The coca leaf – I have enjoyed it brewed in tea, chewed it on hiking trips and used it to dye my handspun llama fiber above. However, a foreigner like myself can not even begin to understand the role that this humble leaf plays in Bolivian life and culture.
Lately there has been a lot more talk than usual about this piece of Bolivian cultural heritage as Bolivian President Evo Morales has recently announced plans to launch a new carbonated energy drink on the market which has the beloved coca leaf as one of its main ingredients. It should make an appearance in the next four months and will be called “Coca Colla” (the ‘olla’ in Colla being pronounced like the ‘oy’ in boy). “Colla” is the word commonly used to describe people from the altiplano of indigenous origins. This is President Morales’s attempt to erradicate coca’s unfortunate association with cocaine and drug trafficking, increase its cultivation and have it recognized instead, as stated in the new Constitution, as “cultural heritage, a natural and renewable resource of biodiversity in Bolivia and a factor of social cohesion”.
Coca is used to make tea, plays a part in religious rituals and is chewed in order to suppress hunger, thirst and fatigue as well as to alleviate the symptoms of altitude sickness. I have chewed it myself on hiking trips and I have to tell you that there is knack to getting a wad of it tucked neatly away in your cheek and not all over your teeth thus completely ruining your smile for the day! Bags of coca leaves are sold with lejia-the gray colored bar seen at left, comprising compressed ash and other substances, which is chewed along with the leaves and acts as a catalyst.
A special woven bag called a chuspa is used to carry coca leaves but I have only seen these in use at festivals and other celebrations. On a normal day, it is more usual to see people taking their coca leaves directly from a regular plastic bag. My weaving teacher, Julia, at right, is taking a break from classes to enjoy some coca.
While Julia and her sister Hilda both know how to weave a chuspa, strangely neither of them actually owns one. When I expressed interest in learning to weave one, they had to consult with each other in order to remember how to wind the warp. What is special about warping for a chuspa is the fact that most chuspas include a small pocket which is designed to carry a piece of the lejia or perhaps a few coins and allowance must be made for this in the length of the warp.
In 1998, I spent some time with a weaver in the village of Candelaria near Tarabuco and learned the weaving technique that is used in their chuspas and carrying cloths.
I returned to Candelaria last year. Felicia is no longer there but the first person I met as I entered the village was Felicia’s cousin-also called Felicia! who took me to her home and graciously allowed me to film her weaving on her oblique loom. The next day I went to the market in Tarabuco where there was a cultural festival and was able to capture a small piece of video of a weaver warping for a chuspa. She was constantly being interrupted by ladies asking her questions so the clip is very short. I don’t know how well that warp could have turned out with all those pauses. When I warp, no one can speak to me!
So here is the short video (yippy! I have finally figured a way to get around my erratic internet service and upload heavier videos). The first part is the weaver warping for a chuspa with two colors around four stakes. You will see the extra stick she uses on which to warp the extra long part for the pocket.
The second piece is Felicia-keep an eye out for the kitty snuggled in her lap while she picks up those warps with lightning speed!
WHAT’S ON THE LOOM?-AN UPDATE
I have been working away on my Abba Yohanni inspired piece and have decided that I am going to make a table set to take as a gift on my next visit to Australia. So, the piece you saw last week will be a table runner. I have made some progress on that and have reversed the design and am just starting the final motif. In the meantime I couldn’t resist seeing how the motif would turn out in 12wpi cotton and so wove it into a (rather large) hot pad using one-weft double weave technique and then wove a small portion of the motif into a mug rug. I am thinking about weaving four placemats to go with the set with a piece of the motif woven with a supplementary weft in the center of each.
And finally…..here are two videos on one-weft double weave technique on the backstrap loom. You will recognize my Mexican mug rug there. These video clips are not meant to teach you the technique but will act as a supplement to the detailed instructions and photos in the Backstrap Weaving Group at Weavolution. With these videos you will see those “static” instructions in action. For those who have followed my instructions at Weavolution, you will notice a small change in the way I use the sticks which you may like to try.
I hope you have enjoyed this week’s post with videos. Fingers crossed that they all uploaded well and that you can view them easily.