Earring Tumbaga A.D. 900 – A.D. 1600 Colosó, Sucre 5.2 x 5.5 cm
Ear ornament Gold d.C 150 – d.C 1600 Sinú River, Córdoba 5,4 x 10,3 cm
Ear Rings Gold 150 b.C. - 1600 A.D. San Marcos, Sucre 7,6 x 13,6 cm 7,6 x 13,4 cm

The Weave and Representing the Universe

For many present-day indigenous societies, the weave of vegetable fibres is closely linked to their everyday life, ritual, and the building up of knowledge by their leaders. Making a basket or weaving a blanket is like recreating the idea of the universe, for the exercise brings together knowledge, nature (the fibres) and something material, namely the work itself. Weaving both makes and represents culture.

The Zenú societies lived with their wildlife on the Caribbean plains amidst a network of channels, rivers and marshes, all linked to the artificial drainage system, which in turn formed a mesh of canals. Settlements were arranged in an orderly web of complementary religious, political and commercial relationships, which were part of the vast Greater Zenú tapestry. 

This web related to all aspects of their culture. For them, the world appears to have been an enormous web, on which living beings lay. Just as the web of canals was where everyday existence went on, so the metal web of ear rings also bore schematic representations of people and wildlife, as did the small cotton bags supported on bone bars with bird designs carved on them.

Due to their organic nature, pre-Hispanic remains of vegetable fibre weaving are virtually non-existent. Not so the tools they used for this work, however, such as bone or shell needles, or spindle whorls made of bone, shell or pottery. We can find evidence of the proliferation of textiles in the countless representations of these on goldwork and pottery vessels for ritual or funerary use that were deposited in sacred places or under burial mounds.

The distinctive manufacturing and ornamentation technique that was used in goldwork from the Caribbean plains was false filigree, where gold expressed a true metal weave, especially on ear rings. Woven visors or hats can also be seen in representations of musicians who are wearing these ear rings.

They made various basket-shaped vessels out of clay, some of them baskets placed on benches, others rounded vessels with web designs. Women were portrayed as wearing long woven skirts with an infinite variety of designs and adorned with body paint which reproduced designs similar to the weave of the skirts.

The chronicles of the Conquest contain numerous references to the Zenú textile industry. A hammock finely 'carved' in cotton is mentioned, as is an offering holder from the temple in Finzenú, which was also the place where their ancestors lay, according to the Zenúes at the time. The chronicles likewise talk of cotton hammocks, baskets for gathering crabs, crickets and lobsters, or straw mats woven from reeds that were used as carpets, not to mention the women's skirts.

The mixing of elements, environments and work is evident in the gold and pottery representations of the Zenú peoples, their aim being to show that their culture was a true weave which, taken as a whole, symbolised their universe: metals or clay from the underworld, and webs from the earth which allowed crops to grow, animals from the most varied of environments, and the people who worked all this and depicted themselves.