South America

Lake Titicaca, Peru – Birthplace of the Incas

Rachel Williams

Rachel Williams  |  11 March 2014

Uncover the mysteries of Taquile Island.

I had always believed that knitting was women’s work! Somewhat of a hobby undertaken in the leisure time of typically retired ladies to produce cute, fluffy items such as baby clothes, scarf’s, hats and soft toys for the grand children.  Yet a place exists that defies this logic, a hidden pocket of the world where customs, folk law and tradition dictate how people have in the past and still continue today to lead their ordinary, or perhaps extra ordinary, day-to-day lives.

Men knitting on Taquile Island

As we neared the pier of Taquile Island, located on Peru’s mystical Lake Titicaca, our guide Hamilton pulled on a long red and white knitted hat that hung down his shoulders giving him a somewhat comical look that reminded me of one of Santa’s Elves. Hamilton explained that this was a “chullo”, the traditional head gear worn by all men on Taquile Island. He was right. As we pulled up along side the pier we were warmly greeted by a mass of chatter, laughter and red hats!

The typical dress on the island was immediately apparent, unlike any we had seen so far in our 3 weeks travelling through Peru. The men wore homemade black pants and coarse white shirts, held around the waist by colourful woven sashes. We later learnt that the sashes were decorated with symbols representing the islands agricultural calendar, which was appropriate for a place where time in general is still measured by the rotation of crops and annual harvests. Each man wore a similar knitted hat, the only difference being that some were all red while others were red and white. This we were told indicated ones marital status. Red hats are worn by married men while red and white hats are worn by bachelors so as to advertise their availability to any young ladies who happened to pass by. But this was not all. Each man knitted his own hat and a lady looking for a suitor would judge him worthy based on the quality of the weave. 

Ladies spinning wool on Taquile Island

While the men set about securing the boat and helping us ashore a group of women huddled off to one side peeking at us from behind their long black shawls while spinning balls of wool by hand. Although appearing shy, their flickering eyes and cheeky laughter portrayed their kindness and amusement. They were all dressed in heavy skirts called “Polleras”, red or pink knitted tops & black shawls with coloured pom poms on the corners that were in general, red if married and coloured if unmarried. 

Personally, I think this is a great idea! Being able to immediately distinguish who is single and looking for love and who is not. It would save a lot of time and effort when searching for the perfect soul mate.

Lake Titicaca from Taquile Island

Lake Titicaca is Peru’s largest lake and at an altitude of 3812 metres above sea level, is arguably the highest navigatable lake in the world. The ancient Incas believed the lake to be the “naval of the universe”. Legend has it that Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, children of the sun, emerged from the depths to found the mighty Inca civilization. 










Everywhere we looked the men were knitting & the women spinning. No hands appeared to be idle. In fact this is one of the three Inca laws which govern this place where there is no need for police and community decisions are made at meetings of the town’s folk that are held every Sunday in the main plaza after Mass. We were lucky to be there on a Sunday and arrived into town in time to witness this meeting which was led by the annually elected leaders, distinguishable by their black caps, the most senior of all with an almost fluorescent “chullo” worn underneath.  The three laws of Taquile are – do not steal, do not lie and do not be idle and these alone seem to be all that is required to maintain the harmony & unison of this unique community.

If only our communities could uphold such simple moralities.
Maybe there is something to learn from the locals of Taquile Island. Perhaps if our politicians were to spend some time with a ball of wool, knitting in quiet contemplation instead of arguing we would all lead a much more peaceful and harmonious existence .

If we could distinguish out potential husbands by the colour of their hat, or our wives by the colour of their pom poms. If we could abide by three simple rules upheld not by force but simply peer pressure from our families and our neighbours then perhaps we would find in ourselves the spirit of Taquile. A society that despite contact with the modern world has not allowed their profound identity to be destroyed.

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