The temperature in the jungle remains pretty steady at around 85 degrees and the relative humidity at about 90 percent. You can certainly walk around the jungle naked without discomfort, at least from the weather. Still, the jungle is pretty much filled with insects and sharp objects, and many indigenous people wear clothing of one sort or another. In the Upper Amazon, the traditional dress of a number of indigenous peoples — the Matsigenka, Asháninka, Yine, Conibo, Cashibo — is the cushma.

A cushma — the word is Quechua — is a woven cotton tunic, rather like a large poncho, sewn together from armpits to feet, sometimes tied with a belt around the waist. Cotton for cushmas may be cultivated in the garden, or wild cotton may be gathered in the jungle; the cotton is spun into fine thread and woven into cloth — a demanding and time-consuming process, which is one reason why indigenous people acquire ready-made European-style clothing whenever possible. A cushma may also be made out of factory-woven cloth, although hand-woven cushmas are more prestigious.

A cushma is made by weaving a strip of cloth about half a yard wide and about four times the length of the finished product. This cloth is them cut in half, and the two halves are sewn together lengthwise, except for a foot-long head opening in the middle; and the sides are sewn up except for a small opening at the top for the arms. A woman’s cushma usually has the head opening crosswise rather than lengthwise; the head opening in a woman’s cushma is also wider, to allow for breastfeeding. The cushma can be worn white, or can be dyed in stripes or other patterns. Among the Asháninka, a man’s cushma always has such stripes vertically and a woman’s hroizontally; when an Asháninka cushma becomes worn, it is often dyed reddish brown, and the process may be repeated until it is almost black.

Shipibo men may wear cushmas covered with the intricate, labyrinthine, ayahuasca-inspired designs for which the Shipibo are famous. Shipibo women wear their distinctive brightly colored blouses, and short skirts often covered with the same designs.

The cushma is a pretty comfortable garment, easy to maintain, made from local materials. Like so many comfortable and sustainable things in the Amazon, it is disappearing.

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