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  ANDEAN CULTURE AND ARTS

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Technical and Research Information Home Page

Gambling with Llama Bones

Andean Culture and Arts

North American Indigenous Culture and Arts

 
Reference to information on this page should be as follows:

Technical Essays Pertaining to Andean History, Culture and Arts
by Lorenzo Fritz-Francisco, 2004, www.akataksa.4t.com

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ANDEAN CULTURE AND ARTS ARTICLES:
(Please scroll down to review articles)

1. THE DESTRUCTION OF ANDEAN TEXTILES: IRONIC PRACTICES BY POLITICIANS, DEALERS AND TOURISTS

2  ANDEAN WOOLS, DYES AND WEAVING MATERIALS

3. AWAYUS & LLIXLLAS: WOMEN'S UTILITY SHOULDER CLOTHS

4. SACRED ANDEAN COCA LEAF POUCHES: FLAT BAGS USED NOT EXCLUSIVELY FOR COCA

5. AXSUS AND URKUS: THE ANDEAN WOMAN'S TRADITIONAL BODY COVER

6. ANDEAN ALTIPLANO LEADERS CLOTHS: A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON "ISCAYO"-RELATED TEXTILES

7. THE MORENADA FOLKLORE DANCE IN BOLIVIA

8. ANDEAN CHULAMANTAS: RAISING NATIVE SOCIAL CLASS WITH BEAUTIFUL SHOULDER CLOTHS

9. TARIS, ISTALLAS AND INKUÑAS: SECRETS OFANDEAN RITUAL CLOTHS REVEALED

1. THE DESTRUCTION OF ANDEAN TEXTILES: IRONIC PRACTICES BY POLITICIANS, DEALERS AND TOURISTS

     Traditional Andean Native Americans consider and sincerely believe that hand woven textiles have life. Cutting, or "killing," hand-woven Andean textiles for constructing cheap tourist bags and clothing is considered sacrilegious and is abhorred by traditional Native Americans in Bolivia and Peru.

     Please reconsider purchasing cut-up textiles that reflect a loss of respect for indigenous South Americans and their weaving tradition. Destroying hand woven cloth is an out of control activity instigated by foreigners since 1991 that is truly contributing to the loss of traditional Andean culture.  For more information on this sensitive issue, read   PLEASE DON'T KILL MY CULTURE.

2. ANDEAN WOOLS, DYES
AND WEAVING MATERIALS

     Contrary to popular belief, the majority of high Andean (Peruvian and Bolivian) textiles of 20th century age are woven of sheep, not camelid, wool.  Camelid yarns in Andean weavings in the last 100 years are somewhat uncommon and their use was restricted to a few localized regions.  Following the turn of the 19th century, in more than 99% of cases, camelid (family Camelidae, including vicuna, guanaco, llama and alpaca) yarns were of natural colors and were not dyed.  Nearly all dyed handspun yarns since the first two decades of this century are of sheep wool, not camelid.  Those who untenably report colored (i.e. dyed) yarns in highland hand woven textiles as alpaca or llama should research the subject more thoroughly .

     Furthermore, aniline dyes have been the preferred coloring element in Andean textiles since about the turn-of-the-19th century (they were introduced in Bolivia around 1880).  Twentieth century textiles with natural (plant, mineral, sea shell and insect) dyes are very rare and again, regionally specific.  Of extreme importance to the quality of woven cloth is whether aniline dyes were combined with mordants (including certain minerals, plant parts or urine) during the dying process and whether they were mixed with other materials before use.

      Most aniline-dyed 19th and early 20th century yarns were processed with mordants that kept colors from significant bleeding (dye run) and fading.  And, before the mid-20th century, most aniline trade powders were pure and not diluted with inferior substances; those superior powders also produced dyes that kept their color strong and consistent.  Aniline and even some natural dyed yarns that were processed without mordants or with later, inferior mordants tend to bleed when wet and fade when exposed to sunlight.  For these reasons newer textiles can "appear" as antique and very old, historic textiles can "look like" they were recently made.

