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Lesson Plans

South American weaving info

From: Maggie White (mwhiteaz)
Date: Sun Jul 30 2000 - 10:59:59 PDT

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    Hi, all,

    Just received the following info from a South American newsletter I
    subscribe to. Thought it might be of use to some of you.


    Indigenous markets are one of the must-see events in Latin
    America. Whether it is the famous Otavalo market in
    Ecuador, or the Pisac market in Peru, travelers are sure to
    see many hand-woven tapestries for sale. At first glance,
    one may not realize the intricate detail and quality of
    these tapestries; fewer are aware of the long history and
    importance weaving has played in Andean society. The
    tapestries are not only beautiful and unique, but they
    provide a means for foreigners to appreciate indigenous
    culture of the region.

    Over thousands of years people have relied heavily on
    textiles for both survival and artistic expression. In
    fact, fiber objects have been preserved for nearly ten
    thousand years. A large number of extremely elaborate
    fabrics still exist, spanning from about 3000 BC to the
    present. They form the longest continuous textile record
    in history.

    Fiber weavings have played an important role in Andean
    society since the first evidence of human occupation in
    western South America. In the Inca Empire, textiles were
    used to establish important political and social
    distinctions. For example, extravagant, heavily
    embroidered weavings were used as mummy-bundle wrappings
    for the most important people in the village, whose status
    merited the hours upon hours of painstaking needlework
    dedicated to their protection and glorification in death.
    The Inca Empire especially used textiles in political
    transactions, as coercive payments, gifts, and rewards, to
    indicate the loyalty of the conquered, and to maintain
    social hierarchy. In all pre- and post-Conquest Andean
    cultures, social status and role were visually designated
    through the type of textiles worn and carried. Finally, as
    the ultimate measure of importance in the pre-Columbian
    world, high-quality textiles themselves were “killed” as
    sacrifices. The Incas took tapestries woven by the best
    weavers and ritually burned them in Cuzco, Peru as daily
    sacrifices to the sun.

    Recently, anthropologists, art historians, and
    archaeologists have studied cloth as symbolizing ideas
    about kinship, ethnicity, gender, age, economic status, and
    more. In the last fifteen years, interest has focused on
    textiles as a system of communication. The Incas were able
    to transmit the knowledge, which was necessary for the
    maintenance of their Empire, without the use of an
    alphabet. Their textiles communicated concepts concerning
    seasonal time, agricultural practices and mythic history.
    The motifs woven into fiber functioned as a graphic system
    of communication. Even today in Andean communities where
    textiles are still woven and worn as daily dress, one can
    see the Inca tradition of using iconography as a record of

    In rural areas girls still learn to weave before they reach
    puberty, and women spend nearly all their spare time
    spinning with a drop spindle or weaving on heddle looms.
    Prior to Spanish colonization, llama and alpaca wool were
    the materials of choice, but sheep’s wool is now the most
    readily available and least expensive medium. These
    beautiful and practical creations are true works of art.
    Today, woven cloth is still used for making ponchos, belts,
    and other clothing; however, it has also extended to cover
    a variety of rugs and tapestries. Traditionally worked
    alpaca wool is in great demand for sweaters, quadruple the
    price at home, as they are popular among foreigners
    traveling through Latin America. Hand woven cloth makes
    special gifts for friends and family, and a hanging
    tapestry is a beautiful reminder of the adventure abroad.


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