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December 2002

Atacama's Textiles Project:
A turn of hand

Five years ago, investigators and textile experts Ana María Rojas and Soledad Hoces de la Guardia, started searching for the forgotten world of Atacama's textiles. They first registered and elaborated a conservation proposal for the Tiwanaku textiles kept at San Pedro de Atacama's Archeological Museum. Later, they went to Loa and the Salar de Atacama, looking for the artisans and registering their work. Today, they want to systematize traditional technologies to revitalize them and promote them among Atacama's people.

By Rosario Mena.




After their work of registry and conservation of the Tiwanaku textiles, kept at San Pedro de Atacama's Museum, a whole and unknown universe opened for Ana María Rojas and Soledad Hoces de la Guardia: that of Atacama's ethnographic textiles, part of a millenary and rich tradition.

"We had the testimony in front of our own eyes, so it was obvious to ask, why such a particular and rich past is now forgotten? What has happened to that tradition? How much of it, in terms of technique and costumes, could we find in the textiles that are currently made in this zone?".

The answers for this questions had to be looked for in a second project, developed during the year 2000 and entitled "Atacama's textiles: investigation, registry and diagnosis of the textile artisanship of Loa and the Salar de Atacama".

They visited the houses where people would take the blankets out of their beds to show it to them, or that where an old lady would be knitting with long spines as needles. "That made us confirm that the Atacama ethnia has a textile activity which is alive, with an expression that reinforces their group identity and that can be seen in the excellence of their most traditional knitting".

Their investigation confirmed a unique identity and style, partially shared with cultures that lived in territories that now belong to Argentina and Bolivia. Besides conserving the knitting in the family, Atacama people respect the job of the weaver in a very significative way. Even though there are less of them now dedicated to it, there is a very valuable knowledge and tradition that can be transmitted to the new generations, revitalizing it as cultural heritage and becoming a progress engine to a zone with high levels of poverty, through tourism and the selling of their products. That is what the investigators' project now looks for:

"To the pre-Hispanic tools and techniques, we now add new instruments. But the type of knitting and pieces and the use given to them has been maintained for hundreds of years, confirming its efficiency from a utilitarian, aesthetically and cultural point of view. In general, Andean cultures kept the textile techniques of their ancestors and knitting is one of the main ways they have to learn, communicate and reproduce values", they say.

 
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