Wild Fibers - - TABLE OF CONTENTS - Story and Pho­tos by Linda N. Cor­tright

More than 500 weavers f rom around the world took to the streets i n Cusco, Peru, cel­e­brat­ing the an­cient tra­di­tions of their craft, and dis­cov­er­ing a com­mon thread.

At 4:00 p.m., a pa­rade of nearly five hun­dred fully cos­tumed indige­nous weavers is sched­uled to march up Main Street. At 4:15 p.m., the front of the line is ready. The back of the line is not. Un­like New York’s an­nual Macy’s Thanks­giv­ing Day Pa­rade, which runs with Swiss pre­ci­sion (a con­trac­tual im­per­a­tive to ap­pease its TV spon­sors), the pa­rade of weavers gath­ered in Cusco, Peru, to kick off the sec­ond Tinkuy de Te­je­dores (A Gath­er­ing of Weavers) is un­der no such dic­tate. The pa­rade will start when ev­ery­one is ready and not a mo­ment be­fore.

In a part of the world where punc­tu­al­ity is no­tably a low pri­or­ity, the grow­ing crowd of on­look­ers doesn’t seem the least bit an­noyed. Just watch­ing the as­sort­ment of men and women (who have not had the ben­e­fit of a col­lec­tive dress re­hearsal) try­ing to as­sem­ble along side streets and al­ley­ways is en­ter­tain­ing. There is no hint of Hollywood per­fec­tion ham­per­ing the charm of this grass­roots effort. Weavers dressed in lay­ers of bright at­tire fea­tur­ing ev­ery shade of the Pan­tone Color Chart anx­iously jog about the crowd look­ing for their iden­ti­cally clad fel­low marchers. There are more than a dozen men from the Sal­lac com­mu­nity scat­tered about wear­ing long-sleeved green shirts the color of Ker­mit the Frog. How can they pos­si­bly not find one an­other?

At the front of the pa­rade line stands Nilda Cal­lañaupa, founder and pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter of Tra­di­tional Tex­tiles of Cusco (CTTC), lead­ing spon­sor of the three-day event. Nilda is flanked by four board mem­bers of An­dean Tex­tile Arts: Linda Ligon, founder of Interweave Press and au­thor of sev­eral books on An­dean tex­tiles; Mar­i­lyn Mur­phy, owner of Cloth Roads and for­mer pres­i­dent of Interweave Press; and Jannes Gib­son and Betty Doer, both aca­demic ex­perts on An­dean tex­tiles. The women carry a large white ban­ner that spans the width of the street an­nounc­ing the Tinkuy de Te­je­dores 2013. It may not ri­val the stature of a sixty-foot he­lium-filled Mickey Mouse bal­loon ca­reen­ing through Man­hat­tan, but who can take the crowds?

Even­tu­ally the band strikes up the cer­e­mo­nial march­ing tune (or some­thing close thereto), and they’re off: smiling, wav­ing, cheer­ing, and danc­ing down Main Street like any other group of spir­ited in­di­vid­u­als united by a com­mon cause, ex­cept these peo­ple aren’t like any other group. They rep­re­sent South Amer­ica’s bright­est light for keep­ing its An­dean tex­tile tra­di­tions alive: a mis­sion that de­fines the very core of the Tinkuy.

Os­ten­si­bly, the pa­rade be­gins at 4:00 p.m. (or a few min­utes there­after). How­ever, the seed for Tinkuy was planted nearly thirty years ago when Nilda seized upon the frag­ile na­ture of her na­tive weav­ing tra­di­tions and de­vel­oped a des­per­ate urge to save it.

Born and raised in Chinchero, twenty miles from Cusco, Nilda took her nim­ble hands and sharp mind and be­gan to rekin­dle (and re­dis­cover) pat­terns and tech­niques of an­cient An­dean weav­ing, which in many in­stances had been bas­tardized into cheap air­port art. She started with one com­mu­nity—her own—and be­gan teach­ing the other weavers to use the tech­niques em­blem­atic of their own com­mu­ni­ties. The re­sult was a grow­ing col­lec­tion of wo­ven “thumbprints” echo­ing cen­turies of the weavers’ na­tive her­itage. As Nilda took the teach­ing model from her own com­mu­nity and adopted it to an­other, and an­other, and an­other, she even­tu­ally formed CTTC: a weav­ing co­op­er­a­tive made up of nine pri­mary com­mu­ni­ties and five hun­dred ar­ti­sans, nearly half of whom are chil­dren be­ing taught the an­cient ways by their el­ders.

