For many people, alpaca and their wool fibers are largely unknown. Few people know of its intrinsic quality compared to other more common materials nor are they aware of the overall sustainable nature that are alpacas.
For the Quechua of South America and their relationship with alpaca, however, it is a way of life.
In this article, we are going to briefly go over the history of the people that create the many colorful scarves, socks, sweaters, and hats from alpaca and their overall relation with these amazing creatures.
The Quechua are often considered to be the dire descendants of the Incan people, but this is somewhat too simple a classification.
While the Incans were a powerful group, their history was far preceded by the Quechuan people many years over and continued to evolve of the years after the Spanish arrived during the 16th century.
Relation with the Alpaca
Throughout the two group's history with one another, the alpaca has played an incredibly important role in the Quechuan people's culture.
Domesticated roughly 6,000 years ago, the alpaca was the direct descendant to the vicuñas, which still exist even to this day along the highest parts of the Andean Cordillera.
Despite the extremely harsh environment that the alpaca live in, many of the Quechuan people live near their high altitudes and have built farms there in order to ensure that the alpaca are largely left undisturbed.
The Importance of Alpaca Wool
For the Quechua people, weaving is one of their oldest traditions. Since early 2500 BCE, the Peruvian people have held weaving as a vital core to their culture, shaping not only their regional, but personal identities. For many, weaving is so integral to their identity, many feel that the loss of it would mean the loss of them as a people.
Many variations can be found, in color, style, and design, based off of the region or community with much of it being recognized at a glance. For the Quechua of South America and their relationship with alpaca, weaving embodies numerous traditions that are passed down from one person to the next and are what make a community what it is.
The wool from alpaca fibers plays a huge role in their culture and day-to-day lives. Many communities, such as Chinchero or Taquile -two renowned communities for their high quality of textiles- have their own distinct patterns and designs which have passed down for literal generations when weaving.
These patterns and designs communicate local stories and myths throughout their works as something of a quilted history book. This is all the more true, as, traditionally, the Quechua people largely only had an oral language, literally using the patterns and designs in their textile weavings as a means of conveying thoughts and impressions as well as a way of literally recording historical events.
Examples of this can be found in much of their multicolored ponchos, bright skirts, and warm hats all throughout their towns and markets.
Commerce and Economy
In addition, the alpaca textiles play just as important role economically as they do culturally.
Alpaca fibers make up the vast majority of the people's income and is exported out to numerous countries across the world.
All in all, both the Quechuan people as well as the alpaca have a long history, both independently as well as together. Since they have come into contact with one another, both have greatly benefited. While the alpaca are cared and provided for, being kept safe from potential predators, the Quechuan people are given access to their incredible wool fiber, for which they have performed incredible feats with.
From, recording their history and mythology, to ensuring their financial economy, to establishing their very identity (both as a group as well as on the individual level), alpaca and their wool have played a huge role in their lives, and, by extension, many of the lives of those around the world.
While there are a large number of reasons to get article pieces made from alpaca, one of the simplest is the fact that you can connect with them and their communities whenever you look at a scarf, sweater, or hat made from alpaca.