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Gender and the Boundaries of Dress in Contemporary Peru

Blenda Femenías
Copyright Date: 2005
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.7560/705432
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    Gender and the Boundaries of Dress in Contemporary Peru
    Book Description:

    Set in Arequipa during Peru's recent years of crisis, this ethnography reveals how dress creates gendered bodies. It explores why people wear clothes, why people make art, and why those things matter in a war-torn land. Blenda Femenías argues that women's clothes are key symbols of gender identity and resistance to racism.

    Moving between metropolitan Arequipa and rural Caylloma Province, the central characters are the Quechua- and Spanish-speaking maize farmers and alpaca herders of the Colca Valley. Their identification as Indians, whites, and mestizos emerges through locally produced garments calledbordados.Because the artists who create these beautiful objects are also producers who carve an economic foothold, family workshops are vital in a nation where jobs are as scarce as peace. But ambiguity permeates all practices shapingbordados' significance. Femenías traces contemporary political and ritual applications, not only Caylloma's long-standing and violent ethnic conflicts, to the historical importance of cloth since Inca times.

    This is the only book about expressive culture in an Andean nation that centers on gender. In this feminist contribution to ethnography, based on twenty years' experience with Peru, including two years of intensive fieldwork, Femenías reflects on the ways gender shapes relationships among subjects, research, and representation.

    eISBN: 978-0-292-79730-7
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. Maps and Figures
    (pp. viii-x)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. Introduction. False Borders, Embroidered Lives
    (pp. 1-34)

    Ambulantesflood the streets of downtown Arequipa. Fanning out from the commercial hub of San Camilo market, these independent vendors stake out tiny patches of pavement. Throughout the center of this city of one million, near plaza and bus stop and railroad station, no matter which way you turn, their boxes, bags, stands, carts, cloths, and baskets jumble together in a frenzied kaleidoscope of things. Here shoppers can find anything; here thieves prey on the careless. From basic foodstuffs to imported commodities, commerce is largely informal, an affair of the streets or bazaars tucked into rickety buildings. On sites where...

  6. 1 Traveling
    (pp. 35-77)

    This morning I am packing up my stuff. Moving means packing, and it seems like lately that is all I do. As I prepare to leave the thatch-roofed room that has been my home, I evaluate each object in it. For the trip to Arequipa tomorrow, my denim skirt will have to serve. The rest of my field clothes, old beat-up jeans and stretched-out turtlenecks, go into a suitcase to store here in Coporaque. On top of them I place my embroidered, Caylloma-style garments, handmade and tailored for me; when I come back I will need them. My friend Susana...

  7. 2 Fabricating Ethnic Frontiers: Identity in a Region at the Crossroads
    (pp. 78-102)

    “I am ashamed,” confessed Florencia Huaracha. Her statement shocked me. After spending many hours interviewing Chivay market vendors like her, I was accustomed to hearing about their pride in the beauty ofpolleras. Huaracha, then in her seventies, had wornpollerassince childhood and for twenty years had run an embroidery stand with her husband. “Have you ever stopped wearingpolleras? Why?” I asked. “Shame” (vergüenza) was the reason Huaracha gave. She only changed out of herpollerasto travel to Arequipa. The way urban people looked at Chivayeños was what made her ashamed. Even when Arequipeños said nothing, rather...

  8. 3 Clothing the Body: Visual Domain and Cultural Process
    (pp. 103-146)

    When the summer sun warms the February days, the fiesta season nears its end. Carnival in Caylloma! Then we will see some fancypolleras. From December through February, embroidery artisans are busiest, providing women with elaborate outfits. This week, I am spending a few days in Chivay, where the artisans’ workshops are concentrated, and looking forward to celebrating Carnival in Coporaque.

    Leonardo Mejía and his wife, Susana Bernal, live with their four children and makebordadosin their home workshop in Chivay. Since 1985, I have spent hundreds of hours in their homes and workshops, often dining there and discussing...

