On Finding connection …

January 6, 2014 1 comments Pachamama, Peru, textiles

I just returned back to Vancouver after 27 days in Peru feeling well rested, inspired, and a little more colourful. I unfortunately wasn’t able to access my website in Peru so I’m going to write about the journeys post-trip (Which I think is better anyway). Here we go!

Day 1 of a trek through the Chaullacocha pass. The first time I had ever seen an alpaca “in the wild” … They are so shy!

I went to Peru to learn, to challenge myself, to visit some alpacas, and to witness communities that practise a tradition of textiles that spans over centuries (Did you know that the Incas used textiles and knotted strings instead of books or scrolls to send messages across their empire?). Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve been immersed in both local and online communities of making. Through visiting (and sometimes running) Maker Faires and participating in Maker and Hacker Spaces, I’ve discovered communities that have a currency of participation – where the exchange is through learning, sharing and doing. I’ve found it invigorating and I’ve found that it’s given me a lot of meaning, connection, and purpose.

See all of those white specks? They are alpacas and llamas.

I’ve come to realize that what really makes us happy in life, is being connected to the world, and to others – and having a place in that ecosystem. I’ve found that through learning about fibre (the kind that you knit, not the kind that you eat), I’ve found connection with other cultures, to other knitters in Vancouver, and to a history and tradition of textiles and textile manufacturing. As soon as I pick up a pair of knitting needles, I instantly feel connected to family members and friends, and often reflect on the giant factories that have made our lives much more convenient, but have drastically changed the patterns of making in our world.

Woman weaving in Rumira Sondormayo (Small village in the Sacred Valley)

In a world where things are becoming more and more “convenient” – with big box hardware and grocery stores with any material or food you can imagine imported from all over the world – I can’t help but think that we are missing the point. While I’m extremely grateful that we even have food and things like washing machines and I am in no way anti-progress or anti-mechanization, I do believe that there are some serious implications for a culture that knows more about their meat from the packaging and labeling on the box  than about animals themselves or the farmers that raised them. I feel that we are losing our connection with the earth (or “Pachamama” as they say in the Andes),  and our connection with others, in exchange for convenience. But why are we so obsessed with convenience? It’s not like we’re really going anywhere…

Throughout my experiences in Peru, I noticed a real culture of connection – to the earth, and to others (Especially in the Andes). Even though there were many communities, there seemed to be a collective workforce. I saw women in a few different different areas in Lima tearing apart ribbons to weave them into reusable bags which they sold for a couple of soles. These bags are all over Lima, and I saw women selling them everywhere. There was no special designer label that “owned” the brand or the pattern – weaving is a collective knowledge that belongs to the people and benefits many communities. It was really interesting to see what every region made, and how much what people made was reflective of the surrounding environments. Making isn’t hidden away in factories with gross working conditions – it’s done right in front of you. You can’t help but feel connected.

Textiles in Pisac

Here are a few stories and anecdotes that relate to this idea of connection:

  • There’s a myth in the Amazon about a man that committed a crime who was picked up by birds and dropped from a far distance and he exploded – which is the worst thing that could have possibly happened. The idea of being separated from your body is the most disturbing idea – because your body is seen as a community.
  • Poverty in the monetary sense isn’t much of a concept in the Andes. Being impoverished in the Andes means that you lack connection and the word “Haccha” in Quechua (The language spoken by people in the Andes) means that you aren’t an orphan. That you are connected to the communities in the villages.
  • The main god of the Incas was the sun, but “Pachamama” represents mother earth who presides over harvesting and planting. Often before men drink chicha, a fermented corn beverage, they pour out a little bit before drinking, in honour of Pachamama. (Just like rappers do with their ‘homies’)
  • There are many stories in Andean cultures about sacred plants and their abilities to connect people to spirits, ancestors and to the earth. “MamaCoca” (as in coca) is the connective element that allows communication with ancestors, with Pachamama and with the sacred mountains and their tutelary spirits (or the “Apus”). Offerings are often made in their honour to obtain favours from these spirits.
  • “Apu” means “Powerful lord.”  A living, conscious, spirit of the mountain protecting and-or overseeing a community or Ayllu.” Most known apus are male and some (like Mama Simona) are known as female. There are major Apus like “Salcantay,” “Ausangate” and “Machu Picchu” (meaning “old mountain”) and minor ones and some have to be kept satisfied with ritual offerings or else they can harm the community.*
  • “Cosmovision” The main idea in “cosmovision” is to harmonize with Life (Kawsay Pacha) through various forms of practical and ritualistic exchange or reciprocity. An ‘energy’ and ‘presence’ is felt as moving through all beings from all possible worlds and it is quietly, simply and naturally revered.  Relationships (rather than an intense search for ‘oneness’ or for a transcendent ‘Other’ prevailing over multiplicity) are emphasized.*
  • All exchanges or reciprocity (Also called “Ayni” in Quechua) are often ritualistic or done with feeling.

I wrote pages and pages on this stuff, so I’ll probably have some more anecdotes and stories to come. I am in no way an expert on any of these ideas. I was traveling as a tourist, so I imagine that puts a certain cultural lens on things. Please, if you have anything more to add, or any other thoughts, I encourage you to share!

* Source: Inca Cosmovision Glossary


  • Jamie Lubiner January 6, 2014 at 7:45 am |

    Welcome back, Emily!

    I just started reading Malcom Gladwell’s book “Outliers” where he begins by describing a town in Roseto, Pennsylvania that consists mostly of people that emigrated from a small village in Italy of the same name. Scientists became interested in studying the town because the residents had an incredibly low incidence of heart disease and other ailments compared to the rest of the population. Most eventually died naturally from “old age” even though their diet and their other “bad” habits were no different than surrounding towns and other areas in the US at large. The hypothesis presented to explain their miraculous health resilience was as follows:

    “They described a unique sharing of experiences that defined the town’s social structure. They discovered a feeling of trust and security among Rosetans because the people of the town always had someone they knew and who knew them to turn to for support. They concluded that the extraordinary health of this unique population could only be explained in terms of “extended family” and “community.””

    This resonates with the idea of connection and community that you experienced in Peru and how feeling connected may even markedly improve our physical health!


Back to top