A New Generation of Chahuaytire Weavers Bridges Past and Future

Two young Andean weavers, Elisban and Oscar, live among the remains of ancient civilizations. Near their homes, pre-historic cave paintings can be found and circular pre-Inca structures called chullpas—most likely tombs—rise towards the heavens. Their Peruvian village, Chahuaytire, is located along an old Inca road that once transported potatoes and other products from the Andean highlands to eastern low-land jungles, where the goods were traded for coca leaves, fruits, coffee, natural dyes, and more.

In their ancestral home, Elisban and Oscar are very aware of their community’s cultural past and its importance, even as the world around them rapidly changes. They are among the young people who are keeping their community’s age-old weaving traditions and artistry alive.

For both, their interest in weaving is grounded by family. “I learned to weave watching my mother and using her weaving tools,” Oscar explains. “I began weaving watanas (narrow ribbons that hang from hats) when I was thirteen. Everyone in my family knows how to weave: my dad, mom, brothers, sisters, and myself.”

In Elisban’s family, he and his granddad are the ones who now weave the most. “My mom does a little. My dad doesn’t know how to weave,” he says. “I started to weave by watching my brother and because it is a beautiful handicraft. My brother used to weave nice scarves but he had to work in Lima as a driver, so he stopped doing it. I took his place.”

Men in Chahauytire specialize in ley (supplementary warp-faced weave) that requires a great deal of skill, patience, and time to pick up and drop the many threads required to create the patterns. They use this technique to weave primarily ponchos. Women of the community work with the even more labor-intensive complementary warp-faced weave, a pre-Columbian technique that produces designs on both sides of the textile, with colors reversed.

“Ley’s designs are made always with a wich’una (a pick-up stick made of llama bone),” says Oscar. “This tool has to have a very smooth fine end. It can also be done with qiwiña tree (polylepis incana), but it must be dry; otherwise it can break the fibers. With the kaullas (weaving swords), we press the fibers down tightly.”

This beating process is important, Elisban explains. “We have to press down the fibers very well. Otherwise it appears like mesh, with many holes,” he says. “Ley’s design represents mountains. There are also other designs such as t’ata, heart, and inti chakana.”

Weaving hasn’t always been easy for Oscar and Elisban. The patterns can be difficult to learn and the process challenging. The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC), with ATA support, has been there to help, offering workshops and educating young weavers on traditional weaving techniques.

This assistance has made a difference for both young men, who say that weaving helps them in their daily lives. “I feel skilled and proud when weaving,” explains Elisban. “Spinning and weaving increases your intelligence. We practice mathematical reasoning when we weave. When we combine colors, we are learning how to make calculations.”

Selling their woven pieces, with the help of CTTC, also provides self-worth and financial benefits. “Weaving helps us to be better people and also improves our economy,” says Oscar. “For example, we can buy our school uniforms and have some spending money. I also have extra to give to my mom.”

Oscar likes to use bright colors to make large fabric such as ponchos, blankets, and mantas. (His Chahuaytire weaving community is known for its stunning color combinations.) Elisban weaves primarily ponchos, pieces that allow him to showcase his textile culture, especially when he wears them himself. “I prefer to wear my traditional Andean clothes,” Elisban says. “In Cusco, they easily know our place of origin when we wear our Andean clothing.”

Not everyone, however, feels the same as Elisban. “Now, young people don’t want to wear ponchos,” he explains. “They are ashamed of our traditional hand-made outfit. They reason that they must not wear Andean clothing once they learn Spanish.”

Elisban has also seen a decline in young men joining Chahauytire’s weaving group. “The women are more consistent and dedicated to weaving,” he says.

Still, Oliver and Elisban imagine a bright future for weaving. “I think we are going to be better weavers moving forward,” says Oscar. Elisban agrees: “We have time to improve our weaving because we are still young. We also have the responsibility of teaching the younger weavers.” Both are determined to continue the progress made to recover their community’s ancient weaving traditions—techniques and designs that have been practiced and passed from generation to generation since the ancient structures surrounding Chahuaytire were new.

