Brightly-colored rugs, some with scenes of birds and trees, rolled over the usually stark concrete floors of Northwest Labs this past weekend. A live family band played Ecuadorian music on mandolins and hand flutes, which echoed through the ordinarily quiet basement space.
Little kids ran through the packed crowds of people, and artisans from around the world showcased their work.
It was part of the 29th annual Cultural Survival Bazaar at Harvard—a series of markets that unites vendors and artisans of indigenous work from countries in Africa, South and North America, and Asia.
One of the artisans was Algonquin Abenaki tribesman, Lenny J. Novak, whose tribal name is Lone Wolf.
“[It] feels like walking through a museum when everyone’s artwork is out,” he said.
Novak was selling his novel dream catchers—dark brown, with thin threads made of imitation sinew woven thickly together.
“It was a mistake,” Novak said on his design. “I tried it doing my own way and came up with something new.”
This weekend’s bazaar at Northwest Labs is just one of a series, hosted by Cultural Survival.
The organization, which promotes the rights and artwork of indigenous cultures, was founded by the late Anthropology Professor David Maybury-Lewis after he worked in the field with the Xavante tribe in Brazil.
According to Cultural Survival Program Manager David M. Favreau, this experience informed him on challenges facing indigenous tribes.
“[Maybury-Lewis] realized the challenges the Xavante faced were the same challenges facing indigenous cultures all over our planet,” Favreau said.
Favreau said these challenges spanned a host of problems, from loss of land, decline of culture, and degeneration of language. The Bazaar supports the members of the tribes and often presents modernized iterations of traditional art.
“An artisan might take something from their tradition, but they make something more contemporary,” said Favreau, who described the bazaars as “a chance to give gifts that give twice.”
“They’re not just giving a one-of-a-kind, handmade item to family or friends: they’re also supporting artisans and projects in [the indigenous] communities,” he said.
One such project is Project Have Hope, which seeks to empower women and their children in the Acholi Quarter of Uganda, and is supported by the sale of papier-mâché bead necklaces at the Bazaar.
“The money spent at the Bazaars goes a long way towards contributing to improving programs and the livelihood of artisans who are preserving their cultures by making traditional art that has been passed down for thousands of years, in many cases,” Favreu said.
In addition to offering a platform for the artwork, the Bazaar also features programming that teaches about indigenous cultures, such as Native American storytelling and craft-making.
“It’s a great chance for people and their families to come and enjoy a festive atmosphere and a worldly marketplace,” Favreau said. “They don’t have to buy anything, and they can still have a good time.”
The Bazaars continue throughout December in locations in Cambridge and Boston. The markets will move to CGIS next weekend, and to the Prudential Center the weekend of Dec. 16.
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