In the Urubamba Sacred Valley located in the Andean Mountains of Peru, the high altitude causes the temperature to be cool so warm clothing is a matter of necessity; but clothing can also be a matter of identity and ties to historical roots.
The residents of the valley are proud of their ancestors who built large cities and ruled an empire before the arrival of the Spanish. Cusco was theirs until the Spanish built their colonial buildings on their foundations. Machu Picchu remained hidden and when re-discovered 100 years ago gave us a picture of how truly advanced they were.
The fabrics and textiles reflect this heritage with red being a predominant color and patterns differentiating various indigenous groups they evolved into works of art with precious textiles being handed down from generation to generation and the skill to make them handed down from mother to daughter.
As tourists arrived they saw the quality of the textiles in the native dress and wanted to take some fabric home and the people were happy to oblige. As the volume of tourists increased it became easy to outsource the production to machines but the quality declined and the true collectors noticed and stopped buying. With demand dropping the young girls no longer learned the skills and moved to the lowlands to seek other work. This exodus was accelerated during the time of the “Shining Path” insurrection.
All was not lost however because of a young girl from the town of Chincero. Her name is Nilda Callanaupa. As a young child she showed a knack for weaving and this was encouraged by the village and at the young age of 14 she was giving demonstrations in the United States including the Smithsonian. Her talents got her to university, the first in her village to do so. While it would have been easy to stay in the big city she decided to return to the Sacred Valley and put her talent and education to work.
Nilda founded The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco with two main objectives. First, preserve the old ways of weaving by teaching the young girls how to create the intricate patterns. Second, establish a cooperative where those products could be sold with the benefits accruing to the weavers not middle men. The school is open to all young girls in the area but they need to wear traditional garb to apply. When they had learned their craft they now had an income and an incentive to put down roots.
This did not just benefit the girls however since an entire support structure was created. Older women were sought for their knowledge in weaving which they passed on to a new generation, others raised llamas and alpacas for wool, others collected plants for the dyes that created the dramatic colors while still others spun the wool into yarn ready for the weavers. Instead of tourist artifacts they became works of fashion and art much like the material for a Sari or Kimono. Revenue from the sales also paid for a women’s shelter, a gallery to display the finest works and a museum.
All of this came about because Nilda Callanaupa knew how to weave and how to dream.
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