One of the highlights of Carnaval was seeing the traditional costumes of the Andes, especially because many of the women’s costumes used manta which were wrapped around the women as a shawls. All of the products Ruraq Maki sells from the prison, except one, are made from manta, which is hand woven by the men on backstrap looms and then embroidered by the women.
Traditionally, mantas are sold as a large piece of fabric and used by women to carry fruit, vegetables, firewood, and most commonly, children on their back. They are also used as costume pieces during celebrations. Manta is still seen in traditional use around Ayacucho yet it is become rarer and rarer as plastic grocery bags and strollers replace the weaving.
The one exception to manta in Ruraq Maki’s prison product line is the Esther Hobo, which is made from poncho, also a traditional hand woven material. Poncho is generally worn by men and this was true during Carnaval, where men, draped in poncho, played instruments while the women sang.
Watching the Carnaval celebration, and seeing the abundance of manta and poncho, reminded me of just how important these materials are to the Andes. Although they may not be used year round by many people here, they are still honored during holidays. Ruraq Maki’s commitment to preserving important materials like poncho and manta is only strengthened when it is witnessed being celebrated by the Andean community.