Born into a tra­di­tional fam­ily where a girl’s ed­u­ca­tion was given scant at­ten­tion, Nilda grad­u­ated at the top of her class and went on to study at the Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley. She is a pow­er­house in the world of indige­nous weav­ing, a de­scrip­tion that seems con­trary to her soft-spo­ken de­meanor. In fact, at no time dur­ing the pre-pa­rade pan­de­mo­nium did Nilda ap­pear even par­tially

flum­moxed, and when she took her place at the head of the pa­rade she smiled with joy—not ego.

The pa­rade moves slowly up the street, pass­ing by the Qurikan­cha (Tem­ple of the Sun) on one side, and on the other, the usual ca­coph­ony of honk­ing horns and street chat­ter emerg­ing from four lanes of traf­fic tem­po­rar­ily com­pressed into two.

I quickly run up to the front of the pa­rade to cap­ture what I hope will be the per­fect pa­rade shot. And then I dance be­fore the masses.

At this mo­ment the spirit of the Tinkuy takes hold. The Ar­gen­tines are tapping their tango-trained soles. The Bo­li­vians are do­ing a lit­tle shake-shake thing. The Mex­i­cans are rais­ing their own lit­tle rum­pus, and Dayab­hai’, the lone weaver from In­dia (who has never be­fore set foot out­side his coun­try) is mer­rily bob­bing his head as if the songs came straight from Bol­ly­wood.

Tinkuy de Te­je­dores should have been named the Tinkuy quickly run down the street to cap­ture what I hope will be an equally per­fect shot of the pa­rade from be­hind. And then I run back up to the front of the pa­rade as it turns the corner and en­ters into Plaza de Ar­mas, where each group of weavers pauses in front of the Cathe­dral of Santo Domingo. and does a tra­di­tional dance. As I lift my cam­era with its mighty lens to fo­cus, my hands shake un­con­trol­lably. It is too much run­ning for some­one who landed at 12,500 feet only hours ago.

I snap a few shots, but they are worth­less. Even the cam­era’s im­age sta­bi­lizer can’t coun­ter­act the ef­fects of my slow ac­clima­ti­za­tion, and I re­solve to stop be­ing a jour­nal­ist for just a few min­utes and en­joy the show.

The weather is bless­edly per­fect. The rains that typ­i­cally visit at this time of year for even an hour have held off. The num­ber of spec­ta­tors has con­tin­ued to grow, in­fus­ing the par­tic­i­pants with even greater pride. As the last per­son ar­rives at the end of the pa­rade route (the square out­side the con­ven­tion cen­ter where the Tinkuy will be held), the band plays on.

The weavers soon be­gin clap­ping in rhythm, and be­fore long ev­ery­one’s hands have picked up the beat. An im­promptu round of danc­ing be­gins as Nilda is gen­tly co­erced to de los Pies Fe­lices –A Gath­er­ing of Happy Feet.

Even­tu­ally, the mu­sic stops. The air falls silent. The on­look­ers leave. And as the skies be­gin to darken, the tem­per­a­ture drops. The gath­er­ing of weavers moves in­side the con­ven­tion cen­ter for the start of the three-day con­fer­ence. Few, if any, un­der­stand the mag­ni­tude of what is about to hap­pen.

It isn’t pos­si­ble to overem­pha­size Nilda’s com­mit­ment to pre­serv­ing an­cient An­dean tex­tile arts, which also in­clude tra­di­tional knit­ting pat­terns. The men and women who cre­ate mag­nif­i­cent pon­chos and color­ful hats, shawls, belts, and bags spend months se­lect­ing, scour­ing, spin­ning, dye­ing, and ul­ti­mately weav­ing gar­ments that make them ex­perts at their craft. But they have lit­tle ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the unique na­ture of their art in the west­ern world.

