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What is an alpaca?

Posted on 23rd April 2014
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An Alpaca?  What is it exactly?

‘What is the difference between an Alpaca and a Llama?’, a classic Trivial Pursuit (Genius Edition BTW) question.  Do you know the answer? Firstly, you can start off by telling your fellow contestants that an alternative name for an Alpaca is Llama Pacos (but let’s use the Alpaca word for ease): Alpacas and Llamas belong to the Camelid family – A Llama is about twice the size of an Alpaca and was bred to be a pack animal.  Alpacas were purely bred to be domestic animals.  Although Alpacas dwarf the Llama, Alpacas produce far more fleece, or to be totally correct, FIBRE, than that of a Llama.  Alpaca fibre is lustrous and very silky in texture, it is warmer, doesn’t ‘ball’ up like wool, and, if said wool tends to make you itch, Alpaca fibre will not.

For centuries the Incas have valued Alpaca fibre as a commodity more valuable than gold or silver.   The Inca nobles demonstrated their wealth by the number of Alpaca's they owned. The trade in Alpaca fibre continued for thousands of years creating wealth and prosperity for their Inca owners, until the 17th century when the Spanish Conquistadors conquered the Inca Empire.

The Incas sought refuge from the Spanish, and took a limited number of these precious animals to into the Andes, some 14,000m above sea level.  If this had not happened, there may not be very many Alpacas left today.

The Incas still reside up in the mountains, a tribe so steeped in heritage and tradition you feel as though you have stepped back centuries in time.   From their remote communities in heaven sent landscapes yet braving the unforgiving weather, the Incas thrive on their sacred herds of Alpacas, tending to them as part of their extended family.  Even during the Winter months these incredible animals are bottle fed with hot Mate de Cocoa tea (a medicinal herbal tea – for humans - to conquer altitude sickness) and kept in cosy shelters.  And, would you believe, the herdsmen’s sheering tool is not the usual clippers, but a kitchen knife.  An eye watering sight to behold, (please do not try this with your pet sheep).

 

The Inca heritage is something that the team at CARINA HILDEBRANDT is passionate about and only buy Alpaca yarn from Peru.  Sadly other countries have tapped into the market putting the Inca economy under immense strain.  

 

In our next instalment we will be talking about how the Alpaca fibre is spun into yarn and the fascinating process of how it is then translated into our beautiful designs…..

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