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January 08, 2015

Symbolism, energy and purpose

Mestana cloths are wonderful woven expressions of the Peruvian Andean weavers’ worldview. Because many traditional weavers’ beliefs are that all creation is imbued with spirit, the patterns they weave into their textile goods also express this natural energy and spirit. A mestana cloth, (also sometimes mastana) is a hand woven cloth which has both practical and esoteric purposes. A manta, which is sometimes used interchangeably with the word mestana, is also a hand woven cloth, typically used as a blanket or shawl. Bolivian altiplano weavers, who live in the high plains of the western Andes Mountains, also create similar weavings called awayos or aguayos. Where they are woven, these cloths are typically used to carry belongings, infants, and food.

Because of recent publications about the weaving methods of native Peruvians and Bolivians, we now know more about how the textiles are made, usually from native fibers such as alpaca, sheep and llama wool; how the wool is spun into thread and yarn; how the yarn is wound, skeined, plied and dyed, some with natural colors, or synthetic colors or both. The various types of weaving looms used in making textile articles is another whole topic of study in and of itself, as are the weaving techniques, such as the complementary warp technique which produces a piece which is identical on its front and back sides, except for the delightful color reversal of the pattern. We know more about the finishing processes of combining two separate weavings by stitching them together forming a middle seam or how some edges are finished by applying a nawi awapa or “eye of the cloth” border, thought to have special protective qualities. There is also a body of knowledge being developed as to how the skill of weaving and knowledge of patterns ispassed on from generation to generation.

Q'ero Women Weaving
Yet the real fascination of these woven works of art is the patterns and motifs they hold and what they signify.  These patterns are more than colorful, decorative designs. They have meaning, intention and energy. The designs tell a story of what the weavers see around them and how they interpret their world, explain their history or express their intentions. The energies and intentions, some say magic, the mestana clothshold make them the perfect grounding cloth for the sacred altars or mesas, of shaman, acting as a layer of consecrated ground upon which the shaman’s medicine work is conducted.

The weavers of the Sacred Valley each have their own favorite motifs and styles and colors. Among the more easily identifiable motifs are those of such natural phenomenon as stars, water and lakes, agricultural fields and implements, love, flowers, mountains, corn, sun, animals, and mythical characters.

A traditional Q’ero mestana cloth, called lliklla in Quechua, the language of the Q’ero, contains a common motif known as the ch’unchu. This is a

Ch'unchu pattern
Ch’unchu Pattern

representation of a human figure, a mythical Indian man, who came from the lowland rainforest and wore a very tall feather headdress. The Q’ero, being people of the high mountain valleys and barren terrain, were not predisposed to like these unknown and different folks of the jungle, who they saw as primitive and ill-mannered. Yet it seems one mythical ch’unchu, known as Inkarri, who was the giver of knowledge and founder of the Inca civilization, became associated with the real life last Incan emperor, Tupac Amaru, who was in fact beheaded by the Spanish. In Q’ero weavings the depiction of the anthropomorphic Inkarri / chunchu is evolving, becoming more stylized as the Q’ero rework the design to show the evolving story of his return. If one studies the different depictions of Inkarri, one can see different representations.


Another Q’ero mastana design, is that of the sun,Inti, of primal importance to the Incas and hence

Inti Pattern
Inti Pattern

the Q’ero, who claim to be the direct and remaining descendants of the Inca. Usually depicted as a diamond shape with straight lines representing the sun’s raysemanating to and from the edge of a diamond, the motif can express various aspects of the sun vis a vis time of day by shadows cast. For example, dark colored lines signify dusk and light color lines signify dawn. Lines touching the diamond’s outline signify setting sun; lines not touching the diamond’s outline, instead touching the rectangular frame, signify a rising sun.


Q'ocha Pattern
Q’ocha Pattern

Another common traditional pattern woven into Q’ero mestanas is the q’ocha or lake design. In Quechua, the term q’ocha refers to a lake, pool or pond of natural or artificial origin. It is depicted by a different kind of diamond design, made up of symmetrical zig zags, usually in contrasting colors.


Tawa inti qocha or Four Sun Lake, refers to the type of Q’ero design which shows the sun at noon, depicted by half a motif of a rising sun and half a motif of a setting sun. Taken together, they

Inti Qocha Pattern
Tawa Inti Qocha Pattern

represent hatun inti, the sun directly between these points, at high noon, at its mightiest, its grandest.


The four smaller diamonds also represent different spatial and temporal aspects of the sun. This tawa inti qocha pattern also includes small triangles which appear on both vertical sides of the rectangular frames. These points are referred to by some Q’ero weavers as kiraqey puntas, tooth points.


The Q’ero place great importance on textiles because they believe you can literally weave the energy of the future with colors, shapes and patterns. The symbols and colors that appear in mestana cloths hold a special significance for their owner since they hold the energy being sourced for that person. Find the magical energy woven into your mestana.

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