For most of the as­sem­bled weavers, this is their first time in Cusco. For many, in fact, this is their first time ven­tur­ing so far from their vil­lage. They have heard about the other com­mu­ni­ties in­volved with CTTC. They have seen pic­tures, and in some cases they have met with out­side in­struc­tors along the way. But now they are all to­gether. Not only are they min­gling with other indige­nous weavers from Peru, but

Two weavers from the Salac com­mu­nity.

also with those from all over South Amer­ica and be­yond.

In­side the con­ven­tion cen­ter the air is warmer, but not much. I no­tice that none of the weavers ap­pear cold. As usual, the tourists are the ones who don’t know how to dress.

In honor of the Tinkuy, and un­doubt­edly as a huge bow of re­spect to Nilda and her work, the Mayor of the City of Cusco is sched­uled to speak. Sev­eral other lo­cal govern­ment of­fi­cials have also been in­vited, and a com­mon theme soon evolves: pre­serv­ing Peru’s unique cul­tural iden­tity. At one time, Cusco was the epi­cen­ter of the In­can Em­pire ex­tend­ing from Chile to Columbia, a sta­tus even­tu­ally usurped by the Span­ish Con­quis­ta­dors. And in a karmic swing of the pen­du­lum, Cusco is once again pre­par­ing to re­luc­tantly sur­ren­der its power.

Juan Car­los Gomez, Mayor of Chinchero, ad­dresses the crowd with a speech that seems po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated. Plans for an in­ter­na­tional air­port in the com­par­a­tively small town of Chinchero have re­cently been ap­proved, and con­struc­tion has al­ready be­gun. Within four to five years, Chinchero will be­gin wel­com­ing visi­tors able to fly di­rectly into the an­cient high­lands with­out hav­ing to change planes in Lima. (The air­port in Cusco of­fers only do­mes­tic routes.)

No one dis­putes that the new air­port will bring eco­nomic op­por­tu­nity to this agrar­ian com­mu­nity, which not only has its own mod­est show­case of In­can ru­ins but also, ac­cord­ing to leg­end, is the birth­place of the rainbow!

But not ev­ery­one agrees that de­fac­ing one of the most scenic vis­tas with miles of tar­mac in the heart of the Sa­cred Val­ley is a wise de­ci­sion (a sce­nario fur­ther com­pounded by the dis­heart­en­ing fact that hun­dreds of lo­cal fam­i­lies are be­ing dis­placed through the pur­chase of 359 hectares of farm­land to com­plete the project).

Ap­par­ently, there are also loud griev­ances from hote­liers and restau­ra­teurs in Cusco, who worry that many tourists will now choose to by­pass Cusco com­pletely in fa­vor of trav­el­ing di­rectly to Machu Pic­chu, the An­dean honey­pot of tourism.

Af­ter the mayor’s lec­ture, one weaver com­ments that the peo­ple and the land in the Sa­cred Val­ley are one. “If you de­stroy one, you de­stroy them both,” she tells me through a trans­la­tor. An­other weaver sug­gests that as Cusco con­tin­ues to fall un­der the spell of West­ern­iza­tion (strangely, there’s only one Star­bucks in town), “They [the weavers] will all have to work harder to pre­serve their tra­di­tional iden­tity.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, this au­di­ence of an­cient tex­tile ar­ti­sans, aca­demics, and en­thu­si­asts re­in­forces the credo: all that glit­ters isn’t gold.

The evening closes with a per­for­mance of pro­fes­sional singers and dancers. What they lack in deci­bels from the ear­lier recital they make up for in tal­ent. I walk back down the hill to my ho­tel con­tem­plat­ing the changes afoot in

this fa­bled land. I try to en­vi­sion a daily fleet of Boe­ing 777s thun­der­ing over the Tem­ple of the Sun, and I try to imag­ine hives of buses of­fer­ing their tarry clouds to the In­can deities. But nei­ther vi­sion makes for a peace­ful night’s sleep.

The fol­low­ing morn­ing, Nilda stands at the con­ven­tion cen­ter’s podium to in­tro­duce Dr. Jorge Flo­res Ochoa, one of the fore­most au­thor­i­ties on An­dean cul­ture spe­cial­iz­ing in the study of Quechua and Ay­mara peo­ples Like many of her fel­low Peru­vians who hail from the high­lands, Nilda is not par­tic­u­larly tall and must ad­just the mi­cro­phone sev­eral times to keep it from ob­struct­ing her fore­head.

