Peruvian textiles enjoy a history spanning back to at least 8,000 BCE, and have a profound influence within the cultures of the indigenous Andean people. The brilliant weaving techniques and patterns are passed from generation to generation, keeping alive both tradition and trade.
The most recognized of the weaving communities living in the Andes are the Quechua - the direct descendants of the Inca and survivors of Spanish colonization. Written into their textiles are their history, geographic identity, legends and aspirations; each pallay (the intricate stripes on the textiles) and selection of colors often signals from which Quechua community a piece came from.
Children living in the Andes learn the trade of spinning when they are as young as 6 years of age, using techniques that have been practiced in the region for at least 5,000 years. In modern Peru, of course, schooling is also becoming of primary importance for families - and the Quechua are no exception. Finding a way to balance the preservation of culture and tradition with the need to adapt to changing times is a challenge that the Andean people have proved well capable of meeting (helped, in part, by the work of NGOs and programs like the Mirasol Project).
Paramount to this challenge has been literacy: the Inca did not have a formally established alphabet and as such did not pass on any traditions of reading or writing. Oral tradition and cultural music - huayno - has served the Quechua well, but new generations are increasingly alienated from a modernizing world by lacking literary skills. Fortunately, new schools in Peru are not only working to teach indigenous children how to read and write, but also helping to preserve the Quechua language in written records.
The Quechua make up approximately one third of Peru's 24.5 million inhabitants.