For centuries, q'aytu awaspa ('weaving thread' in Quechua), has served as a communicative artistic medium for Indigenous Andean communities. Ancestral stories, as well as histories of events, are transmitted and exchanged between pallay ('woven designs' in Quechua). Each pallay is a craft amassed over time, as weavers start with simple designs and gradually build on their foundation of textile knowledge. As with most forms of Indigenous Andean knowledges, weaving is a skill deeply intertwined with generational and ancestral expertise. The elders of a community are often the keepers and teachers of such artistic precision.
Designs of textiles range from anthropomorphic and zoomorphic to geometric; some are symbolic or representational, and meanings can vary between local communities. Quechua symbols seen in textiles include inti (the sun), ch’aska (the star), t’ika (flowers), or the llama (an originally Quechua). The placement and color of these patterns are similarly important, as these can change the interpretations of every work.
This page is a starting point for resources on the rich visual and symbolic traditions of Indigenous Andean textile-making.
This collection of textiles, amassed and donated by William and Inger Ginsberg available in the Geography and Map Division, features intricately woven works created by Indigenous people in the Andean region. With some textiles dating as far back as 200 B.C., this collection provides a closer look at the various patterns, colors, symbols, and techniques employed by these skilled weavers.
Cristina Gutiérrez is an expert semiologist and linguist who spent over 20 years researching and living with Indigenous textile-makers and weavers in Peru. In her interview, she examines the history and context of various techniques and expressions of textiles, as well as their cultural background and significance in rituals, community bonds, and tradition. Marina Soria is a visual artist from Argentina who approaches Andean textiles through her calligraphic work. In her interview, inspired by different textiles, she creates a new visual language and offers another look at the power of words and symbols.
This selection of resources introduce the people, culture, geography, and region of the Andes for general audiences and researchers. Staff in the Hispanic Reading Room can provide access to the materials located at the Library of Congress. If you cannot visit us in person send us a message through Ask a Librarian to further assist you.