Date of this Version
In Approaching Textiles, Varying Viewpoints: Proceedings of the Seventh Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, Santa Fe, New Mexico, 2000
The focus of this article is a quite small, very old, structurally simple poncho that is the repository of multiple meanings and messages (Figures 1 and 2). It was made by weavers affiliated with the Paracas/Topara cultural tradition of south coastal Peru, probably buried during Early Intermediate Period 1 (ca. 0 - 100 AD) in a cemetery called the Necropolis de Wari Kayan on the Paracas Peninsula.1 The analysis of this weaving is based on the interpretative results of several previous studies, each of which uses a large sample of Paracas Necropolis-style textiles. Here, my aim is to show how several different aspects of iconography and design may have operated within a single garment.
The camelid fiber plain weave poncho measures 49 cm by 57.8 cm (not including the fringe sleeves) and has a vertical neck slit. When worn it would have covered only the upper torso, with the ends of the side fringes touching the elbows. Anthropomorphic figures embroidered in stem stitch appear against a solid color background in borders and in the field. This iconographic type, which is present on several dozen different Paracas Necropolis embroideries, has been interpreted in one study as an ecstatic shaman (Paul and Turpin 1986). It is characterized by a human body arched backwards, a head with unbound hair thrown back, and arms that stretch to the sides; the nude torso often has skeletonized ribs. This cluster of attributes, accompanied by specific accessories such as the fan and pectoral present in the poncho' depictions, set the motif apart from other Paracas Necroolis themes, and are the key traits that portray the sacred ecstatic condition of the shaman during his voyage to the lands of the spirits and of the dead.