“Buenos dias” she be­gins her ad­dress, speak­ing in her na­tive tongue as those of us non-Span­ish speak­ers quickly ad­just our head­sets to chan­nel one for the English trans­la­tion.

Nilda con­tin­ues speak­ing very slowly, and I as­sume it is for the trans­la­tor’s ben­e­fit. A tech­ni­cal glitch cre­ates an awk­ward de­lay in trans­mis­sion. As she con­tin­ues talk­ing while the sound en­gi­neer fran­ti­cally sorts out the chan­nel re­lay prob­lem, I no­tice her voice from the podium is, in fact, be­gin­ning to fade. Soon, tears start fall­ing painfully down her cheeks.

The au­di­ence lets out an an­guished breath as Nilda re­ports the un­ex­pected death of Dr. Chris­tine Fran­que­mont; who, along with her late hus­band Ed Fran­que­mont had spent much of the last thirty years as an an­thro­pol­o­gist, work­ing and liv­ing in the An­des. Chris­tine had flown down to Cusco from her home in New Haven, Con­necti­cut, to par­tic­i­pate in a panel dis­cus­sion on An­dean Tex­tiles. Her at­ten­dance at the Tinkuy was pro­fes­sional, but for many of the peo­ple in the room Chris­tine was also a close friend. For Nilda and her mother, Chris­tine wasn’t like a mem­ber of the fam­ily, she was fam­ily. With equal parts grief and rev­er­ence, Nilda ded­i­cates the Tinkuy de Te­je­dores 2013 to her beloved friend, Dr. Chris­tine Fran­que­mont.

The en­tire con­fer­ence bows their heads in a mo­ment of si­lence. No one wants to be­lieve that Chris­tine will not be there.

When Dr. Jorge Flo­res Ochoa as­cends the podium dressed in a char­coal pin­stripe suit with a rich brown scarf tucked in­side his shirt like a hand­some as­cot, the crowd is still hushed with sad­ness. His dark at­tire un­der­scores the somber mood, but the sense of grief doesn’t last. There is too much ex­cite­ment bun­dled in­side ev­ery hand-wo­ven cape and fancy fe­dora strewn about the room, creat­ing the im­pres­sion of a spin-art can­vas from an old-fash­ioned ar­cade.

“If we don’t un­der­stand our­selves, and if we do not iden­tity our­selves, than we are not Peru­vians.” Dr. Flo­res says.

Food and dress are two valu­able ways of dis­tin­guish­ing dif­fer­ent cul­tures, and if this were a con­fer­ence on Slow Food, there would be spicy hu­mi­tas and hot em­panadas fill­ing the aisles. In­stead, the fiber ar­ti­sans in­tently bear wit­ness to Dr. Flo­res Ochoa’s sen­ti­ments. His words make them pull back their shoul­ders and sit ex­tra-tall in the con­ven­tion cen­ter chairs, which I sus­pect are in­ten­tion­ally de­signed to keep peo­ple awake re­gard­less of the topic at hand.

Make no mis­take; ev­ery­one at the Tinkuy is here to talk about weav­ing. But Dr. Flo­res Ochoa em­pha­sizes the big­ger pic­ture: the wild fibers pic­ture.

At pre­sent, ap­prox­i­mately three mil­lion al­pacas live in Peru. The al­paca and the llama are the only two do­mes­ti­cated camelids from South Amer­ica. Den­tal records and ad­vanced mi­to­chon­drial test­ing in­di­cate that both the llama and al­paca de­scended from a sin­gle camelid species 6 mil­lion years ago. That an­i­mal mor­phed into the two-non-do­mes­ti­cated species we know to­day: the gua­naco and the vicuña.

For thou­sands of years these South Amer­i­can camelids weren’t just the bread and but­ter of the fiber in­dus­try; they were the bread and but­ter. They were hunted for their meat and prized for their pelts. Their dung was a ready source of fuel, and vir­tu­ally no sac­ri­fice to the deities was com­plete with­out at least one camelid re­lin­quish­ing its last breath.

Con­sid­er­ably smaller in stature than their cousins the lla­mas, al­pacas were raised for their long soft fiber. They still bear a re­sem­blance to the dainty vicuña, which pos­sesses the finest fiber of all the camelids.

