara. My curiosity immediately sparked, I spent the next few days asking around about what they were used for and why they seemed to be everywhere.

    Panama handicraftsChiriqui artisans weave chacara bags from the fiber of wild pineapple plants and other natural materials. They harvest the fibers year-round, then hang them high in the rafters of their homes or tree branches to dry and become tractable. After the curing process is complete, the prepared fibers are then submerged in vibrantly-hued dyes and used to weave these colorful and practical works of art. Like Mary Poppins’ purse, these bags can stretch to accommodate almost anything. The secret lies in the way they are woven with natural, stretchy fibers, making them amazingly strong and amazingly flexible at the same time.

    The Ngobe-Bugle use these bags to carry out their most important daily tasks – anything from transporting firewood to hanging supplies from the rafters of their open-air lodges to keep them dry. They are a vital tool of day-to-day life, especially since the primary mode of transportation is walking. Weather in the Chiriqui highlands can change at a moment’s notice, and a day-long trip on the mountain trails requires adequate preparation and supplies. Not to mention, Ngobe-Bugle women frequently tote their small children in addition to their necessities, and chacara bags are used to transport both.

    Chakra bagsIf you’re passing through Chiriqui, keep your eyes open for roadside stands manned by Ngobe-Bugle tribesmen selling their goods. These makeshift shops are a family affair – you’ll often see children helping their fathers keep track of inventory and Ngobe-Bugle women crafting bracelets and weaving vendibles as they care for smaller children.

    Chacara bags make for an eco-friendly carry-all, beach tote, or even reusable grocery bag. They also take up little to no space, so they’re easy to fit in your suitcase as souvenirs. If you’re thinking about a trip to the Chiriqui highlands, make sure to plan a stop along the way to see the enterprising spirit of indigenous families and pick up a couple bags. Your friends back home will be asking where you found such an intricate and unique holdall, and you’ll be amazed by how often it comes in handy.

    Chakra bag

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    Post by Laura Moller

    Laura loves living abroad and spends every free moment soaking in the Panama sunshine and finding new spots to explore. Meet Laura>>

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    4 Responses

    1. Rachel Rachel Kowalczyk says:

      Thanks, Doug. I’m happy to see your work intersecting with our play in Panama. The beauty of the chacara is in its utility; those patterns and colors are just the cherry on top. If there’s anything particular about the chacara that would assist your research, just ask — the island team on Isla Palenque can look into it with our local Ngöbe–Buglé friends. I’ve been fascinated by Panamanian slang, including the term “chacaron(a)”, which relates to this bag. The slang term is applied to individuals deemed to be very lazy and reliant on others to solve their problems. I can’t quite figure it out… maybe because a “chacaron” would just rely on this strong bag to do all the heavy lifting?

    2. Doug Frizzle says:

      “…a chakara -which is a Guaymi’s inseparable companion…[later]…Their woven pita and cotton chakaras are unsurpassed and are so finely woven that many of them will hold water.”
      These quotes are from an unpublished manuscript I am researching/digitizing, “Indian Tribes of Panama” 1926 by A. Hyatt Verrill.
      Thanks for your picture and remarks. I think that examples of these chakaras must be at the Museum of the American Indian, where I obtained this report.

    3. Laura Moller laura says:

      Thanks Diane! It was a fun memory to write about from my time in Panama. You’re correct that the bags are knitted, not woven. You must be a crafting afficionado- I think you’d love to witness the amazing workmanship of the Ngobe Bugle first-hand!

    4. Diane Turner says:

      Love your blog! I wanted to point out that, from your photos, those delightful bags appear to be knitted and not woven.

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    During my drives to Isla Palenque, I try to fit in a stop or two along the way to sample a new Panamanian treat or find an undiscovered nook of the Chiriqui region. During one such adventure, I pulled over to the side of the Interamericana Highway to get a closer look at some strikingly beautiful and wildly colorful woven goods for sale. I was immediately drawn to a ubiquitous satchel that I had seen carried by many Ngobe-Bugle tribespeople; the vendor told me that it was a chacara. My curiosity immediately sparked, I spent the next few days asking around about what they were used for and why they seemed to be everywhere.
    
