Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Ch’uspa (Man’s Coca Bag) with Horses

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Ch’uspa (Man’s Coca Bag) with Horses


The Tarabuco region of Bolivia is known for its depictions of animals and people, often arranged in scenes illustrating daily routines and festivals. The finely woven ch’uspa or coca bag at left features a wide range of images: birds, spiders, monkeys, men and women, corn plants, llamas, and horses. Like other 20th-century Tarabuco textiles, it is woven with sheep’s wool and polyester yarn dyed in the brightest possible colors, demonstrating the shift in production that had occur-red by that time.

The rearing horses in particular represent the development of “modern” indigenous artistic traditions. While we tend to associate “traditional” Native Americans with riding horses, the indigenous peoples of South America did not domesticate horses, which were already extinct in the Americas. The modern horse was only reintroduced into the Americas by the Spanish in the 16th century.

Quickly adopted by all nomadic native peoples, the horse soon transformed culture and even dress. Riding made the open-sided man’s poncho a necessary innovation, a garment that allowed the necessary freedom of movement, eclipsing the ancient tunic. The New World camelids—llamas, alpacas, guanacos, and vicuñas—cannot be ridden; horses therefore served as a new and important mode of transportation. The horse has become an integral part of life in indigenous communities and is now viewed as a traditional, as part of the ever-evolving definitions of what is “traditional” versus what is “new” in a given culture and time.

Geographic Area

South America, Bolivia, Department of Chuquisaca,
Province of Yamparáez, Tarabuco


20th century


Sheep’s wool

Credit Line

Lent by Gail and Clark Goodwin

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

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