Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Female Figure

Pronounce: qumpi
Pronounce: ukhu


Female Figure


Several hundred of these effigy figures, completely made from fiber, remain from graves in the dry coastal sands of the Chancay Valley in central Perú. Reeds provide the basic structure, which is then dressed in miniature garments—here a skirt, belt, and blouse woven using three different techniques. A tapestry face with an embroidered nose and a wig of hair complete the lifelike rendition of a well-dressed woman from ca. 1000 AD.

Effigy figures such as this are not dolls. They were placed in the burials of adult women and wear special clothes made from qumpi, the finest cloth. Miniature textiles are even more difficult to weave than full-size ones. Here, the figure likely wears a version of her owner’s outfit, a companion—and perhaps near-portrait—of a specific woman. Many different face patterns characterize the remaining Chancay fiber figures.

Another important Andean concept is also embodied in this tiny figure: ukhu, the importance of things that are normally hidden. You can see that her arms, and even fingers, were wrapped with thread to cover the reed armature, one manifestation of creative hiding by wrapping. Yet under her skirt one can barely see that her legs and toes were also wrapped, even though they cannot be seen under the long skirt. This is a widespread Native American impulse to finish all parts of a figure, to honor and make the image “true” to its subject. Hidden completion is true of human bodies as well (physically muscles are under skin, and in society certain body parts are routinely covered). What is not visible is understood as important, as ukhu communicates.

Geographic Area

South America, Central Andes, Central Coast




Late Intermediate Period, ca.1000-1470 AD


Reed, cotton, camelid fiber

Credit Line

Ex coll. C. Clay and Virginia Aldridge

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Bruce M. White, 2014

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