By Nicholas Asheshov
If Lima follows Manhattan this year everyone in Miraflores and San Isidro will be wearing a chullo to work when the wet winter begins.
Thousands of people were wearing chullos at President Obama’s inauguration parade in Washington and my colleague Verlyn Klinkenborg, in a front-line dispatch to The New York Times, “Season of the Chullo” reported: “Gone is the Afghan pakol. Gone is the keffiyeh. This is the winter of the Andean hat.”
Verlyn immediately, however, puts her fashionable finger on the chullo’s only weakness: “It’s impossible to wear a chullo stylishly.”
She describes the chullo as just “a bag for the head”, briskly writing off seven millennia of Andean civilization. But she does spot a message.
“Perhaps the anti-stylishness of the chullo, its simple functionality, is its politics.” She prattles on:
“Perhaps it signals indigenousness, international-ness. But what it mostly says is, I don’t care how I look as long as I’m warm.”
Warm, simple, colourful, cheap and politically correct is a powerful combination but though gringas wear chullos and often, whatever Verlyn says, look charming in them, up here in the Andes the chullo is for men only.
Las mamachas in the markets in their keep-the-sun-off stovepipe sombreros or, on the Altiplano, their little bowlers on top of their braids or the shepherdesses in the red-and-yellow soup-plate monteras come in hundreds of variations. But girls don’t wear chullos.
What’s more, it’s men who make them. Franco Negri, the man behind La Casa Ecologica in Cuzco, tells me that the chullos he buys in Ocangate, around Ausangate, the highest Apu in Cusco, are all made by men.
“Real chullos are made by crochet knitting with five needles,” he says. “The men make the chullos and the llama-fibre ropes while it’s the women who make all the textiles with the traditional waist-loom.”
The other day, in any case, I ran into the man who has produced the defining statement of our time for the chullo. His name is Maotsetung Jimenez Dorado, a 29-year-old sculptor who has created a 2.70ms bronzed stone-cement statue of a strapping Andean Indian dressed only in his chullo and it was installed not long ago outside the bus station in Calca, a lively market town 20 minutes up the road from Urubamba.
Sited on a two-metre plinth just up from one of Calca’s two traffic lights, it has caused an uproar. “La madre de las monjitas dominicanas del Colegio Belem puso el grito al cielo, los padres de familia quejaron diciendo que “los niños se enferman,” Maotsetung told me.
“La madre dijo que la estatua es ‘morbosa’ and asked me why didn’t I do a statue of something like Heroism or Religion?”
Maotsetung, an evangelico, tells me that “the chullo es la expresion indigena de las alturas“.
His statue tells us that “los indigenas no son alienados y que son tal cual desnudos.”
Maotsetung’s statue was his graduating thesis work from the Escuela de Bellas Artes de Calca.
Maotsetung says, “I did un estudio profundo para presentarlo como obra de arte y no erotico. I even made the pene disproportionately small.”
In one hand the chullo-wearer holds apututu, the sacred Andean conch shell used in ceremonies and in the other a sort-of plaque with “Escuela de Bellas Artes” inscribed.
The statue is a reddish-bronze colour made of 500 kilos of marmolina, @ S/.1.20/kilo con cinco bolsas de cemento, mas fierros, and seis cubos de piedras para plinth/fundacion. “No me han pagado todavia para las piedras,” Maotsetung says referring to the Sub-gerencia de Obras de la municipalidad.
It took months of door-knocking, endless waiting for appointments, for Maotsetung to get the municipality to put up the statue. “Nadie le daba bola.” recalls Jean Concha, a mutual friend who works in the municipalidad.
Instead of lobbying Calca’s highland alcalde, Siriaco Condori Cruz, Maotsetung focused on lower levels like the Oficina de Educacion y Cultura de la municipalidad. “No lo tomo al chico en serio,” Jean Concha says.
Maotsetung’s persistence paid off, “Pero no habia nada de inauguracion.”
“Al inicio lo taparon con plastico,” reflecting the controversy that swirled through the town’s two radio stations and its markets.
Though a little weary of small-town politics, Maotsetung is hoping to get financial and official blessing for his next project which will be, naturalmente, “una ñusta solamente con su montera.”
I am sending Maotsetung a suitable cheque to get the ball rolling. FIN
Published in Caretas Magazine the week of February 27, 2009