Cowhide and Its Importance Since Colonial Times

In Spanish times, cow leather played a very important role in colonial buildings–such as churches and mansions–in plows, in the elaboration of cargo frames, as a means of transport using mules and donkeys, and in the manufacture of tools for agriculture, among other things. .

To make the cowhide ropes, the leather is first soaked in a 2 x 2 pit with salt and a cactus called hawancollay. In the time of the Incas, the cactus was used as a shampoo for virgin women and nowadays archaeologists use it for the restoration of Inca walls. After this soaking, lime is added to the pit.

The salt had the property of making the leather hard so that it does not fall apart and, along with the lime, makes it easy to remove the leather’s hair. The hawancollay softens the leather and makes it pliable and manageable.

The leather soaks for about a week and, after this time, while still wet, the leather is cut into a strip two centimeters wide and 10 meters long. This leather is used while wet in order to bind things firmly. When it is dry, it is strong and hold better than the nails we use today. After all this process, this belt takes the name of “tinto”. By this name it is still known in some rural communities.

In colonial churches, this belt of cowhide was used to tie the bell to the crossbeam of the belfry. In mansions, the chairs of the main salons were made of wood, while their backs were of leather carved with coats of arms—youc an still see these in our museums. Leather packs and bags were also made to transport valuables.

Yucos were woven leather braids made into bags that people used to transport their products, such as potatoes, oca, and other tubers.

About the use of leather within agriculture we can mention one of the most representative “La Chaquitaclla”. At the time of the Incas was made from wood, bronze and llama or alpaca leather. With the arrival of the Spanish, the materials were changed and nowadays cowhide is used because it came from an animal brought by the Spaniards.

The leather was also used to make the “pairing, the frames that were woven with the hide into a v-shaped frame, placed on top of the mule or the donkey and used as a means of transporting cargo.

Another of its important uses to this day is in the elaboration of the yoke. It is used to tie to the horns of the bulls and then, in the back of the leather, it was tied to a wood carved in the shape of an anchor, a plow, used to open furrows in the earth. The person in charge of making the furrows open stopped. His right foot was firmly on the plow and in his left hand he carried a whip to drive the bull. As they went forward they opened more and more furrows.

Cowhide was also used for the manufacture of percussion instruments such as drum huancara. Even today musicians use it to make music at fiestas in Cusco and elsewhere.

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