Hidden in wool: The sacred weaving culture of the Aymaras

For tourists that visit the Andes region of South America, textiles made by the Aymara people may seem like a colorful display of craftmanship and a cool souvenir. But inside these clothes, there are traditions, legends and an entire social and political organization. In this article, we dive deep into their hidden handvowen culture.

 ________________________________________________________

Since the beginning of human civilization, many groups of people from all over the world have expressed their feelings through art, often present in everyday objects, such as weaponry, pottery or architecture.

But in the case of the ancient culture of the Andes region of South America, their timeless legends, dreams and traditions are kept safe very close to their heart:

Between the wool of their clothes.

"Our sacred weavings are expressions of our philosophy, and the basis for our social organization,"

The words are from Pio Cruz, an Aymara village leader in Coroma, Bolivia, and are a testament of the deep meaning that handvowen garments have for the people of the Andes, specially the Aymara.


Because for this indigenous nation, that has lived for two thousand years in the highlands of modern Chile, Peru and Bolivia, each design, color and material used for producing clothes and accessories, are a key that reminds them of their origins, the teachings of their ancestors, and even, their connection to the spiritual realm.

John Murra, an American anthropologist that has studied the Andean culture for 30 years, detailed this connection in his “high study of the Andean people” Research in 1994.

“Since ancient times, even before the Inca Empire, no political, military, or social or religious event in the Aymara nation was complete without textiles being offered or granted—burned, sacrificed or exchanged.”

Of course, a culture that holds their garments and their production to such high cultural regard would not only “Weave” wool clothing…

…They would turn that work into a sacred duty, reserved for a chosen few within their tribe.

AYMARA HANDWEAVING: THE HANDS THAT ENAMOURED THE INCAS

For almost a century, anthropologists that investigated the Andean indigenous groups gave all the credit for this people’s rich culture to the Inca Empire. But recent investigations have actually demolished that theory, after discovering that many of the most common traditions among these groups actually belong to the now extinct Tiawanaku civilization and their direct descendants: the Aymara.

“The Inca Empire was the most advanced organization in the ancient americas. However, most of their art, language and philosophy was taken from the Aymara, who were light years ahead in terms of the complexity of their religious and spiritual beliefs, and the artistic ways to express that” – John Murra.

In fact, the first texts that refer to the Aymara people are from spanish priests who Heard legends about Tiwanaku and their descendants from the Incas themselves.

In those legends, the Inca people spoke of “weaving maids” whose hands were so quick and talented, that they fascinated and enamoured their very first emperor: Manco Cápac, the founding father of the Incas.

¿Was this a true story or just a myth? We will never know, but if you take a close look at the weaving technique used to this day by the Aymara women, you may find this legend quite believable.

For Aymara garments to be made properly, the craftman – or woman- has to have surgical-like precision and very strong fingers, because llama and alpaca wool, their main material, is very rough and thick.

The hand technique that the aymara people acquire in order to produce these garments is so unbelievably precise, that has even been used to do open heart surgeries to kids in Bolivia – no, seriously, check this out, they’re THAT good-

But the secret to these clothes is not only in the traditions their design holds, or the expertise in the weaving.

The Aymara people have the luxury of working for centuries with what has been regarded as:

“THE MOST ADVANCED FIBER ON EARTH”

Living in the Altiplano region of the Andes – a territory that can reach 4.000 meters above sea level in some áreas- is no easy task.

Extreme exposition to sun light during the day, while freezing cold in the night, Aymara clothes had to be very advanced for this indigenous nation to survive for thousands of years.

Luckily for the Aymara, nature gave them a trusty ally in their quest to weave the perfect garment for the altiplano:

Llamas and Alpacas.

Several studies made by the MIT Harvard institute and the University of Illinois have concluded that:

“Lama Wool is the most complete and versatile fiber on earth”

So much so, that during the 90’, when NASA discovered that the Altiplano region was the most similar place on earth with planet mars, they began to test llama and alpaca wool to produce astronaut outfits.

¿But what makes this wool so versatile?

Keeps you warm even when wet!: llamas are adapted to high temperature swings in short spans of time and high altitude ground. That means that their wool has a high warmth/weight ratio that makes it optimum for outdoor activity in cool or cold weather

Its UV light-resistant!: Harvard studies in 2004 concluded that llama and alpaca wool have amazingly high resistance to ultra violet light. As you may know, high altitude sun is the most demanding environment for UV exposure, but llamas and alpacas are well adapted. This means that the clothes made with their wool not only protect the wearer, but insures a longer fiber life and garment color in conditions that other fibers and fabrics would rapidly degrade.

Serves for hot and cold: The most remarkable quality of llama wool is its ability to insulate against cold and, at the same time, dissipate perspiration of the wearer. It keeps you warm when you’re cold and fresh when you are sweating, all at the same time.

With an ancient weaving technique so impressive it enamoured the Incas, and so effective it serves for heart surgery, plus a Spaceman-quality wool, you would think that the aymara garments and their tradition would thrive forever…

Sadly, that’s not the case.

 

AYMARA WEAVING TRADITION IS DYING

Modern day technology and mass production of clothing has pushed out most the Aymara´s ancient weaving practices to the side, even to the brink of extinction.

New generations of Aymara go to peruvian, chilean or bolivian big cities looking for work and, in the process, losing the opportunity to learn this thousand-year old craftmanship.

The problem is that, through these changes, cultures like the Aymara begin to lose their identity, and that saddens us and worries us.

So, we decided to do something about it…and you can, too!

AYMARA TEXTILES was born on the idea of keeping this tradition and culture alive. We decided to give these aymara garments and techniques a Marketplace, so they can show their work, and new generations of Aymaras can sustain themselves with this art form.

All our products are 100% handwoven by Aymara and Qechua communities in the Andean region of South America.

Our textiles are made of organic llama and alpaca wool – preserving all of their benefits- clipped directly from these communities’ own alpacas and llamas, coloured with andean flowers and 100% chemical-free.

We have rugs, bags, scarves and ponchos waiting for you at the Aymara Textiles online shop. (shipping available in Australia and New Zealand)

Plus, check out more about our products and accesories at our Instagram!

Discover one of the most advanced weaving techniques of humanity! Wear the ancient culture of the Andes today!