Why Do Women Wear Hats in the Markets of Peru?

In June, 2002, Fran and I took a trip with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT) to Peru, The Galapagos, and Ecuador. As you know, when I travel I like to take "Character" photos. Sometimes I get a winner; sometimes I get a loser; but I always get a story. When in Peru and Ecuador I tried hard and got some good shots. The following are copies of e-mail messages I sent out upon my return from this trip.



Chapter 1: Introduction to Women in Hats
Chapter 2: Men in Hats
Chapter 3: Conclusion of Why Women Wear Hats in the Market Place

Chapter 1: Introduction to Women in Hats

July 1, 2002

Whenever I go on a trip to a foreign country it is important to blend in as much as possible. That way I find it easier to take my "candid" or "character" photographs. If you don't stand out too much the local people don't pay much attention to you and you have more freedom and don't get bothered by the street venders trying to sell cigarettes, post cords, blankets, jewelry, etc. So, when we arrived in Ecuador, on our way to the Galapagos, I purchased a Panama hat. Cost: $13.00.
Disguised in my local costume
In case you don't know, Panama hats are all made in Ecuador. They have acquired the name Panama hat because they were shipped to Panama where people would buy them. When people said, "Where did you get that hat?" the answer will always be, "Panama". Thus the name. Above is a photo Fran took in the market at Otovolo, Ecuador. Look hard and see how I blend in?

July 1, 2002

We are in Cuzco, Peru, visiting the Inca archeological site of Sacsayhuaman (Socksie Human - or as the men would say "Sexy Woman") After we finished the tour we found these children with their animals near our parked bus. I would like to tell you that I snapped this photo of a local street scene but that is not possible. When you land in Peru you learn one thing - it is not a 3rd world country but rather a 5th or 6th world country. What we consider to be poverty is everywhere. Education is mandatory to the 6th grade.

Everyone seems to be doing something to earn a living. For the local native people, Incas for the most part, dressing up in their native clothing and making themselves available to be photographed is one way to earn some money. They have a real barter economy but some of the local "coin of the realm" comes in handy. So from time to time you will find a family group - mother and children, or children - available to have their picture taken. The cost is S/1 (S/ is a Solas which is worth about 27 cents) for an adult and a S/1/2 for a child. It of course increases the income if there is more than one person to be in a picture. This is not to say the photos are misleading because people really do dress in this fashion and you see it everywhere. But, to get a nice photo with (semi) smiling faces you have to ask to have their picture taken and then pay this meager amount. Otherwise you get a lot of photos of the back of heads - and I have lots of them as well. At least they are trying to earn a living in a very harsh economic climate and it isn't easy to get dressed up, grab your goat and llama and stand out in the sun waiting for someone to come and take your picture.

Inca children with llama
This photo has two themes to it: (1) Character and local dress; and (2) the story of the hats. I will tell you more about the story of the hats later. At least you saw my earlier photo with a hat. For now, enjoy this photo and imagine the rich culture of the Inca with clothing of bright colors and intricately woven cloths.

July 25, 2002

Pull up a warm blanket, make yourself a nest and settle back and enjoy.

Once upon a time there was a young boy from the prairies of Minnesota whose heart ached to learn more about the world. He would see exotic pictures in National Geographic and his heart ached to see more of the world. It seemed like back in those days no one traveled abroad unless you were one of the "rich and famous" or in the armed forces of the Untied States. Elvis Presley was drafted and as an armored tank crewman was sent to German. Oh, the path was seen. After law school, 1966, during the big war (don't laugh now, it was the only one going on at the time) this young man's draft board said, "Uncle Sam Wants You." Beating his uncle to the punch he enlisted and after being trained as an infantryman he found himself in the Judge Advocate General's Corps (JAGC). He spent three of his eight years of active duty with the Fourth Armored Division in Goeppingen, Germany. Oh what a treat! He visited all the major capitals of the western world - London, Amsterdam, Copenhagen, Rome, Paris, Bonn, Berlin, Madrid, to name a few (remember the iron curtain, he wasn't allowed to go to eastern Europe). But his travels ended with the war and he returned home to Minneapolis to practice law for 30 years. National Geographic was replaced with the Learning Channel, the History Channel, and the Discovery Channel. This young man, now older with gray hair and a beautiful supporting wife, still yearned to see the world. Retirement now allowed the time to travel. He had saved a few shekels - this was all before Enron and WoldCom, etc.

