84.02.01 Bolivian Coca Bag Front with tags Jordan Walsh .jpg

Time Period: Mid Twentieth Century

Category: Accessories; Wallets, Pockets and Purses

Accession Number: 84.02.01

Donor: Mr. and Mrs Glenn Rogers


This Bolivian Coca bag is a multitude of colors such as red, yellow, orange, black, white, green, blue and pink. The print on the bag looks like red llamas or alpacas. There is on strip that runs down the center of the bag with a diamond pattern consisting of orange, white and yellow. There are two green stripes that run down the center of the llamas or alpacas. The strap of the bag is twisted or braided with the colors of the strap being both black and orange. At the bottom of the bag there are tassels that are shaped as pom-poms. These pom-poms are multi-colored--some are blue, some are green, some are orange, and some are pink. The edge of the bag is embroidered with a yellow and a red stripe. The back of the bag has red and white stripes where the alpacas or llamas are and the strip that runs along the center has orange and yellow stripes; green stripes run along the center of each section.. The dimensions of this bag are: length- 6 inches (15.24 centimeters), height- 5 inches (12.7 centimeters), strap- 14inches (35.56 centimeters) long, tassels- 3 inches (7.62 centimeters) long. This bag is in great condition, it does not seem to have much wear on it and it seems to be handwoven.

The bag comes with 2 tags and one index card inside the bag, one is the accession number and the other tag and index card are information about the donors and the bag. One tag reads," The Bolivia Coca Bag was used by the Tarabucau (Tarabuco) Indians to carry coca leaves. This bag is handwoven and has tassels with a long strap" and the other side says "8/84. Dept. TMD URI. C & CA. Foreign Bolivia. Given by: Mr. and Mrs. G Rogers." The index card found within the bag reads, "Although small it is crammed with love for the Rogers family. Received from the Rooses: These bags are very rare." In Quechua terms, the Bolivian Coca bag is called the ch'uspa. This language is spoken by approximately 8 million people in Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia and Argentina. Quechua is the language of the Inca’s, but even after their demise the language remained. Ch’uspas are a very important part of Andean culture and their history. [1]


Bolivia is the only country in South America that has no access to the ocean; it is surrounded by Peru, Chile, Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay. In addition to not having ocean access, the Andes Mountains run throughout the country. Bolivia is home to numerous indigenous populations, one of the first tribes to settle in the region were the Chavins. Another tribe that settled in Bolivia is the Tiwanaku (Tiahuanaco). The climate in Bolivia fluctuates upon location and elevation, therefore what type of material used to make clothing is different per area. Although Sucre is the official capital, the effective capital is La Paz; La Paz is one of Bolivia’s main cultural hub and is home to many museums. [2] Bolivia is well known for their craftsmanship; Indian weavers in the remote valleys of Potosi produce what can be referred to as some of the finest weaving types in the Americas. The eastern side of Lake Titicaca is home to the Aymaras (Tarabuco Indians) who continue in the ancient art of weaving. [3] The region or city that is located on the eastern side of the lake is Tarabuco; Tarabuco is located in between Sucre and Tomina. The Aymaras of Bolivia used bags known as ch’uspa (in Quechua terms) to hold coca leaves; these leaves act similar to coffee or tea in a sense of being a stimulant. By using the coca bag or ch’uspa the coca leaves would be in easy reach and therefore the allowing the people to have a constant flow of energy while at work. [4] The ch'upsa was an important accessory that dates all the way to the Incas. They too used the bags to carry coca leaves and used them as a stimulant while they worked. The straps of the bags would be tied around the waist or the torso and the bag would be over the chest. Bags that had shorter straps would be tied around the wrist. For the Incas this bag would also tell others the social and marital status of the man wearing it. Today the bag is still used not only for carrying coca leaves, but also for carrying coins. [5]

Coca is not the same as cacao (chocolate) or coco (coconut); Coca is a leaf that when chewed can suppress hunger, thirst and fatigue. The Coca leaf was once used in Coca-Cola due to its abilities to suppress theses items; however, in 1903 it was removed from the ingredients. [6] From the Coca leaf cocaine can be extracted, which is why the UN decided to ban the leaf in 1961. [7] Coca is said to claim more addicts than any other narcotic plants, Half of Bolivia’s “heaven-high’ populations are among those addicts. Bolivian miners work with coca leaves in their cheeks while they work so they can slowly chew on the leaves; if the miners were deprived the production would decrease. Some of these coca leaf plantations date back to pre-Inca—the coca plant produced on the plantations are referred to as the “divine plant.” Although the leaf can be chewed by anyone, in the Inca time it was only designed to be used by those of higher status and not the common person. The coca leaf is known to subside or alleviate certain sensations and being that the mountains are of cooler climates the chewing can help warm the bodies and in warmer climates it cools.[8]

Weaving evolved in Mesoamerica around the sixth millennium BCE. The over-under-one form of finger weaving eventually led to more sophisticated types of weaving and textile production. Twining is one of the oldest forms of weaving found in Mesoamerica; here two or more threads are threads are twisted to entwine the horizontal threads to the vertical threads. Netting is another form of early weaving, here the threads are looped together to create a close-meshed look. The oldest examples of weaving were found in the Andes and can be dated back to 8600 BCE. Weaving is a big part of Bolivian culture; the women of the culture practice the craft. Women begin to learn how to weave and spin at a young age. [9] In order to create such beautiful patterns and fabrics, wool from llamas, alpacas and sheep are used. The wool can be used to create patterns that represent the cultures and generate different figures or objects into these fabrics. Weaving is used to create ponchos, skirts, ch’uspas and colorful costumes. There are some differences between llamas and alpacas; llamas are larger and have flat backs; they also differ in wool production, while alpacas tend to produce more wool than llamas. Even though alpacas can produce more wool than llamas, llamas can produce a denser fleece than alpacas. They both produce a suri fiber, a fiber that is tight to the skin. [10] For the most part ch'uspas or coca bags are made out of either alpaca wool or llama wool. It truly depends on how much the maker is willing to spend because high quality llama wool is a fraction of the price of alpaca wool.

