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Sarah B.

Photographer and writer

The Women of the Andes

They are Quechuas, Aymaras, or Mapuches, the descendants of pre-Columbian cultures who alone have retained the strength to survive the harshness of the Andes Cordillera.

The clothes are heavy, the petticoats overlap and their shoulders are always covered with the Lirlya - this thick colored blanket that they learn to weave from childhood and which alternately carry the light weight of newborns, or the heavy load of the harvests that they will try to sell on the markets.

But it is in their faces that we recognize the greatness and strength of the women of the Andes. Their features are marked, tanned by the sun that beats down on their skins during the hard days of work in the fields and hollowed out by the icy cold by the nightfall.

But every mark, every wrinkle, every scar tells the story of Andean women.

They testify to the life of a child, accustomed as soon as she can walk, to tend herds and work in the fields.

That of a worker who walks dozens of kilometers every week to sell her harvest in the markets.

That of a mother on whom depends the survival of the home and the protection of the children in a place where crime continues to prowl.

That of a wife, often married as a teenager, alongside a man she has not always chosen to love but whom she will support willy-nilly.

And that of an old woman, whom one sometimes sees in the markets, her back bent, her feet damaged, her eyes misty, selling her own harvests, but who, until her last breath of life, will continue to prove to the whole world that there is nothing more heroic and moving than the strength of the women of the Andes.

Part 2

▫️In Andean communities, the role of women and men is clearly delineated. A man cultivates the land, takes care of the herds and struggles to support the family. The wife takes care of the children, keeps the hearth and prepares the meals.

School, hobbies, all this is subsidiary. So in these remote lands where survival trumps comfort, women have only one way to tell their story: weaving.

Weaving is a fundamental learning for any woman. It is through the patterns she sews, the "Kaspi", that she will transmit her memory, her heritage, whisper the cycle of her life.

While in the big cities, tourists flock to llama hair ponchos, a symbol of coquetry, the women of the Andes prefer sheep's wool, which is more resistant. It takes dozens of hours to make a garment, it must last a lifetime.

After being removed from the animal, the wool is cleaned with a plant, the "Sacha Parakay", from which the root is extracted, crushed, mixed with water, to make a foaming soap.

The wool is then spun with a "Pushka", two wooden bilboquets, to prevent the thread from tangling. Then, the wool will be dyed, with various plants mixed together to obtain the soft and warm colors of the Andes.

After being dyed, the wool will be left in the open air to dry then it will be gathered into balls, ready to be woven.

And from there, each woman will tell what she wants, on the garment of her choice. The youngest start with thin belts or scarves. And the more the technique is mastered, the wider the garment will be. The "Lirlya", the blanket women carry over their shoulders, is their final exam.

Some of their works will be sold, to support the community. The buyer only sees the work of the craftsman. They do not know that they carry with them the memory, the sorrows, the joys and the tears, of the silent women of the Andes.

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