Translation provided by Flora Galván

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Two young Andean weavers, Elisban and Oscar, live among the remains of ancient civilizations. Near their homes, pre-historic cave paintings can be found and circular pre-Inca structures called chullpas—most likely tombs—rise towards the heavens. Their Peruvian village, Chahuaytire, is located along an old Inca road that once transported potatoes and other products from the Andean highlands to eastern low-land jungles, where the goods were traded for coca leaves, fruits, coffee, natural dyes, and more.

In their ancestral home, Elisban and Oscar are very aware of their community’s cultural past and its importance, even as the world around them rapidly changes. They are among the young people who are keeping their community’s age-old weaving traditions and artistry alive.

For both, their interest in weaving is grounded by family. “I learned to weave watching my mother and using her weaving tools,” Oscar explains. “I began weaving watanas (narrow ribbons that hang from hats) when I was thirteen. Everyone in my family knows how to weave: my dad, mom, brothers, sisters, and myself.”

In Elisban’s family, he and his granddad are the ones who now weave the most. “My mom does a little. My dad doesn’t know how to weave,” he says. “I started to weave by watching my brother and because it is a beautiful handicraft. My brother used to weave nice scarves but he had to work in Lima as a driver, so he stopped doing it. I took his place.”

Men in Chahauytire specialize in ley (supplementary warp-faced weave) that requires a great deal of skill, patience, and time to pick up and drop the many threads required to create the patterns. They use this technique to weave primarily ponchos. Women of the community work with the even more labor-intensive complementary warp-faced weave, a pre-Columbian technique that produces designs on both sides of the textile, with colors reversed.

“Ley’s designs are made always with a wich’una (a pick-up stick made of llama bone),” says Oscar. “This tool has to have a very smooth fine end. It can also be done with qiwiña tree (polylepis incana), but it must be dry; otherwise it can break the fibers. With the kaullas (weaving swords), we press the fibers down tightly.”

This beating process is important, Elisban explains. “We have to press down the fibers very well. Otherwise it appears like mesh, with many holes,” he says. “Ley’s design represents mountains. There are also other designs such as t’ata, heart, and inti chakana.”

Weaving hasn’t always been easy for Oscar and Elisban. The patterns can be difficult to learn and the process challenging. The Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC), with ATA support, has been there to help, offering workshops and educating young weavers on traditional weaving techniques.

This assistance has made a difference for both young men, who say that weaving helps them in their daily lives. “I feel skilled and proud when weaving,” explains Elisban. “Spinning and weaving increases your intelligence. We practice mathematical reasoning when we weave. When we combine colors, we are learning how to make calculations.”

Selling their woven pieces, with the help of CTTC, also provides self-worth and financial benefits. “Weaving helps us to be better people and also improves our economy,” says Oscar. “For example, we can buy our school uniforms and have some spending money. I also have extra to give to my mom.”

Oscar likes to use bright colors to make large fabric such as ponchos, blankets, and mantas. (His Chahuaytire weaving community is known for its stunning color combinations.) Elisban weaves primarily ponchos, pieces that allow him to showcase his textile culture, especially when he wears them himself. “I prefer to wear my traditional Andean clothes,” Elisban says. “In Cusco, they easily know our place of origin when we wear our Andean clothing.”

Not everyone, however, feels the same as Elisban. “Now, young people don’t want to wear ponchos,” he explains. “They are ashamed of our traditional hand-made outfit. They reason that they must not wear Andean clothing once they learn Spanish.”

Elisban has also seen a decline in young men joining Chahauytire’s weaving group. “The women are more consistent and dedicated to weaving,” he says.

Still, Oliver and Elisban imagine a bright future for weaving. “I think we are going to be better weavers moving forward,” says Oscar. Elisban agrees: “We have time to improve our weaving because we are still young. We also have the responsibility of teaching the younger weavers.” Both are determined to continue the progress made to recover their community’s ancient weaving traditions—techniques and designs that have been practiced and passed from generation to generation since the ancient structures surrounding Chahuaytire were new.

Translation provided by Flora Galván

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