Indigenous entrepreneur Celestina Ábalos runs a tourism business in UNESCO The World Heritage Site Quebrada de Humahuaca in the province of Jujuy, northern Argentina, shares the culture and knowledge of the community about medicinal herbs.
“I am a child of Pachamama, Mother Earth. Earth is everything to us. That’s life. We cannot conceive of ourselves without her. My community goes back 14,000 years. On behalf of 60 families, I led the 20-year struggle for land rights, education and freedom.
We used to live in a rental system where we had a landlord demarcate the space for us to live in and to live in, for both farming and raising livestock. It’s a life dominated by what employers say, by the space you have to occupy, and by what I see my parents paying for at the end of the year. These are very powerful moments for a teenager.
Through the process of reclaiming our territory, I began to think more about how to make my history and the history of my people known. I have always seen, and I continue to see in the media, the stigma placed on our indigenous peoples. I wanted to show and make the other side of the story known. That motivates me but I’m thinking: “How to do it, how to express this?”
‘We are the guardians of our culture’
In 2003, our mountain valley, Quebrada de Humahuaca, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This marked a milestone in the history of our nation. I see that many people are talking about our mountains, our culture, our food. And I said to myself: “but here we are: we know how to do it, we are the guardians of our culture”.
For us, culture is a part of everyday life, knowledge and skills passed down from generation to generation. We learn it from the moment we are born. It’s in our medicine and in our food, in our crops.
So I thought, “Why not do what I know, what I’ve learned? That’s how my travel business, a tea house called Casa de Celestina, was born.
Sharing ancestral knowledge
When tourists come to Casa de Celestina, I greet them, I introduce them to the use of medicinal herbs, such as mate, we drink in the morning and afternoon to energize ourselves. Dear. I talk about what herbs we use when we are sick, when to collect them, to dry them, how to store them.
I talk about our diet. We have different types of corn here and we make our own flour, so we have flour for soups, flour for tamales, flour for cookies, flour for juices, drinks. our, our pastry flour
All that knowledge is there because it has been passed down from generation to generation. To me, our mothers, our grandmothers, are real treasures of biodiversity. Our grandparents are the living libraries in our community. Without them and without that knowledge, I could not speak today.
I have learned, by observing, following, sharing. You have to contribute to the land, burn wood, light a furnace and make offerings. You have to be there at sunset, when the goats have returned to the barn and the grandparents are sitting down.
The tourists prepare a dish with me. It can be a culli cornmeal pudding, with nuts, with chocolate crumbs. Or they can prepare a delicious meal, quinoa bread stuffed with goat cheese, with sautéed potatoes, rosemary and herbs. Or we can also prepare llama casserole.
Then we visit my town and our church, which dates back to 1789. We visit the path of herbs, where they also learn about other medicinal herbs like Muna-Muna , treat bruises, treat muscle pain.
They know our stories, our rituals, like the sending of souls or the story of how we regained our territory. I share how my day is and what I do. And then we went down and had tea together and ate the pudding they prepared.
I regenerated their energy with herbs that we also brought from the road. They leave feeling refreshed, they leave with a different view of us. They get to experience a living culture, the essence of culture.
That’s what I like about travel, about the people who visit us. You see how the relationship of this culture goes beyond sharing experiences. It’s about seeing each other in a different way, seeing each other as human beings.
‘I’m achieving my dream’
The pandemic has had a huge impact on my business. My bookings have been cancelled. The meager savings I spent to support my family. I feel so helpless. The government says there is a subsidy for entrepreneurs, but I do not qualify and must continue to pay taxes. Many small business entrepreneurs have had a very difficult time. It was very difficult.
I have been invited to a virtual course Start and Improve Your Business (SIYB), organized by the International Labor Organization (ILO). loans and grants. So I said yes immediately.
The ILO course has provided me with the tools to scale my business. I am still using them to this day. These include business planning, cost estimation, budget preparation, inventory, and social media management. Some people on the course have already started their own businesses, others are about to start. It is an opportunity to share and exchange our experiences. What I like the most is the course manual. They are very, very useful, very good.
My business is slowly improving. I am achieving my dream.
I still remember a speech I gave a long time ago to then-President Néstor Kirchner of Argentina. I told him: “We, the indigenous people, want an opportunity, an opportunity to grow, an opportunity to improve our quality of life.”
It’s important for my community to see that it’s possible for us women to do our business with the tools we have. We don’t have to wait until we have everything, we can start with what we have now. “