American Indian women’s headscarves – After Part I and II, here, I am at continuing the topic Why do women wear headscarves? For the concept of “Scarf as a cultural signifier”, the authors of the exhibition have chosen several examples from the cultural milieu of indigenous Latin American Indians. These are the Incas of Peru, the Mayans of Guatemala, and the Kunas of San Blas, Panama. They dealt with the basic types of this kind of uncut clothing textiles: a headscarf and a cloak for carrying loads. Certain data inspired me to expand the subject of weaving. I hinted at the meaning of weaving and the type of authentic loom in those areas. As well as a couple of characteristics of the clothing cultures of these almost isolated ethnic communities.

American Indian women’s headscarves – In a Quechua tribe, Taquile Island in the Peruvian part of Lake Titicaca in the Andes

The Quechua Indians are, to this day, the bearers of the ancient Inca culture. Textiles and clothing are among the most visible elements of their traditional heritage. The manufacturing techniques, the quality of the materials, and the symbolic content, authentically reflect the memory of the heritage. UNESCO has protected handmade textiles from Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca, as an element of intangible cultural heritage.

This is how we get to know two textile elements, a woman’s headscarf, and a cloak, in their simple, original forms. Headscarf „chuko” woven from wool, dark blue, or black. Sometimes they have decorations with a colorful wool border and fringes. Another characteristic non-catted piece is the scarf for carrying goads „lliklla”. Girls start wearing the “čukos” headscarf, highlighted at the Exhibition, around the age of six. But an adult Takilean woman will by no means leave the house uncovered.

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Quechua women in scarf „chuko”, Taquile island, Titicaca lake, Peru, Andes
Lliklla”, scarf as the traditional bag, Indian Quechua woman, Titicaca, Peru

American Indian woman’s headscarves – Mayas at the Lake Atitlan region in Guatemala

Guatemala’s mixed population culture largely contains the Indian heritage of the Mayan civilization, along with later colonial influences. In rural settlements in the mountains of Guatemala live a people of Mayan origin, with a clearly preserved identity. Highlights include a living tradition of textile skills. The colors, patterns, and textures of weaving pass down from mother to daughter for generations. They believe that weaving is a gift from Iksheel, the goddess of the moon, water, weaving, and childbirth.

Examples of woven scarves from Guatemala, detail of the Exhibition

The exhibition featured a decorative headdress.  The scarf “tzute“ which wraps around the woman’s head holds the lush long hair of an Indian woman. The multifunctional textile uses for carrying various goods such as a bundle or a bag. A woman wears several, in the hand, under the arm, on the shoulder, on the back, and even on the head. One may see it also folded on the woman’s head, to protect her from the sun or cold. It is a common way to carry babies. The woman wraps two or three pieces around the child next to her in order to move more freely.
The rest of the traditional clothing is limited to, initially, the huipil, a colorful blouse, an uncut skirt wrapped around the hips, belts, and aprons.

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Large scarf “tzute” as a cloak on the woman`s back, as a bundle for loads, and often also carrying babies

A Tula women’s headscarves of the Kuna group of Indians in Panama

Tula or Kuna Indians, live in the Kuna Yala Reserve. They are among the last authentic ethnic groups in Central America that resisted the influence of Europeans. As such, they persisted on the Caribbean coast and the islands of Panama and Colombia (Research 1995).

The authors of the exhibition state how Lucy Anna Lombardo explains the Kuna women’s belief about covering their hair with a scarf in combinations of red and yellow: “Our ancestors used to say that before the sun rises, Tula men and women must get up, bathe and cover their heads.” The sun, as it moves, sees all the problems in the world, all the diseases, and all the evil, which later radiates from it as it illuminates people. (Sl. 7.1.) There is also a later, patriotic interpretation, created after the San Blas uprising in 1925. The symbolism of the red color of the scarf stands out here as the blood that the Kuna shed in the fight for their rights. And the yellow patterns indicate achieved harmony.

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Kuna woman covered her head with an authentic scarf, a detail from the exhibition

Along with the obligatory headscarf, the “mola”, a colorful blouse, stands out in the Kuna woman’s costume. Celebrated for the luxurious embroidery on the chest and back. Typical jewelry is a gold nose ring and wide necklaces. As well on the lower part of the body, an uncut colorful skirt wraps around the woman’s body. But the most striking is the wrapping of the forearms and lower legs with strings of colorful glass beads.

The mola, a key component of traditional dress among the indigenous Kuna women of Panama
Gold nose rings and wide necklaces are typical head and neck jewelry
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The forearms and lower legs with strings of colorful glass beads

The image of a few women illustrates these clothing features: Obligatory national headscarf, at first. Then, on the lower part of the body, an uncut colorful skirt wraps around the woman’s body, a mola embroidered blouse, nose ring, and neckless, as well as strings of colorful glass beads.

