Meet the Andean community of indigenous Quechua artisans of Huilloc in the Sacred Valley of Peru
This is a story about a culture as old as the Incas, about the people of a small village hidden in the heights of the Andes in the Sacred Valley where Quechua way of life is still alive and thriving.
Starting the journey up the Andes from the beautiful town of Ollantaytambo, a rough dusty road takes us to a small but lively village where a rainbow of colors greets you from every corner.
Colorful murals of the houses lead the way and locals , dressed in the most vibrant of colors greet the newly arrived fair skinned foreigner.
I arrived there alone on the local bus, guided only by the directions given to me by Marc from the organisation Incas Vivientes , supporting empowerment and cultural affirmation of communities in the villages of Huilloc, Rumira-Sondormayo, Patacancha and Challwaccocha in Peru.
“I am looking for Geronima” I say to the lady in the tiny shop by the bus stop. She points up the road and as I head in that direction I quickly see a man in a colorful poncho waving at me. It seems my arrival has already been announced through the village before my search for Geronima has even begun.
Her husband greets me and takes me to their home.
I am grateful I paid attention in my Spanish lessons, my language skills come in handy here where very little, if any English is spoken.
Most people in the community speak amongst themselves in Quechua language and only some of them, normally the younger ones can understand Spanish.
I immediately feel welcomed, Geronima and her family are warm and receive me into their home with open arms and hearts. We sit and have a tea together and more family members appear. There’s her daughter with her newborn baby sleeping in a special backpack made up of colorful cloth tied around her shoulders. Her brother and Geronima’s mother are also around now and I am introduced to everyone.
Contrary to a lot of places in Latin America, here in Huilloc the women are just as involved in the business of providing for their family as their husbands and brothers.
Weaving is integral to their culture and social life as families gather around, chat and work together while producing elaborate textile patterns on various fabrics and cloths. Quechua textiles honour Pachamama or Mother Earth. Peruvian weavers express their appreciation of the natural world through symbols and patterns representing traditional myths and pre Incan concepts of space, time and life on Earth. The Quechuas live in a world governed by the principle of interdependence. They share work and help each other, knowing that sometime sooner or later the favour will be returned. It is the Quechua concept of reciprocity “Ayni” , the belief in an eternal giving and taking, an exchange in energy between people, the natural world and the universe.
Everything is produced locally. Wool comes from the alpacas and sheep in the village, colors are extracted from plants and special worms and this whole process is a traditional way of weaving dating back 2000 years.
I am told each family has their typical weaving designs, to be used on textiles for skirts. Hats on women are also a must with flowers being central in the overall look.
I immediately like Geronima. She seems to be the guiding force in the house, looking after the weaving, cooking, and receiving the guests. She skilfully delegates jobs to various family members and makes sure everyone is well looked after . Her smile is warm and there is an unusual mix of innocence and wisdom in her way of being. I wish I had a few extra days to spend with the family and get to know her better.
While lunch is being prepared, I take a walk around the village. Kids are on their way back from school and the small road leading to their homes turns into a parade of little people dressed in colorful traditional Quechua clothes.
Some of them are curious about the western newcomer but most are way too busy playing or chatting amongst themselves excitedly.
There is a strong sense of community and pride in their culture and traditions passed down generations.
Huilloc sits at 3500 m above sea level in the Andes and can be reached by local bus or private car in about 40min from the town of Ollantaytambo in Peru.
Family stays in the community can also be arranged through Incas Viviantes