woman in Open Market in Pisac, Valley of the Inca
One thing that always interested me was the fact that all the women wore hats in the photographs of open markets in Peru and Ecuador - probably all of South America for that matter. In the 50's it was understandable because everyone wore a hat. My dad wore a fedora for as long as I can remember - the kind of hat Indiana Jones wears. In the summer it was changed to a straw hat. But styles changed and very few people wear hats anymore. I suspect this is because sunglasses became so "cool". They don't shade the face like a good hat so some people would wear a "baseball cap". Some people find the bill on the baseball cap to get in the way so they wear sunglasses and the bill on the back of the neck. But I digress ........ In spite of the style changes in the US the women in Peru and Ecuador continued to wear hats - mostly fedoras but sometimes other styles. (see photo) Now the brim of a hat serves two general purposes - it keeps the sun off the face of a white skinned Scandinavian from northern Europe and thus the width of the brim depends upon how high or hot the sun is; and the hat can provide warmth for your head. But this doesn't explain why the women in the markets, and around town wear hats. I knew I was not up to solving the mystery of why the Spaniards did not find Machu Picchu or why Machu Picchu was built and what purpose it served or even why it was deserted for almost 500 years before being discovered again in the early 20th century by Bingham. But, I did try to find out why the women in the market wore hats. Of such mundane subjects great truths may be learned.

July 30, 2002

When the Spaniards arrived in South America the Inca Empire was only about 150 years old. It had been expanding fast by conquering other tribes and incorporating their territory. Since Cuzco was the capital city of the Inca Empire it was only logical that the Spanish headed in that direction.
navtive Inca at San Blas celebration
The Inca didn't wear hats, they merely wore a band around their heads decorated with some feathers.

The Inca colors were red and thus most of their clothing were of that hue. This photo was taken in Cuzco at the square in front of San Blas after return of the statute of the Saint Blas. Every year during Corpus Christie all the churches in Cuzco take the statue of their patron saint to the main cathedral for a blessing from the Bishop. During the next several weeks the members of the parish return their statue to its rightful place in the church. We were fortunate in arriving at the Cathedral just as the procession was leaving to return the statue of Saint Blas to the church.
Procession to San Blas
These statues are very heavy and it takes 30+ men to carry them from the main cathedral up a steep hill to its parish church. The Priest led the procession ahead of the statue. Then came the church band; not necessarily recording stars but it was loud and proud. We visited the church later in the day but our group was taken up by taxi. Trying to walk up hill that far at an altitude of 10,500 feet was more than our lungs could support.

It was interesting to observe how the Catholic church incorporated so much of the Inca religion into the local religion. The Spaniards plundered the gold from the Inca temples and melted them down into bars so they could be distributed. 1/3 to the king in Spain; 1/3 to the conquistadors; and 1/3 to the local Catholic church. Thus, there is a lot of gold in the churches. The alter in the cathedral is made of solid silver. Naturally there are lots of religious paintings in the churches. Some done by Spanish painters, some by Dutch painters, but many from the School of Cuzco. A painting of the Last Supper depicts Christ and his apostles dining on roast guinea pig, hot peppers and Andean cheese. Guinea pigs are raised in many local homes and is a delicacy which is reserved only for important feasts such as Christmas, Easter, and weddings. We were served guinea pig during one of our meals in a local home and it tasted quite good.

Some of you may not believe what I said about the guinea pigs being a special food saved for feast days. Belli's just telling another one of his tall tales you say to yourself. One of the advantages of Grand Circle Tours and Overseas Adventure Travel tours is that you have an opportunity to have a "traditional" meal with a local family. In Cuzco we were treated to a local lunch with consisted of cheese, lima beans, corn on the cob, chicken, and a rice. We were served a local drink which was made by boiling purple corn in water with brown sugar. As a special treat we were also served a guinea pig. Here is Fran looking at the pig, with a carrot in its mouth, before it was cut up and presented to the guests.
Fran eating guinea pig
It was roasted and taste a lot like duck. I found it delicious and was willing to eat anyone's portion which they did not want. It is easier to eat guinea pig if you don't have one at home in a cage with a pet name.

July 31, 2002

When traveled by train from Cuzco to Aquas Calientes, the small Inca village at the base of the mountain which contains the ruins of Machu Picchu we traveled along the sacred, and very scenic, Urubama river which is a major tributary to the Amazon River. We were up at 4:30 a.m. in order to catch the 6:00 a.m. train. During the four hour train trip I was able to reflect upon what I had seen and learned over the past several days. When arriving at Machu Picchu I was once again reminded that the native Inca did not wear hats.
Inca boy at Machu Picchu
This young Inca, and 15 others like him, hung around at the visitor's center high on the mountain. As we boarded the bus to ride down the zig zag road he ran ahead of us, taking the Inca Trail straight down the mountain. At every corner he was there to greet us with a waive while calling out Gooooooooood Byyyyyyyyyyyyyye.

