Mujeres de Maíz

In this post, we’re excited to introduce you to local collective Mujeres de Maíz from Santiago Atitlán! This small group of makers is creating some unique and gorgeous designs, some of which are going live this Sunday on our Artisan Direct page to help provide a digital platform for them, since they do not have an online sales channel at the moment. We’ve got dresses, jackets, earrings, sandals, and more to share with the digital world soon, thanks to the hard work from this collective!

Read below a short Q&A with Mari Liberali, designer behind the collective. (And hey, nice name right? 😉 )
XOXO,
Mari

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1. What does “Mujeres de Maíz” mean and what was the inspiration for that name?

The Name “Mujeres de Maíz” is based on the sacred book of the ancient Maya called Popol Vuh, which tells us that the Mayan people were created by the gods with maize. Maize (corn) is the sacred food for many populations in Central America, including Guatemala. And there are a lot of Mujeres de Maíz in Guatemala, there are many strong women here, who can teach us so many things! But, in our project, we choose to share the special work of a small group of women. 

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2. Could you tell us a little bit about your personal background and how you came to be involved with this group?

I am Mari Liberali, artist and fashion designer from Italy, and in 2017 I left the conventional fashion job to work with indigenous people and their handicrafts. I was looking for a job with purpose, I was very tired of the injustice that fashion normally promotes. So I arrived at Cojolya Association, in Guatemala, to work with the backstrap loom, in Santiago Atitlán. It was there that I learned everything about this new world, from collaboration, NGOs, and handmade textiles. I spent a year and a half as a textile and accessories designer and decided to continue my work outside the Association with different artisans, and we ended up founding the collective Mujeres de Maíz in 2018, based on original embroidery from Santiago.

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3. Who are the members of Mujeres de Maíz, where do they live, and what kind of handmade traditions do they practice? How is the group organized?

We are a group of 5 women. I am the designer and co- founder of the project along with Loida Sisay, and soon after we incorporated other artisans.
Loida is a co-founder, embroiderer, and master of embroidery. She teaches visitors traditional embroidery techniques. Chonita is an embroiderer and she coordinates and communicates with the other members. Isabel is also embroiderer and is still developing her products, with a new mixed embroidery technique that we are developing. And Maria has a community shop in original fabrics, we buy textiles from Maria and we also represent Maria by selling her unique products. The artisans all live in the community of Santiago Atitlán, on Lake Atitlán. Santiago is well known for the embroidery of birds and flowers, always represented in traditional huipiles. Our goal is to help preserve and encourage women to create their own designs and develop new forms of creation with original embroidery. Each of the women has her own style of embroidery and has started to develop unique designs for the project.

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4. How has COVID-19 affected Mujeres de Maíz, and what do you think are the next steps for the group?

Our project has practically stopped because our focus is on local sales and we depend directly on tourism. Fortunately, larger groups like Cojolya are supporting us and selling our products online. And now, we found new support in Kakaw Designs, so thank you! In the future, when we are be a little stronger and bigger, we hope to be able to send abroad through our own website and we hope that our network of artisans will also grow. There are many talented women, very good at embroidery art who have come to offer their skills, but we still cannot absorb them all. Soon, after all this over, we hope that more and more people could be interested in our market, valuing the handmade process and also the people who do this work. I think this is the future, and it is already coming. 

 

 

To learn more about this collective, please follow their journey on Instagram.

And stay tuned – this Sunday, June 29th, 2020, the products from this collective will be live on our site on our Artisan Direct page.

How to weave on our Practice Backstrap Loom

Looking to learn a new crafty skill while at home these days? We’ve got the thing for you, then: learn how to weave on a simple backstrap loom.

These looms have been prepped with naturally-dyed cotton warp and weft by our partner weavers at Lake Atitlán. The design is already so pretty, there’s no need for complicated weaves – the most simple weave will make a beautiful wall-hanging with all the tools still attached.

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<Find our Practice Backstrap Loom Kit online>

To start, these are the contents of each kit. We currently have three naturally-dyed color variants available.

What's in a kit

And these are the parts of the simple backstrap loom:

Parts of a loomYou’ll see droplets of water in the above picture because I decided to starch the warp and iron before weaving. After the starching, I spent some time to separate the threads. After that, though, it keeps the fibers more neat and avoids fuzziness and clumping. It’s up to you if you would like to starch, it is an optional step.

Here are some simple videos filmed at home, following COVID-19 restrictions so not at all professional, but I figured better to just to it. I hope they are somewhat helpful and can get you started on your first backstrap loom.

