Indigenous entrepreneur Celestina Ábalos runs a tourism business in Quebrada de Humahuaca, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the province of Jujuy in northern Argentina, sharing her community’s cultural and herbal knowledge.
“I am a child of Mother Earth, Pachamama. On behalf of , I fought for 20 years for land, education and liberty rights.
We used to live under a rental system where the landlord allocated space for us to occupy and live in for both planting crops and raising cattle. It was a life so dominated by what your master said, the space you had to occupy, and what you saw your parents had to pay for at the end of each year. It was a very powerful moment for
Through the process of reclaiming our territories, I began to think more about how to inform my history and the history of my people. I was. I wanted to show you the other side of the story and let you know. It motivated me, but I was thinking.
“We are the guardians of our culture”
In 2003, our mountain valley, Quebrada de Humahuaca, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. This was a milestone in the history of our people. I saw many people talking about our mountains, culture and food. And I said to myself: “But this is us. We know how to do it. We are the guardians of our culture.”
For us, culture is part of our daily lives, knowledge and skills passed down from generation to generation. We learn it from the moment we are born. It is found in our herbs, food and crops.
So I thought, “Why don’t you dare to do what you know and what you’ve learned?” That’s how my tourism business, a tea house called Casa de Celestina, was born.
share ancestral knowledge
When tourists come to Casa de Celestina, I welcome them and show them how to drink mate and other medicinal herbs in the morning and afternoon to energize them. We talk about which herbs to take when sick, when to harvest, how to dry and how to store.
Talk about our diet. We have a variety of corn here and make our own flour. So there are soup flours, tamale flours, cookie flours, juice flours, drink flours and pastry flours.
All that knowledge is there because it has been passed down from generation to generation. For me, my mother and grandmother are a treasure trove of biodiversity. Our grandparents are the living libraries in our community. Without them and their knowledge, I would not be able to speak today.
I learned by observing, observing and sharing. You must contribute land, burn wood, light an oven, and make offerings. You have to be there at sunset when the goats are already back in the pen and the grandparents are sitting.
Tourists cook with me. It can be a caricorn flour pudding with nuts and chocolate chips. Alternatively, you can prepare a delicious meal of quinoa croquettes stuffed with goat cheese, sautéed potatoes, rosemary and herbs. Alternatively, you can prepare a llama casserole.
Then visit my town and our church which date back to 1789. Visit the Path of Herbs and learn about other medicinal herbs such as munamuna for bruises and sore muscles.
They get to know our stories and rituals, such as soul dispatches and tales of reclaiming territories. I share what my day is like and what I am doing. Then we go downstairs, drink tea together, and eat the pudding they made.
We also renew their energy with herbs brought from the road. They leave feeling renewed, they leave with a different view of us. They experience a living culture, the essence of culture.
That’s what I love about tourism, people who come to visit us. You can see that this cultural relationship goes beyond sharing experiences. It’s about seeing each other differently, seeing each other as human beings.
“I’m making my dreams come true”
The pandemic has hit my business hard. The reservation I had was cancelled. What little savings I had was used to support my family. I felt so helpless. The government said there were subsidies for entrepreneurs, but I was not eligible and had to continue paying taxes. Many small business entrepreneurs have been through very difficult times. It was very difficult.
I have been invited to attend the Starting and Improving Virtual Business (SIYB) course run by the International Labor Organization (ILO) in October-November 2021. I created a business plan because it was one of the reasons I couldn’t get loans or grants. So I immediately said yes.
The ILO course gave me the tools to grow my business. I still use them today. It included how to create a business plan, how to estimate costs, how to prepare a budget and inventory, and how to manage social media. Some of the course participants have already started their own businesses, while others are about to start. It was an opportunity to share and exchange our experiences. What I liked the most was the course manual. They are very convenient and very good.
My business is steadily improving. I am fulfilling my dream.
I still remember a speech I gave to then-Argentine President Nestor Kirchner a long time ago. I told him, ‘We indigenous peoples want opportunities, opportunities for development, opportunities for a better quality of life.’
It is important for my community that we women understand that it is possible for us to use our tools to run our business. I can do it. “