Cross-Cultures Series: Isla Amantani del Lago Titicaca!
This spring, former Trama volunteers Myrthe and Zella, visited Bolivia and Peru together! Here they are in the daily traje of women from the Island Amantani, before heading to a traditional dance class!
At an elevation of 3,812 m, and known as the highest navigable lake in the world, Lake Titicaca, stretches a massive 8,372 km2 across the border of Peru and Bolivia. In the lake, there are six islands, divided between the two nations.
Amantani island is just off the coast of Peru, and is divided into 10 communities of Quechua families. These communities each have two leaders, a husband and wife. Each pair of leaders come together to form the collaborative leadership of the entire island.
This is one community leader, the male leaders always wear a knotted lasso around their wrist to convey their authority, which is used only when necessary.
All 10 communities wear a different colored skirt in their traje, and this map shows each color and community territory.
The women's trajes are the same, with large belts, similar to the Mayan faja, though their pleated skirts close with a tie, and can be closed with out the need of a faja, unlike the Mayan corte. Their skirts are vibrant and wool as well, and are worn with a petticoat like skirt underneath to add shape and volume. The embroidered wool blouses from Amantani are white with vibrant hand embroidered flowers, that compliment the colors of the skirts.
Due to the altitude the sun is much stronger as the protection provided by the ozone layer is weaker, so long black wool veils are worn and provide some shade for their eyes and face.
The sun might be stronger, but the nights and early mornings are cold, so wool is often knitted to make leg warmers. They prefer leg warmers over socks, as their leather sandals are well-fitted and molded from use to the shape of their feet, and are better worn with out socks.
The typical men's fashion is less adorned, but still features hand embroidered elements and splashes of color against a black wool base. The men wear felted wool hats, and black vests. Younger men are often dressed in a more westernized style that is compatible with their rigorous agricultural labor. Though women also help work the land!
A more complete Amantani male traje includes a knitted hat, heavy poncho with lateral stripes, a small pouch for coca leaves, and flat leather sandals. The hats are brightly colored with intricate designs, and are knitted with a wide base that tapers into an elongated pointed end with a pompom.
Amantani island is also entirely vegetarian! The island is small and land is a precious resource. Rather than use the land for the grazing of large animals, the agricultural communities of the lake utilize every inch for the farming of indigenous crops, like quinoa and a wide variety of potatoes. We were able to enjoy meals made fresh and entirely from food grown on the island, by our host mom Faustia!
Agriculture is the sole or primary source of income for much of the island's population. Each family is able to grow enough food to support their household, and they are land owners with homes built from resources on the island. They supplement their self sufficiency with other streams of income, like the homestay or raising sheep for selling wool.
Our host Mom! Faustia
This was an incredibly unique home-stay experience, as each family takes turns hosting guests, and island leadership is able to dictate when and where guests are welcome. A host mother told us that each family only hosts one night of guests every two or three months, so their way of life and routine remain balanced.
Another interesting fact is that they use the same word for knitting andn weaving, so when we shared that we are interested in weaving, our host mom enjoyed a laugh at our attempt to learn to knit on the very first try!
Amantani island also has a Tiwanaku and Incan temple at the top of its highest peak, which is locked and only opened once a year for traditional celebration and prayer, around the 20th of January. We visited the peak and walked three times around, holding three coca leaves, and placed the three inside the temple as an offering to the Pachamama and Pachatata, mother and father earth, to help our most honest hopes come to fruition.
We also learned that this island only recently got electricity for the first time in 2020, when they were given solar panels from the former president! This island is a step outside time, with a very tranquil way of life that continues to persevere in its traditional ways as the world around it changes.