Don Timoteo is a master weaver, a native Quechua speaker and a man of great dignity. I meet Don Timoteo (Timothy) many years ago in the Cusco region of Peru. I was a graduate student in anthropology assisting my professor during a service-learning project introducing nursing and anthropology students to medical anthropology. Don Timoteo was our host who introduced us to Pitumarcas’ weaver community located a few hours South West of the former Inka (pronounced Enqa) capitol Cusco, Peru. Don Timoteo and his community are successfully gaining access to world markets while promoting their culture. Unlike other weaving communities or middle men, he does not take a percentage from other weavers who’s product he sells. Weavers in his community are often single mothers who’s husbands died or abandoned them looking for a better life outside the impoverished rural peasant communities of the Peruvian highlands.
Don Timoteo teaches me patience. “Patience” he advises when I am in a hurry or annoyed with less desirable outcomes of any given project. At a very young age Don Timoteo began his career learning the art of weaving from his mother. His mother died when he was fifteen years of age and moved to the town of Pitumarca renowned for traditional Quechua weavings a community where he could continue learning his craft. A kindly family took him in and within a year he was weaving complex patterns on a traditional back strap loom. Don Timoteo says he had nothing when he married his first wife. He worked very hard learning his art and supporting his family. She died while giving birth to their second child. Because he had no family or reciprocal networks, essential for survival in Quechua society, he was forced to put them up for adoption. Despite many personal tragedies, Don Timoteo continued mastering his skill as a weaver eventually directing the Pitumarca weaver community and numerous other indigenous weaver’s cooperatives. Don Timoteo was also the esteemed mayor of Pitumarca serving his people with fairness and humility.
Don Timoteo describes himself as “a traditionalist” who promotes indigenous weavings by maintaining the original techniques in wool preparation, dying and weaving of alpaca (an American camelid living at high altitudes) wool or wool from its wild cousin the Vicuna, or sheep’s wool into an amazing tapestry of meaning and practicality. First, the wool is sheared from the animal and hand spun into yarn with a spindle and whorl which is suspended in the air and twirled until the yarn is strong enough to tolerate the strains of weaving. I watch Don Timoteo meticulously spin his wool again and again until the yarn is free of defects and becomes a fine, spongy ball of yarn now useable for creating his tapestries. The wool is then dyed at a site outside his village where there is a small “kitchen” where water is boiled in huge pots over a wood fire. Outside there are vats filled with natural dyes made from various plants, minerals and even the juice from tiny squashed insects which produce a bright red color. The tediously prepared yarn is then dipped into the vats of color. The longer the yarn sits the deeper its color. The older the wearer the stronger the color. Perhaps more interesting is the wool of the alpaca. Its yarn is not dyed but rather left in its original color which is white, gray, shades of brown an black and are woven into a heaver, but softer to the touch which are much warmer for the wearer. Despite claims by street venders that clothing is made from “baby alpaca” the alpaca can only be sheared at two years of age or it will die from in the cold.
Weaving the tapestry is more tedious requiring great skill, forethought and mental calculations reminiscent of a statistical equation. Vertical and horizontal strands of yarn are carefully arranged by counting the correct number of threads which are meticulously integrated into the fabric with a llama bone. The interface of between the vertical and horizontal threads produce the desired width of color fields of subtle reds, yellows or blues. The tapestries’ plain color fields are interspersed with vertical fields of intricate multicolored, geometric Quechua iconography. Designs often represent corn cobs, llama hoofs symbolizing journey, or diamond patterns representing the “Andean cross”, sacred sites, or the “center of the universe”. On traditional woven hats called “chullos” patterns of little nubs are often found which represent fields and orchards as if viewed from the sky. Less enigmatic icons include the sun which gives life. Below the sun symbols are more concentric rows representing a sort of hierarchy of life such as birds representing love and spirituality. Below, walk the llamas which are “sacred and carry our lives.” Below the llamas are couples holding hands representing the notion of masculine and feminine dualities complementing each other while forming a single entity. Below the couples are plants and grass which cannot live without the sun but in turn supports us. Some designs Don Timoteo cannot explain because their meanings have been lost.
Don Timoteo’s efforts have brought him great success. Through his influence and great skill as a weaver he has brought recognition to his people. Because of is promotion of traditionally crafted weavings Don Timoteo is greatly respected by his fellow Quechua speakers, the artesian community in Cusco and is becoming internationally renowned. His business is located near the entrance of the artesian cooperative market. The market is located in a large alcove to the right of the main entrance of the church “Compania de Jesus” which faces Cusco’s main plaza, La Plaza de Armas. He spins wool sitting in front of his brightly weavings which are proudly displayed against the stone wall.
Don Timoteo continues to teach me patience. He sits spinning wool tirelessly as he explains the quality and meaning of his weavings to the tourists who visit his stand of beautiful weavings.
Don Timoteo and the weavings of Pitumarca can be found in the Gloriosa Benemérita Asociación de Artesanos del Cusco, Salón Cultural Tupac Amaru, in the Capilla San Ignacio de Loyola, on the Plaza de Armas between the Paraninfo Universitario and the Compañía de Jesús.