To Your Heart's Content

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Huamachuco Textiles and the Coya/Sarita Belt

Some good news from home: my uncle along with Anne Meisch were just published in one of the foremost and renowned international magazines on textiles for the discovery of what are now called the Huamachuco textiles and Coya belt. The article, "A Tale of Survival" featured in Hali magazine, basically gives a synopsis of everything my uncle has been working on, together with a few other experts and professors, for the past 30 years. An incredible and inspiring tale that hopefully one day will be told in all its intriguing adventure....Back in the late 70s my uncle, as a geologist, stumbled (perhaps literally) into a small village, Huamachuco (only accessible by horst at the time), in the northern Andes of Peru researching minerals whereupon, thanks to his uncanny clairvoyance, he immediately recognized the unique qualities of a textile unlike any he had seen. Long story short, he, along principally with Anne Meisch, made leaps and bounds in their research of the area and history of the textiles within the last five years. Well, what is so amazing about the textiles and belt?

Perhaps the most startling and exciting aspect of their research is that the Coya belt is the only extant weaving tradition directly descended from the Incas. Read that again. This find is so incredible it's unbelievable. The Incas, at the height of their civilization, weaved what are regarded as some of (if not the) the finest textiles in the world (called qumpi), primarily to be worn only by the coyas or Inca queens and princesses, the belt only being worn during corn festivals (Sara in quechua means corn) . Unfortunately, the Spanish conquistadores came and wiped out or inexorably influenced the native traditions of the Incas in practically all facets, including weaving. How this unbroken tradition continued is part of the ongoing research. Why this area, which is relatively far from the Inca capital of Cuzco? How was it not influenced as substantially and extensively as the other areas? And why this belt when there were myriad other types of textiles?

Add to this the super complexity of weaving this belt (multiple heddles, warp-faced and double-sided with geometric motifs in four colors), and one has quite a tale to tell. The historical documents and chance-like provenance that enabled them to make the identification were such auspicious and coincidental finds (a Divinci Code-like tale) that one has only fate to thank for pointing (and of course, good research!) in the right direction.

The textiles, or blankets, originating in the same area, one must conclude then, are part and parcel of this weaving tradition. Their history and development of motifs, patterns, symbols, borders, warp v. weft faced, etc. is different than that of the belts and has all been miraculously documented. Of course, this all never could have happened if it weren't for the Huamachucans themselves (some of which have been my uncle's best friends for thirty years), and so my uncle has dedicated his book, in part, to them in his ongoing effort to make sure that out of all, they benefit the most.

It's been a bumpy road full of pot holes, ditches, ambiguities, hazards, driving sometimes in pitch black darkness--things that would make most people give up or lose hope and turn back around.

Congratulations Uncle Joe on all your hard work. Upward and onward.


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