KERE KERE | Tracing the Iskonawa kinship

A Xapiri Ground cultural registration about the textile arts of the Iskonawa.
Melanie Dizon
March 23, 2023

KERE KERE | Tracing the Iskonawa kinship

Art holds an importance for the retrieval of ancestral identity and longevity, as the very language of symbols has the power to illustrate proof of life. Although the Iskonawa people are few today, they do their best to speak the language and express its traditional art forms, an attempt to not forget or be forgotten. In the community of Callería in the Peruvian Amazon we made our first visit to connect with the Iskonawa Artisans Association who addresses design and its connections to their ancestral territory. There we met a few key women who would lead us into the pathways of their ancestral memory and codes, line by line.
Dalia paints the kere kere / Photo: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

The next day upon our arrival we headed to Chachibai which is reachable only by boat and is about a day’s travel during the more accessible rainy season. This small community has no more than ten houses and is where the Iskonawa only visit from time to time as they reside mostly in Callería. It was through the initiative of the association leader Teresa to take us to Chachibai where we would spend a few weeks alongside the Iskonawa families to document their traditional art practices. 

En route to Chachibai / Photo: Jack Wheeler (Xapiri Ground)

Chachibai Village / Photo: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

Chachibai Vaillage / Photo: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

During 2017, an interest arose among a group of women to produce new art representative of the Iskonawa people. Here, the young Iskonawa women began to record these designs in order to learn them better, a learning that took shape by way of the cloth. And so, the Iskonawa Artisan Association was born between 2018-2019, coordinated by the craftswomen of the Iskonawa people together with Carolina Rodríguez Alzza, linguist and anthropologist, and the support of the Academic Direction of Social Responsibility (DARS) and the Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.

The women of the Iskonawa Artisan Association / Photo: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

The following material and video gives focus to the Iskonawa iconography and the process of reconstructing that ancestral memory. Traditionally, these symbolic designs took their place on the bodies, ceramics, instruments and wooden artifacts of the Iskonawa people. Their signature "zig zag" motif is known as "kere kere."

The bark used as their base color for their textile arts come from the hardwood tree called ‘yacushapana’ (family: Combretaceae) which can grow up to 35m high and 1m in diameter. They then peel the cambium layer off the tree which then gets sundried in order to prepare it for the dye. After some hours of boiling the bark with some banana husk the pigment is ready for use onto the ‘tocuyo;’ a 100% natural cotton cloth industrially made in Peru. Each artisan applies their own designs and colors onto the cloth with a combination of other natural pigments and riverside clay. 
Returning from the forest / Photo: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

Teresa boils the yacushapana bark / Photo: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

Dalia rinses the clay off the cloth / Photo: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

One can see the traces of nature through their designs like heamitsa 'snake' skin or that of the roebiri 'El Cono hill'. These designs provide a glimpse into an area of the Iskonawa memory that has yet to be fully explored. The reality of the Iskonawa women today is that they live in a mixed community with the Shipibo-Konibo as well as traveling outside their communities which gives rise to cultural exchange which is reflected in their contemporary designs. However, they sustain the processes of using natural pigments and the clay painting technique. 

Neyra and her family / Photo: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

Dalia shows her textile art / Photo: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

“The iskonawa designs are thus not only traces of memory about the past, but a present memory that is recreating the iskonawa being today along the Callería river.” Carolina Rodríguez Alzza

Photo: Tui Anandi (Xapiri Ground)

*A special thank you to all the Iskonawa community and Carolina Rodríguez Alzza for helping facilitate this important work. To see our collection of Iskonawa textiles online please visit our shop.

Photography: Tui Anandi
Video Footage: Tui Anandi
Video Edition: Melanie Dizon

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