The Peru team here (Leah, myself, Jose Luis, and Kristina) held the annual Q’ente Encuentro last month, where representative weavers gather from all six of the communities with which Q’ente collaborates to exchange news and ideas. There was sharing and feasting and workshopping all day long and late into the afternoon. It was a wonderful way for me to get to know more about the work of both Q’ente and Mosqoy (since there were detailed presentations on both), as well as a little background information on each of the weaving communities. We had been up late the night before preparing posters for each of the communities with photos, and the weavers were delighted to see this documentation of their work and their communities.
As the Encuentro activities progressed, the Mosqoy student volunteers cooked us a seemingly never-ending series of wonderful meals, from breakfast to a delicious lunch to our parting snack of pan con palta.
While we waited for lunch, Leah improvised by having the weavers describe the textiles that they had brought to show off. They talked about the dyes they used and the significance of the patterns, which was fascinating to learn! Lots of the iconography refers to local flora and fauna: flowers, llamas, owls, songbirds, and the like. Some of it is cosmological and mythological imagery as well. My favorite part of this presentation was learning about this little kind of double-wave pattern that appears a lot in the textiles. I had thought that it was just waves, but in fact it is a symbol of love. When the pattern is a double wave it is called "nos queremos" – “we love each other” – and represents love, because it's like two colours/beings/energies intertwined. If it's just one-sided, it means that the weaver is single.
We also gave a short presentation on our dye book (it was then still in progress), where Leah and I had begun to document all of the natural dyes which each community knows how to make, organized into an orderly format of little tassel samples followed by descriptions of each plant and mineral. What has amazed me about documenting this knowledge is that despite each community having somewhat similar flora, they all know how to make dramatically different colors – no two palettes are the same. The weavers, too, found it interesting to see the variety of dye skill from community to community, and one pueblo later expressed their great surprise at the number of dyes that the others could make, and are eager now to learn more from the other communities.
The last activity of the day was a workshop by the CBC (Centro Bartolomé de las Casas) about pricing. In Quechua, the presenters worked with the weavers to discuss how to fairly decide prices based on the time that they put into their work, the quality of their work and materials used, the patterns, colors, everything. The weavers all liked it very much and said afterward that they felt it was helpful to them.
Representatives of each community spoke a bit about their news and their traditions, and said some very moving things, like that thanks to their work with Q’ente they are able to send their children to school! It felt incredibly good to hear it from the people themselves that our cooperative efforts have truly made a difference in their lives, and to know that a little organization of dedicated volunteers can accomplish something meaningful in this far-flung corner of the world whose culture differs so profoundly from our own.
This is a particularly important measure of success for projects that seek to improve the lives of people living in more traditional ways or in the global south: whether the cultural gaps can be bridged with understanding and a positive impact, and without significantly altering the culture in question. Q’ente brings the incredible textile tradition of these talented weavers to North America without North America leaking back into this culture, and in this way, sharing is sustaining. It is equally important that the weavers see the value in it. I’ve read stories about projects that, with the best of intentions, can have unfortunate consequences. Other times, an NGO will implement a project that truly does solve a problem or improve living standards, but if the people they hope to help do not internalize the value and the meaning of this project, they won’t keep it up after the organization leaves. Hearing that the weavers here are appreciative of the modest positive impact we’ve brought them was deeply heartening. Their beautiful ancient traditions are preserved, and they can send their children off into the future.