Alforjas - the saddlebags / shoulder bags of Saraguro, Loja

As stores today phase out of single-use plastic bags to be environmentally friendly, the people of Saraguro in Loja province have an age-old solution - the woven or knitted alforja.

These colorful tote bags come in a variety of configurations and are mostly intended to be worn over the shoulder, with one bag in front and the other behind. Some have a longer connecting piece that allows both bags to be worn on the back with the center section around the front of the neck, like a scarf. Still others - and more rare - are alforjas designed like ponchos so that the front and rear bags are larger and are supported by both shoulders. Sizes vary, too, from small ones for children on up to large ones for horses or burros.

Designs may be simple, perhaps just alternating stripes of different colors, or complex, with words and images woven into the fabric. The actual material may be hand-spun and dyed wool, or cotton, or synthetic fibers.

According to historical records, alforjas are an inheritance of the Palta people, who settled in territories of the province of Loja. Their bags tended to have neutral backgrounds with black stripes, or a  combination of black and blue. The peoples of Saraguro took the concept to the next level with bright, multi-hued bags with more elaborate images.

In the past, alforjas were gifted to brides at indigenous weddings (and a plow to the husband) although both men and women make use of the bags.

Excellent for transporting items around town or country, they can also be slung over the arm of an easy chair or sofa to make great catchalls for books, magazines, eyeglasses, iPads, and other accessories wanted kept close to hand.

In 2019, Saraguro started an annual celebration of the alforja. Although interrupted in 2020 due to the pandemic, the celebration returns in 2021. Look for the beauty of these saddlebags to be sported on November 28, and consider buying one or more for your own benefit - they make great souvenirs and gifts while also ready to serve a useful purpose.

This blog post is an example of how the team at Life in Loja helps tourists and visitors, expats and immigrants, to better appreciate the many aspects of living in Loja, Ecuador. If you would like to know more about our custom tours and relocation services then contact us by email or phone/WhatsApp at 593-098-674-5994 to begin a conversation.


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