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The Jalq'a

explaining the weavings

Ukhu Pacha

Khurus and their Wawa

Realistic Animals

The Condor

The Monkey

Human Beings

The Jorobado

The Griffin

The Supay

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Jalq'a weavings
The world of the Unku Pacha

The landscape of a Jalq'a pallay is that of the “ ukhu pacha ”, a sacred world described by the Jalq'a as one of depths, remote places, and diffuse light. Using only colours which absorb light, the pallays form a vacuum, adding to the darkness and confusion of this world represented. With the pallay forming a continuous fluid space, there remains no one single angle of vision or lines of horizon to orientate the eye; instead, the ukhu pacha is a chaotic disordered space, a world of darkness, death, dreams, restlessness, fear and multiplication, peopled with the unknown, and the non-existant. The strange figures the Jalq'a weave are called Khurus , mythical beings that the Jalq'a believe appear to one when alone and in a remote and solitary place. From a very young age Jalq'a children are told stories about the creatures that populate the weavings; throughout their lives khurus evoke fear. There are three types of khurus:

- imagined or nonexistant

- known but rendered unreal (horses with excessive tails and tongues, cows with elongated backs, birds with two heads, etc.)

- animals whose representation is closer to reality (lions, monkeys, condors)

However, by weaving these fantastical figures, the Jalq'a pallay can be seen as a way of conquering this fear, by transforming these terrifying figures into aesthetic ones.



Figures that appear inside or within other larger ones are said to be the offspring ( uñas ) of the Khuru, as the Jalq'a believe that in this underworld the animals are perpetually reproducing “ wawa ” (children). There is no distinction between male or female, as such categories do not exist; instead, just as the khurus appear free from the constraints of gravity, so are they divorced from any concept of conventional biology, with the species of the “wawa”, or child, rarely corresponding to that of the parent. A mammal can be pregnant with a snake, a bird with two wildcats, a horse with a dog, with this twisting, overlapping profusion of khurus and their wawa constantly confusing the eye. Consequently, it is never quite clear where one khuru ends and the other begins, whether one is looking at the background or the figure itself. It is this confusion of constant reproduction that is on of the most prized attributes of a Jalq'a pallay, described as the weavers as “ chaxrusqa kanan tian ” – “it must be disordered”.


Cat with her wawa
A realistic goat figure

Realistic beings are often shown in the pallays, surrounded by the more fantasticl counterparts. Animals from the everyday lives of the Jalq'a, such as goats, llamas, dogs, cats, cows and birds can often be spotted. However, even the representations of ‘real' animals are often rendered surreal. The weavers often use extra lines used to break the contours of the figures, and confusing their outline, or show both eyes even when the head is ostensibly in profile.


The condor , a majestic bird of prey found in Bolivia, is both the country's national bird, and is thought to signify strength and liberty. In the Jalq'a pallays it is typically shown to be attacking and devouring smaller birds with its accentuated long neck that curves in on itself. The smaller birds that surround the condor (and that populate all Jalq'a asxus) are not necessarily deformed or fantastic, rather they have an effect of filling up space, increasing the feeling of chaos and disorder.


A condor
two monkeys

Similarly depicted as a ‘normal' figure is the monkey , most commonly woven in a curved position to further emphasize flexibility and agility, and with a markedly blackened face. Just as condors are found all over Bolivia , the monkeys are from the Bolivian lowlands and its jungle world. Monkeys are also often represented in Jalq'a dances, as a humorous being whom jokingly molests and teases the festival goers.


Human beings rarely appear in this predominantly non-human world governed by khurus. When they are shown it is always simplified, as figures reduced in size and maintaining frozen static-like positions, appearing lost amidst the movement and confusion of the larger, more detailed and horrific figures that surround them. Humans rarely wear distinguishable clothes that define their ethnicity or belonging – instead, they remain anonymous objects, appearing out of place and seemingly unable to wield any power as to the direction of their fall or the positions they have been placed in. As in a fantastical nightmare, humans are also sometimes depicted riding llamas, which in reality is unable to bear more than 30kg, on which they appear to be born along without any control.

A human seeming trapped in a larger monster
A jorobado, or "hunchback"

Of the unreal or non-existent khurus, the most commonly woven is the jorobado , or “hunchback”, a creature distinguished by a triangular shaped bump which protrudes from its head and also appears in the middle of its back. This animal also has a curved tail and often has its mouth wide open bearing its teeth (sometimes with a large tongue jutting out) as if roaring or barking.


The jorobado iis similar, though different, to the equally fantastical griffin , a winged two or four-legged and slightly smaller khuru, that has a spiral-shaped tail that folds in on itself to form a circle. Sometimes shown with an elongated back, it most commonly has an equally spiral-shaped tongue, similar to that of the Jorobado.

A Griffin
The Supay

The world of the “ ukhu pacha ” and the Jalq'a pallay, is though to be ruled by a figure called both the Saxra, and the Supay . In its most figurative aspect the Supay is a deity, sharing both aspects of the Christian Devil (due to the Hispanic influence), and also of the Gods of the underworld and solitary places, as found in other parts of the Andes . Present in almost every asxu, he is said to be the master and ruler of the khuru world. Almost always shown as a masculine figure, he is both the opposite and enemy of the feminine “Pacha Mama”, god of new life and harvests. Represented as a horned and winged figure either with real wings or arms in the shape of wings, and often carrying a walking stick, despite his importance the Supay is often only a small figure compared to the khurus - you might even be able to see a couple in the same asxu. In the past, when mining was more profitable and therefore widespread, miners would always leave an offering of coca leaves, tobacco and chica before entering the mine; it was believed that the Supay must be appeased thus, before entering his subterranean world, to avoid angering him and incurring bad luck.


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