Paying attention

The woman who wove this belt was obviously paying attention!

First, I see a llama, then a condor attacking a rodent, a surprised fox, a rooster confronting another condor attacking another rodent, a spotted dog, a kid on a bike…

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then a series of galloping goats and sheep! A butterfly…

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a chinchilla (in Quechua wiskacha), a ridiculously happy cat, an ox, another kid on a bike, a butterfly seen from a different angle…

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I picked this belt from among hundreds of weavings brought to a small store in the city of Sucre. I also chose this older-style belt with stylized puma paw prints in natural colors.

Puma paw belt

At first I tried to act like someone who didn’t know much about weavings, because I wanted to hear what the store-owner would tell me and get a sense of city prices. But as time went on she began to ask me where I was from and what I was doing in town. The whole family got interested when they heard I was researching Quechua in local communities.

It turned out she and her husband have a deep respect for the weavers; her parents speak Quechua and their daughter is just beginning Quechua studies at the local university. The husband has already read Harvard anthropologist Gary Urton’s book ‘The Social Life of Numbers’ which was written about weaving practices in nearby Candelaria, and he pulled out a Quechua classic to talk excitedly about pre-Spanish counting systems.

This woman has a great eye and told me a number of things that confirmed my own observations: first of all, the really expert weavers in the countryside now prefer synthetic yarns over sheep’s wool except for their own heavy blankets, and they buy it already dyed, then respin it themselves. Hand weaving is time-consuming and weavers have trouble competing with machine made items (the old-style belt cost me thirty dollars! While the extraordinarily artistic one depicting animals with synthetic colors was only fifteen and half as long – both prices way out of reach for the average farmer or even city dweller.)

But she also confirmed that people are leaving the countryside in droves and moving to the cities of Santa Cruz and Buenos Aires. It is harder and harder to find traditional weaving practiced in this area, one of the finest traditional weaving centers in the world.

The store is at Aniceto Arce #108, in the plazuela San Francisco opposite the church. And for a truly extraordinary experience, spend a few hours at the weaving museum ASUR which supports the continued practice of several thousand year old weaving techniques still observed in the countryside around Tarabuco, see asur.org.

 

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