To start, this one explains the parts of the loom:

 

See how I’ve attached the loom to a pole on my terrace in the following video. It should be attached higher than where you will sit – whether that’s in a chair or on the ground directly.

 

Once you’ve got your loom in place, you’re ready to start weaving:

 

For this simple loom, there are only two steps (yay!). They are demonstrated separately in the following two videos.

Learn Step 1, which is pulling the heddle and inserting the weft from right to left:

To check from the side if you’ve lifted the heddle or rod correctly, you can take a look like in the below picture. In the first picture, you can see that it’s not “right” – there are some threads that are going from above the rod to below the sword. So it’s INCORRECT:

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But in this one below, you can see that the sword is inserted neatly without messy threads, so you know it’s been done CORRECTLY:

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And then Step 2, using the shed rod and inserting the weft from left to right:

The rest is just repetition. Step 1, Step 2, Step 1, Step 2… until you’ve reached the point in the loom where it becomes difficult to pull up the heddle. I would suggest stopping there, and leaving all the tools attached to the loom, and hanging the piece on your wall as home decor. You’ll be able to tell your friends and family that you wove it, and hopefully those around you will also gain appreciation for the handwoven world.

Remember that it’s ok to make mistakes! You can always retrace your steps, cut the weft (NOT THE WARP), or my personal preference: just move on. It’s all part of the process, and you should be able to see in your work how you are improving. It’s kind of fun to remember how you once made simple mistakes – and learned from them.

So I must admit, I’ve never tried to explain the steps of backstrap weaving digitally like this. I’m not an expert. You likely have some questions. Please feel free to ask questions below in the comments so others can benefit from them too, or if you’d rather ask privately, shoot me an email at mari@kakawdesigns.com.

Happy weaving at home! Stay safe and healthy, everyone.

 

XOXO,

Mari

Xibalba Joyas: elevating jade through design

Laura Spillari, owner and founder of Xibalba Joyas, is one of the most positive, collaborative, and design-filled people in town. It has been an absolute pleasure to have our products included in her gorgeous storefront at the center of town. Unfortunately, the store is shut down at the moment due to COVID-19 restrictions. That’s why we took this opportunity to showcase our products together digitally. Find our combos featuring one Kakaw Designs item and one Xibalba Joyas item together in our One of a Kinds page  starting tomorrow, Sunday, April 5th.

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Naturally, I (Mari) asked her to share a little bit so that you can get to know her and her jewelry designs. The following questions were answered by Laura herself:

 

1. You have one of the most beautiful stores around town. Can you tell us when you started Xibalba, and the inspiration behind your brand and store?

Thank you so much!

Xibalba was born in 2012. The idea was to recover the cultural value of jade and present it through design-oriented jewelry. Guatemala is a country where ancestral knowledge exists, materials and handwork come together to maintain our cultural legacy alive.

We started in a petit and cozy space and a couple of years ago, we moved to our current location, a beautiful colonial house in the center of Antigua. We couldn’t be more in love with the location! Now, we not only create jewelry but we have partnered with several artisans and designers who present other products such as textiles, leather goods, decor objects, and many other interesting little things.

The team consists of 5 collaborators and we contribute to around 125 artisans directly or indirectly in different regions of Guatemala.

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2. Do you think you have always been an artist, since you were little? When do you think you came to realize this?

I’ve always considered myself a creative person. I grew up in a house where everything was made or prepared by us, whether it was clothing, planting, or plumbing… so I kinda learned how things could “be done.”

I was surrounded by elements such as textiles, ceramics, basket weaving, among other handmade traditions. Walking on cobble stones and going to Mayan sites on vacations… this has been with no doubt a part of my identity and has provided great inspiration for what I do.

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3. One of the things I love about your store is the incorporation of innovative designs on traditional materials, like jade and silver. Can you share a little bit about traditional use of those materials, historically-speaking?

Guatemala has a unique variety of jade. It is formed here because of the geographical location and the geological history.

For the Maya, our ancestors, jade was the most valuable material. They thought of it as a gift left here for us, which brought all the strength from underneath the earth and was able to take our thoughts and prayers to heaven. Jade was carved by master artisans who made from large stelas to miniature mosaic masks, among other incredible ornaments.

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4. We’ve talked about doing an online collaboration before, but we finally decided to go through with it now because of the COVID-19 restrictions in Guatemala. What are the effects for your business, and what can people do to support you and other small businesses working with artisans right now in Guatemala?

Indeed it  is a situation that has affected us all. However, we are confident that together we will rise!

