One of my favorite stories in our new book, Beyond the Stones of Machu Picchu: Folk Tales and Stories of Inca Life, is “The First Hair Cutting.” It’s based on an old, old Andean custom for building a social support system around young girls.
It goes something like this: When a girl is around five or six years old, one day her mother puts her hair up into many little braids all over her head. Then family and friends gather, and one by one, they snip the braids off, right up to her scalp. Now, lustrous long braids are an Andean woman’s glory, and to be shorn in this way can feel like a violation.
However, for each braid that is cut off, the girl gets a commitment from an important person in her life. Friends and relatives become her godparents, comadres and compadres. And she gets gifts. In this particular story, Ana gets the gift of a cow from a special aunt, the gift of weaving tools from her grandmother, the gift of a special stone from her brother, the gift of time herding together with her sister. There is feasting and singing. and it’s a memorable occasion.
But there’s a deep meaning here, too. It’s not just about integrating a girl into the social fabric of her family and community—it’s about recognizing the value of personal sacrifice. I’ve tried to think of a corollary in the meager childhood rituals of our own society, and nothing has come to mind.
Libby VanBuskirk tells this story with considerable grace and charm, and Angel Callañaupa’s illustrations bring it to life. It’s just one of many stories of what it’s like to be the child of a traditional family in the Andes—the responsibilities, the heartaches, the rewards. My little granddaughters are going to love it.