  9. 4 Addressing History: Representation and the Embodiment of Memory
    (pp. 147-184)

    In the center of Chivay, the plaza forms a perfect square. On its north side the church looms large, a quarter block wide, a full block deep. Thetamboof Luis Salinas dominates the east side. This huge metal-roofed emporium is the commercial center of Caylloma Province. A narrow wooden balcony runs the length of its second story. From the main gate a train of llamas sallies forth, laden with sacks brimming with alpaca fiber. Each corner of the plaza boasts a stone arch. The llamas entered Chivay from the west, across the bridge that spans the Colca River. They...

  10. 5 Dancing in Disguise: Transvestism and Festivals as Performance
    (pp. 185-214)

    During hundreds of annual fiestas, the Witite dances in disguise. Whirling frenetically around village plazas, every Witite in spectacularpollerasseems to mirror dozens of women who also wear them. But it is men who don skirts and perform as Witite, the character of a man disguised as a woman, and they do so only during fiestas and folklore events (Figure 26). The Witite is unique, manifold, and ubiquitous. In Caylloma, he is the only transvestite character in all the dances and dance-dramas, but several men usually perform as Witite in the same event and he is featured in all...

  11. 6 Marching and Meaning: Ethnic Symbols and Gendered Demonstrations
    (pp. 215-240)

    Spectators assemble in Chivay’s central plaza. In rows of chairs outside the Municipal Hall, local authorities sit chatting with representatives of NGOs while residents mill around. Children chase dogs and climb trees. Adults soon fix their attention on the scene before them.

    A table and chair are arranged in the street. The Judge takes a seat. A woman in Caylloma-stylepollerasapproaches timidly and stands before the table. She has a baby tied in a carrying cloth (lliklla) on her back, and her young daughter hides in thepolleras’ folds.

    “Your Honor,” the woman addresses the Judge in a soft,...

  12. 7 Making Difference: Gender and Production in a Workshop System
    (pp. 241-266)

    Susana Bernal opened her Chivay market kiosk in the early morning, after she sent her children off to school. Benefiting from proximity to the bus stop, vendors accommodate travelers’ last-minute demands. By nine o’clock, after the Arequipa-bound buses departed, the frenzy yielded to the calmer atmosphere of regular customers’ routine transactions. Then Susana and her fellow artisans settled behind their machines and began to embroider (Figure 33). I also began fieldwork sessions then, sometimes conducting formal surveys, other times casually inquiring about sewing techniques or social events. Visiting Susana at her kiosk was a central feature of that work.

    One...

  13. 8 Trading Places: Exchange, Identity, and the Commoditization of Cloth
    (pp. 267-297)

    One April afternoon in Coporaque, Nilda Bernal took an order for a black vest from my friend. While Patricia Jurewicz and I were riding the bus from Arequipa to the Colca Valley for Holy Week (Semana Santa) of 1992, we had discussed buying embroideries. A textile designer from the United States, then living in Arequipa, Jurewicz was intrigued bybordados. She wanted an embroidered hat, of course, but also another, unique garment. She could buy garments in Chivay market or commission them from a workshop, I explained; each had its pros and cons. MycompadresNilda and Juan frequently accept...

  14. Conclusion. Why Women Wear Polleras
    (pp. 298-304)

    The women of Caylloma donpollerasto work in cornfields and to dance in fiestas. They makepollerasin workshops with husbands, sons, and daughters, and they sell finished garments to neighbors, friends, and strangers. From infancy to death, the cloth walls calledpollerasare cultural homes that Caylloma’s women inhabit. The process of making and wearingpolleras, in which many Cayllominos engage, is part and parcel of what creates their gendered identities. Women wearpollerasbecause they are women, and women become women by wearingpolleras.

    In writing primarily about women’s clothes, I have apparently privileged gender over ethnicity....

  15. Notes
    (pp. 305-322)
  16. Bibliography
    (pp. 323-354)
  17. Index
    (pp. 355-368)