It has been difficult to find new paths for our partner artisans since our business depends on tourism completely. Our number one priority is to generate an income for our artisan partners, so they can support their families.

The best way to help is just by being conscientious. Learn about what you buy, where you shop, support handmade products with a value chain behind them.

Today, we make a call to a world wide community: let’s all find ways to help each other, from our homes… by providing opportunities however possible.

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Guatemala Update: on the virus and traveling

Well, it’s been quite some time since writing here on the blog. Here’s an update on our recent happenings.

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COVID-19 has hit Guatemala. And on the day the very first positive virus test result was found, we were meant to start our Textile Travels. What a timing, huh? While we had a few cancellations, there were two participants who were already in the country, along with my mom. We had a good talk together, and we decided to continue with our itinerary to Lake Atitlán. I’m glad we did, as we had a wonderful time there.

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But on the day we were scheduled to come back to Antigua, it became more dire to do so, and quickly, because a public transport ban had been announced the night before. While I didn’t think that our private minivan would fall under this category, I was wrong – something about the licensing for transport of that size fits under the same category as the big refurbished school buses we like to call Chicken Buses. At that point, we did decide to cancel the rest of the trip, and hang out in Antigua.

I’d just like to put it out there that although these measures have been strict and drastic (we now have a shelter-in-place curfew at 4pm), I really can’t complain. I think these are good steps for trying to control the virus. And perhaps more than that, these are good measures for controlling the panic that can arise, especially in rural communities. For me personally, the potential chaos arising as well as the antagonizing of foreigners (because COVID-19 is coming from outside the country), have been more worrisome, especially when responsible for a small group of foreigners. Misinformation and at times flat out lies can spread as fast as the virus itself in areas where access to reliable information and the education to be able to weed through such rumors are lacking.

But, we made it. Everything went fine. We cancelled two of our workshops that were planned in surrounding areas of Antigua, and the whole portion going to Cobán. That’s okay. We still had a great trip, an adventure hopefully never to be repeated, but still a pleasant adventure together. What we couldn’t fit in were textile markets – unfortunately, they had been shut down by the day we were meant to rummage through vintage collections of handmade beauties. Well, there’s something left for next time, then. We always have to leave something for next time. Right?

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I hope everyone is staying safe and healthy wherever they are. All the internationals from our travels have gone home now. I am still here in Guatemala, hanging out at home with Berry. It’s going to be a challenging time for small businesses and local artisans, so I’ll be pushing online sales, starting with a One of a Kind Sale on our website this Sunday, March 29th.

 

XOXO,

Mari

 

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Just Leather Shoes

Ever since we started Kakaw Designs with custom-made boots, we’ve gotten requests from people wanting simple designs with just leather, no textile. I’ve been resisting against this for some time, just because I’ve always wanted our focus to be textile over leather.

But… you know what? I was wrong. I love these Quetzal Shoes in Just Leather, and it’s always a pleasure to support Don Julio’s cobbler business. And through these sales, we can also invest more in textile prototypes and pursue new designs. So really, it’s win-win.

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I’m sorry I was narrow-minded and it took me so long to incorporate Just Leather shoes. But now, they’re here. I hope you like them too, I’m loving mine.

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Available online for $185. Choose “Just Leather” option under “Textiles”.

 

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Thank you, Don Julio!

 

Q&A feature on Birds of a Thread

“How great would it be if we could come together and share our textile experiences and practices together, further strengthening bonds and supporting rural artisans to pursue innovative designs on their own?”

<Read more on Birds of a Thread>

That’s the inspiration behind our Textile Travels concept. As a small brand, we facilitate the reaching of new markets internationally through our unique designs. We work closely with talented artisans to make this happen while honoring their traditions. But if the artisan groups have their own storefronts or access to other stores/buyers, really the best case scenario as far as impact would be for them to be able to run with new designs on their own. Unfortunately, as a brand, we have to ask them to be respectful to our unique designs, meaning that they should not copy exactly what we have designed together. This hurts my heart a little every time!

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Thus… we’re off to creating a safe space of sharing creative ideas and having fun – among international textile lovers with unique experiences and backgrounds and rural artisans thirsty for new ideas. It’s win-win for everyone.

