Accha Alta is a small community high in the Peruvian Andes. To arrive there, you drive up steep switchbacks on a single-track road, past ancient Inca storage structures, and alpacas foraging on almost nonexistent vegetation. Or you walk.
In spite of, or maybe because of, their remoteness and sparse lifestyle, the villagers of Accha Alta take great pride in their traditional ways. Their potatoes are varied and abundant, the best. Their rituals are observed with reverence, enthusiasm, flutes, drums, and plenty of chicha. Their traditional garments—short, vividly red mantas and ponchos, jaunty beribboned hats—are worn with dignity.
Simeon Gutierrez, Tradition Bearer
The first time I visited Accha Alta fifteen years ago, I was struck by the role of one man in particular who seemed to embody the spirit of the community. On that occasion, he not only showed us how to plant potatoes on an almost-vertical mountainside, but even how to weave the homespun pants sported by the men and boys of his community.
My jaw dropped when he brought his loom out from the corner of his one-room, mud-brick home: it was nothing but sticks and some heddle bars holding an immensely long warp. He tied one end to a distant post, the other to nearby pegs, and proceeded to use his feet to lift the four shafts that produced a sturdy twill fabric. (Simeon weaves the fabric for his family, but also for his neighbors.)
You can see Simeon and his family in Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands, too, blessing the alpacas with flowers, chicha, prayers, and offerings. It’s an annual event, one with deep meaning for these precious animals and their keepers and the essential role they play in Andean life.
The Humble Potato Sack
When we were in Accha Alta again to do photography for Faces of Tradition, Simeon was weaving heavy llama-wool potato sacks. Most villages have converted to using plastic sacks, but the potato fields in Accha Alta are so steep that the plastic ones tend to slide downhill.
The traditional ones are designed to hold just fifty pounds of potatoes, the maximum load for a llama to take on the long journey to market. Watch this short video to see how Simeon creates a sack that’s built to last, one weft at a time.
Energy and Grace
The times we live in demand admiration for people who can craft a life from isolation, limited resources, and deep tradition—people who have broad-ranging skills and who practice them with energy and grace. People like Simeon Gutierrez.
—Linda Ligon, Publisher