The Mighty Alpaca
Known as one of the most beautiful camelids in South America, alpacas are indigenous to the Peruvian Andes. Since pre-Inca times, this wonderful species has been part of our culture, and is an integral part of daily life in the Andean region. Alpacas live in different departments of Peru, such as Puno, Cusco, Arequipa, Pasco, Huancayo and Huancavelica.
Peru currently has 3.7 million alpacas (80% huacaya, 12% suri and 80% hybrids), representing 87% of the world population of this animal, reported the Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation (Minagri). This animal is also present in other South American countries such as Bolivia, Chile, Argentina and Ecuador as well as in very small quantities in countries such as the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
THE ALPACA FIBER AND ITS IMPORTANCE
Peru is the leading producer of alpaca fiber, reaching an annual production that exceeds four thousand tons and a half; of which 95% is acquired and transformed by the textile industry, 58% being exported.
The commercialization of alpaca fiber is of great importance for the economy of the high Andean populations of Peru, since most of the alpaca crops are in the hands of families with limited economic resources where the raising of these animals is their main source income, usually they are families that still preserve the traditions and customs of the times of the Incas, which are used in the different “alpaquera” tasks where the whole family participates from the youngest to the most adult, and also with the help of all community.
THE NATURAL FIBER OF ALPACAAlpaca fiber is considered one of the most luxurious in the textile market. It is appreciated by vendors, designers, and clients for its unique attributes:
- It is three times stronger than sheep fiber and seven times hotter.
- It has excellent insulating and thermal qualities due to having microscopic air pockets inside, which makes it lighter but still very hot.
- It is a very fine fibre, ranging anywhere from 12 to 28 microns.
- It has a silky shine that is maintained despite production, dyeing or washing.
- It does not contain fat, oil or lanolin, which makes it hypoallergenic.
- Does not retain water and can resist and reflect solar radiation
- It is naturally heat resistant.
- It comes in more than 22 natural colors.
- Alpaca fiber is not only spun, it can also be made into beautiful clothes and felt materials.
The shearing season is once a year, from November to April, and is usually done manually with knives or scissors. Alpaca wool is used to create different products such as fabrics, scarves, sweaters, blankets, rugs, etc. and it is also mixed with other fibers, generally natural. Due to the beauty and quality of the fiber of this beautiful camelid, thousands of textiles have been exported all over the world, including the United States, New Zealand, Australia and the Netherlands.
THE ALPACA AND THE INCAS
Alpacas were treasured as the most important animal for the Inca civilization. Its meat was consumed fresh in traditional preparations such as jerky (charqui) and chalona; with their wool they made threads and fabrics; Their bones, leather, fat, and excrement had diverse applications such as musical instruments, footwear, medicine, and compost, respectively. Due to their consideration, they were preferred animals for religious sacrifices; The Incas believed that sacrificing an alpaca served to appease their gods.
Textiles were very significant for the Inca Empire because they had religious and social value. A piece of cloth or clothing was considered the most precious gift, it was a sign of social status and was exclusive to members of the royal family and the highest officials of the Inca Empire. Because of this, they allowed only designated artisans to weave the alpaca fiber.