Saturday, August 23, 2008


Sustainability--it's a much used buzz-word these days, but my trip to Peru encouraged me to think about it other ways as well. In the Andes, generations of weavers have created incredible works, using natural dyes and simple hand looms. However, that work is vanishing. So to communities, sustainability isn't a question of adequate financial support for an organization's work, it's really a question of how families and communities can both sustain traditions and, at the same time, make strides to improve education, health care, and a host of other issues.

We visited the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco, a non-profit dedicated to supporting the work of local weavers. The center includes a large retail store, where a large percentage of the sale of textiles goes directly to the weavers themselves, rather than a middle-man. In addition, each piece is made with natural dyes and local wool or alpaca, unlike many pieces in tourist markets with their neon colors and acrylic fibers. Each piece at the center comes with a hang tag that usually includes a picture of the weaver, along with their name, age and village. This reminded me of projects done by Native American basket makers in Maine and northern New York by the Akewsasne Museum to highlight the work of their traditional craftspeople.

The center also included a beautiful thoughtful exhibit on traditional textiles, both their manufacture and their meaning.

Poverty in the Andes is a critical issue and changes in Andean lives mean many things. We were told that few young people want to farm anymore and that they are emigrating to cities to make their fortune. It's the same story the world over. Tourism itself is a mixed blessing, bringing money into small villages but at the same time, placing stress on the environment and changing the lives of those who live there.

The mission of the Center for Traditional Textiles of Cusco is to "recapture the history of, spread information about, and stimulate the production of traditional textiles as well as to provide support and assistance to the communities of weavers with which the Center works."

As tourists, it was both a responsibility and a pleasure to purchase textiles at the center, works that will remind us of both Peru and of the challenges of sustaining a culture for years to come.

Top to bottom:
Weaving on a hand loom, Cusco, photo by Drew Harty
Weaver at the Center for Traditional Textiles, Cusco, photo by Drew Harty
Exhibit at the Center for Traditional Textiles
Elderly woman coming home from the terraced fields, Colca Valley, photo by Drew Harty
Textiles from the Center for Traditional Textiles


Anonymous said...

I would have to agree, in many parts of the country sustainability is much more then just having positive cash flow. Indigenous communities are trying innovative ways to stay sustainable in terms of their traditional lifeways, but it is proving to be difficult. Fostering a wider market for traditional arts is one way to help - and they are so beautiful with those rich colors.

Anne Goodhill Gohorel said...

Great photos...I finally updated my Blog and looked at your lovely Blog!