It’s not everyday you see a man knitting out in public. The community of “Knitting Men”, people of Taquile Island are living the lifestyle they’ve preserved for centuries.
Taquile is an island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, 45km offshore from Puno. The inhabitants are Taquilenos, who speak Quechua. Travelers can observe the well preserved culture of Taquile up close. It almost feels like another world.
You are walking down the dirt load in Taquile island and see someone approaching. It’s polite to greet, then what do you do? Handshake? Hug? Wave? When two people meet on Taquile, both parties pull out a handful of coca leaves from the waist bag on the right side and exchange. Chew the coca leaves first, and then you can start talking. That’s the unique way of greeting on Taquile.
That’s the way of life here. The textile art that’s done by both men and women is protected by UNESCO Traditional craftsmanship and Social practices. The quality of textile products is known to be some of the best in the world. The textile art is worn by both men and women on a daily basis. The weaving is done by pre-Hispanic fixed and pedal looms.
It’s important for men on Taquile to have great knitting skills. That’s not something you hear everyday! When a man wants to marry a woman, he needs to prove his worth by drinking water out of his knitted hat. If the hat is knitted so tightly that the water doesn’t drip, he has successfully proved his abilities. Now you see why all men look so serious when they knit.
Every man wears chullo on Taquile. It’s an Andean style hat with earflaps, made from vicuña, alpaca, llama or sheep’s wool. It’s common around all Andean towns, but on Taquile it has more meaning to it. First, it’s a simple way to see who’s single or married. Single men can only wear a chullo with red and white color. Full red is only for a married man.
Second, Taquile’s chullo has a distinctively long and narrow top that’s almost as long as the length of the hat. The direction of the extended top is the way to express your current state of mind. If the top is laid to the right side, it means he is happy and content. Left side indicates he’s worrying about something and wants to keep the problems away. The most common, especially when they are knitting, is the hat top to the back. This means they are busy.
Making a meter-long waistband is another required skill for Taquile men. It contains the history of each family. Married men make the waistband with the wife’s hair.
Chullo is part of the daily clothing even for children. When fathers knit, they put the dreams into the hat using various designs. Girls wear a chullo with frills at the end which resembles Peru’s national flower.
Birds are often seen in Taquile’s textile design. It’s a symbol for family and house. It’s not surprising to know that life on Taquile is simple; there are no motorized vehicles on the entire island, and it is very quiet. Family life is valued here the most. If you ask a boy what does he want to be when he grows up, and he will most likely say ‘a father’. Having a family is the biggest fortune to Taquile people, and they are content with their choices. Here, people seem happy. In the world full of competition and ambition, it was quite refreshing to see the people who value such a basic but important aspect in life.