In re Bolivian Textiles – International Human Rights and Solidarity – CCR Docket Fall 1991

Ancient and sacred textiles, many of which date frpm Pre-Colombian times, have been wrongfully taken by U.S. dealers from their owners-the Indian people of the Andean village of Coroma, Bolivia. The loss of the textiles has had a devastating effect upon the Indians, and CCR has been retained to aid in their recovery.

Textiles play a prominent role in the lives of the people of Coroma. For centuries they have kept them in bundles called “q’epis” which have been passed from generation to generation as a collective inheritance from ancestors. They are used for ritual ceremonies and are believed to have magical powers, both positive and negative. The “q’epis” are used by the natives of Coroma to consult with their predecessors over the best method to resolve community problems, the best date to begin planting and the general state of the community’s well­ being. No political, social or religious happening is complete without an offering or other ceremony centering around them.

Once a year, on the Feast of All Saints, the textiles are removed from the “q’epis” and worn by the people of Coroma. Over the past decade foreign art dealers have learned about the textiles, visited Coroma and taken pictures of them. The photos of certain ones were sent to Bolivian intermediaries, who subsequently obtained the textiles in violation of Bolivian law, because of the high price commanded by their antiquity and state of preservation.  As a result, the best “q’epis” textiles have disappeared. This loss has impeded the basic life functions of the people of Coroma, which may mean the destruction of their social organization and ethnic identity.

Prior to filing a complaint, CCR recovered four pieces of the textiles this year from a North American collector, and litigation may be unnecessary in recovering the additional textiles from the North American dealer.

Michael Ratner and Mahlon F. Perkins, Jr., with Paul T. Friedman, Jordan Eth and William Verick of Morrison & Foerster