     Andean weavers have used numerous imported yarns since the arrival of Europeans in the 16th century.  Metallic threads, for example, are known from as early as the 17th century.  Asian silk, Chilean and Peruvian Merino sheep and other exotic woolen and cotton yarns are mentionable.  Synthetic trade yarns (including acrylics and polyesters) have been the preferred weaving material for about 25 years in the majority of the most well known weaving districts of Bolivia and Peru. 

3. AWAYUS AND LLIXLLAS:
WOMEN'S UTILITY SHOULDER CLOTHS

     Awayus (also, awayo and aguayo) and their Quechua counterparts, llixllas (also lliqlla and lliklla), have numerous functions in Andean culture.  Their use dates back to early colonial times if not late prehistoric times. The majority of Bolivian Indian awayus and llixllas are worn by women and girls as decorative shoulder cloths.  They might also serve as bundles worn on the back for carrying babies, foodstuffs, tools, medicines and even small animals.  In and around the city of La Paz, most Northern Aymara women use awayus as bundle cloths instead of wearing apparel. 

     Some awayus and llixllas are made especially as ceremonial ground or altar cloths.  In some areas men also use awayus and llixllas as ceremonial waist wraps.  Still others are worn as special shoulder covers by both men and women only during feast dances.  In some areas awayus and llixllas are woven as special gifts for remembering certain events or personages.

     These textiles are often incorrectly called "mantas" by visiting tourists and foreign dealers.  The term "manta" in the Andes refers to women's shawls with entirely different functions and appearance. Traditional llixllas, awayus as well as other indigenous textiles retain valuable energies from weavers' thoughts and blessings and from ceremonial usage.

4. SACRED ANDEAN COCA LEAF POUCHES: FLAT BAGS USED NOT EXCLUSIVELY FOR COCA

    Traditional woven flat pouches with intricate designs and colorful yarns are well known among collectors of Andean textiles. The majority of these relatively small bags served as receptacles for sacred coca leaves and are commonly known by their Quechua name, "chuspa." Their nomenclature, however, is quite complicated depending on their origin and function. In the Northern Aymara dialect spoken around Lake Titikaka and the city of La Paz, for example, the general term for coca pouch is ch’uspa. One for a man is called chacha ch’uspa and one for a woman is called warmi chuspa, although the latter are almost never seen in use  today. Northern Aymara men's coca pouches almost always have neck straps for supporting the bag over the heart.  Women's pouches almost never have straps. 

     The Central Aymara dialects including speakers from the Province of Pacajes and those from the Province of Aroma use different terms for sacred coca leaf pouches.  In Aroma the bags are usually called ishtalla and in eastern Pacajes they are called wishtaya; in both regions, only by men carried coca leaf pouches.  In some regions of western Pacajes both men and women used wishtayas

     Among the Southern Aymara from the Department of Oruro, a man’s coca pouch is called wallq’ipu and a woman’s is called wishtalla.  Men's pouches had straps for wearing around the neck, the waist or bandoleer style across the chest.  During festivals and ceremonies, coca leaf pouches were often wrapped around the wrist and were referred to as phista wallq'ipu. The same practice is common among certain highland valley Quechua groups.  Rarely, coins were attached to wallq'ipus that were danced in public ceremonies to represent wealth and prosperity of ones' family and community.  Women's pouches did not have straps and were usually folded and carried under a waist sash. 

     Among the Southern Aymara, coca pouches that serve to hold ear markings of llamas and alpacas are called q’ilpan  wayllq’ipu.  The Central and Southern Aymara once cherished "coca leaf pouches" that held certain parts of sacrificial animals.  Those bags were called vilanch ch’uspa, vilanch wishtaya or vilanch wallq’ipu.

      The Southern Aymara and Yura Quechua both living on the southern Andean altiplano above 13,000 feet elevation, occasionally attached miniature coca pouches along with small bronze bells to the fringed collars of lead, or guide, llamas. Those little pouches are called karwa lantiru wallq’ipu or wallq’ipun sinsir kwillu and are filled with good luck offerings for those magnificent beasts.

