High above Cusco, Peru, in an area called the Sacred Valley, sits a cluster of Quechua villages steeped in a rich tradition of textile weaving. For over two thousand years, textiles have been used by the Quechua, Peru’s indigenous people, not only to make a living, but also to illustrate the geography and history of their land and to record and pass on cultural and personal narratives.
Nilda Callanaupa is a master weaver and native of Chincero, one of the valley’s strongest remaining weaving villages. Growing up in the 70s, she learned to spin yarn from her grandmothers at five years old; at six years, she was weaving patterns; and by adolescence she was creating expert belts and mantas, like the one hanging on the wall to your right as you enter Mestizo, Andina’s bar.
Like her ancestors, much of Callanaupa’s identity was woven into her textiles. But she noticed her peers didn’t exactly feel the same way. Most of her generation had lost interest in weaving while those who were practicing were working with acrylic yarn and artificial dyes to quickly and cheaply make and sell pieces to tourists, instead of using the hand spun and naturally-dyed llama, alpaca and sheep wools that their ancestors had used.
Each weaving village uses unique patterns and techniques. Because the Quechua culture is primarily an oral one, very little of this ancient knowledge has been recorded. As village elders passed away without Callanaupa’s generation around to absorb the knowledge, it was at risk of being lost forever.
Callanaupa began traveling throughout the region to collect textile samples and interview village elders. In her own village, Chincero, she started an informal weekly group, which met to weave and exchange techniques. Her individual act of preservation, begun almost 30 years ago, has since blossomed into a globally supported vision: the Centro de Textiles Tradicionales del Cusco (CTTC), which houses a weaving workshop, product showroom and a small, detailed museum on Quechua weaving and culture.
CTTC supports Andean highland weaving traditions by bringing women and men from surrounding villages together to weave, share techniques and sell their work at the prices it deserves. Weaving traditions are passed onto the next generation through the Jakima Club, a program that pairs elder weavers with young women. Named after the thin woven bands that Quechua children learn to make when they first start weaving, The Club encourages children to get involved by hosting themed weaving competitions. Through another program in Chincero, children interview elder weavers, hearing first-hand how and why weaving is important to their futures.
By transforming a dying art into a source of income for many rural families, Callanaupa has helped to preserve an ancient cultural heritage and offered a sense of independence to the local weavers who no longer have to work with middlemen to sell their goods. But perhaps most importantly, she has helped to re-engage a generation of young weavers who no longer feel compelled to leave behind their villages and traditional ways of life.
For more information, visit http://www.incas.org.
Encuentro de Tejedores de las Américas
This October, CTTC will host the first Encuentro de Tejedores de las Américas, or Gathering of Weavers of the Americas, at Cusco’s Municipal Convention Center. The gathering will bring weavers from all over the Americas together to weave, exchange knowledge and build fellowship. For more information, visit http://www.textilescusco.org/.