In the rural areas of some towns in Colombia, the covers used to carry machetes are just a business element. But the beautiful and traditional designs made at Chaparral south of Tolima are unique. In past times these elements were used to adorn the clothes of the gentlemen who usually wore them every Sunday to go to the Eucharist. Although few gentlemen carry it today, some covers of the municipality’s most popular and traditional saddlery still stand on the shelves.
At that time saddlery was a very representative tradition in the south of Tolima. Today, there are only a few families in Colombian lands that keep the name Chaparral high, with their sheaths or linings for scimitars made of rudder leather. Omar Conrado left behind this legacy as a physical education teacher raised by his grandfather, Carlos Julio Calderon, who became the ‘engineer’ of the famous chaparraluna roof due to events in life.
“Originally the cover was made with horseshoes. These decorations had not been placed on it before. But when people started telling the craftsmen who made them that they wanted them with such a style, such a decorative element, many started making them with hearts as we know them today. Over the years, it has become famous for its leather and decorative craftsmanship of the same quality”, explained Omar.
María Tapiero, master of Vanegas Saddlery, who is one of the few who still produces the famous cover from the chaparral, assures that the original chaparraluna cover is 40 pt with two hearts. “It’s a family tradition. We’ve been doing this business here in the municipality for 25 years. The leather is bought in Ibagué, where it is processed because there is no way to tan it here. The fiber is brought from Barranquilla. The cover has two leather properties: the baguette is made (thicker leather) and knots are made (thinner skin)”, the artisans explained.
One of those who still use this traditional craft is José Ducuara, who has been wearing the chaparraluna for as long as he can remember. “I am 60 years old and since I was little my parents taught me to carry the cover to carry the machete. Currently, there are about three covers that are already sick and one is buying because they wear out over time. that’s why i’m here [Talabartería Vanegas] He asks if I should buy one so that the tradition does not end.”
over 100 years of tradition
In the books, in the historical accounts of the Chaparral or Tolima, there is no reference to the cover of the chaparraluna. However, it survives in the oral tradition and with it their peace-building traditions and legacies. “The tradition of this important and traditional peasant element from the south of Tolima goes back about 100 years, roughly three generations. “And this tradition is consistent with the progress of both Paisa, Valluno, Huilense and other settlers who came as this area was the country’s former coffee axis at the beginning of the 20th century,” said Fernando Osorio, journalist and historian from Chaparral. . .
Other regions also have cover styles as business items. “This was purely utilitarian, that is, only for storing the machete or roller and transporting it on the road. But to the extent that muleteers began to popularize the carrying of covers to carry the comb at the turn of the century, it became as much a luxury item as the comb or machete itself. “There was steel. It was a source of pride to carry the best machete in the best trench. I remember when I was a kid all muleteers came with ‘enramalada’ roofs, because the more branches they have, the more categories it seems to give them,” the academic pointed out.
To unravel the history of the traditional chaparraluna roof, we must turn to the legacy of Don Carlos Julio. He started out as an employee of the Tiques, a leather-working family where the earliest saddlers in the Chaparral made saddles, first of all, for horseback riding. It was Don Julio who took on the task of creating this craft with his skill and creativity. “They were known for their excellent work in courtiers, but the thing they worked best on was horse saddles.”
Another of the traditional families of deck craftsmen is Roberto Calderón Parrado, 87, who remembers his first contact with the craft at the age of five. “My brother and I learned cover making from my father, Carlos Julio Calderon Aguas, since we were kids. My father and a cousin named Virgilio Sarmiento learned how to make covers with very good leathers brought from other parts of the country, as materials were not enough here. My father had the first knitting done, but we did not only the cover, but also the mule, the belt and other little things that adorned the cover,” she said. About 20 years ago..
Throughout history, this handicraft has undergone changes due to armed conflicts. “During the war, black cover began to be demanded, which, to be honest, was when the FARC was there. Since the yellow cover was very distinctive and did not match the uniform they were wearing, they started to use it in that color. On the other hand, the black one was more suitable for camouflage, so they started to demand it, but the Army also started to demand it. And then other people started liking it too, and they wanted black because it got less dirty and could stand the hustle and bustle more.”
Omar pursues this business with his uncle, Carlos Julio. Don Julio and his wife are Sarachane’s assistants and have witnessed how the roof has undergone changes over the decades. “The traditional, the traditional, is the one with two hearts or horseshoes buried. But today some are sending him to paint a picture of roosters, because they love the game of roosters, so they send him to carve this picture. Others send him to put up the shield of some football team,” explains master don Omar.
Today, very few people in the Chaparral continue the legacy of Mr. Roberto Calderón Parrado and his late father, Mr. Carlos Julio Calderon Aguas. According to Álvaro Olaya Cárdenas, 46, who has been roofing the chaparraluna for 25 years, there are only four artisans in the municipality today who are doing the legendary craft with him. “There are two women and a man who make covers other than me and earn their living from this job. What remains is already very old, so if there is no strategy to continue the legacy of the roof, it will expire.”
Some of those who remained suggested creating training schools to perpetuate the legacy, along with incentives from the State to keep new people and young people interested in the craft, in order to keep the tradition alive. Meanwhile, some continue to carry this traditional, very symbolic element of the Colombian peasantry.
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