In the lush, green grasslands of Guatemala, a community of over 700 women are weaving their way to independence and empowerment by hand-crafting intricate ‘petate’ bands (woven palm leaves) that adorn the bottles of rum brand, Zacapa.
Inspired by these unique women, ahead of International Women’s Day, acclaimed lifestyle photographer and Instagrammer, Nicolee Drake travelled to Guatemala to capture their incredible stories of progress.
Nicolee captured the women crafting the bands for the outside of each bottle of Zacapa 23 Rum and met the woman who crafts the liquid that goes inside the bottle: master blender of 30 years Lorena Vásquez, one of PEOPLE en Español’s 25 Most Influential Women 2015. Lorena is one of only a few female leaders in a traditionally male-dominated industry and leads the work to support the petate weavers.
Lorena Vásquez said: “As women, we must stand up and support one another – build each other up and press for progress. If we don’t, who will? Personally, I would love to see more women progressing to the top. I am proud to be in a position to make a difference not only among women but among the community I live in – to give back in recognition of everything it gives to us.”
With the help of Zacapa, these progressive women have discarded the societal norms that saw them stay at home while their husbands worked.
They have adapted their craft to create an employment opportunity which guarantees a fixed income to support their families. As a result, their social standing is elevated and younger generations are finding they have greater access to education than before.
More than just an income, weaving petates provides them with work they can do in their homes so they have the luxury of time to raise their families (a vital part of Mayan culture).
In fact for Zacapa, time matters more than anything and is a focus throughout the entire creation of the rum, from blending to maturation to the time taken to savour the liquid.
Spending time with these communities, capturing their stories through her camera lens, Nicolee said:
“These women have faced incredible hardships and many were widowed in the armed conflict in Guatemala (1960 – 1996). It was amazing to see the change brought about in their lives and the lives of their families. I loved meeting women like Ana, one of eight daughters of a widow, who has had to support herself financially. To do this, Ana weaves petate bands and with the income she earns, she has chosen to fund studies to become a teacher – she is currently in her final year of study. On International Women’s Day, and every day, women around the world are pressing for progress and I saw first-hand the part Zacapa is playing by providing a platform for these women to empower themselves.”
Petate weaving is a tradition passed from mother to daughter. Mayans believe the petate represents the unity between heaven and earth, the sun and the moon, the spiritual and the physical because the band has no beginning or end. It is a hand-crafted process, like the creation of Zacapa, that cannot be rushed. Both are works of art, carefully and patiently crafted by female hands.