Hats are symbol of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples


Hats of various sorts, apart from being articles of dress and protecting one’s head, are a symbol of Bolivia’s indigenous peoples and now an exposition including almost 100 of these so-called “lluch’us” is making the public acquainted with how they are made and the evolution of materials and styles.

During the country’s history, hats and caps have been made from animal hides, feathers and wool, taking cylindrical, conical and other forms and featuring elongated points, as well as many different colors and designs, but they have always been used to differentiate the wearers and allow them to show their unique identities.

“It’s the most visible part of the body, which has served to express identities, and we’ve used the techniques and the hats’ materials to tell about this history of changes and continuities,” the research chief at La Paz’s Museum of Ethnography and Folklore (Musef), Juan Villanueva, told EFE.

The permanent exhibition at Musef is aimed at “connecting with the past” and, simultaneously, reassessing the use and history of the country’s different hats, which have pre-Hispanic roots, although now they also include European contributions, Villanueva said.

The oldest hats or caps in the collection are made from animal hair, are conical in shape and come from the Chiripa and Pucara cultures south of Lake Titicaca.

Then come the four-pointed hats from the Tihuanacota epoch more than 3,000 years ago, and some of the more elaborate ones are presumed to have been owned by people with higher social standing, he said.

Villanueva added that part of the collection was obtained from gravesites and used a twisting or braiding technique to give shape to the hats.

Later, with the arrival of the Spaniards, the use of knitted hats came into vogue, made and used exclusively by men, meaning that new materials like wool and indigo (for coloring) were used.

The hats and caps of different colors used elaborate designs displaying the figures of birds and other basic natural elements, and earflaps were incorporated into them to protect the wearers from the cold.

The use of materials has been evolving from vegetable and animal fibers, or even human hair, to wool, beading, pigmentation to decorate the hats and vibrant colors to distinguish the country’s indigenous peoples.

The hats of the Urus of the high plateau often cover the crown of the head and have longer earflaps to deal with the cold, while those from north of La Paz have a long point that falls to one side and don’t have earflaps because the climate is warmer there.

In the town of Llallagua in Potosi, children use a “wirwita” made of wool with a kind of visor to protect the wearer from the sun.

Villanueva said that the many of the hats are for daily use, but there are also special ones for dances or celebrations.

“There’s a kind of competition among the hatmakers to see who can produce the most innovative hat, and so now one can see motorcycles, Bolivian crests, dancing figures, and other things” on them, he said.

Villanueva added that it’s important to know about the variety and evolution of the hats and caps, but above all to value the labor that goes into their creation, since they are a kind of symbol of the country’s indigenous peoples.