The oldest known textiles found to date in the Americas are fragments of six woven textiles and cordage discovered in Guitarrero Cave in northcentral highlands of Peru. The weavings, from plant fibers, date to between 10100 and 9080 BCE.
In the South American Andes, wool came from camelids, primarily llamas and alpacas that were both domesticated by about 4,000 BCE. In the Inca Empire of the Andes, women did most of the weaving using backstrap looms to make small pieces of cloth and vertical frame and single-heddle looms for larger pieces.
Andean textile weavings were practical as well as symbolic and of ceremonial importance. They were also traded, used as currency and tribute, and as an indicator of social class and rank. Sixteenth-century Spanish colonists were impressed by both the quality and quantity of textiles produced by the Inca Empire. Some of the techniques and designs are still in use.
The Awamaki project is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization in Peru that works to empower women’s associations. It partners with eight artisan cooperatives in the rural Peruvian Andes that still use methods such as the backstrap looms to create traditional textiles. They provide women with training and vital access to global markets not previously available to them.
“I founded Awamaki in the belief that income in the hands of women is the best way to lift communities out of poverty,” said Kennedy Leavens, founder and executive director of Awamaki.
The objective of Awamaki, a Quechua word that means hand weaving, is to help women develop a sustainable source of income to increase their families’ quality of life and opportunities. The textile cooperatives weave, knit, spin and sew. Awamaki offers these women training in quality control, improved skills, product development and business.
A Seattle native, Leavens launched Awamaki in early 2009 with two staff members, a handful of volunteers and ten women weavers. The focus was on connecting women artisans to markets through a store and wholesale business, and through a tourism program.
Today nearly 200 women are learning not only how to survive in this fast-paced world, but how to improve their lives and the lives of their children. Most of them have been working with fabrics since they were small, learning the craft in their Andean communities. Awamaki supports the women in becoming leaders who can help transform their communities.
In the heart of these Quechua communities, you can engage with these women through an impactful and intimate community visit to learn more about the pre-Incan weaving traditions and the remarkable Andean indigenous culture that has managed to survive. You learn about backstrap weaving and how it relates to their culture and history. You will receive a demonstration of the entire process, beginning with how alpaca or sheep wool is hand spun into yarn, how local plants are used as natural dyes, and finally how the yarn is woven into the final product. After the demonstration, you also have the opportunity to try weaving yourself.
You can add this rewarding encounter to almost any Peruvian itinerary such as Peru Andes Adventure by Train.
This project is part of our ongoing commitment to global sustainability. For more about sustainable travel in Latin America, visit www.galapagos.com.
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