<Read more on Birds of a Thread>

XOXO,

Mari

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Indigo San Juan

Shibori scarves

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mari with indigo shibori

Reviews of textile adventure in Guatemala

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“Guatemala has been on my textile travel wish list for years, so when I spotted Mari’s trip I snapped up the opportunity and oh what a treat it turned out to be! Antigua is an absolute delight, but it was extra special being taken off the beaten track by Mari into the rural villages and meeting the wonderful artisans and cooperative groups in their homes. The workshops were a highlight and it was a privilege to spend creative time with the charming and very patient artisans who happened to be great cooks too! An unexpected bonus being treated to their traditional homemade dishes. At all times, I felt totally safe and reassured in Mari’s capable and calm hands plus traveling in a small group was really pleasant. The moment I left, I longed to return, thank you Mari, it was textile heaven! “

-Ricky

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We’re honored that a couple of participants of our Textile Travel from last year shared their experiences with us. Thank you 🙏

This  year’s trip also incorporates new ideas gained from last year’s first adventure, and feedback based on slowing down a little bit to have more time to take in all the beauty and textile techniques, and debrief with more energy in our group setting. Accordingly, we’ve also added new workshops like our pomom and tassel-making at our favorite cozy hotel in Antigua.  Learn more about this year’s trip here.

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“Traveling with Kakaw was such a fantastic experience. I loved that the other participants were as excited as I was about really learning new skills. The individual instructors were master weavers, dye artists, and embroiderers, and being welcomed into their homes for meals and workshops was such a great experience. The whole trip was really thoughtful and well planned. I came away with a few new skills and a pronounced appreciation for the work that goes into the beautiful textiles of Guatemala.”

-Amanda

 

This year we have two itineraries available:

Creative Textile Adventure: August 1-9

The Quetzal Adventure: August 8-14

Sign up in February and receive $150 off as an early-bird offer. Bring a friend, and get $100 off each too 🙂 Email mari@kakawdesigns.com for more information.

 

Xoxo,

Mari

El Chucho Feliz – what is that?

We’ve come together with El Chucho Feliz this season to bring you a holiday bundle for your furry friend and human. Learn more about the bundle here. Below is a lovely post by Lea, who is working on the beautiful collars for El Chucho Feliz in Guatemala. I can vouch for how much Mayo is loved by all the dogs in Guatemala – she’s one of Berry’s favorite humans for sure. -Mari

Who doesn’t love dogs? We’re proud to say we are 100% dog people!  Here in Guatemala, just like in North America, there are slang words for our doggie friends. Here’s your Spanish lesson of the day –

CHUCHO – (pronounced chew-cho) Guatemalan slang for dog.

You’ll find that hardly anyone calls dogs perros (proper Spanish) – here in Guatemala. If you aren’t familiar with the term ‘chucho, you are not alone. But it makes sense when you understand that it’s the same as the way people in North America say ‘Pup’ for example. So, El Chucho Feliz = The Happy Dog! How cute is that?

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El Chucho Feliz was founded by our designer Marjolaine Perrault. Marjolaine (aka: Mayo) is a certified veterinary technician from Montreal. She is also a dog trainer, and spent years working with veterinarians without borders in Guatemala where she fell in love with the country. The exotic atmosphere, fresh fruits and flowers, incredible erupting volcanoes and lush green jungles finally led to her moving to Guatemala in 2011. Seriously – whats not to love about this country? If you have been to Guatemala – you know what we are talking about!

Soon after moving here she started El Chucho Feliz, offering dog training services that quickly expanded to doggie play dates and then boarding. Over the years she has successfully become a second Mom to hundreds of happy dogs!

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Canela, the lucky “chucho” who is now happy with Lea 💗

 

Mayo also has a slight obsession with Guatemalan textiles and decided to try combining her love for them with her love for dogs. She began working with artisans to create leather dog collars using beautiful up-cycled Guatemalan textiles.  She is constantly on the hunt in the local markets, searching for gently used, quality textiles from local women. She collaborates with these local artisans to bring these hand made products to our customers and their happy pups! Focusing on high standards in order to create unique hand made items, built to last.

Since Mayo is seriously busy with business constantly growing,  that’s where I come in! My name is Lea and I was raised in Los Angeles by Guatemalan & American parents. I studied Visual Communications and Design at FIDM in LA. I moved to Guatemala 4 years ago and Mayo and I met because she is second dog mom to our beautiful street ‘chucho’ – Canela- and the rest is history! I am here to make sure things run smoothly! We never created a job title – but that is typical here. And it works for us!

 
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“Gimme my treat, human!” psssst that collar looks nice on Canela!

Find us:

Etsy – TheMayanDog 

Instagam – @chuchofeliz 

Facebook – El Chucho Feliz

Email – themayandog@gmail.com

Not to be confusing- but in a few places we are called The Mayan Dog- easier at first glance than explaining what a ‘chucho’ is! We are delighted to be working with Kakaw on this collaboration. We hope you’ll love the work we created together as much as we loved doing it for you! 

