Let's talk Latin America

Dressing and dating come hand in hand on Taquile Island, Peru

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Finding love online… revolutionary? Bristolatino joint editor-in-chief Rosanna West tells us why the dating scene amongst the ancient community living on Taquile Island, Peru, suggests not.

It never before occurred to me that the dating game on Lake Titicaca in Peru could be similar to our modern-day, technology fuelled one here in the UK. However, after spending time on Taquile Island, where the population is only 1700, I soon gauged that our society’s method of searching for a partner in life is not so different to theirs. The only difference lies in our devices; we rely on Match.com, and they rely on varieties of dress.

Lake Titicaca is the largest lake in South America, and the highest in the world, bordered by both Bolivia and Peru, and home to various ancient communities, almost all of whom rely on the tourist industry to survive. One of these communities live on Taquile Island, which has been given UNESCO status due to its high quality textiles production. Society is organised very traditionally, with their Quechua culture – including the dress – still preserved.

It is with dress, hats in particular, that the residents venture to find their future spouses. As we in western society become more and more obsessed with appearance, after a short while on the Island you soon realise that the importance of an outfit has been prevalent in certain cultures for centuries. For the women of Taquile Island, it is as simple as what colour top you have on (if it’s red and they are aged 17 or upwards, they’re married, if any other colour, they’re available). Yet the men of the community have a much tougher job when getting dressed in the morning.

On first arrival, it is striking how divided the sexes seem. The men, all wearing self-made woolly hats, appear to be standing around unproductively, ogling the women- visions in pink, yellow and green trying to sell a variety of woollen bracelets. On later discovery however, it transpires that the women are, rather eccentrically, being admired, and later courted. These men are hanging around hoping to be noticed, and subsequently chosen, by the many girls laughing amongst themselves and appearing completely nonchalant about their admirers. The women know which men are on the market through the colour and form of their hat- it identifies his relationship status. The general rules are: a red and white hat means he is single, red and blue means he is engaged and all red means he is married.

Variations are available to single men as well. They may change the direction of the hat’s tassel to indicate if they are looking for a relationship or not, just like your ‘relationship status’ on Facebook, or the ‘looking for…’ section on dating websites. It seems to me that these techniques of finding the ‘perfect match’ are, in essence, just more extensive versions of the hat system. Who’d have thought that our society’s eagerness for revealing the state of our love life to the world could be traced back to a time before the internet?