Weavers, the first recordkeepers

As far back as humankind goes, weaving has been a tool for many things. It was used to create clothing and warm shelter and later on, through the development of the art of weaving, its’ creations became a commodity. Weaving was such an important and integral part of society that the weavers were seen as very important citizens in a community.

It is the weavers that became the first record keepers of tribes throughout the ages at a time when writing was not yet available all over the world and art was the only means of expression. The textiles, carpets and other woven items first included geometric shapes that represented the cosmos and the “way of creation”. Later other symbols were added, such as the symbols of specific deities or specific tribes or specific classes, as well as colour. Each colour carried with it a specific meaning and energy and in such a way a lot of unwritten history was recorded .

The deciphering of this language requires a translator and unfortunately through many wars and invasions most old textiles found cannot be decoded simply because the civilizations do not exist anymore and there are no other written documents that could help us understand what our ancestors intended with their symbols and colours thousands of years ago.

One such fascinating item is the quipu from the Incas. The quipu (meaning 'knot') is a recording device used in Andean civilizations at least as far back as Wari in the 7th century, but it is associated in particular with the administration of the Inca Empire. It consists of a length of rope from which numerous other threads are suspended, some of them with their own subsidiary offshoots. The length of each thread, its colour and the position of any knots in it can acquire specific meanings. Due to the lack of descendants who can understand the quipu we can only speculate what it was used for and how, the most favourable explanation being that it was some kind of accounting and calendar system, but there could be so much more information contained in it that might remain a mystery forever.

Other textiles produced by the Inca depicted designs that was specific to family groups and one of the reasons for repeated designs, was that textiles were often produced for the state as a tax and so textiles could be representative of specific communities and their cultural heritage. Just as today’s coins and stamps reflect a nation's history, so too Andean textiles offered recognisable motifs which either represented the specific communities making them or the imposed designs of the ruling Inca class ordering them.

In Qaxaca, Mexico, the fabrics produced are repeating the ancient Mayan notions of the circle of life, of rebirth, of time and space and of the forces of nature with their designs. The symbols that their ancestors would use are traditionally used in the weaver’s creations, often retaining their original meanings. The diamond that signified the universe now symbolizes the unison of the earth and the skies, snakes symbolize the rich, fertile land, and the toads, also known as musicians in the rain, signify the patron saints. Sometimes there is a butterfly added to the centre of the diamond motif, which symbolizes the sun, the centre of the Mayan universe.
By Vanessa Ghorbany