Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Textile with Pelican Shaman

Pronounce: ayni


Textile with Pelican Shaman


This brocaded cloth features a supernatural pelican-man. Still bright after over five hundred years, scarlet highlights the standing figure’s face and the many little pelicans that sit on his arms and emerge magically from/as his body. The two slightly different reds in the face area show that this textile was made in two parts later sewn together; this additive process was certainly not concealed. This piece was one of at least four matching panels (now held in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Cleveland Museum of Art). The piecemeal assembly process was employed by the Chimú Empire, with different subjects involved in the production of a single luxury item given as tribute to royalty and elites. One person made one half of this piece, another the other, with the seam and the slight mismatch between the parts as evidence of their distinct contributions. In addition, showing the two parts combining to make a single figure embodies an important idea that runs through Andean culture and thought: ayni, or the dualistic relationship of one part to another to make up a balanced whole. Two half-faces coming together, even if not perfectly, embodies this idea visually. Ayni is not only found in art, but is basic to human survival in the Andean environment, where reciprocal helping of others is the only way to thrive in the various altitudes and ecozones.

Geographic Area

South America, Central Andes, Central Coast




Late Intermediate Period, ca. 1100-1470 AD


Cotton, camelid fiber

Credit Line

Gift in memory of John C. and Nora Wise

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Bruce M. White, 2013

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