Cultural Expeditions, inc.

Exquisite Tours since 1999

Welcome to our blog. We hope you enjoy our posts on Peruvian history, archaeology, cultural insights, events such as festivals, and travel tips.

Peru Textiles as Sacred Objects

Elvi Bjorkquist - Thursday, July 24, 2014

Peru Textiles as Sacred Objects

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.

Textile Treasures and Social Goals

Elvi Bjorkquist - Friday, June 27, 2014

Textile Treasures and Social Goals

Breeding of alpacas for fiber was developed around 500 BCE by the Pukara in the Lake Titicaca region of Southern Peru. Centuries later, the Incas were remarkably successful in refining the domesticated alpaca. Archaeologists have found mummified alpacas at Incan burial sites whose fleece is far finer than any known today. It was the Incas who developed the alpaca into two distinct fleece types, the huacaya and the less common suri. The huacaya alpaca produce crimped fleece appropriate for bulkier yarns, while the suri produce a silkier texture used to make refined wovens.

Mallkini is an alpaca ranch, research center and hotel complex in the highlands of Puno by Lake Titicaca in Southern Peru. Their main thrust is its role as a social project. They improve the animals and share them with the communities so they too can produce fiber that can be sold at a good price – which gives them a dignified life in the mountains. They have started a boarding school near Mallkini so that kids that live three hours away on foot or horseback can get a good education and have personal and professional choices.

The Mallkini camelid produce fibers which compete with mohair, cashmere and quiviut worldwide. In Arequipa they show the most important aspects of the business to visitors. Their camelid fibers are competitive internationally along with pursuing clear social goals.

You can learn more about Peruvian textiles and our textile tours to Peru on our website.