All in a Day’s Journey to Huacatinco Village

Sometimes it pays to take the road less traveled. Such is the case when it’s the only road to the village of Huacatinco in the Ocongate region of the Cusco highlands of Peru. In February, ATA board members Betty Doerr, Jan Gibson, and Marilyn Murphy, along with CTTC director Nilda Callañaupa, and her husband Paulino, traveled to the most remote of the CTTC artisan communities. Huacatinco joined CTTC in 2013. This marked the first time ATA board members would see the newly-built community center made possible through a generous donation from Patricia Zilinski, in memory of her mother, Ann DeKam. The mighty Ausangate mountain frames the landscape. Light-colored dots in the distance become sheep and alpacas upon closer inspection. The terrain, verdant now from all the rain, will brown by September. The paved road switchbacks down then up, and repeats this way for three hours. If you continue on this road, you’ll get to Lake Titicaca. But we turn off before, onto a well-trod dirt/mud, bumpy road sometimes hardly wide enough for two cars, ford over five flowing streams, until we’re greeted by two men dressed in colorful beaded garb. They hop into the back of the cab for the final climb up to 14,500 feet until we arrive at the weaving center. This wasn’t at all what we were expecting. Nilda told us we would get there about 11:00, meet some of the artisans, see the Center, and have a simple lunch home before the long drive back to Cusco. ‘Twas not the case. Upon arrival, we were greeted by four musicians, the president of the association, and Santos, the center’s Elder. Not knowing how to act, we lagged behind Nilda taking photos when they clearly wanted us to move along. The community men greeted us first (in Spanish, not the Quechua we had practiced on the drive up), followed by the women each welcoming us with a slight handshake and close-to-cheek hello. The young women were simply stunning in their full dress. We were led into the adobe building’s meeting room, shown our seats on low benches near the front wooden table. The association’s officers filed in, taking their seats behind the table, followed by the rest of the men, with the women and children entering last. Meanwhile, the musicians played and we just gawked at all the colorful beaded, embroidered, knitted, and woven garments. (We did find out that this day was the anniversary day of the village as well, so all this finery probably wasn’t just for us.) Artistry Santos told us that many times he walked past the Center for Traditional Textiles in Cusco, seeing the finely-crafted knitting and weaving in the front windows, the artisans demonstrating, and tourists buying. He was determined that his village become a part of this and tried to figure out how. He had to convince both his community as well as CTTC that this would be right for both groups. It was years in the making. When they finally became members, the group was mostly active with men who did fine-gauge knitting of alpaca hats. Women were weaving for themselves and family but not much. One of the conditions for them to become an association within CTTC was to revitalize their dyeing and weaving and create products to increase their economic base. And it’s happening!
The newly built community center with meeting room and kitchen. The weaving shelter is the open structure on right.
The embellishing of garments with beads started in the 1980s, probably inspired by the embroidery done on their vests and jackets. Knitting has been done here since the 16th century, and the multi-colored intricately designed knitted hats, some made from handspun alpaca, have become laden with beads. One hat may have a kilo of white beads sewn on after knitting. These knitted hats are worn by men, but the women have adopted beading to their hats too by adding it to the beaded cords, called watanas. These richly embellished and colorful garments are now their traditional festive clothing and are not sold, although we heard they take special orders. Speeches For the next hour, we learned more. Juan, the association’s president spoke, “Thank you for opening the door for the U.S. We live in such a high altitude location and are so isolated that few people come visit us. It was pressure for us to finish the Center but it is the nicest building in the community.” Others followed him with short welcomes, Nilda translating Quechua and Spanish into English. We spoke, thanking them, letting them know that many people will know about them. A middle-aged woman spoke, “How good it is to see women come here and speak with us, to thank us.” The musicians played between each speech. Our presents of bread, coca leaves, school supplies, lotions, etc. were given out. We were gifted with handwoven scarves and knitted hats. Thinking it was time to see the rest of the center’s buildings, we got up but instead of leaving we were escorted to the front table, served a hot lunch of pumpkin soup, potatoes, rice, and a high-protein mash of lupine seeds. Now it was time to see the artisans in action, and out to the work shelter we went. Work Time By now, they were comfortable with us and in usual group get-togethers, much chatter and laughter ensued. Out came their spinning, knitting, and weaving. One older woman was deftly weaving a very intricate pattern on a backstrap loom while another fed her coca leaves. The newly formed youth group was seated together and knitting. We were introduced to them and one proud father asked us to take a photo of him and his daughter, who was the secretary of the group. It was good to see three young girls as officers.
A backstrap weaver works on an intricately patterned runner.
After many group photos by us and them, we hurried our goodbyes as the rain storm was moving in. quickly. A woman hopped in the back of the cab for a ride down to the paved road. And sure enough, within minutes of reaching blacktop, the rain pummeled down. What a true honor to have been the first Americans to visit the Huacatinco weaving shelter, and to have been welcomed into the richness of CTTC’s newest association. If you’d like to show your support for this community, you can make a donation through Andean Textile Arts and note that it’s to help with the finishing touches of the center.
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