María Teresa Curaqueo: Símbolos en el arte textil Mapuche

María Teresa Curaqueo: Symbols in Mapuche textile art

María Teresa Curaqueo: Symbols in Mapuche textile art

We share with you a very interesting article from our archive. María Teresa Curaqueo: Symbols in Mapuche textile art. By Cecilia Valdés Urrutia, appeared in the Corps Artes y Letras of the newspaper El Mercurio on August 16, 2020. You can download the original article from here .

The anthropological and aesthetic value of Mapuche textiles—of pre-Columbian origin—astonishes. And it is essential to know more about that rich culture. We interviewed one of the greatest experts on it.

On World Indigenous People's Day, last Monday, there was a virtual meeting with the Mapuche textile researcher and artist María Teresa Curaqueo Loncon. The topic that brought us together is one of the most beautiful and profound of the Mapuche people: textiles. An art of pre-Columbian origin that carries beliefs, practices and identities of that culture, nature and its families. All of this is expressed through rich symbolic iconography in his works, both in his forms and in the use of colors.

“That symbology is like a book of our history, but that has been dismembered,” the expert tells “Arts and Letters,” from Villarrica. And he recognizes that the researchers' texts are still full of uncertainties and errors. “You have to know our language or have an excellent translator for it, which usually doesn't happen,” he points out. The signs and colors that emerge there speak of a deep vision of the life, the land, the wisdom and values ​​of that culture.

María Teresa Curaqueo Loncon—mother of four children, descendant of Lonco—also maintains a strict adherence to the tradition of her culture in her textile art. And it is required by museums. Meanwhile, in his quiet workshop, in a beautiful rural area of ​​Villarrica (unrelated to the current violence, further north), he gathers looms, wool and colors, which he makes meticulously like his ancestors.

Divine origin. Family identities

The archaeological site of Alboyanco, in Angol, dated around 1436 AD, ratifies the pre-Columbian origin of Mapuche textile art, thanks to the vestiges found.

—Has this knowledge been passed down through oral tradition?

“Yes, and it has been through the generations. But it is mainly women who are in charge of transmitting this information about the family group's textiles and their ancestors to their daughters. "It's part of the tradition."

—Does the symbology seem to be key?

“It's the most important thing. It has to do with the identity of each family, with its history. Because the Mapuche world is made up of many families with a common origin, and each one uses a symbol and others are added. The person of a family, at birth, comes with a symbolism that is of divine origin and that will characterize him. The symbols reveal and explain to each lineage their character, traditions, beliefs, the place where they are from. And the use of textile support is invaluable to preserve them”

—Is the cosmology of the Mapuche world in that symbology?

“All these signs come from a writing that we do not know how to decipher, because it was dismembered. It comes from the origin of the Mapuche people, from the land, from nature and from duality. We are very aware of the place we are in, of the earth itself, which is in motion.”

—Why the emphasis on the geometric?

“It is related to the way of counting, it has to do with life, with families that multiply. There the figure of the rhombus is central: it has many possibilities, many figures are formed and they can be taken to abstract phases. The geometric is part of our tradition and represents how life is multiplying in nature.”

—Do signs also allow us to read today which family a person belongs to?

“In the Ngillatunes you can still read them. We know this by looking at the symbols, the color of the poncho, the kipan (the woman's dress) and the sash. A certain family has a symbol about the territory where it comes from. Color is essential. The orange tree, for example, indicates that it is from a lake area (like Villarrica). On the coast, the black and white poncho alluding to the sea is used, which takes on a magical appearance. In the mountain range, blue is used a lot. Through the symbols and compositions of the textiles we also know about the power of the lonco, its status and lineage.”

Sacred textiles. The lamas

—Among the textiles are the lamas, which would be the most special and complex to read, the sacred cloaks.

“It is an offering textile, very decorated, very beautiful. It was also used for sitting, for babies and for sleeping. Most of the lama (word in the Mapuche language) are made with complex signs and are also used as an aide-memoire: the most personal history of each family was written down there. But the commercial world has pretty much ended that tradition.”

—What defines who a certain lama belongs to?

“The composition of the drawings and the color will shape the meaning of who the person who uses it is: if it is a young woman, the lady of the shop, the woman who makes the remedies, the midwife, the woman who masters the art. of the dyed ones, the one who interprets dreams, the machi. The Pre-Columbian Museum keeps a specimen of a slat that has an orange-pink color, that is an offering slat, due to the tone and the work of how it is made. Another slat is pink with green, orange and blue, which was used to collect medicinal herbs. The young woman's lamas are simpler. On the other hand, the textile of an expert weaver is very ornate in drawings and there is always a red side and a white side; “We work with the opposition of colors and figures.”

“White is the absence of divinity”

—Colors have a very different meaning than many would think. What do black and white represent?

“The color black is the concentration of life. But it is a different black: it has the depth of blue and is very difficult to make. It represents the force of energy. White is the opposite: it is divine absence. We avoid it. “We used a beige white.”

—Is yellow important, like blue, which seems to be essential?

“Black, blue and yellow are used ritually. Yellow represents all living nature like trees. While blue represents the connection with the ancestors. We associate the orange tree with the ripe fruit; It is a very strong, very beautiful ethnic orange tree. While the red is very deep. The Mapuche world manufactures it with a dyeing technique that marks a unique identity. Red is as appreciated as blue-black. It has a medicinal load. Its meaning is to help return to balance in health.”

—Does the color next to the square cross design on the Mapuche poncho indicate that it belongs to a lonco?

“Yes and both are essential. The more intense the color of the lonco blanket, the more important it is. Color tinting is key. The other factor is the number of times the square cross appears on the lonco's mantle. The more times it is there, the more important it is. That cross has a meaning of wisdom, it is like an ascending ladder of knowledge. “The Mapuche world is interested in wisdom.”

—And in women, what clothing and textiles highlight their range the most?

“The dress, the textile sash with a design and especially the silverware that she wears, in addition to the slats.”

—What happens with the machi?

“For a machi, the dark red color is magical. But she is a shaman and goes further. You can break the rules. I have seen machis in green and they could even use the color gold. They distance themselves from their families (and their symbols). They isolate themselves from the social world.”

To the rescue!

—Where are the most valuable textiles today, apart from in some families?

“In various museums. The Museum of Pre-Columbian Art has a large collection of a thousand pieces, very well kept, but they have not deciphered it. I worked with a few of them. They have a collection of ethnic blue Mapuche dresses. They have ponchos made with a very refined technique and a collection of beautiful sashes. The Natural History Museum has very beautiful ponchos. And in Berlin there are very old ponchos and sashes. Another very important collection is in the Branly Museum, in Paris.”

—And what does the huaso poncho preserve from the Mapuche culture today?

“The Huaso poncho was originally a mix between the Aymara, Quechua, Picunche and Mapuche cultures. Now, the Chilean chamanto huaso does not present the Mapuche icons.”

—Their textile art does rescue tradition.

“I stick completely to tradition! I'm going back. It is the way to get closer to my culture, a huge culture with a fascinating tradition. It has its own aesthetic. She is the queen of synthesis. I have been working now with the Villarrica Museum for an exhibition with textiles about rituals with pink, orange colors, geometric figures and a lot of use of the rhombus. I am too worried about how society has been getting rid of the development of this beauty. It is as if we were taking little pieces out of the Venus de Milo, for a commercial, sloppy look. “It is an alarming situation.”

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