     There are literally dozens of different kinds of sacred coca leaf pouches that were traditionally used in the Andean highlands. In the markets of La Paz, Cusco, Peru and other cities many "sacred coca leaf pouches" are actually fabricated from cut up awayus, llikllas and other indigenous textiles.  The majority of pouches with fiesta coins are actually tourist enhanced and do not represent authentic examples from the campo.

     Unfortunately, the use of sacred coca leaf pouches among the vast majority of Andean Indians has vanished.  Outside of public dances, coca leaf pouches are almost never seen among the indigenous people living in towns and cities.  Even on the campo in the most isolated villages Indians prefer to keep and even serve their sacred leaves in plastic bags rather than don hand woven pouches.  

5. AXSUS AND URKUS:
THE TRADITIONAL WOMAN'S BODY COVER

    Axsus (also axksus, aksus and ajjksus) were commonly worn by Inca women in the 15th and 16th centuries and possibly earlier.  Aymara women probably wore their counterparts, called urkus, during the same time period.  Apparently the Spanish Crown once prohibited the wearing of axsus and urkus in an attempt to force Andean Indians to be less indigenous and more European in their behavior and looks. Today numerous Bolivian Quechua groups and only a few Aymara llamero (llama herding) groups wear axsus and urkus.  Large axsus are fitted over the body as the principle covering, much like a dress.  Smaller axsus are worn to cover a dress or a portion of a dress.

      Axsus and Urkus are woven in two pieces, each with a different banded decoration.  Normally the bands of design are displayed horizontally.  For everyday wear, women will position the textile so that the larger and finer decoration is worn upward.  This also protects that end from getting dirty and worn.   For fiestas and ceremonies women reverse the cloth and wear the finer decoration at the bottom where it can be more easily seen and appreciated. Historically, urkus and axsus, apart from being a part of native dress, actually represented a woman’s best artistic talents as a weaver.  Even today women will select their finest axsu or urku to wear to social and ceremonial events. 

6. ANDEAN ALTIPLANO LEADERS CLOTHS:
A NEW PERSPECTIVE ON "ISCAYO"-RELATED TEXTILES

     One of the most intriguing research subjects dealing with high Andean historic Aymara Indian culture involves the function and significance of unique banded textiles referred to in the literature as iscayos [sic. The letter “C” does not appear in the Aymara orthography], ishkayos, iscallos [op.cit.], isallos, isayos, wishkallos, wishkayos, jilakatawayus, titi q’epichanyawayus, etc.  Preliminary research suggests that some of these terms may or may not have relevance among indigenous Andean populations.  In fact, there is the possibility that foreign dealers may have created one or more of these terms in recent years.  Research suggests that Aymara words approximating these terms may have traditionally related to entirely different textile types.

     Corollary to the problem of Andean nomenclature for these interesting cloths is the problem dealing with their function within indigenous society.  The major writers of the subject have been convinced that these cloths represent women’s shoulder cloths sometimes used in ceremonial functions; there is, in fact, sufficient evidence that these textiles were worn historically by women.  There is also ample evidence that they were not used exclusively by women.

      Ethnographic evidence suggests that these textiles were actually produced as woven symbols to be used by community and family territorial leaders (jilakatas, jinarus, tamanis, mallkus, kasikis (caciques), alkaldis (alcaldes), etc.) as special cloths carried and worn by them and their wives that represented their authoritative status.  Informants report a variety of Native American terms for these weavings including jilakatawayu, tamanawayu, q'ipiawayu, tamaninkunya, wara inkunya, etc.

