The People Behind the Palette

In Palcazu Valley, Yanesha women reveal a rainbow of colors achieved by gathering and processing plants. They use the colors for dying woven cloth and fibers such as palm and spun cotton. The Yanesha are also the guardians of naturally colored cottons (Gossypium barbadense): cream, pink, rose, brown, white and even green. The colored cottons are another of Peru’s unique contributions to biological diversity, and are the product of eons of exchange between the oasis areas of the desert Northwest, and the hilly transitional zone (like Palcazu) between the Andes and the Amazon lowlands. Today the Yanesha women’s associations throughout the valley are dreaming their once and future heritage in new and recovered forms and patterns.

The memory of plants goes back for all the time the Yanesha have been dwelling in the valley, according to linguistic and archaeological studies as long as 10,000 years. With each of my visits I encounter another color that they have remembered and celebrated. One time it was the brilliant greens from mango leaves, last time it was a pinkish red found from clavo huasca. I am constantly astonished. Palcazu Valley is a bastion of beauty; part of that beauty is the profound knowledge held within the Yanesha of this extraordinary plant based palette.

Discover and support Yanesha textiles here.

All photos Niki Faller. All content protected.

Featured image: Artisans gather in Villa America. All the garment colors are achieved exclusively through plants: bark, seeds, branches, flowers and leaves.

Artisan with hand spun, plant dyed ‘banda.’


Handspun colored (undyed) cotton.


Achiote is very commonly used to produce a reddish brown.


A dyebath of palillo.


©Niki Faller, Rubisco Makes, LLC. 2016. All Paseo Amazonía content protected. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without the express and written consent of the site’s owner is expressly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that clear and explicit credit is given to Niki Faller and Paseo Amazonía with appropriate and specific direction and links back to the original content.

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