In the Peruvian Amazon, the labyrinthic tradition of kené, the mythic embroidery of the Shipibo people inspired by the ayahuasca tea culture, reveals a fascinating art that conquers more and more admirers.
The Shipibos are one of the largest peoples of the Peruvian Amazon, about 35 thousand people, 7% of the indigenous population of Peru. In the past there were three speaking groups of the PANO language, the Shipibos, the konibos and the xetebos.
But centuries of cross-marriages have consolidated a Shipibo identity. Today there are some 150 communities scattered on the banks of the Ucayali River and numerous families marginally urbanized around the ports of Pucallpa and Yarinacocha.
The Shipibos were never conquered by the Inca Empire, but they could not resist the Spanish colonization, the rubber economy and the Christianity of the Franciscan missionaries who arrived in the region in the 1950s – similarly to the PANO-cultured peoples of Acre and Amazonia Brazilian.
The tradition of drawing, embroidering and dyeing kenés forms the basis of women’s clothing, pottery and Shipibo accessories. After work, the fabrics of 1.30 mx 0.90 m, originally made of high quality cotton, were tied around the waist. Nowadays, needles, embroidery lines and even fabric are often industrialized, and skirts are no longer used in everyday life. Shipibo customs are changing – as in almost all traditional Amazonian societies – but their art remains alive.
The Kené art is linked to the knowledge of biodiversity and the “plants with power” of the jungle, revealing the shipibo cosmovision. Women drink Ayahuasca and have visions have more prestige than those who only copy the drawings from the others. Drops of piri piri – extracts of vines – are also placed in the navel of teens or dripped to “heal the eyes”, ie to activate the artistic ability “to see drawings in their thoughts.” This is how women describe the inspiration of the labyrinthine motifs that spin and embroider.
As in Brazil, many Peruvian indigenous communities have been ignored, discriminated against and marginalized by the elite concentrated in Lima, which absorbs most public investments. In the last decades, the shipibos suffered with loss of territory, food insecurity, lack of education, shortage of medical assistance and increasing environmental impacts with the entry of gas and oil companies in the region.
Many women became single mothers and prostitution goes round villages near Pucallpa. Society is at a crossroads, threatened by globalization and having to renegotiate the relationship with its culture and territory. For women who have discovered the advantages of organizing in cooperatives recently, Kenés are one of the few sources of income.
That’s why Queen of the Forest.org is now opening an Embroidery Sales Department to try and help this magnificent culture to prosper and to continue expanding its beautiful culture.