|Victor, Wilber, and I in our just-christened totora reed boat|
Over the past two weeks, I have been living and working with the family of Kristina Sauna and Victor Vilca on Isla Khantati, just outside the Bay of Puno. In that two weeks I built a reed boat with Victor, his brother Wilber, and their soon to be brother-in-law, Gregorio. Modern materials and the rise of the tourist economy are major examples of forces that have changed the role, and design, of this extremely unique boat in global human heritage.
Dragon headed catamaran boats, only appearing in the region over the last few decades, are the majority of reed boats on Titicaca now, as tourism has become the means of survival for the Uros Islands. Yet what is define as traditional by the Uros, what the Uros in this area still build as traditional, is what we set out to build.
|A non-traditional reed boat form|
So much has happened in the last few weeks, and so much knowledge is deep in the mind of these builders I have the privilege of calling my tios (uncles), that I will break the process down into three posts; A Changing Tradition, What Hasn't Changed, and What's Traditional?. I will also reveal the boat building process in somewhat of an awkward manner, by not showing from start to finish. Instead I will begin in this post with the modern techniques that have replaced traditional techniques. In the next post I will explain those techniques that haven't changed, and finally I will explain what traditional is for the Uros totora boat. I will write in this way in hopes to reveal the complex layers of change and traditions that exists in the survival of the art. Even with that, not every detail will be covered, for what I know is but a grain of sand in the ocean of what there is to know.
|Wilber looking over the finished boat, ready to be launched with 30 people or so.|
|Replacing an only totora hull with tarps and recycled bottles makes the boat last twice as long.|
The first major changes that have taken place in the Uros boat building process can be seen in the building of the hulls themselves. Tarps and recycled bottles are used to fill the hulls, adding lifespan and reducing weight. Almost all of the reed boats built on Lake Titicaca use these methods today, with the exception of a few remote communities and individuals. A layer of totora is placed between the waterproof tarp and the plastic bottle sewed bags.
|Using materials available to them, as always, the Uros replace a totally totora hull with waterproof tarps and recycled bottles. Lighter, last longer, but a change from tradition.|
Nylon cord is now used to replace a traditional grass cord, which is woven using the hands and some water. This traditional grass is found in the surrounding Alti-plano hills, as will be explained in future posts, but is extremely time-consuming to make and isn't as durable as the nylon cord bought in Puno. I estimated that up to 6000 meters of cord could be used on a boat of this size, wrapping every two finger distances.
|Weaving the final layer of totora, covering up the modern look|
In the same manner used to build the separate pieces traditionally, a woven mat is wrapped around the hulls of modern materials. Once the two main hulls are constructed, the corazon,. or heart piece, must be constructed and then an intricate system of lifting a weaving. The corazon is buried in the two hull pieces creating one hull. Look forward to the next post to see how this is done in an essentially traditional manner using eucalyptus poles and shear strength.