    Panama handicraftsChiriqui artisans weave chacara bags from the fiber of wild pineapple plants and other natural materials. They harvest the fibers year-round, then hang them high in the rafters of their homes or tree branches to dry and become tractable. After the curing process is complete, the prepared fibers are then submerged in vibrantly-hued dyes and used to weave these colorful and practical works of art. Like Mary Poppins' purse, these bags can stretch to accommodate almost anything. The secret lies in the way they are woven with natural, stretchy fibers, making them amazingly strong and amazingly flexible at the same time.
    
    The Ngobe-Bugle use these bags to carry out their most important daily tasks - anything from transporting firewood to hanging supplies from the rafters of their open-air lodges to keep them dry. They are a vital tool of day-to-day life, especially since the primary mode of transportation is walking. Weather in the Chiriqui highlands can change at a moment’s notice, and a day-long trip on the mountain trails requires adequate preparation and supplies. Not to mention, Ngobe-Bugle women frequently tote their small children in addition to their necessities, and chacara bags are used to transport both.
    
    Chakra bagsIf you’re passing through Chiriqui, keep your eyes open for roadside stands manned by Ngobe-Bugle tribesmen selling their goods. These makeshift shops are a family affair - you’ll often see children helping their fathers keep track of inventory and Ngobe-Bugle women crafting bracelets and weaving vendibles as they care for smaller children.
    
    Chacara bags make for an eco-friendly carry-all, beach tote, or even reusable grocery bag. They also take up little to no space, so they’re easy to fit in your suitcase as souvenirs. If you’re thinking about a trip to the Chiriqui highlands, make sure to plan a stop along the way to see the enterprising spirit of indigenous families and pick up a couple bags. Your friends back home will be asking where you found such an intricate and unique holdall, and you’ll be amazed by how often it comes in handy.
    
    Chakra bag
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During my drives to Isla Palenque, I try to fit in a stop or two along the way to sample a new Panamanian treat or find an undiscovered nook of the Chiriqui region. During one such adventure, I pulled over to the side of the Interamericana Highway to get a closer look at some strikingly beautiful and wildly colorful woven goods for sale. I was immediately drawn to a ubiquitous satchel that I had seen carried by many Ngobe-Bugle tribespeople; the vendor told me that it was a chacara. My curiosity immediately sparked, I spent the next few days asking around about what they were used for and why they seemed to be everywhere.

Panama handicraftsChiriqui artisans weave chacara bags from the fiber of wild pineapple plants and other natural materials. They harvest the fibers year-round, then hang them high in the rafters of their homes or tree branches to dry and become tractable. After the curing process is complete, the prepared fibers are then submerged in vibrantly-hued dyes and used to weave these colorful and practical works of art. Like Mary Poppins' purse, these bags can stretch to accommodate almost anything. The secret lies in the way they are woven with natural, stretchy fibers, making them amazingly strong and amazingly flexible at the same time.

The Ngobe-Bugle use these bags to carry out their most important daily tasks - anything from transporting firewood to hanging supplies from the rafters of their open-air lodges to keep them dry. They are a vital tool of day-to-day life, especially since the primary mode of transportation is walking. Weather in the Chiriqui highlands can change at a moment’s notice, and a day-long trip on the mountain trails requires adequate preparation and supplies. Not to mention, Ngobe-Bugle women frequently tote their small children in addition to their necessities, and chacara bags are used to transport both.

Chakra bagsIf you’re passing through Chiriqui, keep your eyes open for roadside stands manned by Ngobe-Bugle tribesmen selling their goods. These makeshift shops are a family affair - you’ll often see children helping their fathers keep track of inventory and Ngobe-Bugle women crafting bracelets and weaving vendibles as they care for smaller children.

Chacara bags make for an eco-friendly carry-all, beach tote, or even reusable grocery bag. They also take up little to no space, so they’re easy to fit in your suitcase as souvenirs. If you’re thinking about a trip to the Chiriqui highlands, make sure to plan a stop along the way to see the enterprising spirit of indigenous families and pick up a couple bags. Your friends back home will be asking where you found such an intricate and unique holdall, and you’ll be amazed by how often it comes in handy.

Chakra bag
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