There is evidence that alpacas were domesticated as far back as 6000 years ago. The Inca people lived in a society that was literally ‘woven together” by the fibers supplied by alpacas, llamas and cotton. Inca weavers made everything from bridges to roofs from the fibers of these animals, and recorded their wealth in patterns of the knots crafted from the fabrics.
Cloth was currency, and the fleece of the alpaca was one of the most prized. Not only were alpacas rich in value however, but also rich in tradition. They can be traced back into prehistory, and were of great spiritual significance to the ancient Andean people. Many myths and legends surround the alpaca throughout its history, and for the most prominent of these, simply read on...
According to the ancient Andean Quechua and Aymara peoples, the world was divided into two parts - the upper world, containing a small amount of short-haired, inferior quality alpaca belonging to the mountain god 'Apu', and the lower world, full of enormous herds of plump, long-haired superior quality alpaca that were tended to by Apu's daughter.
In order to assist the mountain god's daughter tend to the large herds in the lower world, Apu allowed her to marry a young herdsman from the upper world. Together Apu's daughter and the herdsman lived in the lower world, until one day the young herdsman became homesick. He wished to return to the upper world and enrich it with the alpacas from the lower world.
Apu agreed, under the strict condition that the herdsman was to always take good care of the herds, particularly of a tiny alpaca which the herdsman always had to carry.
The herdsman, however, proved to be lazy upon his return, and one day dropped the tiny alpaca on the ground, leaving it to fend for itself. When his wife saw this she took fright and immediately ran to the nearest spring, where she dove in and began swimming towards the lower world. The alpacas followed her, although a few were prevented from doing so by the herdsman in his failed attempt at stopping his wife from leaving.
Ever since, the alpacas of the upper world have remained near springs and lakes. There, they continue to yearn after their mistress who, as yet, has never returned.
The myth of the origin of alpacas contains a basic lesson that is still understood by Andean herders today. In the beginning life was difficult, but by the grace of the mountain gods, alpaca herds increased. The world became fertile, and life for a time became leisurely. Mankind then disobeyed the gods’ wishes, causing the herds to decline so that now they must be tended to continually.
The myth explains why life is difficult today, why the future is beset with uncertainties, and why both the alpacas and the mountain gods must be treated with great respect.
Alpacas brings with them a very ancient history, steeped in mythology and a textile tradition that has survived through the ages, and still remains integral to life of the traditional peoples of the Andean highlands today.
Written by Steve Connors
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