Threads of Time: Tradition and Change in Indigenous American Textiles

Kapote (Man’s Poncho)



Kapote (Man’s Poncho)


This 20th-century man’s kapote, or poncho, stands in stark contrast to the 19th-century boy’s version across the gallery. One hundred years has made a remarkable difference. They are both ponchos, however, and as such reflect the dramatic post-Hispanic changes to indigenous dress, especially that of men. The Spanish reintroduced horses into the Americas and indigenous men could not ride them in their tight-fitting long shirts or tunics. Hence the sides were split open and the poncho was born; what we think of as a “traditional” Latin American garment is, in fact, a hybrid form.

Color is one of the most changed elements of Bolivian and other modern native dress. With the innovation of chemically extracted dyes, called aniline, in the mid-19th century, the intensity of colors increased exponentially. European ladies had been craving a stronger purple color, which British chemist William Henry Perkin accidentally discovered in 1856, a chemically derived “mauveine.” His fame and fortune followed and aniline dyes of all colors began to infiltrate the market, a trend that continues to this day.

Geographic Area

South America, Bolivia, Departments of Potosí and Chuquisaca, Provinces of Chayanta and Oropeza, Jalq’a, Potolo


20th century


Sheep’s wool

Credit Line

Anonymous loan

Accession Number


Photo Credit

Photo by Michael McKelvey, 2017

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