For the Shipibo people of Peru, everything is intertwined. Their home. Their souls. Their Creator. Shipibo artisans paint and stitch the energy of these serpent songs into patterns of visual music. Each handcrafted collection of products transforms music, myth and belief into one harmonious creation. The Shipibo people of the Amazon are renowned throughout Peru for their unique form of spirituality.
Known as masters of ayahuasca shamanism, they are capable of channeling the energy of the natural world, brought to life in their wondrous crafts. There is a sophisticated symbolic language embedded in these geometric patterns that the Shipibo strive to honour within a quickly modernizing world. The traditional ways of the Shipibo reflect a fundamental connection with the universe, and their art perceives what is beyond seeing.
Each pattern is unique, inspired by songs of the shamans and translated by the artistic eye of the Shipibo women during the ayahuasca ceremonies. Cushions, bags, and wall hangings are made with dyes sourced from the jungle on natural cotton and linen. Thick patterns, called Xau Kené, and intricate thin patterns, called Malla Kené, are hand-painted onto fabric and then stitched with colourful embroidery to create unique song cloths.
Home of the Shipibo people
Pucallpa, a city on the Ucayali River, is home to the legendary society of the Shipibo people. This city in the Peruvian Amazon is named for the spectacular colours that occur naturally in the earth. Pucalpa means “red earth” in the Quechua language, and the naturally occurring vibrant colours lare deeply ingrained in the wondrous crafts of this region.
The Shipibo people are known for their knowledge of the natural environment and their techniques for communicating with nature spirits. The iconic proof of this is the textiles they produce. The Shipibo textile takes us back to the beginning of time. Known as healing designs, the Shipibo artisans, inspired by the spirits of the rainforest, translate sung prayers into visual patterns on cloth. Shipibo women sing prayers while they work. Their methods are unique and can be described as visible music. The song becomes the cloth. The song’s harmonic vibrations, message and spiritual energy then live in the textile.
This sophisticated idea that music and design are medicine to restore balance is very ancient. Indeed, Shipibo women are on an ancient mission to heal the planet with their textiles. The red earth of the Shipibo lands is a colour found in everything they make. The red dye of Mahogany bark is used on the cotton they cultivate for their textiles. The warmth of the earthy reds and browns featured in Shipibo products seems to be the colour of mother earth.
These are products that tell a story as old as humanity and more relevant than ever. The Shipibo textiles are messages to the modern world from our deep past, from humanity’s original ancestors still living in a garden of Eden we call the Amazon rainforest.
The Shipibo community consists of about 35,000 people living in over three hundred villages concentrated in the Pucallpa region of Peru, none of them having electricity.
Despite modernization the Shipibo tribe maintains a strong tribal identity and retains many of their prehistoric shamanic traditions and beliefs. Among their traditions is the Ayahuasca ceremony.
Ayahuasca based cosmology is commonly depicted by Shipibo artisans, who are known for their intricate geometric designs and patterns.
The common figures in the Shipibo designs are the square, the rhombus, the cross and the octagon. The symmetry of the patterns emanating from the centre represents the inner and outer worlds.
The Shipibo women delicately paint on various size sheets of pure cotton adding colour from a blend of organic materials from the jungle. The jungle, mud material is applied with very fine sticks and dyes made from barks and fruit are used to tattoo the colour on the fabric.
Once the freehand design is completed by the women, they will start the elaborate embroidery process that can take as long as three months to complete. The unique and complex patterns woven in the fabric are an expression of the connectedness of creation and the ongoing dialogue with the spiritual world and powers of the rainforest. It is common for many women to work on the same piece collectively and they seem to be moved by the same artistic spirit resulting in a piece that will look like it was made from one single artist.
The village women use this skill to create income for themselves, therefore becoming less dependent and more empowered. For most of the Shipibo women this is their only source of income