The People of Uros
Floating on Lake Titicaca -the highest navigable body of water on the planet (3,812m)- you’ll find the people of Uros.
Living on self-made floating islands fashioned out of layer upon layer of tied-up Totora reeds, local traditions dictate that they were the first humans to set foot in the area, predating the birth of the Sun itself on Isla Del Sol.
The Uru are believed to have settled at Lake Titicaca about 3700 years ago. Legend says that their blood is black, which protects them from the cold and from drowning. This tale has its foundation in the Uru’s high tolerance for cold, which comes from living at 3,800m altitude without the possibility of heating their homes due to the dried reeds presenting an important fire hazard. They first lived on the lake’s shores. But with the arrival of the mighty Incan empire, they fled to live in the very center of the lake; atop floating islands that could be moved, equipped with watchtowers to spot any intruders. Even so, they had to pay taxes to the Inca, and were often caught and dragged into slavery.
Nonetheless, they are still living on the lake to this day.
Although many have been leaving the traditional lifestyle for a life onshore, there are still about 1,200 Uru living on 62 floating islands. They are more or less self-sufficient, relying on the edible parts of the Totora reed which also have all sorts of medicinal uses, from pain relief to cooling down on hot summer days, and even easing difficult hangovers. They also rely on fishing, bird hunting, as well as eggs obtained through domesticated birds.
They also keep Cormorants (medium-sized water birds) tethered to the islands, which are used to catch fish for human consumption.
For rat control, they keep domestic cats on the islands.
The base of each island consists of interwoven reeds about 2 meters thick, which takes considerable time and effort to make. Top layers are constantly added on in order to compensate for the ones dissolving below.
The islands are moored to the bottom of the lake via long sticks and ropes
Within their isolation, the Uru have their own needs all set up. Two schools are run on the floating islands, and they even have their own radio station broadcasted from another island. They get around on boats made from none other than the Totora reed, which they use to build almost everything.
Most of their clothes are homemade from llama, vicuña and alpaca wool. Now undertaken mostly by women, on many islands on lake Titicaca men are still the weavers of the household. They all wear vibrant colors, and in each region a variety of colors indicate different social statuses. A woman wearing a red skirt would indicate that she is married, while a white hat on a man would mean he is single. Across Bolivia, the undersized bowler hat is ubiquitous.
Although the Uru choose to live a traditional way of life, they are not strictly anti-technology. They have motorised boats, cellphones and some even have televisions. The floating islands are equipped with small solar panels to take care of their electrical needs.
However, things are changing. Over the years the amount toxic runoff flowing into Lake Titicaca has been steadily increasing. It mainly stems from the ever-growing quantities of untreated waste coming from the shoreline cities and the surrounding agricultural fields. The pollution levels are becoming serious for the local populations, as it renders the water unsanitary and poisons the fish which people eat. Moreover, the Totora reed on which the Uru rely on dearly may be under threat.