In order to make a ch’uspa there are three steps one must follow: spinning, weaving, and embellishing. A weaver must use a spinner to gather the fiber from the alpacas or llamas or even sheep into a thread to create a yarn for the bag. Once the weaver has created enough yearn the next step is to use the loom; in the Andes where ch’uspas are made horizontal looms are most likely to be used. Following the creation of the yarn, the weaver wraps the loom with yarn and the threads begin to be interlaced to produce the cloth of the bag. After the weaver finishes the pieces of the bag they then fold the cloth and stitch along the sides to close the bag together. In order to make sure the bag is secure some weavers add borders around the edge of the bag. Finally the weaver can add “embellishments” to bag such as tassels, fringes and the straps. [11] Many Tarabuco textiles show farming scenes like harvesting corn or maize, wagons using oxen, planting seeds or making hay. Agriculture is one of the biggest sources of income and food for the Tarabuco region; farming is an activity that the whole family participates in. A lot of the prints found on Bolivian textiles also show farming animals, such as oxen, horse, goats, alpacas, and llamas (most members of the community will own their own livestock). Another common scene that can be woven is that of a wedding. They will weave the bride and groom running under an arch and the groomsmen will be preparing the traditional drink known as the chicha; the chicha is seen at every fiesta, ritual and gathering of the Tarabuco people. Some other festivals that can be woven onto a textile would be the celebration of Saints week, Todos Santos (a day when the souls of the deceased come back to earth), and Pujllay (a carnival that connects many communities together). [12] On the bag donated by the Rogers, there are livestock weaved onto the bag. The livestock scene is most likely alpacas or llamas. Alpacas and llamas are a big part in Andean culture because they are large producers in the wool industry.

The Art Institute of Chicago has a bag very similar style to the bag pictured above (or below); by having similar colors and weaved patterns. It appears to be covered in what looks like an alpaca or a llama; like this coca bag they too are red. The strip that runs down the center does not have the diamond pattern, but instead has the llamas/alpacas running down them in a rainbow coloring. The strap seems to be a lot thicker than the coca bag donated by the Rogers. The tassels on the bag found at the Art Institute of Chicago are also multicolored but they also appear to be shorter than this bag. The bottom of the bag at the Art Institute of Chicago also has fringing.[13] Another bag that is similar to the bag donated by the Rogers is a bag found in The Worldwide History of Dress in the Present Andes section. The bag here can be found on page 466; this bag is not as colorful as the bag here. It has reds, blues, some orange and some black. Unlike this coca bag, the bag found in The Worldwide History of Dress does not have an animal pattern on it, instead it has a pattern that appears to have swirls. The bag found in this book is made out of alpaca wool and can be found in the Avaroa Province.[14]


Jordan Walsh

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Helpful Links:

  1. ^ "Quechua (Runasimi / Qhichwa Simi)." Quechua Language, Alphabet and Pronunciation. Accessed April 28, 2015. http://www.omniglot.com/writing/quechua.htm.
  2. ^ "Bolivia." In Insight Guides: South America. APA Publications, 2013.
  3. ^ Morrison, Marion. Bolivia. Chicago: Childrens Press, 1988.
  4. ^ "Portable Collections Program Bags, Boxes, Bowls, and Beyond." Brooklyn Kids. Accessed March 24, 2015. http://www.brooklynkids.org/attachments/Containers_HiRes.pdf.
  5. ^ Hill, Daniel. "The Ancient Americas." In History of World Costume and Fashion, 301. Upper Saddle, New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 2011.
  6. ^ "Bolivia Rejoins UN Drug Treaty, Sans Coca Ban." Bolivia Rejoins UN Drug Treaty, Sans Coca Ban. Accessed March 24, 2015. http://stopthedrugwar.org/chronicle/2013/jan/11/bolivia_rejoins_un_drug_treaty_s.
  7. ^ "Drugs and Democracy." Drugs and Democracy. Accessed March 24, 2015. http://www.tni.org/work-area/drugs-and-democracy.
  8. ^ Gutierrez-Noriega, Carlos, and Victor Wolfgang Von Hagen. "Coca: The Mainstay of Arduous Native Life in the Andes." In Economic Botany, 145-152. 2nd ed. Vol. 5. Springer on Behalf of the New York Botanical Garden Press.
  9. ^ Gelletly, Leeanne. "People of Ancient Traditions." In Bolivia, 40-41. Broomall, PA: Mason Crest Publishers, 2009.
  10. ^ "LlamaSeeker.Com - Llama Information for." LlamaSeeker.Com - Llama Information for. Accessed March 24, 2015. http://www.llamaseeker.com/llamasalpacas.html.
  11. ^ Sharratt, Nicola. Carrying Coca: 1,500 Years of Andean Chuspas. New York City, New York: Bard Center, 2014. 29-30.
  12. ^ "Tarabuco Weavings." Inca Pallay. Accessed April 30, 2015. http://www.incapallay.org/files/Website in English/The Tarabuco and their Weavings.htm.
  13. ^ "Coca Bag (Chuspa)." The Art Institute of Chicago. Accessed April 28, 2015. http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/artwork/61695.
  14. ^ Anawalt, Patricia. "The Present Andes." In The Worldwide History of Dress, 466. Thames and Hudson, 2007.