By Deborah Van Hoewyk
The Bacaanda Foundation, also known as El Sueno Zapoteco (The Zapotec Dream), has “embarked” on a multifaceted project to showcase the artisanal skills of Zapotec craftspeople. The Foundation’s Ark floats on the tile floor of its workshop and gallery in Tangolunda. Christened in March 2012, the Ark is now populated by almost a hundred pairs of animals created from natural materials gathered by Zapotec villagers of Santiago Xanica and its three agencias (sub-villages) in the municipio of Miahuatlan, in the Sierra Sur region of Oaxaca.
The project showcases two of Bacaanda’s longstanding initiatives: the Foundation purchases the natural materials from mountain villagers, and it operates an artisan training program that currently employs three young men who hand-craft mini-sculptures and paint them to represent regional bird, animals, and insects. Bacaanda is also using the Ark to raise funds to support all its activities. Visitors to the workshop and website can sponsor animal pairs for the Ark, a portion of which is tax-deductible; the Ark also showcases the mini-sculptures for sale in the gift shop.
The story of Noah and the Ark exists throughout world mythology. One version of the Zapotec myth, which is influenced by Christianity, has the Angel Gabriel telling Noah (Nata) that a flood was coming to cleanse the earth of sinful mankind. No one believed Noah when he warned them, but Noah persisted in building the ark and gathering pairs of all the animals. When the flood started to recede, Noah sent out birds to see how the world was doing. The buzzard didn’t report back, being too busy eating dead animals, and so became a scavenger for life. The heron and ravens went out and reported back that the world was drying out—they were rewarded by being allowed to eat fish and fruit and corn, respectively. The dove came back to say the earth was almost dry, and it was granted freedom. Noah, his wife (Nena) and children, and the animals all left the Ark and repopulated the earth.
The Bacaanda Foundation is unique in that it combines two attributes of bi-national organizations that support social and economic development. It is incorporated as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the United States, as well as an Asociación Civil in Mexico (the rough equivalent), which allows for supporters to give tax-deductible contributions. In most of its activities, it functions as an intermediary—that is, it works to assist villages in realizing projects and programs determined by residents. A women’s embroidery cooperative in Santiago Xanica asked the Oaxacan government for sewing machines so the group could expand its product line; the government sent industrial machines that no one knew how to operate. The Bacaanda Foundation asked an Uruguayan couple from Canada, an engineer and a seamstress/patternmaker, to go up into the mountains and assemble the machines and demonstrate their use. Coop members also travel down to Foundation for sewing and patternmaking classes. Bacaanda has also returned two dental clinics it set up in Santiago Xanica and the agencia of San Felipe Lachillo to the villages, which now work with the Mexican government to staff the clinics.