Remarks by Dr. James M. Vreeland, Jr, in the presentation of the book Lambayeque, Native Cotton and Textile Crafts, San Martin de Porres University, October 26, 2016
I thank the author and colleague Cristina Gutierrez for the invitation to share with this distinguished public before the authorities of the San Martin de Porres University, a few words about my experiences about native cotton and lambayecan textile crafts. First of all, it is worth mentioning the commendable decision of the same author to present her book first in Lambayeque a few days ago, before a large attendance of artisan teachers, honored in the texts and images in the book.
Naturally Pigmented Cotton
About 40 years ago, to the surprise and discomfort of the cognoscenti of art in Lima, the National Culture Prize was awarded to an artist who has never painted a painting. I refer, of course, to the Ayacuchano retablista, Joaquin Lopez Antay. A fortnight ago, similar was the reaction among the consecrated literati when the news was released that the Nobel Prize for Literature cayeria in the hands of a cant-author of ballads, who will never have written a book: the troubadour Robert Allen Zimmermann, AKA Bob Dylan . Today, after 5 millennia of waiting, a deserved recognition is given to thousands of artisans of northern textile art. In our hands the valuable book, LAMBAYEQUE: NATIVE COTTON AND TEXTILE CRAFTS, is neatly illustrated with eloquent images by photographer Luis Miranda, edited with great care by the San Martin de Porres University.
395/5000 Together with the author, we pay tribute to a venerable selection of humble spinners and weavers, from various Lambayecan farmhouses, representing the hundreds of thousands who came before, and in whose hands, voices and hearts, life and continuity are given to a Millenary Peruvian tradition.
Great connoisseur and lover of Peruvian textile art, Cristina Gutiérrez invites us not only to appreciate, but also to reflect on the role of this trade in a context of a country that is dying to modernize – without erasing the trace of an ancestral cultural file . As she said in her previous volume, Del Ritual a la Moda, “textile in Peru is an art as old as its civilization,” and proves reliably that the past has not died.
My role in this long cultural journey has been very short and modest, since it was others who opened the way for the study and recognition of the value of native cotton. Among the most prominent researchers are the naturalists Alexander von Humbolt and Antonio Raimondi, and the self-taught ethno-historian, Hans Heinrich Bruning, who compiled and photographed more than a century ago, lasting evidence of muchik textile art embodied in native cotton, already on the way to extinction.
Perhaps the only relevant contribution of mine in all this has been simply the invention of the NATIVE COTTON concept. It was in the 70s, I then lived in Morrope, when I coined this term, not as a botanical or scientific taxon, but as a cultural reference to designate all the threatened species and ecotypes of cotton of pre-Hispanic origin, whose seeds never circulated among the merchants or landowners, but in the hands of the peasants and artisans themselves. They are primitive and rustic plants, but strong and beautiful, resistant to prolonged droughts, intense and unplanned floods, and high concentrations of salt and boron in northern soils.
But it should be noted that it was never called NATIVE COTTON, but COTTON OF THE COUNTRY, OF THE GENTILE, and very wrongly, SILVESTRE, although it was domesticated about 8 thousand years ago, according to a newly published study. Once harvested our cotton is bought from the farmers at a guaranteed price above market value. This gives farmers and their families a security that they don’t have in the open market. In both the mill and factory we use in Peru, employees enjoy a higher wage than the local average expectation. Men and woman are paid the same and there is no child labour. Working hours are fair with no enforced overtime. Overtime is optional paid at 50% above the normal salary. Employees have the right to join a union, have good redundancy rights and paid maternity leave. Above all workers are respected as individuals whose skills are highly appreciated.
Native Cotton Project History
In the past decades, he was vilified for being, supposedly, host of insects and pests of commercial cotton, such as cotton from CERRO and PIMA. Consequently, the peasants who cultivated it and the artisans who spun and wove it were forced to do it in hiding. In all the communities studied by the indefatigable researcher Cristina Gutiérrez, she transcends the spirit and selfless dedication of artisans, almost all of advanced age. They seek to overcome their economic problems, health problems and their physical limitations, as well as the scarcity and shortage of the raw material of the «cotton of the country» (the mature artisan has not yet adopted the term «native cotton.») The main challenge For them it is the transmission of their trade to the next generation, mostly kidnapped by the immediacy of easy and superfluous knowledge of the internet. Eloquent are the testimonies carefully collected by Cristina from the weavers such as Mrs. Susana Bances Zeña in La Raya, Petronila Brenis Farfan in Ferreñafe, Basilia Galán in the San José cove, Rosita Farroñan in Huaca de Barro, Yolanda Llontop in Monsefu, and Dante Julián Bravo Calderón in Túcume. His spontaneous and sincere stories are the voices of courage, fidelity, passion and love for an ancestral trade: the art of spinning and weaving with native Lambayecan cotton.