We first fell in love with these Willka Yachay textiles through Hannah Rae’s hauntingly beautiful Instagram feed. Hannah is the founder and director of an organization dedicated to helping preserve indigenous cultures even as it helps them “to thrive in the modern world.” Living among the Q’eros people of Peru, Hannah lives in a technicolor dreamscape of blue and green at the foot of the Andes – alpacas frolicking in the mist, adorable children in rainbow woven hats, and thatch-roofed buildings nestled into the kind of landscape that seems other-worldly. There, through her organization Willka Yachay, she is helping to preserve this ancient people group’s native way of life, building schools and supporting their beautiful tradition of cloth-making.
We were fascinated by this story of sustainable culture and traditional craftsmanship and thought Chalkboard readers would be too. The Q’eros’ gorgeous ponchos, blankets, hats and bags are now available world-wide through their online shop and we asked Hannah to tell us all about the people, her organization and these amazing textiles…
The Q’eros people are the wisdom keepers of the Andes. They are subsistence alpaca herders, potato farmers, weavers and musicians who live in remote villages at 14,500 feet. Their textiles are encoded with ancestral symbols and earth-centric cultural knowledge. The Incas valued their cloth so highly that they burned it rather than let it fall into Spanish hands. Q’eros women and men have for the first time formed a cooperative with Peruvian foundation Willka Yachay to share their weavings with the world.
Woven from yarn of alpacas, sheep and llama, the colorful ponchos, shawls, bags, hats, scarves and other textiles are worn daily and used during ancient rituals and ceremonies unique to the Q’eros. Each weaving is infused with the love and joy with which the Q’eros lead their lives. Their ancient textile techniques connect past to present: a continuous thread passed from generation to generation over millennia.
Q’eros textiles are known for their very fine yarn, plant dyes and sophisticated weaving techniques. They are created on horizontal backstrap looms with four wooden stakes. Alpaca bones are used as picks. Weaving is both a physical and energetic act for the Q’eros. The entire process – from tending the animals with love, to spinning the wool, to creating the numinous weavings – is all implied in one Quechua word, awaspa. They weave different energies together to create harmony and beauty.
A road and globalization are inching toward Q’eros villages. Every weaving in Willka Yachay’s collection is purchased directly from the weavers. A portion of the profits from each sale supports the construction of a girls’ dorm for Willka Yachay’s high school in Q’eros, and a portion is returned to the weavers. Willka Yachay enhances family and community economic security by helping to perpetuate the ancient and extraordinary traditions at the heart of Q’eros culture.
Willka Yachay’s goal is to empower the next generation of the indigenous Q’eros Nation of Peru to thrive. Together with the Q’eros, Willka Yachay builds and sustains culturally and ecologically based schools high in the Andes. Willka Yachay currently supports nine schools: three pre-k, four primary schools, one high school and one adult school. Willka Yachay also implements solar light, music and cultural preservation, food security, and mother and infant care projects, as well as the first health center in the Q’eros Nation. Read more about Willka Yachay’s schools, projects, mountain expeditions and textile shop on their website.
Knit Caps / Chullos:
Q’eros boys and men knit and bead chullos, caps, with intricate traditional designs. They are worn proudly as an emblem of their indigenous culture. It is customary for a grandfather to knit their grandchildrens’ first baby hats. Super sweet!
Coca Bags / Wayaqa:
Wayaqa, or coca bags, have been used by Q’eros men and women daily since pre-Hispanic times, tucked in their waistbands to transport any small item, not just the omnipresent coca leaves. They usually have a patterned stripe down the center with plain stripes on each side. A wayaqa is often a courting gift from a young woman to a young man expressing her romantic interest.
Q’eros ponchos, woven tightly from Alpaca, are warm and wind and rain resistant. Grey and camel colored ponchos are worn for everyday life. Highly patterned and brightly colored ponchos are donned to celebrate ceremonies and special occasions, often!