This photograph below is just one of the fantastic views we had of Machu Picchu as we followed the ancient Inca trail up the mountain side to the Gate of the Sun about 2,000 feet above the ruins of the city. On the left you can see just part of the original Inca Trail which was originally the only way to get to the city. Machu Picchu was a royal city and it must have been fantastic indeed for the ancient visitors to have climbed up over the mountain and from this spot have his first view of the city. Not everyone was allowed to go to the city and the guards at this outpost would turn back any unwelcome guest.
Gate of the Sun
But, the most hardy of souls are able to hike the last 33 miles along the Inca Trail. A journey of 4 to 5 days. Local native porters are used to carry the camping equipment because at this altitude few outsiders could tolerate the thin air. From the Gate to the Sun you can see the zig zagging road taken by the buses which carried us up and down to the sight. The little boy shown above would say good bye to us as the bus headed down from the visitors center and then run a straight path down the side of the mountain. This is no small task because the path is perilous with uneven stone, high steps, and a steep incline. There is one boy for each of the 16 buses which are used to transport the tourists. fter such an heroic venture tipping him a few coins only seemed appropriate.

Today most people take the train to Aquas Calientes and then take the bus up road you see in the background to the visitors center.

A One member of our group, Marie Guzman from Milwaukee, WI, whom you can see standing to the right of Fran, put the event to poetry. She wrote:

Outside the ruins a young boy waited,
Rewards and tips anticipated.
He claimed that he could beat the bus,
Get to the valley before us.
We drove as fast as laws allow,
but he was just ahead somehow.
Climbed on the bus, claimed his reward,
And in his bag the money stored.
Forever I'll recall his cry
As he waved and said "Gooooood Byyyyye!"

If the native Inca did not wear hats where did this all start? The answer to how it started is really simple but the story is more complex. When the Spanish conquistadors arrived in South America they all wore military helmets. Heavy they were and hot they must have been in the southern sun. The military has always worn hats.
Palace guard in Lima
In Lima, the capital of Peru, the military guard in front of the Palacio de Gabierno (Government Palace) is dressed in the red-and-blue ceremonial uniform with ornamental hat of the Hussares de Junin regiment. Lima was founded by a Spanish conquistador in 1535 and for 200 years it was the capital of Spanish South America. Certainly when only 150 conquistadors were able to conquer the 2 million people of the Inca empire it wouldn't take much for someone to think they ought to immolate some of the characteristics of these people.

By now it probably has not gone un-noticed that South America is a very Catholic country. Large catholic churches and majestic cathedrals are everywhere. Many of these cathedrals were part of the monastery of the various religious orders such as the Benedictines and the Dominicans.
Monasterio de San Francisco
The Monasterio de San Francisco is described as "a jewel" of Lima. Its construction goes back to the early 1600's and still s tands in spite of damage from frequent earthquakes. Much of the church is decorated in the geometrical Andalusian (an area of southern Spain) Moorish style. One of the features of the church is the 17th century library containing 25,000 leather-bound volumes.

Library in monastery
Seen above is one of the extra large hymnals which would be used by the choir. There was only one copy of the music and it would be placed on a tall stand visible to the entire choir.

Some people think that the reason they wear hats is to cover their bald heads. That is an interesting speculation but the fact of the matter is that this is not true.

One day I mentioned to our guide, George, during our extended trip to the Ecuadorian Highlands, that I noticed none of the native Incas wear glasses. He told me that this was a genetic trait - their eyes do not deteriorate with age and they can still thread a needle without the assistance of glasses until they die. He also told me about other genetic traits: the Inca do not lose their hair - you will never see a bald Inca - nor does their black hair turn gray.

Old woman in the market
This photo proves the point. It was taken in the open market when we visited Pisac in the Sacred Valley of the Incas. She has a Mona Lisa smile and in her eyes can see to the very depth of your soul. These are beautiful people with lovely hats.

