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During our second day on Lake Titikaka, we had the opportunity to visit Taquile Island. This 5.5 km-long island is less touristy, by nature of its distance from Puno (the main, nearby Peruvian tourist town). Still, many tourists make the 3-hour journey from Puno to purchase some of the renowned textiles produced here. Fortunately for us, we had a shorter trip (1 hour from our hotel from a point 20 miles away from Puno), which allowed us to dock at an isolated bay on the opposite side of the island from the tourist bustle. That’s not all, though, because we were spoiled with a simi-private guide and a welcome lunch (quinoa soup) with a local family. Sitting at a table on their porch, we learned about the history of their island, the cultural customs that require this fine textiles, and got to see some of the women in action, making scarfs and hats.

The textiles are full of cultural meaning and are symbolic of age, marital status, and societal status. All 2,200 or so Taquileños wear their hand-crafted “textile art,” which is made by both sexes. The two most prominent elements of this traditional attire are the chullo and the calendar waistband. The chullo, a knitted hat with earflaps and pom-poms on top, is worn throughout the island. Children under five wear a red hat, with a big pom-pom atop. Older kids advance to a smaller pom-pom; single women have 4 pom-poms, while married women return to a single one. The local chiefs each receive a special chullo, with certain colors and geometric shapes, and the brightest chullo of all goes to the island chief (Dan crowned chullo chief in the first photo above having a pretty good day). As a rite of acceptance, courting boys must hand-knit a special chullo to be inspected by the parents of the girl they are courting. This chullo must stand upright, without the pom-pom’s weight causing it to hang to one side, for the family to accept the boy’s interest in their daughter (a falling pom-pom is a bad omen). Pom-poms also carry emotional weight. A pom-pom to the right signifies a good day (ex. a visitor will come to your home); a pom-pom directed back means it’s just an “ok” day; and a pom-pom to the left means a bad day.

The other special garment piece is the calendar waistband. This waistband depicts elements of the island’s history and culture and is worn exclusively by the men. We were interested to learn that every year, wives will make their husbands a new waistband if they are happy. Men who do not receive a new waistband will go to great lengths to uncover the source of their wife’s unhappiness and correct the problem in order to secure a waistband the following year.

Taquile island is a preserved civilization remniscent of what their pre-Incan ancestors must have been like. Taquileños live a tranquil life on a gorgeous, remote island on the magnificent Lake Titikaka. We were delighted by this visit and hope you will have a chance to go, too!