Page 99 of my dissertation reflects on a detail in an elite type of garment that the Inka Empire (ca. 1476-1532 CE) fabricated in its workshops during the period before contact with Europeans. Alongside an accompanying image, it discusses a type of Inka tunic that carried significant ideological and socio-political import for the state, and comments on a design feature that broaches one of the dissertation’s main inquiries: how the Inka state conceptualized the notion of “borders” more broadly.
“…the elite tapestry workshops of the Inkas were careful to make their textile webs hermetically contained forms, with no loose threads at the selvedges (edges). However, certain Inka textiles within the category of male unkus (tunics) have another detail at the “edge” that merits further discussion. This is the zigzag form that is embroidered onto the fabric web frequently towards the bottom edge of elite unkus…”
Andean textiles are frequently discussed as metaphors of the inhabited space. The tunic referred to here seems to exhibit this capacity. According to some scholars, its checkered patterning may invoke the Inka terraces constructed on hillsides and mountainsides throughout their territory or symbolizes the storehouses they distributed across their domain. Furthermore, Inka military personnel likely wore this tunic type, thus linking it to state mechanisms that had a hand in territorial acquisition.
This page is significant to the rest of the dissertation for its interpretation of the tunic’s borders in relation to how textiles may resonate symbolically with territorial space. While the tunic is woven to be a self-contained form and adheres to strict Inka standardized practice allowing no stray threads at any of its edges, it is noteworthy that the Inka weavers disrupted the “sealed” quality by applying a zig zag embroidery to the bottom hemline. The zig zag counters the careful enclosure of the garment-aka-territorial edge. This, I suggest, speaks to an Inka notion of borders (whether territorial, spiritual, cultural) as spaces of interaction and volatility, regardless of how “contained” or integrated the matrix space may be. Throughout, my dissertation explores how the Inkas—both in the pre-contact and into the colonial period—perceived borders to be productive sites regardless of any tension, abrasion, or even hostility that accompanied encounters between oppositional factions. This also draws on ideas of relationality, for how Inka power was continually revitalized through engagement with their counterparts in, for example, spiritual, cultural, political, biological, or even supernatural realms.