Over 12 months ago the women of the weaving associations had suggested to us that they would like to visit and learn from other weavers.. It had taken a year to organize but on November 11th 2009, the women of Rumira Sondormayo were to visit the weaving villages of Choquecancha and Ccachin. They chose these two villages, located down the Valley from Lares, in a group meeting a few months earlier.
Weaver Association of Rumira Sondormayo visit Choquecancha
A 3.30am departure from Cusco had the Threads of Peru team bleary eyed, but when we got to Rumira Sondormayo to pick up the women of the weaving association they were all dressed in their best and bright eyed, peering about, full of anticipacion.
So off we headed, our convoy of two cars filled with 14 women and two babies, with our first stop in Calca to repair a flat. Politically, its always useful to use someone’s family in these things – in this case the second car we had hired was our weaving teacher, Agustina’s cousin… and whose car had a flat straight away.
In the Calca market, tourists en route to somewhere, stared at our colourfully dressed ladies as they scampered excitedly around buying treats that are not usually available to them. I guess one never forgets that they are unique, but seeing them through the tourist’s eyes was a wake up call.
As we climbed towards the pass, a stroke of luck meant we could see the Centre of Traditional Textile’s Awana Wasi at Accha Alta in operation. We visited their beautiful building and our women shyly spoke to the weavers. Their weavings are incredibly beautiful and their poise was quite assured, very different than our ladies who seemed overawed by something that in our eyes was quite simple. Urbano, our community liaison person, at this stage, “got it.” A broad grin stretched across his face as he exclaimed, “this is cultural exchange!”
It was 5 hours drive to arrive at Choquecancha, our first visit… a pretty long trip by our standards, but the women sat bolt upright, looking around and out the windows with intense curiosity. Mainly, they were silent, only occasionally exclaiming about something or another. Choquecancha has an amazing Inca wall within the village and ruins all about. By some bad communication (fairly typical of Peru) the women had thought we were arriving the week earlier and so had prepared an extensive dying demonstration for us… but this week their presentation was the “light” version. They do not use imported indigo to make blue but have developed their own blues using two different plants. They also explained how their association is structured and that they sell via Casa Campesina in Cusco.
Agustina, our weaving teacher and also organizer of the visits, was in a rush to get over to Ccachin, on the other side of the valley. She was originally from Ccachin and we were to visit her cousin Paulina, the president of a weaving association. Again, you wonder to what extent politics played a part in our brief and somewhat unorganized visit to Choquecancha.
Regardless, the women were happy to go – the insididious jungle biting insects were playing havoc with them, some had blood running down their legs from the bites.Before we left, Paulina and Juliana rushed off with one of the women of Choquecancha – we got a glimpse of dirty unwashed wool being carried away and some time later they returned with a sack of beans and maiz. It was the most emotion that the women had showed in the whole time in Choquecancha, and evidence of trade happening. (in fact the most emotion that the women showed during the whole trip was during ‘shopping’ time – they all bought beans while in Ccachin and there was some more trade going on too).
The drive to Ccachin is breathtaking – probably a 1000metre descent and then another 1000 metre climb on a torturous road with precipe like cliffs. The weaving association here was not nearly as organized as across the Valley – but with some prodding they got a weaver set up and some weavings out… then came a massive two course lunch – maiz cream soup and lisas with the stomach of some animal… Smile and keep telling them how delicious it is! The conversation in Ccachin was probably the most valuable for our weavers, as they explained their organization. Of course, most of the conversation in Quechua goes well over our heads… ! However, for me, the importance of Corredor Cusco Puno in capacitacion came up again and again. Also Paulina proudly showed us a prize she had won in a nationwide weaving competition… The importance of ‘concursos’ or shows has also been evident in a number of visits now – to get recognition you need to compete with your weavings. The return drive – less time with fewer stops – was a stark contrast to the drive there. The women giggled constantly, chatted and were very excited. At a pit stop Mercedes and Marina worked hard with stones cutting up a dead looking plant – excitedly explaining it was very good for a sick stomach and infection – which is what Mercedes’s sister Mattiasa has (and precluded her from taking the field trip). Maybe they were relaxed or maybe they were just happy to know they were going home?
Paulina admires the range of wools available in Ccachin