Ceremony of Solidarity: The Andean Chaccu
This story is about a distant dream of participating in The Chaccu, the Incan ceremony of solidarity. It was their way of harvesting the finest material created by Pachamama, mother world. In our film above we are excited to share our journey to source the most luxurious materials in the world.
In our quest for the best materials to work with for our label The Inoue Brothers (read the interview with the two brothers here on mb!), my brother and I have spent much time in the Andean plateaus and have been fortunate enough to encounter many communities and individuals. Our endeavour finally brought us to the Puno region in southern Peru some five years after our first visit to South America. It was here that we met local anthropologist Alonso Burgos, one of the first pioneers to reintroduce the ancient Chaccu ceremony as a socially engaging sustainable model for the indigenous communities, who have lived alongside this sacred creature for more than ten thousand years. The ceremony consists of members of the Andean highland communities coming together to herd and shear the vicuña.
Great efforts have been made by Andean and international authorities to protect the vicuña from poachers. In the early 1990s, social initiatives to help reestablish the tradition of Chaccu were initiated by Alonso and his team. The indigenous communities were able to once again carry out Chaccus, which had become little more than a distant myth. Various ceremonies are now once more being held around the protected Zonas de Vicuñas, involving many close-knit communities coming together to carry out the shearing of the extraordinary fibre in exact accordance with their ancient tradition.
Hearing these stories and finally seeing the wild animals in their natural habitat was truly the pinnacle of our long enduring endeavour. However, participating in a Chaccu was still only a dream as the communities carrying out these ceremonies live in extremely rural areas, and under very challenging conditions.
Through our working relationship with Alonso, we managed to establish a strong connection to the local communities, building trust through our sincere wish for the empowerment and organisation of the Andean indigenous people.
In the spring of 2012 we were invited to the Puno region’s Chaccu planned for November later that same year. For my brother and I it was beyond all question that we would participate and honour our invitation no matter what may come. We were also determined to document this magical moment we had been chasing for quite some time.
After a twelve and a half hour flight, we finally arrived in Lima. Spirits were high and the prospect of spending the next 12 hours in an airport waiting for our connecting flight did not dampen them. We set up camp in what we thought was a quiet corner of the airport, but before long the South American vibe and energy kicked in. Upon arriving in Arequipa, the largest city in Puno, the sun’s morning rays welcomed us as though the heavens were smiling down on us. The city is known for it’s extraordinary high number of sunny days per year and, being 2,800 meters up in the Andean plateaus, the locals hide from the midday sun in the same way Londoners avoid the rain. We, of course, were in awe of the blue skies and the majestic volcano in close proximity to the airport’s runway and the rest of the city.
Once we had checked in at our hotel, Alonso came to meet us. He had arranged for us to visit the workshops and factory where the vicuña fibre is processed into yarn and woven into material. His strong will and attention to detail ensured that we saw and filmed every step of how much work goes into turning raw fibre into yarn and cloth. What touched us all the most was the concentration and intensity of the people working with a fibre that obviously meant more to them than just any old material. The serene atmosphere in the room, where women were hand sorting the vicuña’s clipped fleeces, was like that of a spiritual place of worship.
The next day, after a nice long rest, we headed out into the higher plateaus of the Andes. We crossed peaks of 4,500 meters and the only remedies for the change in pressure was sipping soothing tea brewed from coca and constantly chewing leaves of the same plant. We were all humbled by the majestic landscape and the physically challenging conditions. Alonso taught us the three point rule of surviving the altitudes:
1. Walk slow
2. Eat little
3. Don’t exert yourself
In the following days we visited various caves with ancient drawings depicting vicuñas, alpacas and other smaller creatures, some dating back to more than 10,000 years! In other later drawings, the origin of the Chaccu myth became clear. Human chains and multitudes of the same animal, the vicuña, are shown here.
On our fourth day we met with the chief of the many communities of the entire surrounding area. With him we visited the last remaining communities he had not been able to get to due to their remoteness, needing our modern off road vehicles to reach them. With the many months it takes the chief to prepare this Chaccu, these final visits are crucial, as all the people inhabiting this vast area are needed to participate. The grounds which the wild vicuña roam in are so immense that unless all of the communities work together, the whole ceremony will be in vain. Each participating community must be in the exact right location and at the right time, harmoniously moving together with the rest of the many communities to form the huge human chain needed to herd the vicuña in with the least amount of stress or fear. It has been scientifically proven that stress will decrease the quality of the vicuña’s fibres.
As we learned all this and experienced the vastness of this rural land, our admiration and respect for the indigenous communities grew stronger. The day of the Chaccu drew closer and our excitement intensified.
Regardless of gender, age or social status we learnt that only through communal effort and respect for the natural world is it possible to gain access to the finest materials of Pachamama. We were told that the answer to our search for true value could be found in the Chaccu, and we were blessed to have experienced it first hand.
We have certainly found our answer in the Ceremony of Solidarity.
The film documenting our epic journey illustrates our concept of New Luxury and can be seen above.
- Style can’t be mass-produced
See the film about the Inoue Brothers’ fashion project “Ubuntu” with NYC-based South African artist Xander Ferreira on The Avant/Garde Diaries.