Four hundred weavers of the Americas gathered in Urubamba, Peru, in the Sacred Valley near Cusco for Tinkuy de Tejedores 2010 last November. They came from the Navajo Nation, Mexico, Guatemala, Ecuador, Bolivia, Argentina, Peru. This was no ordinary textile conference. A handful of textile scholars dotted the program, but most presenters were speaking out of their daily traditions. They spoke of the programs that help support their work; of the challenges they face in finding markets for their weaving; of the cultural histories held and passed on by the elders of their communities; and of their commitment to sustaining the quality and character of their textiles.
Tinkuy was organized by the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco (CTTC), under the leadership of Nilda Callañaupa. Her vision was driven by a desire for weavers in the nine community centers that form CTTC to experience a wider world, to have opportunities to display their work to a wider audience, and to stretch their sense of what is possible. These goals were abundantly accomplished; but for weavers who came from other countries, the experience was equally profound.
A group of five women came from Guatemala. Four work for Mayan Hands, a fair trade organization. One works for Oxlajuj B’atz (Thirteen Threads), a support organization that provides educational resources for Mayan Hands and other programs. For most, the trip was their first time out of Guatemala, or even out of their own district. They came with some trepidation, but also with determination to take home experiences that could help their fellow weavers.
Ana Lucia Chavez y Chavez flew to Peru on a dream, literally. She had a dream about the conference, which began to make it manifest as she prepared for this adventure. While flying over the Andes into Cusco, she thought of the women in her weaving group who took the trip with her in her heart. Seeing the CTTC facility in Cusco gave her a vision that Oxlajuj B’atz could reach the same level of achievement in time. Other women in her group spoke of weeping with wonder and inspiration on their arrival at CTTC.
Gloria Elizabeth Chonay Cholon is a Mayan Hands weaver from Xeabaj, Santa Apolonia, Chimaltenango. Her greatest takeaway was the spirit of cooperation she observed in the Peruvian weaving communities. Not only that, the cooperation of shared labor within families, where men and women often work together, one spinning, one weaving. She noted that visitors like to see the women wearing their traditional clothes, which gives the traje more value. With a keen business eye, she was also quick to perceive the value of quality control and appropriate pricing.
Maria Victoria García Hernández comes from Panabaj, Santiago Atitlán, a Mayan Hands village that was destroyed by Hurricane Stan in 2005. (She now lives in the resettled community of Chuk Muk.)While the community weaving centers developed by CTTC impressed her and gave her a sense of possibilities, she was at least as struck by the weaving techniques she learned, and those she observed. Seeing the work produced by weavers from Bolivia and Peru – starting with raw fiber they had grown, spun, and dyed themselves, weaving only on traditional backstrap looms, weaving the traditional patterns that have come through the generations, made her question why so few Guatemalan weavers spin their own cotton. She began to spin dreams of the old women in her community teaching the children, passing it on. She saw that great value was placed on the traditional work.
The Guatemalan delegation, which also included Teresa Gómez and Maria Ana Lajuj, participated in Tinkuy with enthusiasm and confidence. They made a Power Point presentation about Mayan Hands, they asked perceptive questions during Q&A sessions, they demonstrated their weaving and basket-making, they took workshops in traditional Andean dyeing, weaving, and knitting. On the closing night of the event, they offered a performance: four of the women dancing in the styles of their own home villages, while Ana Lucía recited an original poem on the meaning of weaving. All of these activities are so far out of their daily experience as to defy imagination. But they went home, in the words of one, feeling valued and proud.
Linda Ligon is the founder and creative director of Interweave Press