The following are a few symbols found in weavings from our partnering communities. Often, the meanings of these symbols vary from community to community, and from weaver to weaver, since this tradition is transmitted orally from generation to generation. These symbols provide a snapshot of some of the elements of the Andean natural environment that are important to Quechua culture.
We recognize the knowledge of the Quechua weavers who shared the above information with Mosqoy staff and volunteers Ashli Akins, Sarah Confer, Rose Prieto, and Alison Root (among others), and especially the master weavers Nilda Callañaupa Alvarez, Gregorio Sotalero Tacuri, and Daniel Soncco, whose knowledge of Quechua textile iconography- and dissemination of such knowledge - is tantamount.
In the Incan Trilogy, the condor is the God of the Upper World. A sighting of a condor is thought to be a message from the heavens, often a message that someone has recently passed away. Stories have also been told of condors helping people find their way when lost. The message that the condor conveys differs from community to community.
The hook-like marking in this image is the symbol for the puma’s claw. In the Incan Trilogy, the puma is known as the God of the Middle World, or physical earth. The puma is also known as the cougar or mountain lion in some communities.
The brown weaving in this image is the puma's tail. When woven in textiles it is used to represent the presence and importance of the puma, the God of the Middle World.
Puma's Paw Print
The puma's paw print represents where the puma, God of the Middle World or Earth, has once been. The puma is an important figure in many weaving communities, as it is one of the gods in the Incan Trilogy.
Inti is known as the Sun God in Incan beliefs. The Sun God, like all of the other gods and goddesses, is based on an element of nature, such as its apposite symbol, the moon mother, Mama Quilla. Inti is believed to be the god that looks over and takes care of people on earth. It is common for boys in Peru to be named after the Sun God, Inti, while girls are named after the moon goddess, Quilla.
The Chakana is a significant religious symbol for many Quechua communities. The Chakana is often referred to as the Inca Cross. Each corner and side of the Chakana has a meaning, such as values, seasons, and gods. The Chakana is also a star constellation easily seen from Andean mountains.
The potato flower, when used as a symbol in textiles, is to demonstrate the dependency on potatoes within the Andes. There are over 2400 types of potatoes grown in Peru, many of which are heirloom varieties. In many communities, potatoes are the only crops that can be grown, due to the high altitude and harsh climate; some children have only ever eaten a potato. Laws have been passed in some areas, such as in the Parque de la Papa (Potato Park) where the community of Amaru is located, which keep corporations from commercializing heirloom potatoes and from introducing genetically modified potato strains.
Wheel of the Six Fertile Lands
This hexagon represents the six key crops that Quechua people must learn to grow and cultivate year-round to be able to subsist off the harsh lands of the Andes. This wheel includes quinoa, corn, quiwicha, potato, and two other grains.
This symbol can often be found running along the sides of long textiles, such as a tusuy (undyed table runner) or a qolla (undyed scarf).
A weaving of a whole heart symbolizes love. Quilts woven with this symbol are often given as wedding gifts. Whole hearts on a textile can also mean that the person who wove that item is married. Alternatively, if there is a half-heart symbol on a textile it often means that the weaver is single.
The "Q'ente," two hummingbirds feeding one another, is a symbol for reciprocity, love, and nurturing. It is often featured on blankets from mother to child, or on wedding quilts. It is also a symbol for revitalization, and rebirth for new life. It is one of the most important symbols of Andean textiles. In the Incan Trilogy, a single hummingbird is thought to be a messenger between the three worlds- upper, middle, and underworld.
Llamas, being one of the four camelids of the Andes, are often represented as symbols on larger textiles. This is because a llama can be used in many important ways to support Andean livelihoods. Llamas are often raised for their fibre to create textiles, and for their meat. They are also used to carry cargo across vast mountain ranges.
The Viscacha is a large rodent that can be found in the Andes. The Viscacha is in the same family as the chinchilla.
The book is an interesting symbol. At one point in time this symbol was used to represent an instrument of some sort, possibly a harp or guitar, but as years have passed this symbol has changed its meaning to show the importance of education in Quechua communities. This image shows an open and closed book.
All diamonds symbolize lakes. If there is something inside the diamond, it means the lake is healthy and ready for harvest. This symbol represents the importance of water for life and subsistence.
Waves on a textile symbolize water. Water is a significant part of Quechua culture as it is thought to be the creator of life. Symbols of waves are meant to show the importance of life.
Steps and Trails
The white zig-zag line in this image symbolizes a trail, often the Inca Trail from Cusco City to Machu Picchu. The black stripes surrounding the trail symbol are used to represent Incan steps made out of carved stones.
X's and O's
This symbol is a practice symbol. It is the first symbol that a beginner weaver is taught how to create. "X’s and O’s" is used as a teaching method because it is such a basic symbol compared to others. Once a person learns how to correctly create X’s and O’s they can then move on to more difficult designs.