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Weaving Imperial Ideas: Iconography and Ideology of the Inca Coca Bag

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Without a system of writing, the Incas (ca. 1476‐1534 c.e.) presided over an empire of orality and performance that stretched along the Andes Mountains from southern Ecuador to northern Chile. The Incas relied heavily on visual signals to impart information and organize their civilization. Textiles, among other crafted objects, were made to perform as visual emblems displaying ideas about imperial ideology and the authority embodied by individuals. This article explores the capacity of textiles to carry embedded meaning through the study of several specimens of Inca coca bags in the collections of the Dallas Museum of Art and the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Widespread throughout the Inca Empire and now housed in museum collections around the world, members of the Inca elite wore these elaborately woven bags to carry the leaves of the coca plant, a significant medicinal herb and sacrificial item. This article offers an iconographic analysis of the coca bag’s surface embellishment and will establish the function of the coca bag both as a quotidian container and as a symbolic emblem.

Keywords: Andes; Inca; Peru; coca; communication; emblems; llama; weaving

Document Type: Research Article

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.2752/175183510X12791896965538

Affiliations: Email: laurenfhughes@gmail.com

Publication date: July 1, 2010

More about this publication?
  • Textile brings together research in textile studies in an innovative and distinctive academic forum for all those who share a multifaceted view of textiles within an expanded field. Peer-reviewed and in full-color throughout, it represents a dynamic and wide-ranging set of critical practices. It provides a platform for points of departure between art and craft; gender and identity; cloth, body and architecture; labor and technology; techno-design and practice— all situated within the broader contexts of material and visual culture.
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