      The larger of these textiles, woven in two pieces were usually used as bundle wraps for ritual and personal goods when travelling among communities on official business.  Both the male leader and his "sacred" half, or wife (often called mamatalla) might have carried the bundles wrapped in special banded awayus (utilitarian shoulder cloths).  In some areas during ceremonial dances, the mamatallas often donned tamanawayus as shoulder cloths representing their positions as a leader's wives.  Smaller tari or inkunya-sized cloths with identical banding were used as ground cloths for ceremonies and for ritual coca leaf consumption.  They were also used as wall hangings displayed with other objects representing "leader" status. 

      Such leader's cloths are known from Colonial times to the early 20th century, possibly as late as the 1930's.  Understanding the cultural significance of these weavings to indigenous highland social organization is as valuable as admiring these textiles as beautiful objects in the world of art appreciation.  

7. THE MORENADA FOLKLORE DANCE IN BOLIVIA

     The Morenada dance is Bolivia’s most popular Carnaval performance that in its present form dates to at least the mid-19th century. The dance was originally known as “Los Morenos” in reference to the dances’ presumed origin among African slaves brought to South America by the Spanish. The dance apparently began in the Bolivian yungas which lie between the Andes Mountains and the Amazon forests.  Historians report that it was first accepted by the Urus in Taracoma near the southern end of Lake Titikaka or by Quechuas in Taraco, Peru near the northern end of the lake. Nowadays it is mostly seen among the Aymara of Bolivia and the Puno Province of Peru although Chilean Carnaval dancers have recently adopted it.

     The modern Morenada dance consists of numerous participants, sometimes numbering hundreds of individuals who dance in blocks or costumed groups. They include a “king” (rey moreno or tisku tisku), male elders (achachis), female elders (awilas), masked young men (morenos,) young women companions (tarijenyas), scantily-clad pretty girls (chinas) and young children (nyustas). There may also be bears (osos) and angels (angeles). Each class of dancer dons a rich and marvelous costume. The achachis, awilas and morenos often carry loud, hand made matraca “rattle-rasps;” all are followed by a brass band playing any number of up to 50 different Morenada tunes.  Each class of participant also has its own dance-steps, which might include a dozen different forms. 

8. ANDEAN CHULAMANTAS: RAISING NATIVE SOCIAL CLASS WITH BEAUTIFUL SHOULDER CLOTHS

 

European clothing has long influenced indigenous apparel throughout the Americas.  In South America clothing styles of conquering Spanish and Portuguese invaders had an immediate affect on the mode of clothing worn by Native Americans.  In some cases Indians were forced to don types of apparel preferred by their conquerors.  Following a major pan-Andean revolt against Spanish-based control around 1780, for example, the Spanish Crown is said to have prohibited Andean men from wearing the traditional sleeveless shirt or “unku” that eventually resulted in the adoption of the poncho or punchu that is often identified as an “original Andean” textile.  In many cases, natives adopted European-style attire in personal preference to their traditional garb, often to “appear” as being of higher social status among their peers.  “Chola” garments, currently worn by the majority of Aymara and Quechua women in Bolivia, evolved from these interests.

 

Popular among Spanish women and their descendents during the Colonial era were beautifully embroidered silk mantles or shawls, often with long, loose fringe.  Embroidered mantles were common apparel that all women of European blood and most women of mixed parentage (mestizos) wore when in public.  Mestizas, or female mestizos, eventually became known as “cholas,” (the singular spelled “chula” in Aymara and Quechua).  Spanish women and cholas dressed with embroidered mantles, or “mantas” well into the 20th century.  By the mid-20th century, however, it was mostly Native American women, imitating their Aymara and Quechua mestiza sisters, who donned embroidered mantas.

Colonial mantas were constructed of finely woven silk or Merino sheep wool, hand-embroidered with Asian silk thread.  By the late 19th century, workshops in La Paz, Bolivia and other Andean centers were embroidering mantas with the use of treadle sewing machines.  As the popularity of chulamantas spread to native Aymara and Quechua communities, numerous workshops in small towns throughout the Andes began producing these beautiful shawls, which were mostly embroidered by hand.  By the early 20th century rayon (a synthesized natural fiber), mostly imported from Japan, was the most popular material for making chulamantas.

