In Ecuador, many Otavalenos are indigenous peoples who trace their roots to the Inca Empire. Their hair cascades like a rich midnight curtain, braided and bound in a tradition hundreds of generations back. The women wear brocaded blouses, decorated with pastel flowers and verdant trim at the neck and arm. Otavalenos are a people who’ve not only survived Spanish colonialism but global modernization. They have succeeded in maintaining their cultures, customs, and craftsmanship. They are weavers, musicians, and farmers. They believe that family comes first, traditions do not fade, and the world is a place for progress. In the small village of Peguche, Ecuador, the Otavalenos make their mark commercially. Some of the most successful villagers include Jose Cotacachi and his family.
“Everything I do is unique. I work everyday, making everything by hand.” Jose Cotacachi loops spools of alpaca thread across his loom. Plastic wrappings around his thumbs protect his skin as he winds the reds, greens, and blues across a tapestry. His fingers dance across the yarn, left to right, then right to left. All day long. In Peguche, Cotacachi is a determined craftsman. He’s surrounded by neighbors, who use clanking mechanical looms to mass-produce textiles for Otavalo’s markets. But he frowns on that. He even says he refuses to go to market. “Por que?” He shrugged his shoulders with a half-smile, meaning: why should I bother?
His workshop is his home.
Everyday, Jose works at his loom, paddling back and forth and magically conjuring designs that are rural, geometric, impressionistic, and patriotic. His textiles feature Galapagos blue-footed boobies, summit peaks of Volcan Imbabura, native Otavalenos eating lunch, and Andean condors gliding on the breeze. In the next room, his wife ties together bundles of yarn and his children practice their mathematics. His home is multi-generational with a small shrine filled with flowers for the Virgin Mary. Maize from the garden dries in the cellar. And a massive clay oven sits beside one of the many houses, waiting for abuela to bake bread.
Jose’s brother-in-law, Umberto showed us around the property. Though his name isn’t on any of the signposts or storefronts, Umberto is proudly part of the family. He’s a weaver as well as a skilled musician who spent time abroad playing in New York City and Seattle. Like many Otavalenos, Umberto is well traveled and well-educated—a valued skill among a people who believe in global awareness and family values.
When visiting Peguche, consider buying some of their lovely hats, gloves, and sweaters. Small purses are priced at $4 and large tapestries cost between US$20-200. The textiles are worth the trip and purchases. They are all hand-woven and dyed, made by local families who’ve been weaving for generations from the time of the Incas and after Spanish colonialism. For two scarves and a cell phone holder, I spent $12. Bring small bills and coins, please.