Travelling involves a learning opportunity. Surely the ancient inhabitants of Northern Argentina never imagined that the ritual that involves shearing and treatment of vicuña fiber, called the Chaku, would be a tourist attraction.
According to the chroniclers of the colony, it was the same Inca who ordered the annual realization of the chakus. Several ayllus (pre-Inca family groups) met to coordinate this activity. Later they performed a religious ceremony in which they made payments to the land and, finally, they performed the harreo of vicuñas to be able to capture them, avoiding as much damage to the animal. These Salqas animals, Kumpis, were sacred, and garments made of their fiber were only worn by the Inca and their cut.
There are four species of South American camelids, of which two (llama and alpaca) are domestic and two (vicuña and guanaco) wild. Vicuña is the animal with the finest natural fiber in the world. It lives in groups headed by an adult male and plays once a year. Its capture demands great physical exertion, not only for its speed, but mainly because it lives in the high parts of the Andes, in the puna, a high mountain area characterized by its hostile climate. To capture specimens of this species it is necessary to use techniques that do not harm vicuña or sheared fiber.
Laguna Blanca, epicenter of the ritual
The appointment is in November, in Laguna Blanca, Catamarca. In compliance with the rites of the Andean world vision, a special group of community elders (yatiris) is prepared to pay the land. Before starting any slaughter, permission is requested from the Pachamama to make use of the animals. If permission is not met, in the future the earth could bear little fruit or vicuñas could produce little fiber, that ritual is called “Corpachada”.
On the chosen day, very early in the morning, all participants gather and the ascent begins. After several hours of walking, among stony soils, you reach a point near the vicuñas, where all the participants of the chaku are concentrated.
Once there they are surrounded by corrals of ropes and red ribbons. Groups are then formed to enter the fence where vicuñas are held and select those with a suitable fiber length. This is very important, as international conventions require that only fibers longer than one inch should be marketed. The chosen ones move to another corral with high tarpaulins to prevent the animal from seeing the field and trying to flee.
Once shear, by hand, a group of people, mainly women, take care of receiving the fleece and fold it with special technique as if it were a shirt that is packed for a trip. That wool is processed and then spun to produce the beautiful and valuable catamarca ponchos. In many cases, weavers take 10 to 12 months to make one.
Vicuñas are a valuable resource that is part of the high Andean biocultural system and that directly benefits the economy of the communities that manage it.
Vicuñas in Catamarca: only the vicuñas of Jujuy and Catamarca can be used for wool production. 800 kg are obtained annually: 81% come from wild catamarca vicuñas. Almost everything is exported to Europe.
Activities: There are other alternatives to do in the Laguna Blanca Biosphere Reserve: flora and fauna watching, high water bird watching, hiking, cultural and ethnic tourism.
Lodging: There is an inn and a hostel within the reservation. In the surroundings there are other possibilities (El Peñón, Barranca Larga, Villa Vil, Belén and Haulfin).
Periodista desde 1988, especializado en turismo. Escribe para medios gráficos y digitales de nuestro país y el extranjero. Fundador de LOS CABRERA Comunicación.