THE WEAVERS OF DEEP PERU
Perú, Huancavelica, Province of Acobamba, District of Paucará… We went to visit the weavers, who live there, in one of the poorest Departments of Perú.
Celestino Hilario, a former farmer and cattle breeder, lives there. He is originally from Santa Bárbara, a rural community located between 12,467 ft. (3800m.) and 15, 748ft. (4800m) above the sea level. This was the site of the infamous mercury “mine of death”, named this way due to thousands of deaths of miners who worked there in the most miserable conditions. Santa Bárbara was also one of the most affected by terrorist violence in the 1980’s in Perú, where more than 100 people were killed; including many of Celestino’s relatives. After the death of his father, he immigrated to the city of Huancavelica with his wife Ambrosia. With some of his savings he bought some knitting looms and started making blankets and scarves, which he sold in the local market, in order to support his family. In 2002 he moved to Paucará to continue their business.
Celestino Hilario is a hard worker, a perfectionist in his trade, a good father of seven children and someone who supports the efforts of his community to attain economic progress.
He is just the type of person for whom Allpa is looking. This Peruvian artisan craft export company has as a main goal to help in the eradication of poverty, through the creation of stable jobs which will lead to a sustainable economy in which the producers can sell their products directly to the national and international market. Allpa acts as a direct connection between these markets and the producers, seeking a national impact, at regional and global levels, to convince the artisans of the sustainable commercial viability of their manufacture.
When Allpa sent some samples of textiles to the community, Celestino was the only one able to copy them. Allpa provided him with technical and financial help to rent his first two shops, and to buy his looms.
Actually, his house and 2 shops occupy a 7 534 sq. feet property owned by him. Normally 50 weavers work in one of the shops and he has around 50 looms in it. In the other, they cut, finish and check the quality of the textiles. In good times he has around 70 workers who are being constantly trained and supervised. Since the initial 500 orders he got from Allpa in 2002, these have increased substantially, by the thousands, nowadays.
Currently, Allpa has began working with weavers from Huayanay, a community situated in the district of Anta, province of Acobamba. They have received training in the Experimental Workshop of Allpa to improve the quality of their textiles, and Celestino has been in charge of it. Allpa has built a dining room, a kitchen, and comfortable bathrooms for the workers.
Celestino feels that he has reached his goals: “I can make many new things, improving the quality…everything is in our hands…nothing is impossible. Now my shop is well known and I have more experience of work…If it weren’t for Allpa, I would have not have had as much experience as I have today”.
Thanks to the kind invitation of Maria del Carmen de la Fuente, general manager of Allpa, I was able to watch beforehand, the great job done by this enterprise.
The twelve hour journey, which started at the Cruz del Sur bus terminal in Lima, was full of adventure. Maricucha, Carmen Alcántara (quality manager of Allpa) and I, arrived to Huancayo in the early morning hours, and had a hearty breakfast with pan Serrano and regional milk. We then visited an interesting old weaver whom they call Ciro Peraloca, after a comic book inventor. After a hearty and typical lunch in one of the local restaurants, we headed for an evening trip to Paucará. Half of the road to Paucará is not paved and is full of precipices and dangerous curves. A bus carrying many passengers had fallen into the abyss, some hours before, and the survivors and rescue personnel were on the roadside. The effects of the diuretic pill I took in Lima to counteract the “soroche”(altitude sickness) started to make effect. The front wheel popped and we had to stop. I was able to solve my problem, while some passersby helped the driver.
We reached Paucará when the sun was setting. The municipal elections had just taken place and all the house’s walls were painted with political propaganda. We arrived to the “best hotel in town”, and were told by the owner that the water force was not reaching the upstairs rooms and that she was going to give us two buckets of water for our convenience. We headed to our Che-ratón hotel room (Maricucha gave it this name) without a word. I guess it was one of the worse nights I ever spent. With no heat, the room was frozen and the 5 blankets they gave us were so heavy that we could hardly toss around in our beds. The cold was so sharp and it hit my back like an ax; so I had to put on my clothes to get warmer.
In the morning we had our breakfast in a dilapidated restaurant. The locals were having hearty soups and entrees…they have to eat right to get energy for the hard work they are going to have the rest of the day.
Celestino and his wife, a chubby woman dressed with colorful “polleras”and a tall hat, greeted us cheerfully at their place. He proceeded to show us the progress of their work; while Carmen went around looking at the looms and how they functioned (she has a great imagination and has added some innovations to them). The teamwork of the Allpa people is evident. Periodical technical assistance is always offered. They are very knowledgeable of the work of each one of the artisans. The alpaca and silk threads yield a marvelous quality of textiles.
The effects of the international market can be felt also in these shops and since the demand has diminished many weavers have dedicated themselves to agricultural labor and to tend to their animals.
Allpa has to meet the deadlines of the buyers and Celestino is worried because he doesn’t have enough personnel. So Celestino suggests that we have a meeting with the town authorities, so that they can help them raise conscience among the people about their need to strengthen their local economy and work for the benefit of their community. On the next morning, we meet with the mayor, and he suggests that the Allpa girls and a town officer go to talk to the people of the nearby towns. We start climbing hills and hopping over wired fences, trying to recruit weavers…to ask them to compromise in helping to raise the economical level of their people, getting training and working to their full potential. People look at us with reluctance, their dogs show us their sharp teeth, but nothing keeps us from trying to convince them about our objective. After a while they show us their beautiful textiles… The weavers we meet, belong to the Choopca community of 15.000 proud people, who are capable of making the most amazing designs with their looms. They learn to weave since they are small children and their intricate designs, which represent religious and magical symbols of their culture, stay forever in their minds. Nevertheless, they realize that they have to respond to the demands of a bigger market which will give them access to permanent labor; of course they will not leave behind their creativity and ethnical contribution.
One of the Choopcas comes to meet us and invites us to his house. Without having seen us before , he invites us to have lunch at his house…some native potatoes and fresh cheese. He shows us his land and tells us about his plans and ideas for the future. But he is also a weaver and wants to go to the meeting with Celestino; and he compromises to take some friends with him.
Celestino is grateful, and when we arrive, he treats us with a wonderful roasted lamb and native potatoes. Celestino, Ambrosia and the children eat with us. After, while the Allpa girls have a private meeting with Celestino, I take a stroll and admire the wonderful sunset behind the tall giant boulders which are abundant in this area…no wonder, Huancavelica means Stone Idol. Far away, I see the farmers and cattle herders, going back home from work.
Another infamous night under the hated covers of the hotel, the last one…all this wonderful experience compensates for past inconveniences. I realize that the work of Allpa is so commited to the development of these poor communities, that beyond the simple commercial relationship with the “artesanos”, they consider themselves as part of a great family which shares mutual benefits with each other.
After a wonderful Sunday in the local market, we leave…We are tired but very satisfied. I have met again with my past…with that world which I knew very well when I worked back in my country and had a firsthand experience of life in that deep, deep, Perú, and of the spiritual richness of the Andean man…that spirituality that doesn’t let them sink into their misery.
Lucy Newton de Valdivieso February, 2, 2011