Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Building a Uro's Reed Boat Part 2: What Hasnt Changed

Gregorio removing flowers from reed to be used in the borders
The title is somewhat mis-leading in a few ways. To start, the little I know lacks far too much to be able to say exactly what hasn't changed in this important and old tradition. Secondly, all things change.  In any case, the builders among the Uros community in the Bay of Puno maintain many techniques, traditions, methods, and materials, that have changed little in their essence from the day the ecology of the lake met the ingenuity of the Uros ansestors.

An underlying force that hasn't changed in the tradition is hard work. Simply looking at the worn and muscular hands of Victor, Wilber, and Gregorio can give a glimpse into the relentless ability these builders have to get things done. Harvesting totora, designing the boat, and especially wrapping and tightening the cord are no easy tasks, and these men can go longer than I thought possible.

After an entire day of working since sunrise, Wilber still tightening the cord using traditional tools
The design structure itself has changed little. The five pieces, two big pieces in the body with a corazon in between and the two border pieces is the same great idea. The process of building the corazon and borders has many elements of the traditional methods. It begins with weaving together opposite pieces of totora reeds, where a rope weaves in and out of 6-8 reeds. This is done at a half meter interval or so for as long as the boat needs to be. Once a matt of totora is weaved, bundles of reeds are places on the mat and then wraped, creating a the roll of reeds.

Weaving the outside of the corazon

almost finished with the corazon

Putting cord on the boats and arching the ends involved poles of eucalyptus (an introduced species from Australia) and a great deal of muscle. Poles placed across the boat keep the corazon above the center of the boat as we wrap cord around. The ends are lifted with 2-3 people, two poles standing straight up on either side of the end and tied with a cross pole. After wraping with cord tightly to keep in place, the ends are lifted more and more until the desired curve is attained, using support ropes attached to the other end of the boat.

curving the ends

Wraping the three body pieces with cord

The is measuring system essentially the same, based in the mind of these intelligent builders. Arms and fingers are used to determine the lengths and sizes of things. For example, the spacing between cords on the final wrap of the main body are two finger distances apart.

Wilber measuring rope with his arm

The tools, passed down from generation to generation, uphold much of this material tradition. Only acquired at religious festivals, the two main tools of the totora boat building process are the ccarwhato, a small hooked tree root used to tighten the cord, and the Lakena, an extremely hard rootball used to pound the totora for tightening, which would also have been used to pound and prepared traditional grass for cord making.

This boat building process is sacred. That exists still. Before totora is harvested, before the building process begins, durring the process, and once the boat is launched, something is given to Pachamama, or Mother Earth, in the Aymara tradition. Whether water or a soft drink, the meaning behind the tradition remains the same. The respect is the same It was an spiritual experience building this boat and the experience was a deeply meaningful gift.

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