Thursday, August 12, 2010

Tapada limeña: words on la Saya y el Manto

In Lima, during the Spanish colony, the women that promenaded the city of Lima developed a personal style of dress, style that puzzled the court itself and well as every traveler that came to the city. These women were known across the world by the name of la tapada limeña, because of their famous attire, the saya y manto. The peculiarity of it consisted in completely veiling the face so that only one eye was left visible, allowing them to populate the streets alone and in complete anonymity.

Tarde de Gallos, Leonce Angrand

The typical attire of la tapada limeña was suggestive, flirtatious, and a game of seduction. However, it was still a dress: the hips outlining skirt and the mantle covering the head and face, with the exception of a single eye. Underneath that disguise could inhabit a toothless grandmother and a one-eyed woman bitten by the smallpox. There must have been many occasions when gallant men or "dirty old men" paid lavished compliments to their wives, sisters, mothers, hiding their true identity underneath the mantle.
The uniqueness of this dress and the fact that this attire cannot be found in any other regions of the Spanish dominion, has raised a whole series of theories about its origin.
Colonial dress and Tapada
The style of la tapada was used uninterruptedly during the viceroyalty by all social classes and though its origins are mysterious, some say that it is undoubtedly Moorish.  Most contemporary historians sustain that the tapadas appeared with the first settlers and lasted well until the first half of the 19th century, when French fashion became stronger than tradition.
Ricardo Palma in Tradiciones Peruanas amusingly describes the tradition of this singular attire:
"When one wants to leave the winning paths and talk about the origins of something very old, this phrase springs to one's lips: it is lost in the mists of antiquity. When one wants to write about the saya and the manto, one notes that they have never figured among the clothes of any province of Spain or of any European country. They grew up at Lima as spontaneously as mushrooms in a garden. In what year did this mushroom grow? I have done a lot of research, but have been unable to find out. However, I dare to assert that the shawl and the skirt came into existence in 1560. Now let us look at reason on which my assertion is based. I hope the reader will not find them too advanced. Lima was founded in January 18, 1535, and there were no more than ten native Spanish women who came to inhabit the capital. One could almost name them. So it is clear as a crystal that only from 1555 to 1560 could there have been women of Lima, daughters of Spanish fathers and mothers, capable of forming a nucleus that could produce a fashion like the saya and the manto.”

However, we must remember that Palma won enduring fame and a unique place in Spanish American letters as the creator of a new genre, the tradición, or historical anecdote. Part fiction and part historical reconstruction, these sketches and stories about colonial Peru are permeated by wit, love of the past and all-encompassing imagination. For this reason we must discard these affirmations as fact under the premises that what Palma affirms about the spontaneity and origins of the dress is improbable.
Due to the similarities in the customs of covering the face to go out to the streets, we might guess that there is some relationship with la Tapada and Moslem women. The Moors dominated Spain for 800 years; consequently, there is a valid reason to believe that covering the face of women had to become a style in Spain. However, it has to be clearly understood that the function of this cloak that covered women faces in the Arab countries is completely different from the function it had in Lima.

The mantle worn by the Tapadas had some similitude with the hijab worn by the Muslim women and the burqa worn by the Afghan women. The overall silhouette of the tapada is very similar to that of the Middle Eastern women. However, the mantle worn by the tapada did not have the same meaning; it was instead an example of the innate coquetry of the women from Lima. It was a costume that used concealment for purposes of coquetry and converted an ordinance of sobriety into a weapon of disguise.
Post card Vejer de la Fronters, Spain
The "cobijadas of Vejer", from Vejer de la Frontera in Spain, near Cape Trafalgar, in sight of Africa; have some similarities with the Tapadas. They are covered from head to toe with their dark clothing constituted an image more similar to the dress of Middle Eastern women than those of traditional European clothes. Today they are part of the ethnological aspects of a city always considered unique.
Las cobijadas went out veiled from head to foot, like nuns. They shroud their heads and faces, leaving but an eye visible, and maybe a hand. (Figure 5) The similarity is obvious between them and the tapadas, except that at Vejer de la Frontera only black is worn, while the tapadas wore bright colors when they walked about. In addition, the basic pieces of clothing that characterize the tapada; the cloak and the mantle are very different and lack the accessory of the embroidery shawl. Nevertheless, the possibility exists that the custom was of Andalusian origin. 

Misa de Gloria in San Pedro (1843)
Mauricio Rugendas
The painter, German Maurice Rugendas (1802-1852), presents a view of the tapadas in his Misa de Gloria in San Pedro (1843). It is a courtyard full of tapadas there may be as many as one hundred of them, all kneeling   at San Pedro Church in Lima, an unexpected and most unique spectacle. The interior of the church is rendered simply and boldly with shafts of light flashing through it, and a blaze of lights is indicated at the high altar.

