Eight-Rayed Sun and Two-Headed Serpent
Wari culture, south coast of Peru
c. 800-1100 AD
153 x 92 cm (60 x 36 in), natural Peruvian Pacific coastal cotton, gossypium barbadense, with applied feathers of the macaw, Muscovy duck and curassow

A composition with both sides of the tunic depicting separate large motifs. What was presumably worn as the front side contains an anthropomorphosized eight-rayed, radiant sun face; the back side contains a large two-headed dragon or serpent. The visual drama of the piece resides in the powerful visage, especially the staring eyes and clenched teeth. The sun was eulogized in the Andean world as a heavenly body endowed with cosmic force and divine attributes whose rays contributed to the agricultural growth so necessary in a land with little fertile terrain. Thus we find a stanza from the ancient Quechua poem Runa Kamaj beginning: "Quyllurpaj Inkan, Inti Yayanchis"("O Sun, King of the Stars and Our Father").

The identity of the bicephalous zoomorphic figure - perhaps a serpent or dragon - is uncertain. The serpent is a pervasive presence in ancient Peruvian textile imagery; and a huge two-headed serpent called Amaru appears in Dioses y Hombres de Huarochiri (a document in Quechua, the language of the Incas, discovered in the late 16th century by the Spanish priest Francisco de Avila). The double-headed serpent, symbol of the tempest, inculcated the element of dualism omnipresent in Andean life and manifested in such Quechua concepts as yanantin and yanapaque - references to mirror imagery and symmetry. A mythical type of dragon also appears in many guises in Andean textile imagery, as the renowned Peruvian archaeologist Dr. Julio C. Tello has commented.

Text and illustration © Textile & Art Publications 1997:
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