A valuable collection of ponchos hand-woven by Aymara and Quechua Indian women has been assembled and studied by a researcher who has spent 40 years of his life getting to know the art of these textiles and what they have meant to indigenous peoples.

Oscar Barriga sums up his field research in the recently published book "El Poncho en Bolivia," the fruit of his passion for collecting them that began in 1966 out of a wish to keep the country's textile heritage from being looted and lost.

Barriga collected around 250 pieces from different parts of the country, doing as much as he could on a modest teacher's salary, though late last year, due to money problems, he sold them all to the state Ethnography and Folklore Museum.

In an interview with Efe, Barriga said that this is "the richest collection of Indian ponchos in the country," a treasure for studying the Indian textile art that not only has an aesthetic value, but also represents a view of the cosmos.

With the help of weavers and of Aymara and Quechua elders, the author explains the chromatic richness of the ponchos, the secrets of the techniques used if they are finished on one or both sides, their symbols, messages and their religious, civil and military roles.

Woven for so many different uses, "the poncho has no one country of origin," the author said.

In Bolivia, he said, the poncho had "its golden age" in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

A period of decline followed due to discrimination against the Indians, but now it has made a comeback as a strong symbol of political identity. EFE