Al­ter­na­tively, the llama, which typ­i­cally tips the scale at 300–400 pounds, was val­ued for its abil­ity to hump and haul. Lla­mas can pack from one-quar­ter to one-third of their body weight, en­abling their own­ers to trans­port sub­stan­tial amounts of food and sup­plies across the high peaks of the An­des. (And I can’t even lug around a cam­era!)

When Span­ish leader Fran­cisco Pizarro am­bushed the Inca at the Bat­tle of Ca­ja­marca (1532), suc­cess­fully cap­tur­ing the Inca ruler Atahualpa (whom the Spa­niards later killed), it ini­ti­ated the con­quest of the Inca civ­i­liza­tion, and with it, the near dec­i­ma­tion of its al­paca pop­u­la­tion.

For the next cen­tury, the Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors slaugh­tered mil­lions of al­pacas in an effort to strip away the In­cas’ source of food and fuel, and with it, the cul­tural iden­tity em­bed­ded in their cloth­ing.

For­tu­nately, Quechua and Ay­mara herders man­aged to keep the con­quis­ta­dors from find­ing all the al­pacas and suc­cess­fully se­questered a small pop­u­la­tion in the high alti­plano, which is so vast and in­hos­pitable, even the per­sis­tent con­quis­ta­dors left a few stones un­turned. Had it not been for these re­mote herds the al­paca would surely have be­come ex­tinct.

Al­paca fiber comes in 22 nat­u­ral fla­vors, a di­rect re­sult of cen­turies of se­lec­tive breed­ing. They are still a valu­able source of pro­tein, and quite ten­der when cooked just right. Their dung is still used to fuel fires, and they are still of­fered to the gods in time-hon­ored rit­u­als, a topic art­fully nav­i­gated dur­ing Hugh Thom­son’s pre­sen­ta­tion, “Cochineal Red, The Color of Peru­vian His­tory.”

Cochineal, the once-lu­cra­tive dye de­rived from a

cac­tus-eat­ing in­sect the size of a Chi­clet, has an­cient roots in Peru, which cur­rently pro­duces two hun­dred tons of the dye per year. The deep car­di­nal red de­rived from the fe­male bug is smashed and stirred to even­tu­ally cre­ate one of the foun­da­tional col­ors in tex­tile his­tory. With few ex­cep­tions, ev­ery one of the weavers, in­clud­ing me, has at least a few dead bugs on their back.

How­ever, Mr. Thom­son’s pre­sen­ta­tion af­fords scant time to this lit­tle arthro­pod. In­stead, he shares tales from his ex­pe­ri­ence as one of thirty thou­sand pil­grims par­tic­i­pat­ing in the an­nual Qoyl­lu­rit’i, loosely trans­lated, “the fes­ti­val of the snows.” By Mr. Thom­son’s def­i­ni­tion, Qoyl­lu­rit’i is an ex­treme fes­ti­val. Held in May or June (late fall in the Southern Hemi­sphere) the fes­ti­val draws many pil­grims, who travel by car or bus to Mahuayani, south­east of Cusco. From there, they must then make the re­main­ing five-mile climb on foot, ul­ti­mately reach­ing 15,000 feet.

Qoyl­lu­rit’i lasts for three days and nights; it is called un mata­dor, a killer. Mu­sic blares like that of rock stars amped on acid. Dancers stomp the ground as if the earth is on fire. Ev­ery­one takes shel­ter in a sim­ple tent, or maybe a small sheet of plas­tic. It snows. It hails. And at the end of this hellish ad­ven­ture marked with lit­tle sleep and over­run toi­lets, the diehards march all night long through the moun­tains, end­ing at 17,000 feet on a glacier, where they sing and dance some more.

Preg­nant women save up their last bit of big-belly breath to come to Qoyl­lu­rit’i, hop­ing to give birth dur­ing the freez­ing ca­coph­ony, guar­an­tee­ing them an abun­dance of gifts and aus­pi­cious bless­ings. Sur­viv­ing the all-night march is an Olympian feat; at­tempt­ing it with child seems in­sane.

