Bolivia’s identity in nine hats

Yvonne Leon reports for Los Tiempos:

Each of the country’s departments has a particular hat with which the region is usually identified. The garments become the first skin, cover letter and identification of an era.

Although there is not much literature that speaks exclusively of this garment, little by little there is an approach to Bolivian fashion and its historical processes.

Miscegenation, impositions, the raw material of the time and the workmanship of artisans play an important role in determining dress codes, according to Danitza Guzmán, director of Buenas Vibras Bolivia who works in a national fashion dictionary.

“Fashion is a set of clothing, ornaments and accessories based on tastes, uses and customs that are used by a majority during a certain period of time and that will set trends according to the duration of the same, if we are guided by this concept and for what each of the dances represents, we can say that they were developed by those tastes, concerns and sensations when they were gestated, so that fashion at that time managed to transcend and is already part of our Bolivian culture,” says Guzmán.

La Paz

One of the strongest icons is the hat of the La Paz chola, which denotes a social status and economic power, to the point of being established as a symbol of the city through the City Hall.

“So the department of La Paz irrefutably has the chola hat, of the pollera woman or the bowler hat,” says historian and fashion expert, Sayuri Loza, who is the daughter of Remedios Loza, the first pollera woman to become parliamentary and involved in radio and television.


The historical process of the city of Oruro gives a different context to this place, because although until the mid-twentieth century, the Oruro chola wore a hat, this element was completely lost and nowadays they do not wear it anymore.

Sayuri Loza explains that the number one pride of the orureños is the Carnival and that therefore its element of identification is the devil’s mask. This considering that we talk about the garments we use in the head.


This region is known worldwide for the wealth of its mines, and that changed the course of history. Even now, the role of the miners has a strong presence in the political strata to the point that the Potosi deputies attend meetings and activities wearing their helmet to distinguish themselves.

“There are two hats: of the chola potosina, which is similar to that of the La Paz chola, but as in the case of Oruro, this identity has been lost and has been replaced by the traditional heritage of mining, and it is the helmet of the miner,” explains Loza.


Cochabambinas women demonstrated their courage and strength in different historical events. As in the battle of May 27, 1812, where anonymous heroines resisted the attack of the Spaniards.

While women used to wear cloths to cover their head from the cold and the sun, over the years the fashion of the hat came.

Melvi Mojica, representative of the Chaco Andean Amazonian Intercultural Encounter Center, and widow of anthropologist and culture manager Wilfredo Camacho, with whom she conducted studies for the revaluation of customs, explains that the high-top hat with a black bow was established as a symbol, due to the social changes of the time that coincided with that fashion.

Mojica explains that the records and testimonies place the white hat in the decade of the 50s. At that time there is also the ’52 revolution that allows women to vote and have their voice taken into account.

While in the high valleys of Cochabamba the peasant uprising occurs. Images of peasant men and women wearing hats with their tools held high realize it.

“We also know that the revolutionary processes of our country have developed in the valleys of Cochabamba. From this whole process is that the woman manages to have relevance, also distinguishing herself by the use of this hat that is very similar in the shape of a hat high cup and wide wing,” explains Mojica.

At this time when modernity also arrives at the Llajta, with the paved streets and the advances in the construction of the Felix Capriles stadium, which was achieved thanks to the chicha tax, an item dominated by women.

This hat made with fabrics and plastering, was lost because its care was complicated. Currently, women replaced this piece with lighter hats made of Chinese fabrics and hardened with white glue.

As grandmothers told us: “It is that it is already heavy, it is difficult to maintain, because we had to be very careful with the first hats because they were plastered, they fell and cracked, they chipped, in that we should have worried about improving techniques look for other materials that are lighter, that are less careful because that grandmothers argue, and has been disappearing,” Mojica shares.

It also states that it is necessary to revalue its use, but giving options for the processing materials.

“Let us make conscience to conserve in the collective memory this icon, this transcendental value of what the value of the Cochabamba woman means and not to take it as something folk or something for the photo or something for tourism,” she says.


The historian and fashion expert, Sayuri Loza, explains that Chuquisaca is a particular case because although a fedora model hat was worn, it was disappearing and its symbol is the mounts that are used in the dance of the pujllay.

“I think that the Chuquisaqueños are very fond of the helmet of the pujllay because I imagine they are looking more at the indigenous male side,” she says.

Santa Cruz, Pando and Beni

Although the three departments have different social and historical processes, they share the same climate and the fruits of their land, including the palm tree with which the woven hats are made with their fibers that passed to the imaginary of the community as a symbol of the east.

In “Pando, Beni and Santa Cruz the saó hat has become the camba symbol par excellence. It is undeniable. It is not a hat specifically for dance, it is a hat that was used to work in the syringa and also to work in the sowed with cocoa, sugar cane and currently soybeans,” says Loza.

The saó palm grows in the town of Paurito de Santa Cruz, where many women intertwine the fibers until they shape the typical saó hat. The form of elaboration is part of a knowledge inherited from one generation to another.

This garment is part of the identity of the Bolivian East, so much that Beniano writer Pedro Shimose dedicated the letter of a very popular taquirari: “Saó’s hat”.

In addition, it was one of the symbols with which Beniano tennis player Hugo Dellien was received after a great tour he made as a preparatory for Ronald Garros.

There are also small advances to preserve the areas of palm trees and this object as identity.

Law 3708 of July 9, 2007 “declares and institutes the Saó hat as a cultural cross symbol, handcrafted with the leaves of the saó palm”.

“Exhorting individuals and public and private authorities to use it as a sign of respect and identification with the values of Santa Cruz in all national civic acts, departmental events, holidays and notable religious holidays,” said the document.


In Tarija the hat that can still be found is a small white one for women and a dark one for men, which usually accompanies their typical dance, commemorative dates and other special occasions.

“The tarijeño hat is unique in its kind, it is touched by excellence and that likewise it is a region with a very strong identity. They all use, the tarijeñas women use it, singers, dancers,” explains Loza.

For Mojica, the woman’s hat is linked to coquetry.

Published by Bolivian Thoughts

Senior managerial experience on sustainable development projects.

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