As the APEC leaders' summit begins tomorrow, eight women in the town of Donihue have been busy weaving "chamantos" for the leaders, who will wear the poncho-like traditional garment for the official photograph scheduled for Sunday.
The making of the traditional costumes of Chilean cowboys, or "huaso," takes about three to four months, according to Flor Ilic of the Crafts from Chile Foundation. The foundation is chaired by the Chilean first lady Luisa Duran de Lagos, who was responsible for choosing the gifts for APEC leaders and their spouses.
The women in Donihue, an agricultural town of 2,500 and about an hour-and-a-half drive away from Santiago, worked more than eight hours a day to weave silk thread and wool into such symbols as grapes, apples, limes, blackberries and the copihu -- Chile's national flower. The garment is finished with ribbon edging.
"Every chamanto is different in color and design," said Ilic, a 29-year-old native of Santiago.
Milenko Skoknic, a chief organizers of the APEC summit, said the gift is to convey a part of Chilean tradition.
"Each one of these chamantos contains an important emotional component, because it embodies a legacy that is part of our national heritage and is passed on from generation to generation," he said.
The difference between the chamanto and other ponchos is its reversibility, as both sides are fully finished. Traditionally, the darker side of the chamanto is worn during the day, while the lighter side is mostly worn at night.
"The weaving women at Donihue were proud to make the chamantos for the APEC leaders because they usually sell only one chamanto a year ... now they have a lot of work to do," Ilic said, adding that the foundation started working with the town at the beginning of this year.
While the chamantos designed for the APEC leaders cost about US$1,400 a piece, the price for regular chamantos can cost as little as US$400.
"Not many people buy chamantos nowadays because they usually get them from their parents or grand-parents," she said.
Although there are 21 economic leaders, only 20 chamantos were ordered, according to Ilic.
"The Chilean leader, President Ricardo Lagos, will wear his own chamanto given to him by the mayor of Donihue last year when he visited the town," Ilic said.
"[President Lagos] was so fond of the beautiful gift that he thought it would be a perfect gift for the APEC leaders this year. He assigned his wife to take care of the matter."
There are two sizes of chamantos, Ilic said -- the standard and the small size. The foundation ordered about four or five smaller-sized chamantos. Female chamantos are usually smaller, lighter in color and more feminine in shape, she said.
While APEC leaders will get chamantos, the wives of state leaders will get silk scarves and leaders' husbands will received art pieces.
The silk scarves are hand-made and hand-painted by a Chilean woman artist. Paintings on the scarves include Chile's blue sea and sky as well as Aboriginal icons.
The gifts for leaders' husbands are a pair of silver Aboriginal figures, Hualuchos, which are considered by Chileans as guardians and protectors.
Other gifts include a gift box filled with three art pieces made by two contemporary Chilean woman artists. The art works, made out of paper, depict the landscapes and unique wildlife of Chile's northern, central and southern regions.