Qoyl­lu­rit’i is un­like many other An­dean fes­ti­vals, and not be­cause of

its du­ra­tion or lo­ca­tion. Qoyl­lu­rit’i is a non-drink­ing af­fair, which seems un­char­ac­ter­is­tic in a cul­ture (Quechua) that has more terms for dif­fer­ent stages of drunk­en­ness than any other. Mr. Thom­son cau­tions the crowd (whose nonPeru­vians aren’t ex­actly rush­ing the stage to sign up for the ad­ven­ture) that any­one caught im­bib­ing will be handed over to the au­thor­i­ties: the ukukus.

Ukukus are the of­fi­cial guardians of the fes­ti­val and have a rep­u­ta­tion for le­niency on par with the guards at Guan­tanamo. Ac­cord­ing to Quechua mythol­ogy, the ukuku are the off­spring of a woman and a bear, and greatly feared for their su­per­nat­u­ral pow­ers. (Think of a rag­ing black bear with PMS.)

De­spite the con­ver­gence of tribal cos­tumes and para­nor­mal bears, Qoyl­lu­rit’i is touted as a Catholic fes­ti­val dat­ing back to 1780, when an im­age of Je­sus ap­peared on a boul­der af­ter the death of a young shep­herd boy. How­ever, the An­dean peo­ple had wor­shipped the earth and the moun­tains in this very spot long be­fore they were seized by Chris­tian con­querors.

As with many things re­lat­ing to indige­nous cul­tures, in­clud­ing the clus­ter of tra­di­tional Inca weav­ing de­signs rep­re­sented in the room, there is an in­evitable mea­sure of ex­ter­nal in­flu­ence that seeps slowly into the story. Nowhere is that more ev­i­dent than in the weav­ings of Mae­stro Máx­imo Laura, one of Peru’s most cel­e­brated weavers, who among many in­ter­na­tional awards has re­ceived the pres­ti­gious Manos de Oro (Golden Hands) of Peru award.

When Máx­imo Laura ad­dresses the crowd, im­ages of his work ap­pear on a gi­ant screen be­hind him, show­ing al­most no trace of tra­di­tional An­dean geo­met­ric pat­tern­ing. The elegant shades of red and blue used in nearly ev­ery an­cient weav­ing de­sign have van­ished. Máx­imo Laura’s work has a color in­ten­sity that ap­proaches stri­dent, one of the hall­marks of his unique artis­tic style.

At first glance, Máx­imo Laura’s ta­pes­try weav­ing seems com­pletely di­vorced from the time-hon­ored de­signs of his an­ces­tors (see Máx­imo Laura, page 20). Or is it? As one crowded ex­otic scene un­folds into the next, de­pict­ing ser­pents and sooth­say­ers in fierce geo­met­ric forms, Máx­imo Laura’s work feels like an oth­er­worldly mar­riage be­tween Dante’s Inferno and the rap­ture of the Re­nais­sance. But that is only at first glance.

Upon closer in­spec­tion, and guided by Máx­imo Laura’s thought­ful ex­pla­na­tion, much of his weav­ing re­volves around themes taken from An­dean his­tory, us­ing highly styl­ized tra­di­tional iconog­ra­phy. He has taken the foun­da­tions of cen­turies-old weav­ing de­signs, mod­ern­ized them, per­son­al­ized them, and re­leased them on to the stac­cato stage of mod­ern art.

“I look for a lan­guage that em­anates spir­i­tu­al­ity, aes­thetic beauty, and lyri­cism,” he ex­plains. Máx­imo Laura’s

work as a con­tem­po­rary artist has gained tremen­dous in­ter­na­tional ac­claim but leaves an au­di­ence of pre­dom­i­nantly tra­di­tional Peru­vian weavers gripped with cu­rios­ity.

As a suc­ces­sion of speak­ers high­light im­por­tant chap­ters in An­dean his­tory and note var­i­ous weav­ing tech­niques from other parts of the globe, it seems the most pop­u­lar parts of the con­fer­ence are the cof­fee breaks!

Twice a day, in both morn­ing and af­ter­noon, ev­ery­one files into the con­ven­tion cen­ter court­yard. Men and women tot­ing hand looms, knit­ting nee­dles, and drop spin­dles soon roost in the stone en­clo­sure, trans­form­ing the out­door arena into one gi­gan­tic fiber studio. The very same ar­ti­sans who have been march­ing down Main Street are now twist­ing and twirling mounds of wooly stash into skeins of to­tally touch­able hand­spun yarn.

