In the high regions of the Peruvian Andes, at altitudes exceeding 4000 metres, women work at their loom just like their ancestors did since time immemorial.
They are part of the Quechua people and live in remote villages nestled in the shadow of some of the highest peaks in South America. Here the soil is extremely poor. The only crop that grows consists of several varieties of potato.
To help their families make ends meet the women spend time weaving alpaca wool garments and accessories embellished with images from their natural world and the symbols of their ancestral religion. The weavers use a wichuna or Llama bone to create designs incorporating quintessential symbols of their heritage. Motifs depicting lakes, rivers, plants, condors and the gods of the ancient Incas come alive on their looms.
These traditional crafts have inspired designers from around the world. Some of the creations that take shape in the rarefied atmosphere of the Western haute couture’s ateliers have had their origins in the humble abodes of Quechua women in a far-away land few know much about. These women place the stories of their lives into textiles, communicating and preserving important cultural traditions. In this way they record their present and the legends of their ancient world.
I first learnt about the Quechua people and their skills while I was visiting a museum in Cusco. The curator noticing my interest in the textiles before me was kind enough to explain the origin and meaning of these magnificent pieces. He then told me that he was about to take a trip to record the stories of the women whose ancestors had most probably created these beautiful museum pieces. I timidly asked if I could join him, his wife an archaeologist in her own right and the team. To my delighted surprise he agreed. On the journey I discovered a rural and pastoral world of vast richness. Meeting the weavers and hearing their stories was a rare privilege that gave me insight into a wonderful world of colours, myths and human experiences most visitors miss in their rushed pursuit to tear through the popular sites they have read about in popular travel magazines.
“In the shadow of the Peruvian Andes a precious tradition lives on”