Aug 1, 2002

I have mentioned the Monasterio de San Francisco and how it survived the many earthquakes which occur on this fault line. Part of the reason the church was able to withstand these shocks is because of the solid bases provided by the catacombs which were used as Lima's cemetery until 1810. A network of underground chambers, which are now open to the public, contains hundreds, perhaps thousands, of skulls and bones, stored in racks according to type (skulls, femurs, tibia, fibula, etc).
bones in the cript
This is one sample of how the bones have been sorted and arranged in the bottom of one cistern. In other areas the boxes all contain all the same kind of bones. Naturally the doorways through the catacombs are constructed as small archways. This is fine for short people but my 6' 2" body had to do a lot of bending.

Getting back to the hats - actually the Catholic church probably had a lot to do with it. Most of us who grew up in the 50s remember when it was not uncommon to see nuns dressed like this.
Nuns waiting for a bus
It is still common in Peru. Ah, you finally say to yourself, "Women covered their heads when they went to church." When the Spanish conquered South America and converted the natives it was only logical that the church brought with it the custom of women covering their heads. Someone once told me, "In every painting you see of the Virgin she is always wearing a vail, or scarf, or some kind of head covering." It would not be unusual for the South American women to adopted these styles of dress - which would eventually change from a mere scarf to a decorative hat.

I mentioned earlier that it was frequently the Inca custom to adopt the Catholic faith with certain twists which incorporated aspects of the Inca culture. It should therefore not surprise us that their hats (head covers) would also be brightly colored to match the local tribal colors - remember I said red was the Inca color - and fine ornamentation.
Inca woman in native hat
But this does not end the story. It is only the beginning. You have yet to learn about the different styles and types of hats and what they mean. Just let me know if you have had enough. But, my stories are like certain men's magazines - you can enjoy them for the pictures without reading the article. Or is it the other way around?

Aug 16, 2002

For those of you who may be thinking, "Bob, that's not fair to show a hat on a dancer at a festival because of course she is going to be wearing a costume." I say, "Humbug!" Its my story and I'm sticking to it. "Trust me, I'm a lawyer." has new meaning now that corporate executives and financial officers have hit a new low.

Anyway, just to prove you wrong, this is a photo taken at the open market at Pisac in the Sacred Valley of the Inca. This married woman (you will learn later how I know that bit of information) was with her daughter in the market. They were not dressed up for any show.

Native Inca costume in Pisac
So you see, the style of the hat tells you something about where the woman is from. I should have also warned you to pay attention to the scarf, blouse, and decoration on the dresses being worn. They also tell you something about the area or tribe the person is from. This becomes important later as my story progresses. So, although the hat may be the most important it is not the only thing to be looking at. You will notice one thing, however, and that is that the predominant color is red - the color of the Inca.

Aug 17, 2002

You may be tiring of my photographs but there were so many examples of hats in the market places I couldn't resist.

These two women, baby and lamb were in the market at Pisac in the Sacred Valley of the Inca. Are any of you starting to ask "How do I sign up for one of these tours?" Just call OAT at 1-800-955-1925 and tell them you want to take the trip to Peru, Machu Picchu,, 7 days in the Galapagos, and the 4 day extension to Equador. Mention my name and I will get a discount on the trip Fran and I are taking to China next June. Can you imagine the photographs I will take on that trip?

Inca costumes in Pisac

Aug 19, 2002

Did you notice the change in countries? Beside spending time in Peru we also traveled to Ecuador where we spent four days in "the highlands." There where many things different in Ecuador but also many things the same. Both cultures are influenced greatly by the Spanish conquest of South America. Thus, we can talk about the native dress and recognize that there are similarities but the hats are different.
Ecuador market
In at the open market in Otavalo, Ecuador, north of Quito, the county's capital city, we saw many examples of the cultural sameness and differences. Here the women's hats are made of heavy wool scarves folded over in different fashions to serve a difference purpose. On a cold day the scarf can be pulled down to warm the head and neck. On a warm day, such as when we were there the scarf is folded up and placed on the head in such a fashion to provide a cooling shade over the face. Very unique. You can also see here the traditional black cape and the finally appliqued white blouse. Around their necks all the women wear gold beads as a sign of their wealth. Unseen is the black long skirt.

In case you didn't believe my last tale of the women wearing scarves on their head to serve as hats here's another "character" photo. The rule has been proven. Better keep all of these facts in mind because there is going to be a test.
in Ecuador scarves substitute as hats

Go To Chapter 2: Men in Hats.
Go To Chapter 3: Conclusion of Why Women Wear Hats in the Market Place.

Remember, you can also follow my story of our trip to The Galapagos on the Millennium.

If you have any questions about what you are seeing, or want some further information, feel free to

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Have a good day and come back again.

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