The origin of weaving is linked to the rite of passage and myths that shape the Matsigenka world.
It is important to highlight the rite of menarquía or nandarotaki (first blood), which plays a crucial role in the transition of Matsigenka women. From this rite, there is an approach to understanding and learning the process of spinning and weaving, as well as their related artistic expressions.
During this process, the young women are initiated into the art of spinning and weaving, and are accompanied by their grandmothers, who give them advice and guidance on life and weaving. In addition, a strict diet is followed, which used to last several months. The end of their menstruation marks an important milestone in their learning, where they acquire significant knowledge, with weaving being a fundamental artistic expression. (Rojas, 2017).
Another expression that helps to understand the origin of weaving is the myth of Eto. According to legend, Eto is a spider woman who meets a young man in the forest and they fall in love, deciding to go and live in his mother-in-law's house, here as Gregorio tells us:
“Once upon a time there was a young Matsigenka who used to go to the forest every day. One day he met a very pretty girl, without realizing that she was a spider they began to talk and spend time together. But when his mother asked him why he was taking so long in the forest and what he had seen, the young man denied having seen anything.
As they got to know each other better, the young man confessed to his mother that he had met his match. Then his mother tells him that he can bring her home, to help him cook, spin and make masato. The next day Eto asks what his mom told him, the young man said nothing, then Eto confronts him saying that she did tell him something because she heard the conservation. The young man confirms that he did.
Eto worried, tells him that she can't go to his house, because she doesn't know what they will do, but the young man insists and convinces her.
The next day they go together to the young man's mother's house. The mother saw that her son was happy, and that he was laughing. And so on, until one day the mother-in-law gives Eto a piece of cotton to spin, but Eto did not know how, so he began to pull the lint out of the cotton and swallow it. She took out many threads from her navel, and made many things, but one day the mother-in-law got angry and broke what she was making, then Eto immediately called the young man telling him that his mother is bad, and that from now on she will not teach anyone to spin and weave, not even her sister, neither her descendants will know how to spin (...), she began to get ready, and left. And so the story goes, if not, the women would have learned to spin without effort. Gregorio, Shipetiari, 2023.
This mythical tale, narrated by Gregorio, illustrates the value of weaving in relation to a forest being, as well as the processes of artistic creation from the Matsigenka worldview.
Kushmas or manchakinstsi is the traditional dress of the Matsigenka people and is made from native cotton yarns. The process of making it can take several weeks, especially at the beginning, as it first involves spinning the cotton and then placing it on the loom in a precise manner. This work is mainly done by women.
Both men and women of all ages use the kushma, but there is a difference in design according to gender. Men wear fabrics with vertical stripes and a v-neck, while women wear horizontal stripes and a straight neck. The designs on the clothing represent various animals such as snakes, birds and fish. Each iconography tells a story related to the natural world.
One of the animals represented in the kushma is the tsintsikiti or bird, which is related to hunting. When a family wishes their first child to be a good hunter, the shaman performs an ayahuasca ceremony and then goes to look for the tsintsikiti in the jungle. If he encounters the bird, she gives him a special herb that the shaman prepares and gives to the pregnant woman.
The shimapentiyaki is a fish, known as Boquichico in Spanish; it is also represented in the kushmas. This fish symbolizes all beings descended from a woman, fertility, youth, beauty and abundance. The scale designs on the garments compensate for the loss of the luster of youth due to the passage of time.
Another common design is the tshigopatsapa, which represents a beautifully colored worm that goes out at night to eat and returns to its safe place. This design symbolizes someone who knows how to think and has reached emotional maturity.
Kompero, or bird, is used on the kushmas of adults to help attract the opposite sex, as it is believed that the bird's song is beautiful and that makes conquest possible. However, this design is not placed on the kushmas of Matsigenkas children, as it is believed that it could cause the child to become an idle and foolish adult.
These designs are also depicted on tsagi (bags) or purses and bracelets, as an extension of the vision and link to nature, animals and spiritual beings from the imaginary.
Today, kushmas are worn occasionally, mainly for protection from the cold or at gatherings and celebrations. In Matsigenka families, each member usually owns at least one kushma, and the ideal number is considered to be about three. Thus, one old kushma is used for work on the farm, one for everyday use, and one for special occasions (Johnson, 2023).
Bracelets are produced exclusively by Matsigenka women. The geometric designs woven into the bracelets tell stories and also reflect a person's marital status, as well as some personality traits or individual tastes. During the weaving process, four main colors are used: white, cream, brown and pink. These colors are achieved using natural dyes extracted from tree bark and muds. For example, brown color is obtained from mariviashi bark, black color is achieved with mud and huito, yellow and red color come from achiote, violet color is obtained from sanipanga bark, and potsota is used for pink color. In addition, white or red cotton is used to complete the sequence of colours in the bracelet.
The bracelets are made using a small backstrap loom, which is woven manually with threads made from native cotton collected from their own chacras.
Another bag used by the Matsigenka is the tsagi, which is made from native cotton threads and follows a process similar to that of making bracelets or kushmas. These bags are adorned with designs that represent the Matsigenka people's relationship with birds, snakes and fish, and natural dyes are used to give the design a particular aesthetic.
The tsatanentsi or baby sling, is a textile made from cotton threads and carries ornaments such as seeds and bones carved with different designs, which provide a unique aesthetic. It is believed that the bones used in the decoration of the tsatanentsi are obtained by the father during the hunting of animals, which symbolizes power and protection for the baby. In addition, the use of these may be a sign of prestige for the father or the family, as it reveals their skill in hunting.
The use of vegetable fibers in the elaboration of traditional weavings among the Matsigenka people vividly represents their culture, knowledge and practices. These weavings are created using materials obtained from the forest and are part of their daily life, allowing them to reaffirm their knowledge. The inputs used to make baskets and bags are very diverse and include cetico bark, tamshi, as well as pineapple fibers. These natural materials allow them to maintain a close connection with the environment and preserve the traditions that their ancestors left them.
The bags or jempos in Matsigenka language are made using the bark of the cetico tree, which is a fiber obtained from the forest. This manufacturing process follows a series of steps to convert the bark into a woven and durable material.
The first step is to prepare the cetico fiber. This involves peeling the bark from the tree and washing it thoroughly. Once washed, the fiber is shaken in the river to remove any remaining impurities. After this washing process, the fiber is left to dry in the sun for a day or two, until it is completely dry. Once the fiber is dry, it is "twisted" into yarn, which will be used as the main material for weaving the bag.
In addition to cetico fiber, pineapple fiber is also often used in the making of the jempos. This fiber is obtained from the leaves of the pineapple plant and is processed in a similar way to cetico fiber. During the weaving process, artisans also use natural dyes extracted from the sanipanga leaf to dye the bags. These natural dyes give the jempos vibrant colors and distinctive shapes, forming part of the traditional Matsigenka design.
With skill and dedication, Matsigenka artisans transform the natural fibers into beautiful woven bags that represent not only functionality, but also their aesthetics linked to rich cultural tradition and their link with nature.