Meet Exaltación!

By Brianna Griesinger, Marketing and Communications Coordinator

“Allianchu compañera,” we greet each other in Quechua as we meet in her home community of Huilloc. Exaltación isn’t shy, she may only speak a limited amount of Spanish, but she is eager to answer my questions, as eager as I am to ask them, and to get to know one of our talented artisans even better. Here at Awamaki, we can talk all day about the skill and ability our artisans possess, but it is easy to forget that, yes, while knitting and weaving is a natural part of their lives here in the Andes, everyone has to start somewhere.

“I learned from my mom at age seven or eight-years-old. I started with a small strap or bracelet. I learned directly with my hands straight away, it was difficult at first,” Exaltación explains. This isn’t something she announces with pride, learning from such a young age: it’s tradition. All of the women in Huilloc also began weaving around seven or eight-years-of-age. “My mother’s attitude was positive but she always said ‘you need to learn to do this very well, you need to learn quickly.’” It is easy to see how much importance is placed on learning to weave, and clear that each generation of women is faced with the reality that this is an artform facing extinction, an artform they are dedicated to preserving.

Now a mother herself, she has been on both sides of the learning and teaching process. “My daughter loves to weave, she is even better than me now,” she exclaims. “I like to spend the time weaving together with her, talking, we can talk about many different things.” Weaving is a part of the culture here more than is imaginable. It acts not just as a source of income generation, but also a social activity, a safe space for women to come together and produce their artform, their method of cultural preservation. “I hope she learns the ancient patterns, we always want to continue our traditions with weaving and not let them get lost, the culture is so important.”

“It is important to continue this tradition and pass it on going forward,” she adds, “my daughter can weave.” This last statement comes with a beam of pride, and all of a sudden it makes so much sense. These incredibly humble women are not impressed in the least by the young age of when they took up their craft. When it comes to having taught their daughters, however, they couldn’t express more self-confidence, and joy.

“I think weaving and artisanal crafts are a good career for mothers,” she explains, “because of the money you can earn, but also the chance to be home with children.” When I asked her what her favorite part of being a mom was she smiled “taking care of my kids, dressing them and feeding them. I am proud of my family and proud that I can contribute financially too. I think I’m a good example to my daughter; I think she wants to earn an income for her family one day too, she wants to work as a weaver too.”

It is indisputable that earning her own income has greatly impacted her life. “If women earn too, they can help their families, and help buy more things, like clothes, food, school fees and supplies, and medicine. It makes things easier, more secure for everyone” she concludes.

Working with strong, empowered women like Exaltación is encouragement to continue the work we do here everyday at Awamaki. While we are so proud of these women, and their growth, we know there is always more work to be done.

Exaltación’s advice to other women? “Teach, and pass on traditions; speak, and speak to other women; learn and have conversations!” We couldn’t have said it better ourselves, truly.