Weaving Memories: Cultural identity and sustainable development in the Bolivian highlands of La Paz and Oruro

FROM THE EDITORS: Behind the magic of Andean weaving, there is science, a social commitment, cultural interaction, history, and community resilience. Based on historical documentation, scientists have found Andean weavings as old as 1400 BC that were woven at Acllahuasi (quechua for “House of the Chosen Ones”), Inca ceremonial centers where women were in charge of teaching and developing weaving techniques, dyes, and material resistance for the vital task of guaranteeing the best quality of textiles, and variety of colors. That knowledge was later socialized so that the inhabitants of that empire had access to quality clothing. That is, when we speak of Andean weaving, we are talking about the sustainability of community life–environmental, cultural, social, economic–with an impressive history in which women have always played a leading role. Below we share an excerpt of the remarkable effort made by the Soluciones Prácticas (Practical Action) organization, which has extensively documented the history, techniques, methodology, production but above all, the resilient community interaction in the creation of the Andean weaving.

SOURCE: Originally published at Soluciones Practicas, Perú, translated into English by Awasqa.

Weaving Memories

Cultural identity and sustainable development in the Bolivian highlands of La Paz and Oruro

The project “Weaving Cultures: Strengthening the capacities of cultural agents of the Andean textile art value chain to contribute to the sustainable development of communities in the rural highlands of Peru and Bolivia,” was developed in the corridor of Cusco-Puno (Peru) and La Paz – Oruro (Bolivia). It was designed to contribute to the revaluation of the cultural identity of Andean weaving art as an instrument for sustainable development and economic growth of the communities of the rural highlands of Peru and Bolivia. It also aimed to increase the capacities of cultural agents for growth, as well as the consolidation of a value chain of textile art with cultural identity, articulated sustainably with the market in the corridors mentioned above.

Artesana de Livichuco, Oruro, iniciando el proceso de hilado artesanal.
Craftswoman from Livichuco, Oruro, starting the process of artisan spinning.

The project was funded by the European Union and was implemented by Practical Solutions in partnership with the Italian NGO ProgettoMondo Mlal, the Association Ecology, Technology and Culture in the Andes (ETC Andes) in Peru, and the Network of Economic Organizations of Artisan Producers with Cultural Identity (OEPAIC Network) in Bolivia.

Weaving Cultures’ execution began in January 2014, and has been carried out in peri-urban areas and rural communities that are characterized by the practice of subsistence activities, with a high incidence of poverty, which affects more than 60% of the population and is reflected in high malnutrition rates and low levels of schooling. This situation changes the job opportunities for the community and constitutes an obstacle to their development, especially for women and young people.

In the described context, the production and commercialization of weaving art is an essential alternative for generating income for around 12,000 artisans and artisans in poverty in the rural highlands of Peru and Bolivia. Although the poorest are those that preserve the cultural aspects of local textile art, the potential of textile art is not exploited due to a number of factors such as, the production of textile art to poor quality craftsmanship, low levels of commercialization, sales as second category products, discrimination, social and cultural exclusion, among other reasons. There are severe technical, commercial, and management limitations that hamper the development and consolidation of the value chain. Currently, the production of art generates low income, in unequal value chains, in the distribution of income for the families involved.

Tejiendo en telar de cintura. Provincia de Muñecas, La Paz.
Weaving on a waist loom. Province of Muñecas, La Paz.

The Weaving Cultures project, in the face of the described problem, sought to strengthen the capacities of the organized traditional artists of the Cusco-Puno (Peru) and La Paz-Oruro (Bolivia) corridors in an activity considered in both countries as high cultural production and requiring promotional and support measures.

Likewise, the project aimed to increase the capacities of the different actors linked to the productive chain of textile craftwork: female and male producers, networks of artisans, operators, students, and public servants so that the value chain of handicrafted textiles incorporate cultural identity as a differentiating element. For this, four results were contemplated:

  • Strengthening the skills of female and male artisans for the revaluation of  the production of textile art as part of cultural heritage.
  • Increasing the technical-productive capacities of textile artisans and networks of producers for the generation of a sustainable supply chain of cultural goods.
  • Commercial articulation of networks of artisans with regional operators linked to the chain of textile crafts for  national and international markets.
  • Incidence for the development of a joint cultural agenda and the consolidation of the textile art sector in Peru and Bolivia.
[penci_video url=”https://youtu.be/khvXc2VOh3s” align=”center” width=”” /]

(Video produced by the Aymara Institute of Language and Culture (ILCA). La Paz, Bolivia.)

Within this framework, it sought the development of an inventory of technologies, techniques, iconography, use of color, meanings, main support and traditional knowledge linked to the production of textile art, with the understanding that it constitutes a source of information and that textiles were and are a support for the transmission of knowledge in the Andes. The document that we present below is the result of this work, which was carried out in a participatory manner and through visits to communities and families dedicated to textile crafts, who presented from their perspective and experienced the uses and characteristics of traditional textile art.

Full report Soluciones Practicas, Perú

All photographs: Goltran Jiménez, from the report Weaving Memories.

An international organization that develops ingenious ideas with people living in poverty so that they can improve their lives. Peru.