The Living Museum Awanakancha Promotes Cuzco’s Traditional Weaving Art

Andean women weave traditionally and in that is so much meaning. By weaving they create a world and social life. Tourists may be attracted to their weavings because of the unusual tightness of the weave and the colors but they miss the rich meanings in weaving and especially the way, like a web, weaving provides the warp and woof of life. This is true, unless the look more deeply.

A house of weaving, Awanakancha, opened to facilitate tourists learning more and to keep alive the tradition of weaving as other pressure pull people away from looms. Located on the 23rd kilometer of the Cuzco-Pisac highway, on the right side, it is a private initiative that brings together 14 rural communities and more than 420 families. They unite int eh common desire to bring renewed value and preserve the textile art which they have inherited from their ancestors. To do this they settled on weaving as their primary economic activity. They also look to promote greater community and family solidarity through their work in this project.

The Awanakancha (Ah-wáh- nah-káwn-chah) is a living museum in which textiles made by the people of these communities are on display. You will also see community members spinning wool on the famous drop spindle, as well as weaving. Although weaving is symbolically a traditional women’s task, men also weave traditionally. Here you will see both genders at work. The women joke, in recognizing the irony of presenting this publicly, that they men are faster weavers and create a tighter finish.

Dyed Yarn Drying
Dyed Yarn Drying

Besides the exposition of weavings, the Awanakancha also has a display of the different types of indigenous camelids from which the most traditional weavings draw their wool. These are the llama, the vicuña, the guanaco (though it is danger of extinction currently) . They also show the varieties of the domesticated camelids: the two varieties of llama–the woolly ones and the short hair ones, as well as the suri and huacayo alpacas.

To be able to create this project, the directors had to be sensitive to the atmospheric conditions. They had to take into account the place’s altitude and its flora. The had to situate it properly so that the animals could have a habitat similar to their natural one and so they could develop normally and yet so the site would be accessible to tourists. In this way visitors could be in direct contact with the animals. They could give them alfalfa to eat and they could learn to distinguish the different kinds of native camelids, especially since many outsiders confuse the llamas for alpacas.

The Author and a Traditional Weaver in the Awanakancha
The Author and a Traditional Weaver in the Awanakancha

This place also lets us see the techniques of shearing the animals, the gathering of fleece, the process of washing it and adequately treating it. The we can see how the wool is made into yarn, and dyed. For this the people of the Awanakanch use various natural plants and minerals which provide colors that are long lasting. Then you can see the drying of wool and the final weaving of complex pieces.

Those people who wish to buy weavings that are 100% alpaca, llama, or vicuña can do so here in the project’s store. They make not only traditional weavings but also gloves, shawls, scarfs, caps, bags, rugs, purses and many more products. There is something for everyone.

The Awanakancha, Living Weaving Museum
The Awanakancha, Living Weaving Museum

We should note that this project came to fruition thanks to the support of the National Council of South American Camelids (Consejo Nacional de Camelidos Sudamericanos “CONACS”) and that it receives ongoing support. Beside giving protection to these important and historic animals it also keeps alive our traditions of the weaving art. It also develops tourism in the zone by showing its natural richness and this helps rural communities continue as they join in the development of the region of Cuzco.

Come and enjoy this reality. You can be part of a living history which has thousands of years of continuity.

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