Peru: The Cultural Significance of Braids

The Quechua are a group of indigenous people scattered throughout areas of South America.  I was fortunate enough to spend time with a tribe in Peru and experience their culture.  The first things that stood out when visiting the tribe were the women’s unique clothing and style of hair.  One of the most significant aspects of the Quechua woman’s look and culture is her hair.

ATWBPeru7

Throughout Peru, you will see the native women of all ages wearing long braids.  Long, braided hair represents much more than just a hairstyle to the Quechua; the braids signify the marital status of Peruvian women.

IMG_5093

Two braids reveals that a woman in the tribe is married, while one or many braids mean that she is single.

I traveled through the Andes and visited a Quechua tribe in Patabamba (Sacred Valley).  I asked them: how do you make the perfect braids?

IMG_6070

One of the elders braided her own hair for me to observe and then insisted upon putting braids in mine. I really wanted two braids but explained to her that I wasn’t married. This caused the women to laugh and I worried about bad luck,  but they assured me that it wouldn’t ruin my chances of finding “the one.”

Steps for Creating the Perfect Braid:

First, you need a bowl of water and a brush. Your hair needs to be wet before you start braiding. Next, separate your part and then section it right down the middle. Just like a French braid, you start at the crown and work your way down. Quechua tip: Try to finish each braid in less than a minute. A woman in the tribe swiftly braided 2 pieces in less than 2 minutes. she then used the excess hair to tie a knot at the end.

Long, virgin hair is considered beautiful in Quechua tribes and is a symbol of health and well-being.

IMG_6073 When women start losing hair due to aging, they incorporate yarn into the braids to lengthen and thicken the hair. The yarn is attached into the braid where the braid ends so it is difficult to tell the difference.

ATWBPeru9Braids among the tribe is a tradition that has been passed down by many generations and continues to grow and evolve as time goes on.