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Peruvian Alpaca Ponchos

Listed under Original Gifts in Lima, Peru.

  • Photo of Peruvian Alpaca Ponchos
  • Photo of Peruvian Alpaca Ponchos
Photo of Peruvian Alpaca Ponchos
Photo by Alparieliz
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During the time of the Inca Empire in the 14th and 15th centuries, the wool of the alpaca was valued so highly that only royalty had the pleasure of wearing it. Alpaca farming for wool and meat became so vital to the economy of South America that the Spanish, who arrived in the 15th century, and much later, a 20th century terrorist organisation took to slaughtering the alpaca stags in order to damage the industry and thereby gain more control over the native people.

The Amerindian alpaca farmers would, as Charles Darwin noted when he visited South America in the 1830s, separate their charges into herds by colour, these ranging from pure white through different shades of brown, mink, cream, grey and black. They were selectively bred (one of the first known examples of this in history) and their meat, milk and skin were all utilised.

The alpaca is best described as being to the camel what the poodle is to the Alsatian: smaller, fluffier and slightly less dignified in appearance. It grazes in herds on the lower slopes of the Andes and is usually very well-mannered and gentle, though it will spit when annoyed. Its fleece is similar to sheep's wool but very fine, soft and silky, without any of the usual itchiness. It also has far less lanolin, making it more delicate and unlikely to trigger allergies.

The very fine nature of alpaca fleece allows it to be woven into all kinds of fabrics, but of course the Andean poncho has a certain iconic significance, bringing to mind the image of a Peruvian tradesman mounted on his mule, trekking across the mountains, wrapped warmly in bright colours and traditional patterns.

The practicality of the poncho is really what has kept it alive; it originated in Argentina in the 16th century and has caught on in all manner of other cultures, because it is warm, simple, hard-wearing and versatile - like a snuggly blanket one can wear in public. For a cosy, traditional alpaca poncho (or any other alpaca wool item with a crazy, fun pattern), try Alparieliz; they make their products in Peru from pure alpaca fleece.

Available online here.

Written by  larapiegeler.

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