Chagaras are beautiful handwoven rugs and textiles that originate from indigenous communities in South America. These colorful wool rugs feature stunning geometric patterns and are full of cultural tradition. Chagaras have become popular decorative items around the world, but they have a rich history and significance for the people who created them. Keep reading to learn all about these remarkable woven wool rugs!
What Are Chagaras?
Chagaras are handwoven rugs made from sheep’s wool that are produced in countries like Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Colombia. The word “chagara” comes from the Quechua word “chakra” meaning multi-colored or variegated. True chagaras use only natural dyes to create their vibrant colors. Common shades include crimson, burgundy, black, orange, yellow and green.
The patterns featured on chagaras are full of cultural symbols and significance. Traditional motifs include animals like llamas, condors, and frogs, as well as plants like cacti and flowers. Geometric shapes are also prominently featured. Each design tells a unique story.
History and Origins
The chagara weaving tradition has existed for hundreds of years, since before the Incan Empire. Indigenous Quechua and Aymara communities in the Andes mountains are credited with developing this ancient weaving technique. Backstrap looms are used, allowing weavers to create chagaras while remaining portable.
When the Spanish arrived in the 1500s, they were impressed by the vibrant chagaras and brought them back to Europe. Chagaras grew in popularity as an exotic imported good. Today, the art form persists thanks to indigenous artisans passing down their craft through generations.
For Andean cultures, chagaras are more than just rugs. They play an important role in rituals and ceremonies, and their designs convey cultural meaning. For example, the condor and frog patterns symbolize fertility, while the cactus represents resilience and endurance.
Chagaras are exchanged as gifts at significant occasions like weddings, births, or coming-of-age ceremonies. Owning one shows pride in indigenous identity. Sadly, the market for mass-produced synthetic versions threatens the livelihood of traditional weavers. Purchasing authentic chagaras helps support these communities and their cultural heritage.
How Chagaras Are Made
The creation of a chagara is a long and laborious process, but the result is a meaningful work of art.
Chagaras begin with sheep’s wool, preferably from the indigenous llama-like alpaca or vicuña. The wool is hand-spun into yarn and naturally dyed using plant materials like cochineal insects, chamomile, retama, and indigo. Synthetic dyes are avoided to create an authentically natural product. The yarn is then set up on a backstrap loom in preparation for weaving.
Weaving a chagara requires great skill and patience. The artisan wraps the backstrap loom around their waist to provide tension. Then, using their hands, the weaver carefully interlaces the wool yarn through the vertical and horizontal threads.
Each row adds only a few inches, so weaving can take many months depending on the size and intricate patterns. Designs are conceptualized beforehand but largely created spontaneously during the weaving process. This means each chagara is a unique creative vision.
When the weaving is complete, the chagara is removed from the loom. The sides are stitched together before the ends are bound off for a polished look. After all this meticulous effort, the chagara is ready to warm the home while preserving ancient Andean textile traditions.
Types of Chagaras
While traditional red, black, and white chagaras are most common, many varieties exist to suit different needs.
These vigorous chagaras produce abundant edible fruits. Popular varieties include:
- Mango chagara – grows up to 30 feet tall and produces sweet tropical mango-flavored fruits. Requires full sun.
- Lime chagara – a smaller variety growing 10-15 feet tall that yields tart lime-like fruits. Does well in partial shade.
These ornamental chagaras are prized for their bountiful blooms. Some top picks include:
- Pink chagara – large pink flowers on a 25-foot tree with a rounded shape. Prefers partial sun.
- Red chagara – fiery red blooms on a vase-shaped 20-foot tree. Does well in full sun.
For small spaces, compact dwarf chagaras are perfect, like:
- Pixie chagara – delicate purple flowers on a 3-5 foot plant suitable for containers. Requires partial sun.
- Mini mango – a dwarf mango-bearing tree reaching just 6-8 feet tall. Can fruit in pots.
To create a tall, lush privacy screen, choose robust chagaras such as:
- Emerald chagara – oval green leaves on a large 40-foot tree. Requires full sun.
- Giant chagara – huge lobed leaves on towering 60-foot tree. Needs lots of space.
Whether you want fruit, flowers, a compact size, or privacy, there’s a chagara for every landscape need!
Where to Find Chagaras
For the highest quality, most authentic chagaras, visit artisan communities in Peru and Chile.
Open-air markets offer an abundance of artisanal chagaras. In Chile, shop at the Vega Central in Santiago or the Mercado Central in Valparaiso. Top markets in Peru include the San Pedro Market in Cusco and the Mercado San Miguel in Lima.
Look for shops specializing in traditional handicrafts, often run by families for generations. Top picks in Chile include Mercado de Santa Lucia and Artesanias de Chile in Santiago. Well-known chains in Peru include Kuna and Sol Alpaca, with locations across the country.
Reputable websites like Kuna, Sol Alpaca, and Mercado de Santa Lucia allow you to buy authentic chagaras online. Focus on sellers of traditional Peruvian and Chilean crafts. Check customer reviews to verify quality.
Buying directly from local artisans ensures your chagara purchase helps support Indigenous culture and communities.
Chagaras beautifully blends art, tradition, and function. With their vivid natural dyes and culturally symbolic patterns, chagaras connect us to the rich ancestral craft of Andean cultures. Each unique handwoven rug preserves generations of textile heritage while bringing artistry into the home.