In our culture today, our mass-produced textiles are seen as functional or decorative articles.
But the Pre-Columbian cultures placed a high value on textiles as ritual and symbolic works of art. Some were sacred objects, others were politically charged gifts, some indicated the wearer’s status and function in society, some the community in which they lived, and some fibers and designs were reserved for distinct categories of individuals.
Incredibly complex technically, textiles consumed the largest percentage of human labor in the Andean world. The entire society was dedicated to fiber. Fibers included pima cotton, plant-fibers, and Camelid fibers (from llamas, alpacas, vicunas, for example).
For cotton textiles work entailed planting, tending, harvesting, removal of seeds, cleaning, combing, spinning, loom construction, warping, weaving, extracting dye from plants, wetting, steeping and drying. Camelid fibers required years of herding, attention to animal fertility and health, sheering, washing, carding, spinning and dyeing of threads.
Artisans, primarily women, then tightly wove the fibers into intricate patterns requiring skill, dedication, and often years of labor for one garment.
The Priority of Textiles
The Peruvian priority of textiles over pottery was different from the artistic practices of Old World Europe, in which pottery was the earliest and most basic art form. Although textiles were the predominant medium in ancient Peru, the other media were stone, gold and silver, and ceramics.
Andean textile tradition spans more than ten thousand years, starting with plant-fiber basketry. Fiber basketry, Carbon-14 dated to between 8,600 and 8,000 B.C.E., was found high in the Andes in the Guitarrero Cave in Peru. A plain-woven fabric from 3,000 B.C.E. was found in the Ecuadorian site of Valdivia. The Pre-Ceramic site of Huaca Prieta in Peru on the North Coast yielded over nine thousand fabric fragments dated at about 2,300 B.C.E. They included double readings of animal imagery more sophisticated than those on other media such as pottery and metal.
The oldest tradition of textiles is found in Peru. Today many Peruvian textile weavers keep the tradition alive using ancient methods and imagery. And some push the boundaries with innovative techniques and designs.
Cultural Expeditions, with its extensive knowledge of Peruvian arts, offers in-depth tours revealing the history, imagery, and techniques of ancient and contemporary Peruvian textiles. Check out Peruvian fibers on our website.