The Veiled of Lima

Far from the debate in Europe over the ban on the Islamic veil, Peru is once again seeking the story of the ‘tapadas’, these women from Lima who covered themselves with long skirts and a scarf hiding their faces, first as a sign of virtue then to better free themselves from a heavy social straitjacket.

The saya, a long skirt, and the manto, a veil scarf that envelops the upper body, inspired painters and writers-travelers and were almost considered a national outfit in the early nineteenth century, a hallmark of Limenese society.

The outfit’s ancestor arrived in Peru in the 16th century, shortly after colonization.

It was then worn by the Spanish elite. An Islamic heritage of Moorish Spain, she had “a clear goal of restoration, protecting the virtue of women, avoiding temptation,” says Alicia del Aguila, sociologist and author of a book on “The sails and the skins”.

Gradually, the indigenous women and the middle class adopted the saya and the mantle, which was a way to escape the vigilance of men, to hide the face, but also the social rank or skin color.

It was a style of clothing that “was synonymous with a freedom superior to that of the common woman,” sums up del Aguila.

Numerous until the early 19th century, Lima’s tapadas intrigued observers for a long time, almost disappearing the following century. But a new trend observable across South America is that a growing number of native people are converting to Islam and thus picking up the thread of tapadas again.