Arts & Entertainment

‘Tapadas’: the veil-wearing women symbolizing freedom in Peru

By Paula Bayarte

Lima, Jan 18 (EFE).- Back in the 16th century, women in Lima developed a personal clothing style that consisted of face veils and long skirts and became a symbol for freedom in the Peruvian capital that celebrates its 487th founding anniversary on Tuesday.

These women were known as the “tapadas limeñas” across the world because of their peculiar garments, which only showed one eye.

“The tapada is possibly the most iconic symbol of the historic center of Lima, they were fantastic characters who inhabited our streets from the very foundation of the city in 1535 until the end of the 19th century,” says Martin Bogdanovich, director of Prolima, an agency promoting tourism and the recovery of the historic center of Lima.

“Part of our recovery plan for the historic center is to rescue these symbols, we don’t just want to fix public spaces or churches, but also bring back these traditions that give us an identity and put us on the map,” he adds.

In October, tapada statues flooded the streets of downtown Lima, as part of a competition called the “Saya y Manto.”

The famous attire was a tradition of Castilian and Moorish origin that came to the then capital of the Viceroyalty in the 16th century.

“At a time when women had many limitations and their life was framed in the private sphere, going out without being recognized allowed them to meet people or go to places that otherwise would have been totally impossible. Going out covered put their identity in a safe place,” Sandro Parruco, a historian at the Catholic University of Peru, tells Efe.

Flora Tristan, a Franco-Peruvian writer, says that nowhere else in the world gave that amount of freedom to women, not even Paris, adding this custom allowed women to go to clubs, political rallies and theaters without being recognized and, therefore, without being judged.

At the end of the 18th century, the old Peruvian newspaper Mercurio Peruano wrote about an imaginary androgynous city in which men were covered from head to toe so as not to be recognized when they go to homosexual parties.

“It was an indirect description of the city of Lima at a time when the covered ones could be found in contexts of prostitution,” Parruco explains

But this excess of freedom did not please the Church, which unsuccessfully tried to ban the tradition, according to Bogdanovich.

Parruco, meanwhile, adds: “the women were so comfortable and satisfied with this practice that they were outraged and continually asked their husbands to protest against these ban attempts.”

In the end, it was not the Church that brought an end to this custom. It was the French and English styles of fashion that increasingly appealed to the women of Lima, to the point that by the mid-19th century, only lower-class women continued to follow the tradition. EFE


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