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Just received the following info from a South American newsletter I
subscribe to. Thought it might be of use to some of you.
TO WEAVE FOR THE SUN – ANDEAN WEAVINGS
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
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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