December 14, 1996

The Parts of Life-an issue of Development Dialogue, 1996

The Parts of Life Agricultural Biodiversity, Indigenous Knowledge, and the Role of the Third System By Pat Roy Mooney

Development Dialogue is published by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.



On my part of the Canadian prairies the activity is fading but the memory remains of the quilting bees. Women (local history records that men occa- sionally joined in) would gather in someone’s farm kitchen to set the theme for a quilt (a heavily-padded bed-covering comprised of many individually- stitched patches sewn together). Once the theme was negotiated, the women might either sew together or just agree to meet when their patches were completed for the final sewing.

It’s an image I like very much. Each person selected her own materials, made her own design, and was responsible for her own patch. In the end, the pieces came together to form a remarkable whole. There’s hardly a museum or art gallery in Canada that doesn’t boast of some of these quilts and the best of them have toured internationally—to mingle with their counterparts in Europe or Africa. Was the theme dictated? Did one ‘queen bee’ lay down the law and the others submit? Undoubtedly this happened, at least occa- sionally. I prefer to think—and there is reason for it—that decisions regard- ing theme and the final arrangement of the patches were just one more pro- cess of community living and negotiation. Sometimes creative, fulfilling, and democratic—sometimes not. But it was, in the end, a community pro- cess and all the remaining tales about the quilting bees are invested with a kind of curmudgeonly comfort that overwhelms even our customary habit of viewing all things rural through a bucolic haze.


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