It’s a rare occasion when you are privileged enough to encounter the master of a dying tradition and art. A visit to the Andean highlands brought us to the Agato village, one of many villages surrounding the famous Otavalo town. We rolled up to a nondescript concrete home with a small sign indicating our arrival to the Tahuantinsuyo Weaving Workshop. We we’re welcomed by a friendly Kichwe woman who escorted us to the backstrap weaving workshop we were able to meet Miguel Andrango.
Like many revelations in travel we were able to find complexities in very simple things. Miguel showed us how to create thread starting with dirty wool and alpaca, demonstrating the cleaning process, the spinning of wool, and then the coloring. Of course from there the material would be thread for hundreds of hours to create a blanket, table runner, or clothes. There were so many layers in creating something as simple as a thread.
After visiting the Plaza de Ponchos market we realized even more how much the textile industry, culture and traditions of the local indigenous groups have been transformed and commercialized. The art of backstrap weaving has been is time-consuming than using using machines and a loom. This current generation find it difficult to keep the tradition given economic factors. It is very difficult to make a living weaving one blanket over a month and selling it at a fair trade price. Of course other opportunities that take them away from the family business.
The Andrango family purchases wool. From there they pick out impurities from the material, the women wash it in the river, and then is separated and turned into small tubes of wool that will be put through a walking spinning wheel. The other details come from the color which are produced from various plants, nut shells, and even insects. Once the wool is produced the backstrap weaver will begin to use a warping board with movable pegs.
When you see a blanket selling for over couple hundred bucks as a tourist you may be shocked but once you experience an authentic experience like we did with Miguel you understand the difficulty of fair trade. Just a couple of decades of ago you would find hand-sewn products in Plaza de Ponchos but now this a rarity. It was such an amazing experience to visit Ecuador’s most famous weaver. We were the only ones there and Miguel and his daughter discussed the changes and how they haven’t had many tourists come in, so if you are ever in Otavalo be sure to visit Tahuantinsuyo Weaving Workshop and throw a donation in to keep help keep this pre-Incan tradition alive!