Myth holds that Viracocha (Wiraqocha), the Inca creator god, commanded each community to have its own dress to be able to be easily recognized. The Spanish conquest had a significant impact on Andean clothing. For example, Viceroy Toleda prohibited the indigenous people from wearing Inca clothing, and new techniques and clothing types were introduced. Nonetheless, Andeans continued to weave and infuse clothing imposed on them with their own style, practices, and aesthetics (Vidal de Milla 2000).
Clothing can tell a person a great deal about the wearer. Everything from economic and marital status to artistic skill, personal fortune or misfortune, and the economic activity of one’s region may be indicated. Men and women each wear a variety of clothes and employ textiles for multiple purposes (Callañaupa Alvarez 2007).
Textile weaving and production in the Andes communicates ideas about gender and cosmology. For example, Arnold (1997) studied the gendered production of and conceptions surrounding weaving in a highland Andean community in the department of Oruro in Bolivia. She found that women are thought of as thinking with their hearts, while men are said to do the same with their heads. Women’s over-mantle in that community, called awayu in Aymara, and the man’s poncho each can each be read as a text that encodes specific information about gender and related concepts in Andean thought. The two main parts of the woman’s garment are called the pampa and salta. The plain weave part of a manta or blanket, called pampa, is associated in this area with flat land which is periodically cultivated. The decorated part of the cloth is called salta and is associated with the idea of farmland having been plowed, planted, and now successfully growing vegetation. The man’s poncho also has different areas associated with different ideas. In the case of the poncho, the patterned lista section (the striped band of the textile) is comparable to the salta portion of a woman’s mantle, and the un-patterned area is referred to as saya. While the distinctions between the pampa and salta of the woman’s awayu are marked by weaving technique, design, and color, the man’s poncho uses the same flat plan weave in both areas, leaving only color and pattern to differentiate the sections. There are also gender differences in the way the two types of textiles are worn: women wear the awayu with the salta area draped horizontally, and men wear the poncho with the lista stripes hung in a vertical fashion (reflecting a general Andean association of men with verticality and women with horizontality) (Arnold 1997).
Different types of textiles are woven for everyday use and for special occasions, including festivals, community celebrations, and rites of passage. For example, Chiuchillani Tinkuy is celebrated on the Thursday before Carnaval Sunday in Chahuaytire. Tinkuy, meaning “get-together,” provides an opportunity for eligible women and men to meet. At this event young women wear their most beautiful clothes, and costumed men perform dances which are said to symbolize Andean geese. Elaborate clothing is created for this festival for the men and women. Another “get-together” celebration takes place in a section of Pitumarca. Called tupay, this celebration occurs on the Friday before Carnaval Sunday, and provides an opportunity for families to reunite. The goal of the celebration is to encourage fertility of the flocks, in particular of the alpaca. Weavers create a large number of textiles for this event, in particular, colorful polleras (skirts), and women sing songs. In addition, in the Andes life together for a young couple may begin with a traditional practice called servinacuy, which can last for years. Later the couple may choose to be married in a civil ceremony or church. Special weavings and clothes are created for the bride and groom in preparation for this event (Callañaupa Alvarez 2007).
Arnold, Denise Y. (1997). Making Men in Her Own Image: Gender, Text, and Textile in Qaqachaka. In Creating Context in Andean Cultures, Rosaleen Howard-Malverde (Ed.), 99-131. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Callañaupa Alvarez, Nilda (2007). Weaving in the Peruvian Highlands: Dreaming Patterns, Weaving Memories. Hong Kong: Asia Pacific.
Vidal de Milla, Delia (2000). El arte textil: simbolismo de los motivos decorativos. Cusco: Municipalidad Provincial.