Uru Life by the Lake Titicaca -Fahmida Mehreen
This big wide world houses many types of people. Not everyone looks the same, speaks the same language, eats the same food, or does the same thing. In short, there are different groups of people living across the world. Now, differences can be a result of different nationality, religion, ethnicity, race, or some other determining factors. As a matter of fact, besides other aspects, ethnicity largely defines the lifestyle of people.
At the heart of ethnicity stands the identity of indigenous people. By definition, indigenous people are the first or original inhabitants of a place who are also called ‘native people’. People are usually considered to be indigenous by their daily association with the culture and traditions of the particular area where they belong. They dress in traditional style, their occupation is orthodox, and they live life in a more old-styled manner. They can also have a nomadic lifestyle across a large area. There are thousands of indigenous groups living in different parts of the world. As of date, one such group of people who have a very exciting way of life are the Uru people of Bolivia and Peru.
The Uru are indigenous people who live on the floating islands of Lake Titicaca located near Puno. The community can be further divided into three main groups – the Uru-Chipaya, Uru-Murato, and Uru-Iruito. According to history, the Uru people are descendants of Puquina language speaking people. A large group of Uru has migrated to Aymara and Spanish lands over time. Yet, there are people who still speak the Uru language which is now close to Chipaya language.
Because of their close association with water, the Uru people regarded themselves as the owner of water and lake. Interestingly, they claim to have black blood which allows them not to feel cold. There is not much scientific evidence as for that, nonetheless. Records say that they tend to call themselves “sons of the Sun”. Even in today’s time of modernization and advancement, the Uru people still hold on to their inherent identity and old customs.
Since they live on self-fashioned islands, their occupation and mode of survival centres the water. Under the shadow of the Andes, which is one of the largest navigable lakes in the world, they make a living from fishing and utilizing reeds. They use totora reed, which is found in ample by the lake, for making boats, furniture, even their houses. Mostly, their boats are shaped like canoes but in a much interesting style. Having animal heads at the forepart, these boats are not only used for fishing but also for bringing visitors to the islands. The boats are often fastened underwater with the ability to move it easily. More reed is added to the surface since it disintegrates from the bottom of the island. The reeds are often as thick as four to eight feet and are very flexible and spongy.
The islands where the Uru people live are not very big. Larger ones can hold ten families, while smaller ones can only manage to have two to three families. The floatation and stability of these islands are maintained by the dense roots of the plants, forming a natural layer of two-metre thickness which is termed as Khili. What more, the islands are anchored with ropes that are tied to large eucalyptus poles going all way at the bottom of the lake. Since the bottom of the reeds rots away quickly, multiple layers of reeds are added with the Khili pallets. Depending on the weather, a new layer of reeds is added between a timeline of two weeks to three months. Small outhouses are placed near the main island to serve the purpose of toilets, and the reeds absorb the waste. Another stimulating fact about these islands are, they typically tend to last for up to thirty years. Then what? The quest to build a new island. Fascinating!
The islands are located approximately 3,000 metres above sea level and just about 5 kilometres away from Puno Port. Many of the Uru people have dislocated to the main island. Now, only a few hundred people reside on these small islands. Coming to the eating and food habits of these indigenous people – foods are cooked in pots on pottery stoves. To avoid the flammable reeds from catching fire and burning the whole island, stoves are carefully placed on flat stones. They usually resort to eating fishes and reeds. They also entertain themselves with reed flower tea. The Urus’ diet and medicine evolve around totora reed. The white bottom of the reed is eaten as iodine. If they feel pain in any part of the body, they wrap the reed around the affected area. On hot days, they split up the reed and place the white part on their forehead. The reed is basically their lifeline. Additionally, to support their lives, the Uru people tame local animals. For instance, waterbirds called cormorants which are used to catch fishes are kept fastened to their feet for catching fishes for human consumption. Another local bird called Ibis is domesticated for laying eggs and for meat. Domestic cats are kept as a pet to deal with the rats on the island.
Surprisingly, Uru is not detached from modern facets. Most of the boats have motors! Also, many of the islands have a solar panel, illuminating their homes. Even the main island has a radio station playing music for hours after hours. There are traditional schools for the children as well, which is run by the Christian church. Older children and young adults attend school and university near Puno.
For such an attractive and enthralling place, it goes without saying that tourism is a cherry on the top. For backpack travellers, the best choice is to grab a hop on-hop off the bus from Bolivia. The bus will be going to Puno from where the morning boats can be availed to go to the local islands. For adventure lovers, going to the islands of the Uru people will be one of a kind experience. Enjoying their unique foods and reed flower tea will be definitely not de disappointing. For a little escapade and exploration, this may be a good choice. Think about it!