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Shipibo - Textiles
Shipibo-Conibo, Amazon, Peru
Approximately 30 years ago, as many as 150 different ethno-linguistic groups could be identified living in the rainforest jungles of Peru. Today less than 30 ethnic groups remain. Among these survivors is one of the oldest ancestral groups, the Shipibo people, who now are at risk of becoming extinct. It is estimated that perhaps only 35,000 Shipibo remain living spread out in as many as 300 different family villages. For centuries, these people have survived primarily through their relationship with the jungle and through activities such as hunting, fishing and traditional agriculture.
Shipibo artisans are well known for their colorful designs on pottery and textiles. Inspired by Ayahuasca-induced visions, creation stories and mythic folklore, these refined geometrical designs are sophisticated interpretations of cosmic realities
These song cloths are worn as women's faldas skirts. Traditionally the women wear a black or white skirt stitched with the opposite color thread and colorful, embroidered ornamentation. The skirt is usually woven with two specific icaros, i.e., shamanic power songs: the wisdom icaro and the protection icaro. These icaros seem to be a common theme in these cloths, and in fact, the use of protection songs are extremely important in the world of Amazonian shamanism, and have been given their own category name, Icaros Arkana. This is an all-inclusive term for any type of protection icaro, which is a result of the ongoing battles between shamans and brujos. The need for a garment imbued with one of these protection icaros is paramount to surviving one of these supernatural encounters, so a great deal of energy is put into their creation.
These song-patterns are geometrically fractal in their design, and this is especially evident when one looks closely at the complexity of the modern stitching patterns. In analyzing this stitch work, I've determined three primary styles. First, these tiny stitches that make up the background patterns were explained by Herlinda Augustin, a revered Shipibo shamaness and weaver, to be representative of the cosmic oneness and I have come to call this the atomic stitch. To the Shipibo, this oneness very literally connects all things in the universe.
Over the top of the atomic stitch is the main song line, and these patterns are recognized holistically by the shaman as the main identifying characteristic of the corresponding icaro. When I observed the shamans singing a cloth, they would trace their index finger along this main song line pattern, the melody rising or descending in general accordance with the rise and fall of the line...we see the visual metaphor of the shamanic staircase, represented as a descending song line.
Along the main song line itself and at various points of intersection along its path, can be seen the beautiful geometric designs called the floras, this being a Shipibo term. These flowers represent turning points where the song may take a new direction, such as a new verse or chorus. According to Herlinda, it is also the point where new life is born into the cosmos.
The colors of these flowers have significance as well, and they are woven in eight colors; black and white as the base colors of the cloth and primary stitch patterns; red corresponding with blood, childbirth, and the historical conflict between the Amazonian tribes; yellow for sunlight; green for the jungle; and blue for the rivers and lakes. Other colors include purple and orange their significance is not yet known.
*Reference: Woven Songs Of The Amazon, Icaros and Weavings of The Shipibo Shamans by Barrett H. Martin