Kaleido Collection: Beautiful forms in a beautiful country

<I’m super psyched to announce something brand new for us. I shared a little bit about the difficulties being away from artisans, and the idea for Kakaw Designs has always been to support talented artisans in Guatemala. With that in mind, we’re excited to be adding gorgeous handwoven cushion covers by Kaleido Collection onto our website this Fall. Emmy shares her honest story about the how and why behind her new brand, take a look! -Mari>

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Emmy practicing her backstrap weaving skills during Textile Travels – she joined us for a workshop 🙂

I first came to know and live in the beautiful country of Guatemala through working at an NGO focused on coffee communities. Working in a small town primarily made up of small-scale agriculture, I worked alongside coffee producers and got to know the skilled work and art of coffee. Along the way, I met several artisans, some who have generations of craft experience and others who are newfound makers. What started as purchases and custom-made requests for myself turned into a desire to share these beautiful forms with others while supporting talented artisans.

Let’s start at the beginning. It’s hard not to notice the colorful and intricate textiles found throughout Guatemala. Sadly, many people, both visitors and chapines, don’t know the hours of meticulous work and faces behind these woven pieces. I was one of those people that admired woven and embroidered textiles but didn’t truly understand all that went into producing a piece. Not to mention that there are a multitude of different processes and techniques. That’s part of what makes Guatemalan textiles so amazing.

Picking up the textiles with Francisca

Picking up textiles with Francisca

<I interrupt to give a virtual high-five for anyone who can spot a custom Kakaw textile in this shot 😉 -Mari>

My first visit with the Corazon del Lago weaving cooperative was a trip to San Juan la Laguna at Lake Atitlan with my sister. Like many visitors, we came for an afternoon to check out the little shops that line the main road up from the dock. Little did I know at the time that my first scarf purchase from one of those little shops would grow into something more. A year later, I found out that it’s the same cooperative that Kakaw Designs works with. Through Mari I was introduced to Francisca, the co-op president, and I set up a natural dyes demonstration to get a glimpse of the process behind botanical-based dyes. My inner environmentalist was intrigued by the amazing, vibrant colors that plants can produce.

In talking with Francisca, it’s clear that the co-op has benefited many women in the community but like many businesses in Guatemala, it’s not easy to grow in an economy that is often reliant on the ebbs and flows of tourism. Through my work with community tourism in coffee communities, economic markets tied to tourism and agriculture harvest seasons are stories that aren’t uncommon to hear. Diversification is essential.

Over time I began to learn more and more about the world of Guatemalan textiles and the skilled people that make it happen. It also meant that I was acquiring more woven pieces ranging from huipiles from one of the textile shops in Antigua and learning where they are from to requesting custom sewing orders from Elvia, an expert seamstress who I’ve worked with through the coffee organization. One of my favorite personal pieces I have worked with Elvia on has been pillow covers, of which there have been several iterations with the most recent being the collaboration with the weaving cooperative!

In Elvia's home studio - Lavender Love is her favorite

In Elvia’s home sewing studio – Lavender Love is her favorite

Throughout all this, I had never really thought about starting a business. After getting to know several brands that collaborate with artisans like Kakaw Designs, I realized that it wasn’t such a far-fetched idea. So begun the idea of not just buying pieces for myself, but to contribute to other market avenues for artisans, albeit small. I still have a lot to learn, but I figured that the worst failure would be never trying.

The word Kaleido means beautiful form in Greek. I found it fitting, as there are so many beautiful things in Guatemala – the breathtaking landscapes, detailed craftsmanship and especially the gracious and hospitable people.

Artisan relationships are the heart of Kaleido Collection. Valuing artisans’ work and time is unfortunately not the norm for many of the things we consume and buy. Kaleido Collection hopes to be a small part of that change along with many other like-minded organizations and brands that seek to make just and dignified work the only acceptable practice.

I hope you enjoy these pillows as much as I have enjoyed the journey in producing them!

 

<see more of the beautiful cushion covers online>

 

Textiles

Are you in Guatemala? Join our textile fun, even just one workshop.

We are opening our creative textile workshops during Textile Travels  to those already in Guatemala! Come learn more about the textile traditions of the beautiful Maya country, and practice some of the techniques yourself. Get creative, have fun, exchange ideas to benefit artisans and participants alike.

These workshops also include home-cooked meals and local visits to experience authentic village life. Cultural exchange through shared passions in textiles.

Interested? Let me know! Email mari@kakawdesigns.com

 

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Textile discovery embroidery class1

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