In the highlands of Ecuador, an Otavaleño weaver works at a treadle loom, producing a woolen rug of rich greys, creamy white and rust-red. The Otavalo weaving tradition stretches unbroken from even before the Inca armies marched into their Andean mountain valley homeland in 1455.
The Incas introduced the llama, and llama wool was soon widely adopted by Otavalo weavers along with the cotton upon which they had relied. Although the Incas never completely conquered the Otavaleños prior to being themselves conquered by the Spaniards, their language, Quechua, was adopted as the native tongue.
About a century later the Spanish took control of the Otavalo region, and introduced the treadle loom pictured here, as well as sheep's wool. As the cash economy supplanted their traditional ways, the weaving industry became central to the region's economy and helped the Otavalenos retain some degree of autonomy.
However, in the 19th century the industrial revolution allowed the mass production of cheap cloth, and the Otavalo weaving industry was severely impacted. But rather than dissappear, the Otavaleño weavers returned to their roots and today their art thrives anew, based upon their quality handcrafting.