The intricate pattern embroidered in this cloth is a song-pattern, and depending on its size, can take an entire month to complete. 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 the late Herlinda Augustin, a revered Shipibo shaman 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. Again 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
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Shipibo-Conibo, Village of San Francisco, Amazon, Peru
The Shipibo are one of 14 indigenous tribes living in the Amazon basin in Peru and at present consist of around 35,000 people living in over 300 villages in the Pucallpa area situated mainly along the Rio Ucayali. They believe that the universe was sung into being by a giant anaconda, and as she sang, the patterns of her skin covered the universe. The intricate weavings created for centuries by the Shipibo are an ornate representation of the serpent's skin and, at the same time, are the actual, written music for the songs (icaros). Traditionally, the knowledge of the weaving patterns and songs has been passed down through the women, but due to the recent presence of western influences on the younger generations of women, these traditions are rapidly being lost.
The textile you see here is from the family of the late Herlinda Augustine and other women of the village of San Francisco. Herlinda Fernandez Augustine was one of a few Shipibo-Conibo indigenous woman healers – onaya or auahuasca shaman, whose life work is a unique repertoire of ancient songs (called icaros) which she uses to affect healing of her people and change in the world around her. Her songs speak of the power of plants and the importance of harmony between Man and Nature. She was featured in the award winning documentary film by Anna Stevens and her icaros are featured in a CD by the same name. Herlinda is survived by her husband Enrique, mother Manuela, daughter Magdalena and son Henry.
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