Arts & Entertainment

Bolivia exhibit examines nexus between indigenous sashes, life cycle

By Gina Baldivieso

La Paz, Jul 5 (EFE).- Sashes woven by indigenous hands and their importance in daily life and significance from birth to death are the subject of a recently inaugurated exhibit at Bolivia’s National Museum of Ethnography and Folklore (Musef).

Titled “Wak’añ Wak’a: Protective and Life-Shaping Sashes,” the exhibit reflects on the connection between these woven bands of material and different stages of upbringing and existence within the indigenous cosmovisions, Musef’s director, Elvira Espejo, told Efe.

“Wak’a” is an Aymara word that means “a sacred, energy-filled place that protects life,” said Espejo, a prominent indigenous weaver, plastic artist, documentalist and cultural promoter.

But “wak’a” also has the meaning of “sash,” she said. “It’s also part of that dynamic of life-shaping,” including the gestation of the fetus and the use of the sash to protect it.”

This practice is seen in areas near Lake Titicaca, a body of water located on the border between Bolivia and Peru. In that region, gestating women use so-called “puyu wak’as,” sashes whose designs resemble a pair of eyes.

“Wawas,” or babies, are wrapped in these same sashes after they are born, and once the young children are able to crawl these textiles are placed around their waists to protect them.

The sashes remain present as the person continues to grow and during special moments of life, including when that individual is ready to start his or her own family, Espejo said.

The belts can be found in many colors and in a wide variety of sizes and types.

Other varieties of sashes are used by a person later in life, while a “funerary sash” that extends more than 10 meters (33 feet) in length is used to wrap the deceased body and “wish it a long life” in the great beyond, she added.

The exhibit reflects these different uses in giant panels in one part of the hall, with illustrations by Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala that show five stages in the life cycle: a child crawling, a slightly older child in the fields, a young man, a father and his son and finally an elderly man, all of whom are wearing sashes.

To one side, a mummy is wrapped in a colorful sash, along with an explanation of the Andean funeral ritual.

The central section of the exhibit shows some symbols related to the concept of upbringing and respect for the natural world, while around the perimeter of the exhibit hall other textile pieces are displayed along with information about their ritual uses depending on the person’s age.

Sashes are not exclusive to the Aymara people. They also are used by the Quechua, who call them “chumpi” or “chumpikun”; the Uru; and the Guarani, among other indigenous groups.

The exhibit is a summary of the findings of an investigation that was carried out by Espejo and co-curator Edwin Uzquiano and which drew on items contained in the museum’s collection.

Espejo said their research allows for reflection on the diversity of material used to weave the sashes, depending of what fibers are available in different parts of Bolivia.

For example, they found some belts from the Chaco region made with cotton fiber with reddish brown, light brown and medium brown tones.

Others are made with “hilo de garabata,” a plant fiber, while still others are woven with the wool fibers of animals such as llamas, alpacas and vicuñas.

The exhibit will be open for one year at Musef’s Patio Siglo XX. (20th Century Patio). EFE


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