During the cold nights of the Colombian Andes, there is no better company than a cup of hot panela and the warmth of a ruana.

Pierre Vionnet

French

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The Ruana: the Boyacá Coat

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  • Where?: Nobsa, Boyacá.
  • Region: Andes.
  • Material: Wool.
Boyacá town

Boyacá town

The sombrero vueltiao is the symbol of the Atlantic Coast of Colombia. The guadua is the symbol of the Coffee Triangle. The tagua symbolizes the Department of Chocó. And in Boyacá, we have the ruana. In the Chibcha language, ruana means “Land of Blankets”, in reference to the woolen fabrics manufactured by the Muisca Indians.

The ruana is a sleeveless square or rectangular blanket with a slit in the center for the head to go through. It is the coat of the men in the cold and warm climates of Colombia. Unlike the poncho, its hot-climate brother, it is the preferred clothing item of men in the country. (In Latin America, with the exception of Venezuela, a ruana is called a poncho.)

The Origin of the Ruana

The ruana (a poncho-like wool wrap) had its origins in the encounter between the Spanish and the Muiscas , inhabitants of these lands

A ruana from Boyacá /Pic. http://www.flickr.com/photos/crochetgal/3155159393/sizes/l/.

A ruana from Boyacá /Pic. crochetgal

When the Spaniards arrived in present-day Boyacá in the sixteenth century, they observed that, in addition to reflecting social status and gender, the apparel of the natives was perfectly suited to the cool temperatures of the highlands.

Indian women used a chircate, a long, square blanket that covered them to their ankles. The men, instead, used a woolen knee-length poncho to protect themselves from the cold.

The Spanish conquerors used a capote, a kind of cape, as a protection. The capote and the knee-length poncho eventually came together and produced the ruana. Twill pants, a cotton shirt, alpargatas (footwear with sisal soles), a tapia pisada hat, and the ruana became the typical dress for the men of Boyacá.

Initially, the ruana was used by Indians and peasants. Over many years, it became popular in all social classes, thus becoming a national heritage.

A ruana from Boyacá /Pic. http://www.flickr.com/photos/fefaeasartes/2299917411/sizes/l/ 4.

A ruana from Boyacá /Pic. fefaeasartes

The Typical Boyacá Ruana

The ruana is an absolutely artisan product, made from 100% virgin sheep’s wool and woven on a loom, as has been done for centuries. Its thick, soft texture is ideal for low temperatures.

Every ruana is a unique, unequalled product by the fact that it is made from a natural product. No two ruanas are exactly the same.

Interesting Data:

  • The village of Nobsa, located 200 kilometers from Bogotá (about four hours by car or bus) specializes in the manufacture of ruanas.
  • A Nobsa artisan makes an average of five ruanas a day.
  • Nobsa exports ruanas to Italy, Spain, and the United States.
  • More than 300 families in Nobsa make their living from producing ruanas.
  • A ruana weighs about 2.5 kilograms (5 lbs.) and measures 1.50 by 1.40 meters.
  • Two large sheep must be sheared to make one ruana.
  • The average price of a ruana is $100,000 Colombian pesos (approximately $50 US dollars).
  • The World Ruana Day is celebrated during the last week in May to pay homage to this article that made Boyacá famous and to show the world the work of these people, work that has conquered national and international markets.
  • Famous people who have worn the Nobsa ruana include Pope John Paul II; Álvaro Uribe Vélez, President of Colombia; the King of Spain, Juan Carlos de Borbón; Cabas, the singer; and Verónica Orozco, singer and actress.

Uses of the Ruana

The four-cornered coat, as the ruana is lovingly called in Boyacá, does more than protect from the cold. It is quite multi-functional. Besides its use as a blanket, it serves as a cloth to extend on the ground for a romantic country picnic or a sunbath on the grass. Folded, it is a as a cushion.

This clothing item, “founder of villages, with the tiple and the ax (...); covering of the manly man, blanket for the paisa cradle, faithful shadow of my grandparents, and treasure of my fatherland; taste of sweet sins and the sweet warmth of skirts”, as sung by Pereira composer Luis Carlos González in his Colombian bambuco “La Ruana”, is much warmer than a coat or jacket and, therefore, will never go out of fashion.

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