The Master Weavers of Choquecancha, Peru, have a long history of craftwork.
Located within the lush, mountainous Lares region of Peru is the extremely remote village of Choquecancha. With a population of about 200 indigenous people, Choquecancha is steeped in history. The remains of a big Inca tambo, or fort, is still located in the main square which serves as a meeting place for locals and produce vendors. Stone homes with tin roofs are nestled high within the valley, while packs of surprisingly well-taken-care-of stray dogs roam the rocky pathways that connect the structures within the village. Those who call Choquecancha home are curiously friendly and welcoming people. They are a community of native Quechua speakers who continue the same cultural traditions that began even before the Incan Empire. One such tradition is textile weaving.
Doña Marìa, the head weaver of Choquecancha, is referred to as the Guardian of the Natural Dyes to those at Mountain Lodges of Peru, a luxury-adventure tour group that has cultivated a symbiotic relationship with the women of the village in order to share their expertise and works of art with visitors. Doña Marìa graciously receives visitors into her home with fresh flower petals, hugs, and kisses.
INSIDER TIPThe trek to Choquecancha is fairly long. Take Dramamine if you get car sick easily, as the ride to the village is not paved.
Textile weaving is integral to both the livelihood and cultural identity of the Choquecancha people. In addition to providing income, textiles also provide a means of telling stories, sharing feelings, preserving memories, and recollecting history. For the women of this village, weaving is a way of life and their techniques have been passed down from generation to generation, without any written knowledge. The weavers who hold this knowledge now are the only people who can preserve it and keep the tradition alive for future generations.
INSIDER TIPWear hiking boots and light layers, as weather can shift quickly in the mountains. Bring bug spray.
Weaving is done utilizing a backstrap loom, one of the oldest forms of loom in the world. The loom is completely non-mechanized and uses one’s body to keep the tension necessary to weave. The weavers have been able to preserve this labor intensive knowledge for centuries.
The weavers continue to create beautiful textiles without any modern technology. Doña Marìa says their inspiration comes from the ancient textiles. The Choquecancha weavers repeat the patterns and designs they learned from their grandmothers growing up. Because of this, Choquecancha works are distinct from those of other regions in Peru. In Choquecancha weaving, you see animals like condors, jaguars, pumas, tigers, and even bears due to their proximity to the jungle.
Since at least 2500 BCE, weaving has been crucial to Peruvian culture. What weavers wear is indicative to who they are and where they came from. Moreover, different styles of dress are used to differentiate between regions. Each town features their own unique clothing characteristics and various patterns and themes woven in to the textiles are used to show social status.
The process of weaving is intricate and begins long before a weaver even sits in her loom. Because the weaving process is so complex, women begin learning how to weave as young as six to eight years old. From this early age, the weavers begin to memorize step-by-step techniques and intricate patterns.
The first step in weaving is raising sheep. When the sheep are sheared, the fibers must be picked clean of any foreign particles like dirt or sticks. From there, the fibers are spun into a yarn that can be neither too thick nor too thin. This is done by using an ancient tool known as a drop spindle.
The women of Choquecancha are constantly spinning throughout their day-to-day lives. Whether taking care of children or walking through the village, the spindle is always rotating. It’s quite mesmerizing to watch. With a wooden stick in one hand and a hand full of wool in the other, the weighted spindle hangs freely as it twists the fiber into yarn while the weaver controls the thickness and texture of the yarn being spun.
Once the yarn is spun, it’s naturally dyed using bark, flowers, plants, and even bugs that are first dried in the sun, before being ground in to a powder and boiled with water. With basic tools that include a shed rod, heddle stick, and a beater, a completed textile blanket takes a minimum of two months to complete.
Throughout Peru, you can find beautiful crafts and colorful woven scarves, bags, clothing and more. But taking the time to actually visit a traditional weaving village is special because you see the amount of work it takes to create a final piece. Plus, you get to meet the few weavers who are keeping this cultural tradition alive while helping to support the local community and raising awareness of ancient traditions around the world.