Kuna village women wear their festive traditional costumes on the occasion of usual fetching water

American Indian women’s headscarves – Traces of the original weaving loom in indigenous traditions

And finally, about processing American Indian women’s headscarves: As a weaver and blogger from those areas wrote: many when seeing a simple loom with back tension, would only think that it is ancient, rough, and primitive. But on contrary, the collection of sticks and yarns miraculously transforms itself into a loom when the weaver herself dons the backstrap, attaches herself to the loom bar, tensions the warps, and starts to weave. It is primarily, a small, portable, and inexpensive loom. Ideal even for contemporary weavers who lack the space. When rather carry weaving with them or simply don`t have the money to invest in more sophisticated equipment.

Backstrap loom among the Quechua Incas in the Andes

Research conducted by the authors of the Exhibition in 1987, records that women weave on small horizontal looms, easily transported and placed on the ground. According to the legend of the Inca Indians: “weaving connects the upper world with the lower world”… “Thus the weaver, with his belly, draws creative power from the earth. The loom is fused with the body and being of the woman into an integral whole. Weaving and the weaver are one. In that, the warps are the blood flow, and the wefts thread the body’s food”.

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Drawing by an unknown author, in The Osaka Textile Museum, the meaning of the loom, the tree symbolizes life and the loom weaver`s body

The loom is represented by a drawing by which a Quechua weaver retold the legend and explained the function of the loom stretched with a belt behind the back. It is the small loom that has one side tied to a stationary object and the other to the weaver themselves. The weaver, inside the belt, uses the power of her body to tighten or loosen the entire weave.

An ancient weaving device is used on an island in a lake on a high plateau in the Andes, at about 4,000 meters above sea level. It is among the oldest forms of weaving looms in the world. The hand-weaving device consists of light pieces of wood, pieces of bone, and string. It is easy to carry from home, anywhere a woman goes, rolled up in a traditional scarf that every woman wears hanging out along down her back.

At Mayan, Atitlan in Guatemala

This indigenous population lives in the area of Lake Atitlan, at over 1,500 meters above sea level. Women weave most of the clothes on the simplest loom. It is the same as used by the ancient Maya, their ancestors.

Like the previously presented loom of the Peruvian Incas, the loom consists of several slats and sticks, inserted into the base. While weaving, the entire composition is tightened, and tied on one side to a stationary holder. And the other end, where the weft is interwoven, is tightened by the power of the weaver’s body. The loom is easy to detach, take off and wind up the started weaving. So it is postponed or moved to continue weaving in another place. So it is tied and carried in a scarf for loads. It happens that the weaving is placed together behind the child, which is sticking out of the bundle on the mother’s back.

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A typical scene of a Guatemalan weaver at work with an offer of products on the market

Girls in modern Guatemala attend school. Not sitting on her mother’s lap to learn the art of weaving. But traditionally, a Maya girl is about to get married, and the groom’s family asks her to make cutes.

Tule from the Kuna Indian tribe group in Panama

As I always do, when it comes to textiles I am specifically looking for information on weaving processes here. Considering the location, economic importance, and destiny of Panama, it is clear that it developed as a mixture of heterogeneous ethnicities and cultures. In this, Tule has preserved its language and authentic textile culture.

I am inclined to look for indications of the existence of the use of a proto-loom similar to some of the types known among the Indians of Central and South America. As, after all, in all the equatorial areas of the planet. However, my previous knowledge did not justify this assumption. In contrast, descriptions of the celebrated “mola” state that it is an autochthonous type of blouse. And primarily by the embroidery technique of the characteristic decorative parts of the chest and back. But it is made entirely of imported fabrics and threads.

American Indian women’s headscarves – Protection and survival of the textile heritage of Native Americans through contemporary placement

As I have already written, UNESCO preserved this weaving on an autochthonous type of loom in these authentic traditional communities. Urban designers are beginning to discover and appreciate this traditional craft. That is why plenty of traditional clothes nowadays are in high-valued boutiques. The cultural tourism industry deals with the mass promotion of authentic domestic textiles. Also, organizations for the preservation of original textile craftsmanship support the work of authentic rural areas. So, high in the Andes and throughout Latin America, tourists buy “living” textile heritage as souvenirs. Thus ethnic and local communities continue to carry on the tradition of weaving.

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A local Taquilean women weavers make a demonstration, in Titicaca, Peru

The family of Alejandro Flores, a local Taquilean, deals with the knitting and weaving business as a family occupation. During tourist visits, he is knitting traditional caps or gloves. While his wife works at the loom. She proceeded with the actual weaving as a demonstration. Another woman, a family member finishes the fringe on the ends of the woven pieces. On the offer, if a visitor wants to buy a souvenir.

Until the next reading, cordially, Branka on Textiles

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