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Friction: an engineer's perspective on weaving grass rope bridges

Ewart, I. (2020) Friction: an engineer's perspective on weaving grass rope bridges. In: The Material Culture of Baksetry. Bloomsbury.

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In a remote area of the Peruvian Andes, 120 miles southeast of the regional capital Cuzco, a rickety rope bridge sags and sways precariously over a deep gorge. Beneath is a muddy raging torrent, sure to sweep away any unfortunate traveller careless or unlucky enough to fall in. This is the so-called ‘last remaining keshwa chaca’, a design of bridge dating back at least 500 years to the time of the Inca Empire. Crossing the Apurimac river (the ‘Great Speaker’) near the villages of Huinchiri and Percaro, it has survived only through the ongoing work of the local communities who come together in an annual festival to cut down the old decaying bridge and build a new one, recreating the traditional design. The lightweight construction means that it is only suitable for people and llamas, so in 1968 a new steel bridge was installed a few hundred meters away to take the increasing number of vehicles in the area (Gade 1972). But far from being an anachronism, or even simply a tourist attraction (which it most certainly is) the keshwa chaca is now, and always has been, a nexus of social regeneration and reinforcement. This type of bridge was common throughout the high Andes in the early 17th century, astonishing the Spanish Conquistadors as they went about their ruinous plundering (Poma de Ayala 1936 [c.1615]). The reason why the bridges were seen with such amazement was the fact that they were woven anew each year entirely from the locally abundant qqoya grass. Weaving is a technical as well as a social process, and this chapter seeks to demonstrate that we can use the technical process as a lens through which to gain insights into the social.

Item Type:Book or Report Section
Divisions:Science > School of the Built Environment > Organisation, People and Technology group
ID Code:83971


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