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September 13, 2013

Ornamentation and Life in the City


Eliza Squibb: Shipibo Textiles

With Las Madres de Ashé de Cantagallo we are applying to the Santa Fe International Folk Art Market.

The most important lesson I have learned during my grant period is that it is my research moves along much better if there is a way for me to align my own interests in culture and art with the greater interests of the group.

No one is interesting in sitting around an answering a researcher’s questions. That was the first lesson I learned.

I am not interested in simply buying crafts and then disappearing, as most visitors have done before me.

How do we reconcile these conflicting desires? I want to learn about craft and culture, and las Madres want access to a broader market for their art and to learn new textile techniques.

So far, we have come up with two solutions:

The first was the needle felting workshops, where I provided tools and enough materials to teach and begin experimenting and developing new products on which las Madres could express their traditional patterns. Essentially my position changed from “researcher” to simply “fellow artisan”, and this was a lot more comfortable for everyone, myself included. The workshops are a continuing event, and each time we set up the materials and work on projects together, joined by whichever madres are free at the time.

The second is the application to the market which takes place every July in New Mexico. I don’t know what our chances are of getting accepted, or getting financial assistance, which would be crucial since we aren’t supported by an organization… But if I learned anything at art school, it was how to apply for scholarships! The application in an interesting activity for us to do together because not only is it a chance to gain a new venue for Shipibo art, but we must answer extensive questions about the culture and history; the same kinds of questions that I would want to ask for my research.

So, we have started taking pictures of different forms of traditional art each time I go to Cantagallo, and having discussions with different artisans about their work.

Yesterday I met with Diana Ancón Rodriguez, a member of Las Madres de Ashé, and her husband Fernando, who live in the upper level of Cantagallo and specialize in making beaded bracelets and pecheras, a necklace/chest ornament that are a traditional part of Shipibo adornment. In Shipibo culture, beauty is synonymous with adornment, and therefore coronas (headresses), pecheras, bracelets, earrings, pampanillas (skirts), cushmas (tunics), and historically body paintings with huito oil, are all an important part of being a beautiful Shipibo man or woman.

In the “Testimony of a Shipibo Woman”, Koshi Shinanya Ainbo describes the Shipibo aesthetic of feminine beauty:

Metsá ainbo

Shipibo ainbobo iresbiresi metsáyamai. Iti jake boo nenké, rapanistani; ikaxhbi jan metsati joaikaya riki non raoti. Jain non saweai sha atibo, jonxhe. Jaskarakaya riki metsá ainbo. Wetsabiresma iki metsá en oina. Jawe kopíma noa raotaoma yakataxh noa metsáma iki, tson noa metsá ayamai. Ja kopíra noa iti jake westíora metsá ainbo inoxh raotia. Jati jake min tononon ati, min keshá ati, paronoti, koribo, mia maxhen bekenetai, mia nanen bexhtetai, mia nanen taxhtetai, mia wikenetai; ja riki metsá ainbo. Noa jawebi raoyamai, noa iamai jawenki noa metsáti iki.

La mujer bella

La mujer shipiba no es bella así nomás. Tiene que tener el cabello largo, ser algo delgada; entonces con lo que viene a ser hermosa es con nuestros adornos. Nos ponemos campanillas de semillas en la pampanilla para que suenen con los movimientos, pulseras y tobilleras. Así es una mujer bonita. Yo creo que cualquiera no es bonita. Si no estamos sentadas con nuestros adornos no somos bonitas, nadie nos dice que somos hermosas. Por eso, para ser una mujer bella, debemos ponernos los adornos. Debes tener tus sonajas de la cintura, tu adorno de la pampanilla, corona, aretes, adornos labiales, te diseñas la cara con achiote, te pintas la frente con huito, te pintas los pies con huito, te diseñas la pierna; ésa es una mujer bella. Si no nos adornamos no hay nada que nos haga lucir bellas.

The Beautiful Woman

The Shipibo woman is not beautiful just like that. She must have long hair, she must be slim, and then she will be beautiful with all of her adorments. We put seeds around the edges of our skirts so that it makes noise with all of our movements, we wear anklets and bracelets. That is how a beautiful woman is. I don’t believe that just any woman can be beautiful. If we are just sitting without all our adornments then we are not beautiful, and no one tells us we are good looking. For that reason, to be a beautiful women, we must put on our adornments. We must wear our beaded belts, our decorated skirts, our headdresses, earrings, lip ornaments, and paint decorations on our faces, foreheads, feet and legs with huito. This is how a woman is beautiful. If we are not adorned, there is nothing to make us look beautiful.

Life in the city of Lima is very different from the Shipibo homeland on the Ucayali river however. Although the artisans of Cantagallo still have their traditional clothing and adornments, it is difficult to go out in the bustling streets of the city dressed as a beautiful Shipibo. At best, it’s a bit awkward, and at worst, everyone I talked to mentioned incidents of discrimination. Cesar Maynas Bardeles, a practitioner of traditional medicine in Cantagallo, talked to me about how people of the community have to live dual lives, maintaining and protecting their heritage, language and customs, as well as conforming to modern mestizo ways of dress and city life.


Fidelia Franco Ahuanari, Cesar’s wife and a member of Las Madres de Ashé, works on her embroidery in her house.


Cesar works on two paintings commissioned by a restaurant.

ImageCesar works on his computer

ImageCesar and his son Alesandro put on their traditional cushmas and coronas for a picture.


A traditional beaded corona with seed pod fringe, and hair/feathers from a garza, some kind of animal/bird from the jungle…

We played dress up to get pictures of the pecheras in their traditional use, and both Diana and Luz Franco Ahuanari were practically rolling on the ground laughing as they got all their traditional ornamentation in place. They managed to put on serious expressions for the camera however, but broke out in giggles every few seconds.Image


Señora Diana Ancón Rodriguez


Señora Luz Franco Ahuanari

We photographed an inventory of the jewelry they were working on. Because it’s hard to sell these relatively expensive, time consuming works on the street, they only make them on commission. Often their commissions come from teachers who need traditional costumes for dance performances, or family members who work as shamans in Iquitos and sell pecheras to tourists.


Different pechera patterns have different metaphorical meanings, such as “the union of the family”, but in general the kené patterns represent all elements of the Shipibo world: rivers, forests, animals, life, death, and the union and balance between all these elements. Different parts of the patterns have names and significance: the zig-zags around the edge represent piranha teeth, and other parts represent a turtle head, trees, and rivers.


Fernando shows how the fringe decorations are cut out of an aluminum pot lid and hammered into a convex shape.


Fernando, Diana and Luz show how the pecheras are put together from beads. (Diana and Luz are both almost collapsed with laughter because Luz is posing as if she’s making one)Image




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