Coca Leaf Bag

Patterns Gallery
Coca Leaf Bag, 17th c.
San Antonio Museum of Art, San Antonio, USA.
Purchased with Funds Provided by the Restricted Textile fund and by Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Stevens in Memory of Virginia Carrington (86.43).

This woven shoulder bag probably carried coca leaves. While stimulants—yerba mate, chocolate, tobacco—were part and parcel of the everyday life of Spanish America, coca use was most prevalent among native Andeans of all classes, from the most miserable miners to the comfortable curacas. Thus, it seems likely that this small bag (just 7.5 by 6.5 inches) was produced and used in an Andean community, probably one in Bolivia. The bag is an elaborate work woven out of camelid fibers, its maker possessing a keen aesthetic sense. The division into three vertical panels and the juxtaposition of geometric and plant-like forms create a balanced yet vibrant design.

While it is impossible to say who slung this bag across his or her shoulder, the attention to pattern, color, and form shows that the bag was designed as an object of aesthetic worth, and perhaps was one of personal value as well. The occasions upon which this bag would have been brought into public view are no longer known. In the colonial Andes, however, indigenous people chewed leaves of the coca plant to give them energy and quit the pangs of hunger. And so this bag could have been used everyday. Yet the weaving’s excellent condition hints at an owner who carefully cared for this bag, perhaps wearing it only on special occasions.



Allen, Catherine. 1988. The Hold Life Has: Coca and Cultural Identity in an Andean Community. Washington D.C.: Smithsonian University Press.

Gisbert, Teresa, Silvia Arze and Martha Cajías. 1987. Arte Textil y Mundo Andino. La Paz: Gisbert y Ca.

Patterns of the Everyday > Surveying Patterns    > Images    > Texts    > Bibliography