Date of this Version
From Textiles in Daily Life: Proceedings of the Third Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 24–26, 1992 (Earleville, MD: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1993).
This paper focuses on weavers and textiles from the island of Taquile, in Lake Titicaca, Peru, in the southern Andes. In my abstract I wrote that I would speak about both Taquileans and the Sakaka of Bolivia, but due to the richness and complexity of the material, I shall concentrate on Taquile.
This paper dates back to a conversation I had with Natividad Machaca (Figure 1), a matron of Taquile, on a winter afternoon in June 1984, after the festival of Saint John, which Taquilean families dedicate to ceremonies to increase the fertility of their scrawny sheep. Along with her husband and daughter, we were in the patio, more or less sitting up, suffering from postfestival, post-very-abundant-drinking hang-overs. I was trying to pack, and catch the boat to the mainland; no one was very talkative.
But when I mentioned that I might accompany my former mother-inlaw to the little town of Ichu, Natividad practically jumped up. She bombarded me with questions. "Would I go?" "Was my mother-in-law going to trade alpaca fleece?" "Could I bring back fleece?" "Black fleece," Natividad emphasized. "Good black alpaca fleece," she added, spreading apart her thumb and index fingers to remind me of the requisite fiber length. "I need," she said, "two, no, three hides." Natividad reiterated that her daughter Alejandrina was spinning black alpaca for an overskirt (aqsu , now no longer made or worn). Natividad emphasized that Alejandrina soon would marry. "It's so hard to get alpaca fleece — black especially," Natividad sighed. She hadn't obtained any alpaca all year, (Herders mostly raise white alpacas now, since white fleece brings a higher price in the international wool market.) Natividad said that she also needed black fleece for herself. She also needed white alpaca to weave a coca carrying cloth (istalla ), and her sister-inlaw, Regoria, was looking for a certain shade of brown to weave a food carrying cloth (unkhuna ).
And so on, and on, and on. I felt so awful that I could barely think, let alone get excited about anything, but Natividad was keen to not lose this opportunity to get raw materials. Taquile is an island of weavers, but on their tiny island Taquileans can't raise alpacas.
The patronal festival of Saints Peter and Paul in Ichu is the occasion for an important regional wool market; peasant herders of llamas and alpacas descend from their remote mountain homes to trade fiber for food (especially corn), which farmers bring. With modernization, few herders, or itinerant petty traders, visit Taquile to trade fleece for fresh and/or freeze-dried potatoes, or small corn. Like most peasants, Taquileans are short of cash, despite the growth of tourism to their island, and sales of their textiles.