Wiphala – identity and conflict

This is the story of a thousand-year-old flag, a Whipala, the real meaning of which we did not know until a few years ago. It is also an exhibition about how symbols can both unite and strengthen our identity but also lead to conflict and exclusion.

A 'wiphala' is a flag from the Andes mountain range in South America. The pattern of the wiphala has throughout history been used in many different ways. Today, the wiphala is among others a global symbol of a number of justice movements. The thousand-year-old wiphala came to the Museum of World Culture in 1970 and is one of the world's oldest of its kind. At that time, it was described as a 'multicoloured bag of yarn' and the only known fact about it was that it came from the grave of a medicine man – a Kallawayas.

Not until 2009, when the museum was visited by a Kallawaya medicine man, did it become clear that the flag was a wiphala – a symbol of the medicine man's and other indigenous people's fight for recognition. The wiphala was previous year constituted the national flag of Bolivia, which lead to tensions between various groups.

"This shows how relevant our current exhibitions are. We are able to discuss contemporary global issues at the present time on the basis of old objects," says Cajsa Lagerkvist, Exhibition Manager.
"As a museum, it is also our duty to give more than one perspective of an object. As it turns out, western scientists have long taken the wrong approach to understanding 'other people'."

Exhibition opening

The exhibition opened on Saturday 10 March 2012. The opening ceremony was attended by the Bolivian Ambassador Milton Soto Santiesteban and the dance group CD Libertad from Hammarkullen in Gothenburg. A documentary film about the Kallawaya medicine man Walter Quispe's visit to Gothenburg was also shown. The film links the collections of the Museum of World Culture with people in both Bolivia and Gothenburg.

Click here for a press release on Wiphala