It is cap­ti­vat­ing to watch an Ar­gen­tinian weaver care­fully craft her de­sign on one loom and see a Mex­i­can weaver em­ploy­ing a com­pletely dif­fer­ent tech­nique on her loom just three steps away. Less than eight feet from the Mex­i­can weaver, half a dozen men (still in their Ker­mit at­tire) are sit­ting to­gether on a step as if they were old neigh­bors gath­ered on a stoop in Brook­lyn. But these guys all hap­pen to be knit­ting us­ing such in­tri­cate pat­terns that the av­er­age knit­ter (male or fe­male) wouldn’t even at­tempt a con­ver­sa­tion si­mul­ta­ne­ously, at the risk of drop­ping a stitch.

Tinkuy de Te­je­dores is a daz­zling spec­ta­tor sport, not only for the au­di­ence of for­eign­ers and ca­sual en­thu­si­asts but also for the weavers, who share en­thu­si­as­ti­cally with one an­other us­ing the loom as their com­mon lan­guage. I re­peat­edly see one weaver study­ing an­other’s tech­nique, with lit­tle or no need for ver­bal ex­pla­na­tion. Dayab­hai from In­dia has brought a floor loom with him, and at any given time there is a crowd at least three or four peo­ple deep sur­round­ing him as his bare feet tap the trea­dles, mov­ing the har­nesses up and down. The back­strap weavers are mes­mer­ized. They study the floor loom’s sim­ple con

struc­tion, and though it af­fords

greater com­plex­ity of weave, it doesn’t roll up like a win­dow shade and fit eas­ily into the blan­kets tied on their backs. Dayab­hai’s loom may be fancy and full of po­ten­tial, but for the Peru­vian weavers, it bombs in terms of porta­bil­ity.

The amount of time the or­ga­niz­ers have al­lot­ted for a cof­fee break clearly isn’t enough. For those at­ten­dees who don’t hap­pen to have a loom or a pair of knit­ting nee­dles on their per­son to whip out and start work­ing, or, who sim­ply aren’t even in­clined to in the first place, the en­tire perime­ter of the court­yard is filled with ven­dor booths sell­ing fiber-based prod­ucts of ev­ery de­scrip­tion from the as­sem­bled ar­ti­sans. For­tu­nately, none of them take credit cards.

Dur­ing one of the cof­fee breaks I chat with sev­eral weavers from Chumbivi­la­cas. They live in the southern part of the Peru­vian An­des in an area I’m not fa­mil­iar with. I ask them what it is near and they just shake their heads and say, “Noth­ing.” I ask if they have ever been to Cusco be­fore, and again they just shake their heads and say, “No.” Fear­ful the con­ver­sa­tion is fall­ing into a bad pat­tern, I ask what they like the most about the con­fer­ence, and they in­stantly be­gin chat­ter­ing on top of one an­other. “Okay. Okay. One at a time,” I plead. Is­abela speaks first. “I love meet­ing so many peo­ple!” She barely fin­ishes her sen­tence be­fore mov­ing on to the next. “There are weavers from all over Peru! I have never seen so many weavers! There is even a man here from IN­DIA!” (He is likely just as as­ton­ished at be­ing in Peru as the Peru­vians are at hav­ing him here.) I ask Is­abela how long it took to get to the con­fer­ence, and she pauses for a mo­ment, count­ing up all the hours on three dif­fer­ent bus trips. She fi­nally says, “Eigh­teen hours.” Then she goes back to talk­ing ex­cit­edly about all the dif­fer­ent weavers. “Did you sleep on bus?” I ask. “No! I was too ex­cited about com­ing here,” She an­swers. “Do you miss your fam­ily?” And the mo­ment she lets out yet an­other em­phatic “No,” she stops and cov­ers over her mouth with her hand. “Yes, I mean of course I miss them.” But there is lit­tle doubt, at least in my mind, that Is­abela is hav­ing such a good time at the Tinkuy, she doesn’t have time to feel home­sick.

I turn to Is­abela’s friend, Malena, and ask what com­ing to the Tinkuy means to her. “Mar­ket­ing,” She says. “Mar­ket­ing?” Malena then goes on to talk about the im­por­tance of sell­ing her weav­ing to the global mar­ket. “We make beau­ti­fully wo­ven blan­kets. They are all orig­i­nal de­signs from our an­ces­tors. But if we can’t mar­ket them and sell them, then we can’t make money.”

