top of page
  • Writer's pictureCTR

Peru | Guest bloggers Marie -Louise and Una

Updated: Aug 14, 2018

« Words survive longer than cloth », wrote textile scholar Elizabeth Barber in 1991 about the prehistory of textiles in Europe and the ancient Near East. But this is not necessarily true here in Peru where textiles of the Nasca cultures, Paracas cultures and Inca cultures come out of the ground everywhere while very few textual remains are at our disposal.

When new textile techniques or new clothing items come from a foreign place into a culture, languages have different strategies of naming them. These strategies include:

  1. Adaptation of the foreign name as a loan into the other culture: an example is cotton which came from Arab qtn through Spanish to English.

  2. Formations based on the description of the foreign item, such as German Baumwolle meaning wool from trees (and becoming Danish bomuld).

  3. Formations based on the description of how to wear it: over-coat, under-wear.

  4. Formations based on the description of the tools used to make it. In South-American Spanish there is a word for weaving, tejer, and with the introduction of knitting, this new technology is called weaving with sticks, tejer a palitos.

 Today the Andean languages in Peru are Aymara and the majority language Quechua. Andean female costumes are a striking combination of indigenous textile patterns and weaving techniques, combined in costumes of wide, knee-length skirts, felted hats, aprons, tight and tailored woven jackets, and white embroidered cotton blouses, all with distinct Spanish or European cuts. The traditional belt chumpi and the adorned handbag or purse chuspa are added to this. Some of these costume parts have their own Quechua names: pullira is the garment term for skirt. This suggests that the Andean population adopted Spanish costume elements but named some of them in their own languages, probably adapting older costume terms to these new dresses. Another example is the male upper-body garment unkhu, a rectangular sleeveless clothing item with a slit for the head and richly decorated on the front and back. This seems to stem from an ancient Andean male clothing tradition.

However, we observe than many garment terms are actually loan words from Spanish into Quechua: this includes kameshha, the Quechua pronunciation of Spanish camisa, blouse, and the Andean hat sumriru, clearly a Quechua adaptation of Spanish sombrero, ‘hat’ (Quechua does not have the vowel o-). The Quechua word for socks, midyas, is a loan from Spanish, medias. The Quechua word for jacket is saku from Spanish saco. The Quechua word for scarf/shawl chalina is a diminutive of Spanish chal, meaning little shawl. It is the same term we have in German Schal, Danish sjal, French châle, and English shawl. This garment term came to Europe from the Orient, known for exotic soft fabrics, with the Persian garment term šâl, ‘shawl’.


Quechua Phrasebook & Dictionary, Lonely Planet 2014 and kind information by Peder Flemestad.


Commenting has been turned off.
bottom of page