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Uru Chipayas, Ayoreos, Toromonas and other small towns

Uru Chipayas, Ayoreos, Toromonas and other small towns

By Pablo Cingolani

Nobody knows about the origin of the Uru Chipayas. And they were fascinated, they felt magnetized by that colossal presence, and they all felt that they should go there, they should see those mountains, they should have felt protected by them. And they began to climb, to climb, to ascend. And when they reached the top, the fascination was even greater, the surprise left them all astonished: above there was as much water as there was below; Above, perhaps, there was more water gathered, gathered, ready for them, than all they had ever dreamed of. In the middle of the plateau, in the middle of our high pampas, they found an amazing, impossible, prodigious, miraculous lake in the midst of so much extreme evaporation, in the midst of so much climatic rigor. It was the lake that we know today as Titicaca and the entire endorheic basin that has it as its center, as a nucleus, as the axis of an unusual world, a strange but real world, a world of waters, of many, swollen and immense waters in the heights , close to heaven, who began to be, to conform, to create and recreate the world of the Uru Chipayas, that is why they call themselves Qhas Qot Suñi Urus, “The men of the water”, so today –the last Uru Chipayas- live in the middle of the desert, they live with just a little, almost nothing, of all that their immemorial water, they live cornered and run -this time forever- in some communities in the vicinity of Lake Poopó, and some more, close to the Mallku lauca, to Señor Lauca, the Lauca River, another piece of his ancestral world, of his mythical world, which was a world of waters, not of sands, which was a world of waters, not of fear, which was a world of waters and for that very reason, it was a happy world.

What happened to the old Lords of the Waters, what happened to the old owners of the water regions? In 1612, the priest Bertonio, printed in Juli, an ironically located mission on the shores of the Lake Maggiore of Titicaca from where most of the Urus had already been expelled, the first dictionary in the Aymara language. There you can read the definition of Uru: "1) A nation of Indians despised by all, who are usually fishermen, and of less understanding"; 2) They say of someone who is dirty, ragged, or uncouth, Sayagües, rustic ”. This valuation of the Urus is repeated in all colonial literature: it is as if the Uru Chipayas have always not fit in, they were left over or did not exist if not for condemnation and contempt for the dominant cultures of the Andes, and those who arrived then crossing the sea, and the republics, the states and everyone. In 1953, the greatest documentary filmmaker in the entire history of the moving image in Bolivia, Jorge Ruiz, went up to them and shot a masterpiece: Sebastiana returns, the story of a Chipaya girl that synthesized the history of an entire town, its history of marginalization and historical condemnation, its history of uprooting and oblivion, and the film went around the world, garnered awards and words of praise, and still thus, the Uru Chipayas continued as alone as ever.


With Gastón Ugalde, we met one night twenty years ago at the El Socavón bar, when we began to talk about his artistic works about the Chipayas, and then we conceived that work of artistic documentation of the country that became known as Imagine Bolivia. It was those years that I began to frequent those deserts where they live, there I was trapped by the mystery they contain: being one of the oldest peoples in America, having seen everything in millennia of existence and being condemned to nothing. We made a video and even a book-object, Chipaya ceremony (1996) and we looked for them everywhere, not only in Santa Ana where they were reduced, we looked for them on the sides of Lauca above (where we only found a drunk who was campaigning for smugglers), for the footprints in the sandy areas that are lost from Sabaya and Huachacalla (where we find entire villages submerged in giant dunes), even along the sides of the Sajama, where we find a house and a family in the middle of the imposing framework imposed by the Jacha Tata Sajama and the Payachatas, the twin peaks.

That house -I keep a photograph that Gastón took-, you felt it was the first dwelling place of all, the ancestral home, the only place in the world where you could still feel what was shelter and the invisible but true bond with the natural that is the same to say the ritual and all the sacred and emotional geography that emerges from it. That time, I wrote about that house and about its living found: Mud, salt and thola / You have amassed your ship / captain of the deserts, and there were many nights we spent in poems and digital art with Gastón, fearing that all that beauty extreme, all that world, disappear forever.

Today, the Uru Chipayas, our traveling companions along the route of destiny, are marching towards La Paz, towards us, to "not disappear," they say. The reason, they clarify, is that the Aymara do not let them fish in Lake Poopó, which they are even wiring. An influential leader of the ruling party, Senator Eugenio Rojas, an Aymara from Achacachi himself, expressed that "you cannot usurp the small towns" and that you have to "see guarantees for the Urus peoples" (ERBOL; 3/11/2013 ). I want to believe you senator, and we all hope that they will act accordingly, not only in defense of the Uru Chipayas, but also of all the small towns, of all the ethnic minorities, and within them and in a special way of those that still remain. They are in a state of isolation, like the Toromonas in Madidi and the Ayoreos who continue to nominate the Kaa Iyá and the border with Paraguay.

I did not go back to the Chipayas places. And I tell the truth: I got very close to the places of the Aymara people, especially to the quinueras communities of Tunupa, the volcano that is on the shores of the great salt flat, and where the mythical march of our hero of the Southern Cross ends. It is on the other side of the Intersalar mountain range, to the south, on the other side where the Chipayas live. I learned a lot there, I learned a lot, especially from what we can continue to call “small towns”. I learned a lot but above all I learned two things: that our wandering around the world may be epic but that, deep down, it is in vain, and I am talking about the culture that dominates us; And what I also learned is that the wind may be invisible, but still, it has a lot, a lot of force. Now I am talking about them, about “the men of the water”, about the Uru Chipayas.Ecoportal.net

Pablo Cingolani

Río Abajo, March 12, 2013



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