However, in fact, it could be any one of the big churches of Lima. The scene is not exclusive. It is just a large church with a lot of tapadas kneeling in it. The painter has simplified their kneeling forms so that each of them is painted, almost, with a single stroke of the brush. One could almost think that Rugendas was depicting in this scene the Muslim mesquite rituals with separate spaces for men and women and every one kneeling on the floor.
Caballeros y tapadas a orillas del río Rímac
Juan Mauricio Rugendas.
For many people the tapadas presented a phenomenon they have never seen before. In another example, Caballeros y tapadas a orillas del río Rímac,   Rugendas depicts them in what may look like some Spanish town in the background, and people might have questioned where on earth they were. Some fantastic continuation of Andalusia might be the answer, or a lost sister of Seville that is unknown to the geographers. For the dress of las tapadas was an example of extreme female coquetry not known before. In this image one can clearly see illustrated a comment made by Sacheverell Sitwell, in Golden Wall and Mirador, “[…] Cyclops heads with something of a seal-shape to them—the heads and necks of two or three of them together, leaving the  one eye out of the argument for the moment— move and turnabout rather like a sleek family of seals.”

However, the style of la saya y manto is definitely more than just a dress with Islamic influence and much more than a form of modesty. The tapada limeña was a phenomenon that revolutionized women’s ways and manners for three centuries. Life in Lima revolved around that mantle that covered their faces completely only allowing an eye to be seen. The little opening allowed her to get in contact with the world outside her window; it meant freedom. This article of clothing in particular, symbolized power and independence for women, a tapada slipped out the front door with a manto draped over her shoulders until she rounded the street corner. Then she covered her face with the manto to hide her identity and proceeded to flirt, taunt, and commit whatever indiscretions she pleased without danger of staining her reputation.
Because of the subversive nature of the attire, la saya and the manto came before the highest courts of the viceroyalty; as a result, it left records that give us clues on how far back this attire was worn and how its uses became popular amongst women. There are accounts that date back to the time Lima was founded, to works dated to the present time. The records written on this matter, date from as early as the 1560’s.
Lamina de Leonce Angrand
One of the first writers on the topic was Fray Reginaldo de Lizárraga (1545-1615) who traveled to Perú in 1605 and in his work Descripción breve del reino del PerúTucumán, Río de la Plata y Chile recorded some of the first observations on the topic. “Indeed, one of the proposals discussed by the third council that met in 1601 under the presidency of Archbishop Torribio de Mongrovejo had in view the abolition   of the saya and the manto under penalty of excommunication”. In fact, the Church considered that this costume, which guaranteed the wearer the impunity of anonymity, made debauchery easier for light women, and encouraged the others to become debauched. Undoubtedly, the archbishop had forgotten by 1601 that since 1590, the date when Doña Teresa de Castro, wife of Viceroy Don Garcia Hurtado de Mendoza, 5th Marquis of Cañete, had come to Lima, the numbers of the saya y manto lovers had increased considerably. Including the chambermaids, lady's maids and maids-in-waiting, Doña Teresa had brought with her twenty-seven Spanish girls, whom she installed in her house. All of them found husbands in Lima within the year. Moreover, in the viceroy's suite there were forty freeloaders with their wives, their daughters, their sisters, and their maids. Because of the novelty and in order to get into the good side of the women who were natives to Lima, they all began to cover their heads with the manto. Doña Teresa was one of the first to wear the manto and the saya, perhaps on the advice of her husband, for the story goes that the viceroy was always quarrelling with the Archbishop Torribio de Mongrovejo. Therefore, the damage was done and could not be repaired without implicating the highest notabilities in Perú. It was an awkward situation. The council realized this and did not come to any decision.
Antonio de León Pinelo (1590-1661), Peruvian historian, became much concerned with the necessity of methodically collecting all the decrees and ordinances that had been issued either by the home government or by the viceroys of the American territories. Among his records, published in Madrid, we find this publishing, Velos antiguos y modernos en los rostros de las mujeres; sus conveniencias y daños (1641), which comprised all León Pinelo knew about the topic of veils and women covering their faces. León Pinelo disapproves by saying that: "covering oneself it is to disguise oneself, as we say, folding, twisting and catching the mantle in such a way that they conceal one of the eyes, which is always the left one, leaving the rest of the face hidden and disguised, which is worse than if they covered everything"
The viceroys the Marquis of Montesclaros in 1606, the Marquis of Guadalcazar in 1622, and Count Chichón 1633, all tried the same thing. There was one viceroy, more daring than the others, who merely 'recommended' husbands not to allow their wives and daughters to wear 'such a garment'.

Having been part of the customs of Lima at an early date, the fashion of the manto and the saya persisted for a long time. It may have-begun amongst the lower orders, then fashionable, and at last faded until only a few old women showed some traces of it by the middle of the 19th Century.


Sacheverell Sitwell, Golden Wall and Mirador, Travels and Observations in Peru. Pg 60
Luisa Castañeda León. Vestido Tradicional del Perú. Publicación del Museo Nacional de la Cultura Peruana. Lima 1981, PG 51
Palma, Ricardo. Tradiciones Peruanas/ Seleccion. Peisa. Lima, 1989 pg. 156
Ana Maria Portugal, Hacia una comprensión del feminismo en el Perú, Publicaciones ALIMUPER, Lima, 1978 PG 4
Juan Günther Doering and Guillermo Lohmann Villena, Lima. Colecciones MAPFRE Madrid 1992, 147
Roderick Cameron, Viceroyalties of the west, the Spanish empire in latin America. Little, Brown and Company. Boston, 1968 pg 140

Further Reading
Algunas notas sobre la tapada limeña

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