Making Cloth to Build Community

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Image by Yolanda Coervers from Pixabay

Joshua Leo and Liz Waid look at a group of Peruvian women – weavers who make cloth. They are using their skills to make their lives better.

Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I’m Joshua Leo.

Voice 2

And I’m Liz Waid. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand – no matter where in the world they live.

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Voice 1

A woman sits on a high, green mountain side in Peru. She watches her animals – a group of sheep and alpacas. She keeps these animals for their hairy wool. The woman is careful to watch the alpaca, but she is also busy in another way. She is weaving wool from the animals to make a colorful cloth. It can be used for clothes, or in a home. She learned this traditional skill from her mother. And she continues to teach her daughters, and other women in her village. She hopes that weaving cloth will create a better future for her community.

Voice 2

The woman is working with the organization Awamaki. Awamaki supports native Quechua communities in Peru. These traditional communities are very poor. But they have a deep cultural history to share with the world. Today’s Spotlight is on Awamaki and their work with the Quechua weavers of Peru.

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The Quechua people live in the high Andes mountains in Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile. They live a simple life. It is centred on farming and family. They raise sheep. But they also raise many kinds of camelid animals – llamas, alpacas, vicuña, and guanacos. They use these animals for food. But they also use their hairy wool to make clothing and art.

Indigenous Weaver” (CC BY-SA 2.0) by Julie Edgley
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Each kind of camelid animal has a different kind of wool. Llama wool is very rough. They use it mostly for making rope or bags. Vicuña wool is very soft, but can only be harvested every few years. However, people can harvest alpaca wool often. This fine wool is softer and warmer than sheep wool. Baby alpaca wool is the softest and most valued alpaca wool. It is used for fine clothes and scarves for warmth.

Voice 1

The Quechua people also use the wool from these animals to make weavings. Then, they use these weavings to make warm clothes, pieces of art, blankets, and more. The images in Quechua weavings are shared through generations. A weaver repeats images again and again in a weaving. Weavers choose images for their meaning and history. These images include animals, plants, gods, people from history, water, and the stars. The image may not be clear immediately. For example, the whole animal may not appear. The weaver may only show the marks from its feet. A talented weaver combines many different images.

Voice 2

Awamaki is based in the town of Ollantaytambo. Ollantaytambo is in what is called “The Sacred Valley” of Peru. This area is high in the Andes between Machu Picchu and Cusco. More than 500 years ago, it was part of the Incan empire – this people group ruled a large area stretching through many countries in South America. Ollantaytambo is a beautiful example of a traditional Incan town. People still use the original Incan walls, farming terraces, and irrigation channels, used to bring water to farms and villages. Hundreds of thousands of foreign tourists come through this area each year. They want to see these Incan places, and the Quechua people. Many women in this area weave traditional cloth. And they sell the clothes and other products to tourists. But in the past, they did not get fair prices for their work. They did not know the best things to sell to tourists. And this is how Awamaki helps.

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Awamaki has four main goals. First, they want to make sure the tradition of Quechua weaving continues. They are helping the Quechua women bring their work to the market, and get a fair price.

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Second, Awamaki wants to help the women sell their work around the world. They sell the traditional weaving and clothes over the internet. But Awamaki also connects the women with clothing designers in other countries. They work together to make new and interesting designs.

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Third, Awamaki also wants to improve the lives of the weavers, their families, and their communities. The women of Awamaki have a regular income. They can depend on earning money each month. The money earned also goes back to their communities. Some of the money is saved in a medical fund for the women and their children. If a medical emergency comes up, the women can use this money to help their families.

Voice 2

Finally, Awamaki is helping to save traditional weaving methods. To weave their cloth, Quechua weavers use a backstrap loom. This kind of weaving is special to Quechua weavers. A weaver working with this loom will sit on the ground. One end of the loom attaches to a pole or stick in the ground. The other end of the loom attaches to the weaver by a strap around their back. The backstrap loom is very easy to carry. A weaver can roll it up and take it with her. If she is watching her sheep or llamas in the field, she can bring her loom. If she is visiting friends, she can bring her loom. Awamaki wants to protect this way of weaving.

Voice 1

Through Awamaki, the women also learn new weaving skills. They go on field trips to meet other weavers. By meeting other weavers, they have a chance to learn and improve their skills. Awamaki is also teaching the Quechua women how to use natural dyes. These dyes colour the cloth. In the past, Quechua people dyed all cloth naturally. They would use things like plants, insects, roots, fruits, and seeds. More recently, traders have been bringing new chemical dyes to the weavers. These dyes are cheap. They are also easier – the women do not have to take time to gather and prepare natural dyes.

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As a result, many Quechua women forgot or never learned how to use natural dyes. This tradition was about to be lost. But Awamaki trains their weavers to use the natural dyes again. The women are re-learning the old ways of dying wool. The natural colors are much softer, and more beautiful.

Voice 1

These Quechua women are changing their lives. Their work is valued. They earn a fair payment for their weavings. And they can depend on this money each month. They are learning new dying, spinning, and weaving skills. They are able to take care of their families. Through Awamaki, they are building their community.

Voice 2

The writer of this program was Johanna Poole. The producer was Joshua Leo. The voices you heard were from the United States. You can find our programs on the internet at www.radioenglish.net. This program is called ‘Making Cloth to Build Community’.

Voice 1

If you have a comment or question about any Spotlight program, you can email us at radio@radioenglish.net. Or you can leave a comment on the script page of the program on our website, radioenglish.net. You can also find Spotlight on Facebook and Twitter. Just search for Spotlight Radio. We hope you can join us again for the next Spotlight program. Goodbye.

Question:

Have you ever seen the Quechua cloth? Are there traditional ways of making cloth in your culture? Write your answer below.

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