#Folklore Thursday: The Lost Art of Indigenous Cultures
All Articles

#Folklore Thursday: The Lost Art of Indigenous Cultures

A number of indigenous groups around the world lost some of their artwork and cultural identity as outside forces came to their lands. When traveling to places as diverse as Machu Picchu in Peru and Douar Sbiti in Morocco, visitors can get a taste of what remains. Discovering what is absent is a little more challenging, but historians have made progress in documenting the missing pieces.

Here is a look at artwork travelers may and may not see while on the road:

The Incas in Peru

The Incas made a variety of art, including many textiles. While in Cusco and other areas near Machu Picchu, indigenous villagers may be seen still making textiles and wearing bright clothing. The Incas gave a lot of weight to colors that were made from plants, insects and other elements in the environment.

A woman weaves textiles in the Sacred Valley region of Peru. Photo: Rustic Student Jonah Gross

Among the colors of significance was red that was associated with conquering and ruling. Also, purple was associated with the founding mother of the Inca people.

What is missing in this region is some of the medal art pieces that disappeared after the Spanish conquered the area. One of the most famous lost pieces is a gold statue of Inti Raymi, god of the sun. He was considered all-powerful, and the most sacred statue featured him as a boy with sun rays coming out of his head and shoulders. It held the ashes of previous Inca rulers and was brought out of the shrine every day.

The Incas hid the statue when the Spanish arrived, but it later disappeared and never was found. It presumably was melted.

The Taino in Puerto Rico and The Dominican Republic

The Taino are the indigenous people of the Caribbean and are ones Christopher Columbus encountered when he arrived. They had their own gods or spirits called zemis.

Some of these gods are depicted in art that had been “lost” for many years. A few years ago, archeologists found Taino cave carvings on the uninhabited island Mona, which is between Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. The island has more than 100 caves and the art found in them is the largest concentration of Taino art.

Creative Commons License; Photo: Saucoin

Much of art was found deep in the caves in places that are hard to access – often requiring crawling. Caves were considered sacred to Tainos and were thought of as places where you could commune with the gods. The artwork found depicts animals, human-like figures, deities and seemingly abstract patterns.

The main god for the Tainos that is depicted in much artwork is Cohoba. He carried a plate on his head that contained a powder that the Tainos inhaled during religious ceremonies, causing hallucinations.

Amazigh in Morocco and Other Regions in Northern Africa

In northern Africa the Amazigh people are known for making jewelry, weaving, pottery and other art forms. One of the dying culturally-significant art forms of the people, though, are tattoos.

Creative Commons License; Photo by: TOUMOU/WLAf2015

For hundreds of years, body art was a big part of their society, particularly for women. The markings helped distinguish between tribes and gave important societal messages, like if a woman was married or widowed.

Face tattoos were common, along with ones on the hands, feet and stomach. Drawings from nature had certain meanings. A palm tree tattoo on the chin designating the goddess Tanit was one of the most common ones in young women, depicting beauty and fertility. Face tattoos were sometimes expected to protect a person from evil.

There are some pockets where the practice of body art remains, but it is small now after some indigenous practices were discouraged by changing leaders in the countries and changing times.

To honor these indigenous cultures, travelers can learn about their lives by taking immersion trips to offbeat places. Visit our program pages for more information on programs in Morocco, Peru, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic and more.


About the Author

Mary Rogelstad

Lead Editor

Mary is the Lead Editor at Rustic Pathways. She has been a writer and editor for nearly 20 years. Prior to covering student travel, Mary created content for the music education company J.W. Pepper & Son. She also was a writer and producer at CNN International and a communications director for a social service agency and a K-12 private school.