Designs of embroidered chulamantas are fairly standardized especially among 20th century examples.  Colonial and early Republic (post-1825) shawls are decorated with complex floral designs sometimes incorporating birds.  Shawls produced during the 19th century have single or multiple-colored embroidery that is usually a different color from the cloth of the shawl.  Early 20th century examples from small workshops, however, are decorated with extremely simple designs and often the silk embroidery is the same color as the shawl cloth.  Early 20th century design motifs evolved into elaborate and complex patterns such as “Tres Rosas,” “Mariposas,” “Claveles,” “Rosas,” and “Margaritas” that were most popular during the mid-20th century until the 1970’s.  At that time new patterns, some of foreign origin, but including some Andean motifs such as condors, kantuta flowers and certain insects, became popular and were applied by sewing machine. At that time rayon cloth was replaced with synthetic acrylic or polyester cloth.

By the late 1980’s commercially produced mantas with non-Andean design themes dominated chola fashion.  Imported cloth was cut and enhanced with complex, hand-braided fringe. By 1990 hand-braided fringe was obsolete. In 2002 commercial mantas of spun polyester cloth became popular and represent the prevalent style worn today. 

9. TARIS, ISTALLAS AND INKUŅAS: SECRETS OFANDEAN RITUAL CLOTHS REVEALED

Some of the most interesting Andean textiles are smaller surreptitious weavings that are often referred to as "taris" in the literature.  Actually, the word tari is a regional term primarily used by Aymara and Kallawaya Indians around Lake Titikaka and adjacent provinces to the south.  Furthermore, there are different kinds of taris used for distinct rituals.  Other ritual cloths are called "istallas" and "inkuñas,"  each with their own characteristics involving special rituals as well.

Among the northern Aymara (from about 15 to 17 degrees south latitude), very small cloths (often less than 10 inches square) are called istallas.  These little textiles are used for holding valuable fetishes and ritual items and were historically used to wrap babies umbilical cords that were buried in special spots.  Taris are larger affairs, usually less than 20 inches square, that were used for conducting communal rituals or used by women for bundling and serving sacred coca leaves.  Some Aymara and neighboring Kallawaya shamans used certain taris for sacrificing small animals, especially cuis, or guinea pigs, in divination rituals.  Larger cloths called inkuñas [with a tilde over the n, pronounced: "een-KOON-yah"] were usually used for holding foodstuffs carried to communal feasts.  Food cloths, called merint inkuñas, were mostly woven of natural-colored yarns.  Special q'ipi inkuñas were colorful cloths for wrapping taris with ritual items or other inkuñas with special food that was carried to community ceremonies.

The middle Aymara (from about 17 to 18 degrees south latitude) use the term istalla or vistalla to refer to tari-sized hand woven cloths used by women for bundling and serving sacred coca leaves (quka vistallas) or for use as ground cloths for conducting Andean rituals (misa vistallas).  Special small cloths carried by community leaders were called jilakat vistallas.  Identically paired cloths, presented to and carried by a marrying couples were known as kasamint vistallas.  Larger inkuñas were used for transporting food and other items to work areas.

The eastern Quechua groups and the southern Aymara (from about 18 to 20 degrees south latitude) used small tari-sized inkuñas for serving coca leaves, bundling special ritual items including fetishes and as ground cloths for performing ceremonies.  Inkuñas were often placed on special sacred stones for annual blessings.  Llameros, or llama herders, used qillpan inkuñas for wrapping ear cuts from marking their animals.

Regardless of their indigenous names, ritual cloths were historically of immense importance to all Andean Indians.  Informants report that weavers often wove the textiles under the light of the sun for special blessing.  And, that weavers only wove the cloths with happy hearts and would abandon their work if their minds were filled with negative thoughts.  Following completion of ritual cloths, each was blessed by offering sacred pure cane alcohol to its four corners and some were specially blessed by respected medicine men.  Within individual communities, ritual cloths were woven for even more esoteric purposes, furthering their clandestine curiosity.