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Gabino Silva: Hammock Maker
by John Tarleton
SAN AGUSTINILLO, MexicoA compact Mexican man with a bushy moustache and a twinkle in his eye was standing in front of a rectangular, wooden frame in the shade at the bottom of an arroyo. He was working on his latest creation: a matrimonial-sized hammock with a very Mexican color scheme of bright yellow, pink, green and black. Yellow- breasted chihueros were singing in the canopy overhead. The ocean that he used to ply for a living was just out of earshot.
I Like to Use My Mind
The man paused from his work to describe how he had drawn up the color scheme. Then, he
he bent down low in front of the frame and pointed at a group of four, tightly
interwoven black and green threads that changed color depending on which way he
turned the hammock. He drew out the pattern in the dust and talked with the
excitement and the conviction of someone who is always experimenting and teaching
himself something new.
I like to combine colors, Gabino Silva said. An unlit Gratos cigarette was wedged between his lips. Ill be working on a hammock and then Ill think of a new combination and Ill rush over to draw it in my notebook. I like to use my mind.
Gabino, 45, first went to work in a turtle slaughterhouse when he was 16. Later, he became a fisherman who caught everything from red snapper to shark. He has an 8th-grade education and a tireless curiosity. He reads everything from Reader's Digest to Platos Republic. A shortwave radio is always nearby to tune into newscasts from around the world. And, 14 years ago he made the creative leap from repairing large fishnets to teaching himself how to make some of the most colorful and durable hammocks in all of Mexico.
They make a damn good hammock, said Jonathan of Burlington, Vermont. He has been coming to Mexico for three years and never before had been comfortable in a hammock. The hammocks are so big you can lay anyway you want and your body is evenly supported. Its like being weightless.
Glen of Taos New Mexico has been coming to San Agustinillo since the mid-1980s. And, he has bought some of Gabinos hammocks to resell in the United States. It's high quality, he said. The design, the color, the strength. What I tell people is that theyre getting a really fine piece of furniture.
Hard times propelled Gabinos transition into hammock making. San Agustinillo is a tranquil fishing village of 150 people (plus a sprinkling of winter snowbirds) located on the sun-splashed Pacific Coast of Oaxaca, 500 miles southeast of Mexico City.
Fourteen years ago, it had neither paved roads nor electricity. And when middlemen in Acupulco cut the price they were paying to members of the villages newly-formed fishing cooperative, Gabino found himself scrambling. He had to support himself and his partner Zita and their five children who were subsisting on a diet of rice, beans, squash and corn tortillas plus whatever else they could catch: iguanas, turtles, fish, crabs, snails, grasshoppers and large, bean-sized black ants that flourish at the beginning of rainy season.
Learning How to Make a Better Hammock
Gabinos brother-in-law showed him a basic, one-color hammock made in Juchitan, 240 km to the northeast. He studied the hammock carefully and was confident that he could make a better one. However, he was broke. A friend lent him the money to buy his first supplies. And he has been making hammocks ever since.
Gabino has learned to make hammock by dissecting hammocks. He's mostly self- taught, said his friend.
Nowadays, Zita, all five children and a half-dozen neighbors are all weaving in their sparetime, following Gabino Silva's intricate designs. The family sells the hammocks from their small restaurant at KM 7.4 on the highway from Puerto Angel to Mazunte. Silva closely inspects each hammock. And he assesses fines for any lapses in quality.
I dont receive many flawed hammocks, he said.
Gabino has continued studying the designs in other weaving from as far away as the Yucatan and Guatemala and incorporates their best aspects into his own work. His hammocks have anywhere from four to 23 colors. Some of his most colorful productions, he says, have been inspired by San Agustinillos fiery sunsets.
His individual-sized hammock has 960 super-fine #9 nylon threads. The matrimonial, 1220 threads. The hammocks are double and triple re-enforced in high stress points. And, they come with a lifetime guarantee. Each hammock takes about five days to produce.
Ive always tried to be the best at whatever I do, Gabino said. If I didnt continue making good hammocks, my customers wouldnt believe in me.
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