Weaving and Hats: Traditional Arts

Today we were fortunate to meet Rodrigo Flores, a native of Ecuador who speaks almost perfect English and he took us to meet some of the local weavers.  Please take a look at his website if you want to learn more about the culture in Ecuador.  Rodrigo has been to the U.S. for education in leadership and computer skills, and his brother owns a store in mall in North Carolina.    Rodrigo is an enterprising man who very concerned about losing the local customs and traditions in his native country, and is educating the younger generation about the value of their history.  He is an entrepreneur who is a travel guide, and is in the process of setting up campsites near Lake Cuiocha.  He is also a great storyteller!

Our first stop was a village called Huayco Pungo, which means “canyon door”.  Here we met 75 yr old Jose Manuel, who has been weaving reeds that he gets from around the volcanic lake into mats and fans.  It was an extremely humbling experience to meet Jose and see where he lives.  He was very gracious and showed us how he dried the reeds, and then pounded them with a smooth stone as he wove.  It takes him about 2 hours to create a 3 x 5 mat, which he sells for $3.00 at the market.  Most of the older indigenous people still use the mats as a mattress.  He allowed me to take some photos of his home, including the occupants – 5 guinea pigs (which we think he keeps for food!)  Note: If you ever hear me complaining about ANYTHING, remind me to look at some of these photos.

Our next stop was the tiny village of La Compania, where we met a family who specializes in weaving belts and scarves.  Maria (who is the grandmother) and her husband Carlos, seem to have a friendly on-going competition to see who finishes their product first! They keep the two granddaughters during the day…it seems that we interrupted “homework time”.  After buying several beautiful scarves that feel like silk (they are made from alpaca wool)…I still couldn’t resist the sales technique of a 4 yr old entrepreneur! She informed me in no uncertain terms that the dolls were worth $2 each because she helped to make their hat…I bought two dolls from her just because she was so adorable!  Here, even the small children understand the significance of a visitor – it may mean money added to the family coffers.

Each village now has it’s own school- ages 6 to 12, but as early as 3 yrs old, the children begin learning their family’s trade- whether it’s farming, weaving, carving, or as a musician.

We also learned that the gold colored beads worn in abundance by the indigenous villagers, are a symbol dating back to before they were conquered by the Spanish.  In that time, the beads actually were real GOLD, and represented a bountiful harvest.

Along the way, some common sites are to see families washing their clothes in the water that comes off the mountains, and animals that seem to just be wandering around on their own.  Many houses will have mats out front with beans and corn drying in the sun.

The small community of Iluma is known for hat making and it’s many shamans (healers).  You will see a sign above several doors that say De Yachacs de Iluman (the people that know).   Healing is another one of the traditions that is handed down from generation to generation …they use native plants, parts of animals, a blend of the two,  make their own medicine and poltices- much like Native American history in the States.

For example, one treatment we’ve heard about is to take tadpoles and let the tail part flicker into an eye that is filled with blood.  Somehow this clears the blood out of the eye.  (Remind me not to overwear my contacts while I’m here!)

We were privileged to meet Ana who gave us a short lesson in her craft of hat-making.  She has wooden “heads” (more like a bowl shaped piece of wood marked with sizes), then using the form, she molds her material (leather or straw) and irons the brim with an old fashioned iron that is heated by a fire.  Once she gets the shape she wants, she adds details.   ( We took some videos today, but they’re not formatted yet!)

Peguche (named for the nearby waterfalls) is home to Luis de Carlo Togada and his lovely wife Maria Anna Conseulos Togado (76 and 74 yrs old), who shared with us the art of making blankets, shawls and wall coverings made from sheep’s wool.  They were a fun and lively couple, and their work area was spotless.

They showed us step by step how they create a product; from combing the raw sheep’s wool to weaving, even getting Kelly to give it a try! 

We ended the day with a visit to awesome Cascade de Peguche and the volcanic lake…  Stay tuned!

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