In Huamachuco, descendants of royal weavers produce beautiful, world-renowned belts and blankets.
In 1977 the only way into Tulpo, Mollepata, and Mollebamba, towns located within the boundaries of the ancient hacienda of Tulpo, was on foot or by horse. I recognized that something had happened that set these people and their blankets apart from others in Peru. The textiles around Tulpo, Mollepata, and Mollebamba were just far too different and beautiful to think otherwise. More than twenty-five years later I was to learn why.
The Huamachuco Textile Project was an effort by a group of experts in anthropology, history, symmetry, and other disciplines brought together to understand the blankets’ history as well as analyzing other textiles collected over a period of thirty years (1977-2006). Although blankets have been woven in the Peruvian highlands for thousands of years, this tradition evolved over the last 100 years or so. Striped blankets used by the indigenous population around Huamachuco were woven on pre-Hispanic back-strap (callua) looms while banded and checkerboard patterned blankets were woven on treadle looms introduced during colonial times when obrajes (textile manufacturing centers) were established, particularly on large haciendas. In the obrajes Merino sheep, introduced by the Spanish, provided the dominant fiber used to manufacture textiles. Large herds of sheep soon replaced the native camelids of pre-Hispanic times, especially in the region around Huamachuco.
History of a Royal Belt
The ancient lands around the Tulpo hacienda make up the blanket area. Since the time of the Inca Huayna Capac to around 1572, these lands were used as royal pastures (soto reales) for the camelids whose fleece was used to weave cumbi, mostly tapestry woven textiles for the Inca and Huamachuco nobility. There was another type of cumbi, however, that was also woven for the nobility during Inca times and used in belts. During one of her trips into the blanket area, Dr. Lynn Meisch, an Andeanologist, weaving expert and anthropologist at St. Mary’s College in Moraga, California, observed that I was using a hand-woven belt to strap my sleeping bag. I had used the same belt for more than twenty-five years, not only because it was very beautiful but also because it was very different from most of the belts woven in the region.
Dr. Meisch had learned about the belts from a paper presented by Sophie Desrosiers at the Junius B. Bird Conference on Andean Textiles in 1984. Desrosiers had decrypted and interpreted coded information taken from the last page in the previously lost original (Galvin) Murúa chronicle written around the end of the 16th century. The document was a technical description on how to weave a belt used only by the coya (Inca queens and princesses) during important festivities and events. Desrosiers wove two examples of the belt but concluded that the technical description encoded by Murúa was wrong and that it was probably impossible to weave the belt described in four colors. However, the belt around my sleeping bag looked similar to the one woven by Desrosiers and described by Murúa in four colors.
Text: Joseph Fabish y Horacio Rodríguez
Photos: Joseph Fabish, Amadeo y Segundo Pérez