Weaving New Tithes
On the Avenida del Sol, just a few blocks from Cusco’s marvelous Plaza de Armas, the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC) plans to recreate the lost Incan way of life. It was here that the Spanish constructed Catholic cathedrals and imported celestial painters to rewrite Incan history. Weaving is a way of life for many, but how does one make it a livelihood?
CTTC is a non-governmental organization working to open a sales outlet and museum in Cusco, to set up a functional Web site, to computerize inventory and accounting systems, and to bring greater appreciation for indigenous textiles within the region. Pictured are weavers from Chincheros which means “birth place of the rainbow” in Quecha, the indigenous language of Peru. When the Spanish invaded, the villagers lit the buildings on fire, afraid of being conqueror. The villagres did not want their positions to be in the hands of the invaders, so they were willing to sacrifice them.
CTTC's goal is to increase the incomes and strengthen the management capacity of approximately 250 weavers in six community associations, about eighty percent of whom are women. Men typically do not weave. “They are invited to participate,” added NildaCallañaupa, executive director, “and often times do, but once they get teased by the women, then stop.” Only in the town of Pitumarca are men involved in this traditional process. Their community association has 35 active male weavers.
The organization is using natural fibers to produce dyes and applying them to old designs and patterns. Focusing first on recreating chochimil, made from crushing lady bugs, makes a deep red color which can easily be modified by adding acid from lemons. Indigo was next, but was difficult to obtain because the plants had been destroyed in the region. Some of the same natural dyes used by the weavers were also used in the floral designs painted on the Chincheros cathedral ceiling and walls more than 400 years ago.
CTTC was formally founded in 1996, but the first such weaving cooperative became active than 24 years ago in Chincheros. A typical piece, about the size of a table runner, sells for about $80 dollars US. From this price CTTC must pay 18 percent state tax and the community associations pays two percent into savings and seven percent for upkeep the store in Cusco. Chincheros local markets have supported three percent of CTTC total sales. Chincheros weaving association used the first profits to buy customary dresses and hats for the girls and women; the following year, the women bought pots, plates and flatware for their families.
Saturdays are the days that Chinchero weaving association meets to practice their craft. CTTC picks up the girls and women in the morning with their van, provides them with lunch and brings them home late in the afternoon. Most of the weavers spend the eight hour day hunched over their back-strap looms, gossiping and exchanging techniques. During the week, the weavers work on their projects, but it is Saturdays which they cherish. Many young people learn to weave as part of their cultural heritage.