The difference in style between the weavings of the Jalq’a and Tarabuceños could hardly be more dramatic, even though the two groups live only a short distance apart to the west and east of Sucre. Tarabuceño ponchos (unkus) are woven with bright stripes of orange, black, red, green and gold, while smaller items like the chu’spa coca bags and chumpi waist bands are decorated with finely detailed and usually symmetrical designs depicting scenes from everyday life: wild and domestic animals; trees and crops; people ploughing, harvesting or dancing at fiestas.

The Jalq’a designs, on the other hand, are entirely figurative, eschewing symmetry and abstract geometry. Woven into women’s shawls known as aqsus and almost always only black and red in colour, they depict a kind of primordial chaos filled with strange beasts: animals with elongated bodies and multiple heads or eyes sprouting from their tails; birds with puma heads; toads with wings. The few human figures that do appear seem lost in this forest of supernatural animals. This is the ukchu pacha, a mythological underworld of extraordinary and untamed creatures, over which rules the Sax’ra, a horned devil-like figure with wings who appears in the centre of some of the weavings, part Andean demon and part god of fertility and abundance. Many of the designs are inspired by dreams, and new themes are constantly being incorporated, but though every piece is unique they all fall within a set of artistic norms that makes them instantly recognisable as Jalq’a – both to neighbouring ethnic groups and to international art collectors.

Examples of both weaving styles are available to buy in a shop attached to the museum, and though they’re far from cheap (particularly the Jalq’a items – larger individual pieces can cost well over $100/Bs700) the money goes direct to the indigenous artists who made them, and the quality is exquisite.

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