Centro de Textiles Tradiccionales del Cusco

Buenos Dias Peru-fans!

Well I am still pondering indigenous textile manufacture this week.  Last time I shared our experience at Awanakancha in Pisac.  This week I would like to tell you about the Textile museum we visited in downtown Cusco.

Team Jaguar (we adopted a name for our group while traveling, silly but fun)  visited the Center for Traditional Textiles in Cusco on our last day there.  It was our “free day,” a day where we had no set itinerary and could wander at will.  The day itself was a refreshing break from our 10 days of rigidly scheduled travel.  Don’t misunderstand me, it was important to stick to our tight schedule in order to see all the wonderful things Peru had to offer, however, after 10 days the free day felt extremely decadent.


The funniest thing was, that we all ended up finding each other anyway – at Starbuck’s 🙂 As a side note, we were desperate for a brewed cup of coffee by then.  Shocking I know!  All that wonderful specialty coffee grown in Peru that we purchase here in the U.S., at a premium, well they don’t actually drink it there.  It is grown for export.  Nescafe instant coffee is what is imbibed by the locals in their homes. Yuck, Yuck, Yuck – and as an anthropologist I should not judge others by my own standards – I know this in my soul –  but really, Yuck, Yuck, Yuck!  My coffee that morning brought a tear to my eye out of pure joy.  I will never take my coffee pot at home for granted again, I promise.

Anyway, I digress.  What I really wanted to talk about was the textile museum.  I shall circle back around to the topic at hand.

We spent the day wandering around Cusco, exploring at our own pace. Pachamama (better known as Pam) had found the Museum earlier in the week and we decided to visit.  We wandered through the exhibits learning about the history of textile manufacture in Cusco. Upon exiting the exhibit area we found ourselves in the museum shop (of course) but there were also a group of weavers sitting on the floor in a circle weaving textiles on their back looms.  Even though I had already purchased a lovely textile for my home at Awanakancha, I, as well as the rest of Team Jaguar, managed to find a few more treasures to bring home with us from the Museum.


 Centro de Textiles Tradiccionales del Cusco

Centro de Textiles Tradiccionales del Cusco is a non-profit organization founded in 1996 established to document ancient pre-columbian textile traditions.  Their goal is to recapture the history of these traditions and spread information about the production of traditional textiles.  The center also provides support to communities of weavers through research and documentation of weaving techniques, styles, and design.  These textile traditions and practices date back thousands of years in are an important symbol of cultural identity.  Weaving was and still is a form of communication with codes and figures that represent a textiles: place of origin, weaver who created it, and an artistic representation of Andean cosmology.  The weaving patterns of each community differs in design, color schemes, and materials used.  Each community has their own unique patterns that can be used as a marker of identity.


The center works with 9 communities in the Cusco area.  Modern weavers still continue to create textiles by hand on belt or stake looms.  Traditional dying methods use plants, insects, and minerals to dye the wool.


Avenida Sol 603, Cusco-Peru (7/2/12)


Awanakancha – Museo viviente del Ande

In Quechua, Awanakancha  means “The Palace of the Weaver.”  We visited this textile center and museum while in Pisac.  The center provides an opportunity to see products made from South America’s four camelids – alpaca, llama, vicuña, and guanac0 – from start to finish: the animal, the shearing, the textile weaving and dyeing, and the finished products, which you can purchase in the show room.

We spent a few hours at Awanakancha and I found it to be very interesting.  We were able to feed and interact with the alpaca and learn about the different varieties that are raised for their wool.


After feeding the animals, we observed the way the wool is dyed and learned about the different organic materials that are used to produce a variety of color hues.


Afterwards, we watched several men and women weaving textiles on back looms.  It was amazing to see them create such detailed fabrics.  Weaving is an intricate practice; it can take months to complete a table runner or small blanket.  Children start learning to weave at a very young age, practicing on items like bracelets.

Our trip ended, of course, with a visit into the museum’s store where there was an endless variety of textiles for purchase.  They were all so beautiful!  It took me what felt like forever to pick one out.  I finally committed and purchased a wonderful textile that will hang on the wall in my living room.

Pigs and squatters threaten Peru’s Nazca lines | Reuters

Pigs and squatters threaten Peru’s Nazca lines | Reuters.

Blending Cultures: Amuletos de las Casas


House Dedication Amulets

 Peruvians have an interesting house dedication-protection ritual that I noticed while traveling around on the bus.  On the roofs of homes was an amulet consisting of 2 oxen with a cross in the middle, and a clay pot on each end.  Luis, our guide while traveling down the coast from Lima, explained its significance.  The oxen represent Pachamamma or mother earth.  The cross symbolizes Catholic religion and protection.  One pot is for chicha which symbolizes abundance, work, and plenty.  The other pot is for holy water, a blessing for the house.

The amulet is an interesting mix of indigenous symbolism and Catholic symbolism.  It represents the blending of ancient Andean religious beliefs with the Catholic religious beliefs brought over to the New World by the Spanish Conquistadors.

Archaeologists Make Important Discovery at Marcahuamachuco, Peru

Global Heritage Fund | GHF.

Starbucks of Ancient America? – ScienceNOW

Another example of a mood altering substance being used by a culture…


Starbucks of Ancient America? – ScienceNOW.

“Vine of the Souls”

Sounds poetic doesn’t it?

As an anthropological archaeologist I am interested in shamanism both in ancient and modern cultures.  Over the course of my readings, research, and travels I have noticed that almost all of the cultures I have studied have something that is used to cross between worlds or planes. It can be a fermented or distilled beverage, a hallucinogen, or even a botanical that is smoked.  Examples include the Yanomamo using ebene, the Pohnpeians using kava, ancient Egyptians & Mesoamericans  drinking beer, ancient Romans drinking wine.  In Peru, both in ancient and modern times, it is Ayahuasca.

Mostly it is the shamans or priests that will use a mind or mood altering substance to do so, but it is not unheard of for the general population to commune with the spirits as well.


In Quechua Ayahuasca  means spirit vine or vine of the souls.  Ayahuasca is prepared by boiling the Caapi vine (Banisteriopsis caapi) along with the Chacuruna bush (Psychotria vidiris) to create a hallucinogenic liquid.1  Ayahuasca is used for religious purposes either by shamans or others under the supervision of a shaman.  The psychedelic effects of ayahuasca include visual and auditory stimulation, the mixing of sensory modalities, and psychological introspection that may lead to great elation, fear, or illumination.   Its purgative properties, known as la purga or “the purge” intense vomiting and occasional diarrhea.  Indigenous people say that during their trance, which lasts approximately four hours, they enter the world of the spirits and communicate with them.

Our guide at Tambopata, Guido, explained his experiences while taking Ayahuasca.  He talked about the intensive vomiting and the trance that follows.  He believes he communed with Pachamama during his trances.  At the lodge, one can request that the local shaman come perform the ayahuasca ritual with you for a nominal fee of $200.

1  The Ayahuasca.  Sowewankeri Ayahuasca Healing Circle, Peru. http://ayahuascacircle.com/?page_id=6

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