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The Value and Lessons of Andean Textiles




The value and lessons of Andean textiles

7 December 2012



Ivan Vivar
Anthropology 338
Doctor Roe
5 December 2012
The value and the lessons of Andean Textiles
For today’s society our selection of clothes represents very little. It would be difficult to tell a person’s background today solely judging from their clothes. For the indigenous community of the Andes Mountains, and their predecessors, such distinctions are possible and obvious to them. Their wardrobe of beautifully woven textile garments reveals not only signs of identification but also many spiritual beliefs essential for the indigenous of the Andes. Andrea Heckman describes the textiles as “visual metaphors that meaningful relationships that Quechuas form with nature, animals, and the environment so that Andean life as a whole can survive” (Heckman, 21). The textiles are more valuable than just their beautiful workmanship, the lessons of survival by the original indigenous cultures of the Andes are written in the textiles as well.
At an altitude of 9,000-16,000 feet, resources are scarce and survival takes a lot of creativity and human development. Not everything essential to the Andean diet was found high in the mountains. A lot of resources that the highlanders traded for were bananas, yucca, cacao, coca leaves, and other tropical fruit (Heckman, 56). A vast trading network that spread to their usage of llama trains to carry their capital, textiles, to trade for the tropical fruits of the jungle; this is just one of the important uses for the llamas. Llamas and alpacas serve many purposes that made life in the Andes bearable and easier. For that reason the Quechuas respect the life of llamas and alpacas equally as much as a humans life.
Today the province of Huaytará, which has large rural farming neighborhoods, is experiencing increasing numbers of vicuña population. In the magazine La Revista Agraria, there is an article that argues the growing numbers have allowed a profitable market to emerge. At first it is very difficult to start a business because in order to have the vicuna you need a Módulos de Uso Sustentable de la Vicuña and a breakeven point takes years to surpass. Oscar Franco describes Huaytará as “un excelente ejemplo del éxito que puede lograrse una vez que se llega a cierto nivel de producción.” The value for the raising of vicunas and alpacas economically has proven its worth. Nonetheless that is not the only worth these animals bring to the highland people.

Ilustración 1Herding vicunas
Recognizing the usefulness of these wonderful animals, their greatest value is that their wool records Andes history, explains deities and opens an avenue to connect with them as well. For the Ausangate weavers, the core design of textiele is a lake pallay in a diamond shape. Lakes high up on the Ausangate Mountain are filled with glacier water that melts from the very top of the mountain. “A rich vocabulary exists for distinguishing different types of lakes qualities of their surfaces and sizes” (Heckman, 98). Combinations of different weaving styles for the distinct type of lake reveal more mythology. The color or the garments is also essential in certain rituals performed for the gods. ”Some shamans from the jungle will not begin a healing ceremony until they change into a white tunic or unku.” (Heckman, 105).
Along with that, a feature that is highlighted in textiles is the usage of negative lighting and colors. Negative colors are when an image in a textile has a different color on another side of the textile. I mention this feature because it highlights the dualism which the Andean indigenous believe in. The negative side of the textile signifies that it is a completely different image than its reversed image. It is very different from our culture that has only one use for our garments and do not think of our clothes as expressions of religion.
For the Andes Indian the structure of the weavings contains important messages. The techniques used in the weaving process creates a structure of visual that gave clues to remembering visual cues that in turned created a message. Khipus was a prime example of a craft used to make records, count inventory, and a way to have laws expressed for the Inka. Certain patterns in weaving bracelets served almost like body paint for the Shabipo. Lloque’s, is a “bracelet where yarn is spun the reverse direction from the normal spinners twist” (Conklin, 118). It is placed around wrist or ankles and its textile pattern and structure block the evil spirits from entering your body and negatively affecting you.
As impressive as lloques were for protecting your body, the most prestigious textile project was the gompi or tapestries. The loom is around 7 feet in length and 31 inches tall, it took 2 weavers to finish one. To make one was certainly labor intensive as there were 200 yarns to the inch (Rodman, 34). Throughout the Andes there is a large similarity in a lot of the tapestries created, same imagery and colors were common. The differences were much more subtle and those differences corresponded to different tribes along the Andes. “It is more through technical details, fiber identification, and close style analysis of the physical evidence that any distinguishable characteristics might be obtained” (Rodman, 39). Tiwanaku tapestry was made from fine camelidae, but Huari types have a variety of fiber in the warp; while there two tapestries were around the same size, a Huari is distinguished because they are formed from two rectangular webs seamed down the tunic center (Rodman, 37).
At large gatherings it is essential that your designs are distinguishable from other Indian groups. A large ritual like the Qoyllur Rit’i is an example of a ritual where your designs and weaving techniques need to stand out from the others. On this migration up the Ausangate mountain people are hoping to place their life back in balance. The lakes on the mountain are where life started so it is where the indigenous migrate through to have that natural order restored. They offer Ausangate tributes like textiles, and food. The traditional religion mixes with Catholicism, syncretism thus is visible. The mountain still retains its animism and prayers are directed towards it. It’s that same belief in the animism of the mountains that gets woven into all Andean textiles.


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This entry was posted on July 3, 2013 by .
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