Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Boy’s Mourning Poncho

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Boy’s Mourning Poncho


Early 19th century Bolivian garments, such as the boy’s poncho at right, contain muted colors created entirely with natural dyes, just as they had been throughout the pre-Hispanic period. The thread itself is also identical to that in used ancient garments, spun from the silky hair of the alpaca. Although this poncho maintains the materials used in antiquity, the poncho is not actually a pre-Hispanic garment type, despite the fact that it may be associated with indigenous Americans today. The poncho evolved out of the tunic, a sleeveless shirt sewn up the sides and with a finished neck slit. Leaving the sides open allows more flexibility of movement necessary to ride the horses introduced by the Spanish.

After the Spanish actually banned the tunic in the mid-18th century, ponchos became more widely adopted and customized to fulfill a variety of ceremonial roles. This poncho, distinguished by its black stripes, is specifically designed as a “mourning” garment for a small boy. Such clothes were worn not only at funerals, but also on All Soul's Day and Good Friday. Since these special garments could take several months to complete, they were often passed down through several generations as heirlooms. They were considered as a physical link between the generations of the living and the dead.

Geographic Area

South America, Bolivia


19th century


Camelid fiber and sheep's wool

Credit Line

Anonymous promised gift

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

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