Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Textile Narratives & Conversions: Proceedings of the 10th Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, October 11–14, Toronto, Ontario


Copyright 2006 by the author.


In studying the past, archaeologists examine change and continuity over time, but physical processes that affect the preservation of material remains make fine sequencing, at the level of decades, difficult or impossible. Cultural anthropologists and others who study present-day material culture frequently conduct short-term fieldwork, which makes it difficult or impossible to reliably study transformations over time. One solution to this problem is long-term ethnographic fieldwork, combining synchronic and diachronic data collection, to study processes of change and continuity in the production of individual weavers and extended families over generations, in communities and regions.

This paper is a preliminary analysis of three decades (1976-2006) of belt weaving on Taquile Island, in Lake Titicaca, Peru, based on two years of anthropological ethnographic fieldwork during a 30-year period. Taquile is one of the few communities in highland Peru where indigenous, Quechua-speaking people still produce and wear handwoven textiles on a daily basis (fig. 1). (Quechua is the Inca language). Taquile has experienced enormous changes recently, resulting from the commercialization of their textiles starting in 1968, and the development of tourism starting in 1976.

Here, I provide a brief examination of some aspects of the textile style of this community by examining several belts woven by three generations of women in one extended family; I also document a recent modification to the traditional loom used to weave these belts. The discussion of change in one area of material culture (textiles), one type of textile (belts), woven by one extended family, in one community (Taquile), shows that in the short period of 30 years a community style changed in the areas of technology (materials, loom type, weave structures), uses (personal and family use; sale), and meanings (internal vs. external; use and exchange vs. commodification or commercialization). Yet, there was continuity in all of these areas, such that the overwhelming majority of belts woven in the 21st century can be relatively easily identified, even by the textile-illiterate, as coming from this community. Such analysis illustrates why longterm ethnographic research is essential to understand the messages that Andean weavers communicate.