To put it mildly, Peru is an explosion of colors. The entire week and a half that I spent in Lima with Fulbright was overcast and grey (which felt a bit like home), but a bright linen or piece of art work was waiting around every corner to brighten up the day.
Clothes made with alpaca wool are for sale everywhere in Peru. Streets are lined with tiny shops that have a dizzying number of garments for sale. Sweaters, scarves, gloves, hats…you name it, and you can probably find it on the streets of Cusco. The amount of clothing was mind boggling! Baby alpaca is the most sought after wool (and the most expensive )with adult alpaca not too far behind. Acrylic is around but shunned. While the vast majority of clothing sold in Peru is mass produced in Peruvian factories, there are some Andean folk that make it the traditional way…
On our way to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley, we stopped at a shop that made garments from alpaca wool using methods that have been passed down for thousands of years. The yarn is colored using all natural dyes. For instance, red dyes often begin with cochineal, a small scaled insect found on prickly pear cactus in the Sacred Valley. Weavers will crush the insects to make a deep red color. Different natural ingredients can be added to change the hue. Yarn is then boiled with the dye to make the desired color.
These little guys are found in just about every shop in Peru. Small ones cost about 10 soles. (One’s coming your way, Benji!) They have a pretty interesting back story: The ceramic bull comes from Pucara, a region in southern Peru close to Lake Titicaca. As legend has it, a big drought hit Pucara a long time ago. One day, a local peasant came up with an idea. He decided to offer his bull as a sacrifice to the god Pacha Kamaq, the creator of the land. (Remember him?) The peasant tried to drag the bull up to the top of a big hill, but the bull knew that the jig was up and refused to follow. After pulling and tugging, the farmer finally got the bull up the hill. In one last show of resistance, the bull stuck its horn into a big rock. Magically, water flowed from the hole; enough for the entire population of Pucara. From that day, the bull became a sacred element and the local artisans started making the Pucara bulls.
Colorful Textile Patterns
By some estimates, Peru has the longest tradition of handwoven textiles. Scholars say that Peruvians have been weaving their own fabrics for almost 10,000 years! The textiles below are from factories, but there is still a large desire for traditional handwoven garments today. As previously mentioned, clothing and textiles made with baby alpaca wool is the most desired and therefor the most expensive in Peru. Most shop owners guarantee that the clothing you are holding in your hand is “baby alpaca”. That isn’t always the case! Sometimes it is adult alpaca wool or even acrylic. You have to know your fabrics.
Traditional Andean Clothing
And of course the explosion of color is most evident in some of the clothes that Quechan people may wear. From what I have observed, Peruvians and Americans usually have a very similar style when it comes to clothes. I saw a lot of jeans and t-shirts. TONS of New York Yankee hats. (Strangely, no Detroit Tigers hats.) Many people were wearing the same brands that we have in the states. But it seemed that when Quechans wanted to show pride in their culture or celebrate who they are, they might wear traditional clothing.
All of the schools we went to had some sort of celebration planned to welcome us. Often, some of the students would show off some traditional clothing. Each village has a unique style and color pattern, so it may be possible to identify what region the wearer comes from based on the color and style of their garments. The student on the left is wearing a lliclla which is a Quechua word for a type of cape. It can also be called Manta. A lliclla is a square woven cloth that covers the back and shoulders. It is heavy, so it is often used to keep out the cold Andean air. Sometimes mothers will carry their babies in a lliclla.
In Cusco, some people dressed in traditional clothing and waited on benches or chairs for tourists interested in taking pictures of them. The brightly colored garments certainly attracted a lot of attention, especially when baby alpacas were involved!
The hats the women in the picture below are wearing are called Monteras. Like the lliclla above, the styles vary depending on the region.
They are also wearing olleras, which are wide skirts. Traditionally, they were handwoven but now often machine made. Women may wear several of these on top of one another, and on special occasions women may wear up to 10 or more of them at a time! The skirt in the photo are are trimmed with a puyto, which is a colorful band.