Doña Elizabet

Doña Elizabet

A little tribute to Doña Elizabet is necessary.

The visit to Candelaria was incredible – but it could have been quite different. You can’t help being from another place, another planet, certainly another era, with your modern dress, your money, your view on the world. What made the difference for us was the presence of Doña Elizabet, the dueña of the Hacienda Candelaria, a woman steeped in the place, with relationships with the weavers and their families going back years. She has watched many of them grow old while others grow up; she has a profound attachment to the land and its culture together with realism about its flaws and injustices, its darker side, and its prospects. There is no romanticism in her attitude but there is sadness and resignation, nostalgia for what has gone. Candelaria, a rich and cherished part of her life, has become a burden as she sees its decline and the inevitability that the way of life it represents has all but disappeared.

Somewhere just short of 70, tall, slim, erect, with a backbone of steel, a modest disposition and a deeply intelligent face, I took to Doña Elizabet, Ellie, immediately. She was an inspiring woman, tremendously generous with her time. She has a fascinating history that she shared with us, switching between Spanish and English so that I could really understand the complicated bits! She is a huge presence in the community, someone they revere and trust, someone who knows each of them intimately, their names, their language, their histories, grievances and politics, their hopes and fears. Giving of her time to take us to visit the weavers she was able to bridge the cultural gap so that we could have a connection, however brief, with them; she was there to encourage communication, to ease and interpret.

She is not a weaver but she knows weaving better than most. A major, probably the major collector of Bolivian weaving, she has more than 300 pieces in her house in Sucre and they are prized by museums and other collectors worldwide. So that has been the other part of her life’s work, as a dealer in Bolivian art, especially its weaving. A promise to show me her collection yielded a promise to return one day. It feels like that has to be soon before the fragile hacienda decays any further. Whether I make it or not, I will never forget her dignity and her kindness. Thank you Doña Elizabet.