Malena looks over at Is­abela, who is nod­ding in agree­ment. They have at­tended a ses­sion on mar­ket­ing strate­gies, cost, and com­pe­ti­tion. The money they could po­ten­tially

earn from sell­ing their weav­ing on the global mar­ket is more than just tempt­ing: it bor­ders on se­duc­tive.

Fear­ful that dol­lar signs will trump their artis­tic in­tegrity, Malena seems to read my mind. “Peo­ple try to copy our weav­ing. They make cheap im­i­ta­tions. It’s not even wool! You can­not make An­dean weav­ing in China. Only we can make the real blan­kets and pon­chos. It is in our blood. It is our iden­tity.”

The last day of the Tinkuy, Judy Frater, founder of Kala Rak­sha, head­quar­tered in Kutch, In­dia, spoke to the crowd. Ms. Frater has ded­i­cated the past forty years of her life work­ing with ar­ti­sans from Kutch, world-renowned for their mir­rored em­broi­dery de­signs. Sim­i­lar to Nilda’s work with CTTC, Kala Rak­sha is ded­i­cated to pre­serv­ing unique em­broi­dery styles em­blem­atic of spe­cific re­gions and cul­tures.

From its sim­ple be­gin­nings in 1993, Kala Rak­sha now works with nearly one thou­sand women in twenty-five vil­lages, pro­vid­ing ap­pro­pri­ate mech­a­nisms to mar­ket and sell tra­di­tional Kutch crafts at a fair mar­ket price. Yet, de­spite Kala Rak­sha’s con­tin­u­ing suc­cess, Ms. Frater be­lieves a vi­tal piece of the puz­zle is miss­ing. “The im­por­tance of tra­di­tional craft is un­ques­tion­able. But it is just as im­por­tant to look for­ward and em­power tra­di­tional ar­ti­sans to cre­ate their own de­signs. They need to cre­ate things that are rel­e­vant to to­day’s con­sumer while hon­or­ing their unique tra­di­tions.”

Kala Rak­sha Vid­hyalaya, the first de­sign school for ar­ti­sans in Kutch, was cre­ated in 2005, pro­vid­ing them with tools and knowl­edge to ex­pand their creative ca­pac­ity and sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove their stan­dard of liv­ing.

The weavers lean for­ward in their chairs, study­ing the im­ages on the big screen as Ms. Frater speaks, show­ing In­dian women in brightly col­ored dress and big bold jew­elry bent over a ta­ble of new de­signs drafted on trac­ing paper.

There is si­lence in the room. Their weavers’ minds are rac­ing as they imag­ine the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

For three long days indige­nous ar­ti­sans have shared time and knowl­edge with an­other. They’ve sat through lec­tures. They’ve gath­ered in work­shops. They’ve had plenty of cof­fee breaks (drink­ing tea), and they’ve met peo­ple from far-away lands. In many ways, it has been just as they’ve imag­ined. But what they couldn’t know from the mo­ment they were march­ing up Main Street was how much the Tinkuy would teach them about them­selves.

Never have so many peo­ple gath­ered in one area to honor their work. To hear noted au­thor­i­ties from around the world val­i­date the im­por­tance of their craft has filled them with an un­shak­able sense of pride.

The Tinkuy de Te­je­dores has been more than a gath­er­ing of weavers (with happy feet), it has been a gath­er­ing of sweet hu­man­ity hon­or­ing the keep­ers of an­cient tra­di­tions tread­ing tire­lessly in the mod­ern world. With­out ques­tion, it has

wF been a wild suc­cess.

A weaver from the Patabamba com­mu­nity and her child march­ing in the pa­rade.

The pa­rade be­gins with the or­ga­niz­ers car­ry­ing the Tinkuy de Te­je­dores brief dance recital in front of the Cathe­dral of Santo Domingo.

2013 sign up Cusco’s Main Street fol­lowed by a

Te­je­dora weavers were un­mis­tak­able in their blue pleated skirts and lace-up boots.

Left: Two weavers in­spect­ing Dayab­hai’s loom dur­ing his ab­sence. Right: Dayab­hai, bare­foot and happy.

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