Peru is undeniably famous for many things; Machu Picchu, Cusco and cute little alpacas are all images that will have probably popped into your head, but men knitting perched atop a small island in the middle of the world’s highest navigable lake? We didn’t think so.
Situated 45km on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca in the middle of the pristine blue-green waters is the quaint little island of Taquile. With a modest population of around 2000 Taquilenos, the community has an important role to play for the local Quechua speaking inhabitants, attracting culture hungry and inquisitive travelers from corners all over the globe.
Over the past one thousand years, very little has actually changed on the island, and the locals have created a sustainable way of living, cultivating their crops, building homes from natural resources and weaving their clothes by hand. They don’t depend like most of us on modern day appliances like electricity, gas and cars, adding to the intrigue and harmony of this untouched Inca community.
Upon arrival to the island you immediately sense the simplicity of daily life and the presence of generations of history that have shaped its ancestry. Free from the distraction of modern technologies and the digital world, women can be seen preparing a sumptuous lunch, sheep idly graze and roam freely whilst the men are out catching fish for the evening dinner. However, once the daily chores are put to one side a rather unexpected social scene begins to unfold, as the men exchange and chew a few coca leaves, before congregating to sit down and begin their knitting traditions.
What may appear, as a casual interchange of the morning’s activities is the beginning of serious business and for good reason. Each man that lives on the island wears what’s known as a “Chullo”. The rather pantomimesque looking hats, are carefully knitted from llama, alpaca, vicuña or sheep’s wool and at a quick glance can reveal a man’s marital situation and current mood. If the hat is red and white, the man is single, but all red symbolizes he is not up for grabs and married. The Chullo’s are also characterized by the long, narrow pointy tail which depending on the way it is leaning indicate the individual’s mood. If the tail is flopped to the left he’s worried, to the right side he’s happy and to the back it means he’s busy which is normally the adopted position whilst knitting. I am sure the women reading this are thinking (and vice versa), “Well, wouldn’t this make life so much easier!”
The hidden messages and importance of the men’s knitting skills don’t end there and arguably the most crucial test for a man, is how tight he can knit his hat. When he is looking for a life partner to marry, he must prove his self by drinking water out of his hat. If the “Chullo” has been knitted loosely, the water will drip, on the contrary and a drop won’t be lost showing off his skills and indicating that he is off sufficient caliber to consider partnering with.
The art and culture of textiles on Taquile Island is literally woven into the heritage of the locals, with the skills, techniques and cultural meanings being taught and passed on over generations. So much so, that the textile art they produce is now protected by the UNESCO Traditional Craftsmanship and Social Practices, and their work is amongst the most prestigious in the world.