The art of weaving in Peru is the oldest in the world, going back almost 10,000 years. It was invented long before pottery, around the same time as agriculture. It originally begun in the Andes with simple spun fibres, then to cords and nets, and by 500BC, weaving in Peru had developed into the more complex weaving techniques that we know today. The Incas, who had no form of written communication, then used these techniques as a method of identity and communication.
Weaving has been a part of Peruvian social organisation for centuries. Designs and colours vary greatly from one community to another. It communicates many things including personal and community identity, status and economic situation. Weaving also incorporates many metaphors that the Quechua People use to represent the relationship they have with their physical and spiritual world – Pachamama.
Like everything, everywhere around the world, traditions are changing. Old methods and materials are giving way to new, cheaper ways of doing things. At the famed Chinchero markets in Peru’s Sacred Valley, tourists come to visit one of the last authentic Indigenous villages in the area, but they still want to grab a market bargain. This has led many to turn from traditional handmade weaving techniques to using cheap synthetic materials, mass produced by machinery in Cusco in order to satisfy the tourist market.
The petroleum industry in countries like Peru and Ecuador has also played a part in changing the face of weaving. For centuries there were local barter markets for natural fibres produced from sheep and alpaca wool, and native plants. The industry recently introduced to the market cheap synthetic fibres often used in their operations, at the disadvantage of local producers of natural fibres. These materials are detrimental to both cultural heritage and the environment.
At The PachaMama Project we work with cooperatives and organisations like the Centro de Textilos Tradicionales del Cusco and Cusco’s Awana Wasinchis who use natural materials and strive to keep these important cultural traditions alive. Artisans set the wholesale price and are paid 80 percent.
At the Centro de Textilos the older generations teach the younger to weave, preserving designs and patterns that have been handed down over centuries, and producing practical, contemporary items. For these weavers it’s also an important aspect of economic development, providing jobs, skills and incomes to men and women of the region.
Today, traditional weaving in Peru is not just simply about art and identity, but it is also about using this important tradition to help sustain family and community livelihoods, and preserve ancient cultural heritage.