Inspired by llamas, the desert and Mother Earth, these craftswomen weave sacred textiles

COLCHANE, Chile (AP) — In northern Chile, Teófila Challapa learned to weave surrounded by the hills and sandy roads of the Atacama Desert.

“Spin the threads, girl,” her grandmother told her a half a century ago.

Aymara women like Challapa, now 59, become acquainted with wool threads under blue skies and air so thin that outsiders struggle to breathe. While herding llamas and alpacas through scarce grasslands 11,500 feet above sea level, they create their first textiles.

“We had no clothes or money, so we needed to learn how to dress with our own hands,” said Challapa, sitting next to fluffy alpacas outside her humble home in Cariquima, a town with fewer than 500 inhabitants near the Chile-Bolivia border.

 

The knowledge of her craft passes on from one generation to another, securing Aymara families’ bond with their land.

Challapa prays before beginning her work: “Mother Earth, give me strength, because you’re the one who will produce, not me.”

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