Bolivia’s ‘People of the Water’ try to survive loss of lake

Jun 9, 2021, 9:35 AM | Updated: Jun 10, 2021, 1:24 am

PUNACA TINTA MARIA, Bolivia (AP) — For many generations, the homeland of the Uru people here wasn’t land at all: It was the brackish waters of Lake Poopo.

The Uru — “people of the water” — would build a sort of family island of reeds when they married and would survive on what they could harvest from the broad, shallow lake in the highlands of southwestern Bolivia.

“They collected eggs, fished, hunted flamingos and birds. When they fell in love, the couple built their own raft,” said Abdón Choque, leader of Punaca, a town of some 180 people.

Now what was Bolivia’s second-largest lake is gone. It dried up about five years ago, victim of shrinking glaciers, water diversions for farming and contamination. Ponds reappear in places during the rainy season.

And the Uru of Lake Poopo are left clinging to its salt-crusted former shoreline in three small settlements, 635 people scrabbling for ways to make a living and struggling to save even their culture.

“Our grandfathers thought the lake would last all their lives, and now my people are near extinction because our source of life has been lost,” said Luis Valero, leader of the Uru communities around the lake.

Not long before the lake was lost, the language of the Uru-Cholo had perished as well. The last native speakers gradually died and younger generations grew up schooled in Spanish and working in other, more common Indigenous languages, Aymara and Quechua.

To save their identities, the communities are trying to revive that language — or at least its closest sibling. Aided by the government and a local foundation, they have invited teachers from a related branch of the Uru, the Uru-Chipaya near the Chilean border to the west, to teach that tongue — one of 36 officially recognized Bolivian languages — to their children.

“In this times, everything changes. But we are making efforts to maintain our culture,” Valero said. “Our children have to recover the language to distinguish us from our neighbors.”

“The instructors teach us the language with numbers, songs and greetings,” said Avelina Choque, a 21 year old student who said she one day would like to teach mathematics. “It’s a little difficult to pronounce.”

The pandemic has added to that struggle. The teachers have been unable to hold in-person classes during the pandemic, leaving students to learn from texts, videos and radio programs.

.Punaca Mayor Rufino Choque said the Uru began settling on the lakeshore several decades ago as the lake began to shrink, though by then, most of the lands around them had been occupied.

“We are ancient (as a people), but we have no territory. Now we have no source of work, nothing,” said the 61-year-ild mayor, whose town consists of ribbon of round, plastered block homes along an earthen street.

With no land for farming, the young men hire themselves out as laborers, herders or miners in nearby towns or more distant cities. “They see the money and they don’t return,” said Abdón. Some of the woman make handicrafts of straw.

The broader Uru people once dominated a large swath of the region, and branches remain around Peru and Lake Titicaca to the north, around the Chilean border and near the Argentine border.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Soldiers wrap bodies of victims of a mudslide in Noney, northeastern Manipur state, India, Friday, ...
Associated Press

Rescuers recover 26 dead from mudslide in India’s northeast

GAUHATI, India (AP) — Fresh rain and falling boulders on Saturday hampered rescuers who have so far pulled out 26 bodies from the debris of a mudslide that wiped out a railroad construction site in India’s northeast, officials said. Rescue work is expected to continue for a couple of days in rugged hilly terrain with […]
5 hours ago
FILE -  A coal-fired power station in Witbank, South Africa , Monday, Oct. 11, 2021. South Africans...
Associated Press

South Africans struggle in the dark to cope with power cuts

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africans are struggling in the dark to cope with increased power cuts that have hit households and businesses across the country. The rolling power cuts have been experienced for years but this week the country’s state-owned power utility Eskom extended them so that some residents and businesses have gone without power […]
5 hours ago
Associated Press

Virgin Orbit rocket launches 7 US defense satellites

LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Virgin Orbit rocket carrying seven U.S. Defense Department satellites was launched from a special Boeing 747 flying off the Southern California coast and streaked toward space Friday night. The modified jumbo jet took off from Mojave Air and Space Port in the Mojave Desert and released the rocket over the […]
5 hours ago
Casper Byrd, right, of Bowling Green, sits with friends as they listen to various speakers share th...
Associated Press

Texas Supreme Court blocks order that resumed abortions

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — The Texas Supreme Court blocked a lower court order late Friday night that said clinics could continue performing abortions, just days after some doctors had resumed seeing patients after the fall of Roe v. Wade. It was not immediately clear whether Texas clinics that had resumed seeing patients this week would […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Today in History: July 2, Amelia Earhart disappears

Today in History Today is Saturday, July 2, the 183rd day of 2022. There are 182 days left in the year. Today’s Highlight in History: On July 2, 1937, aviator Amelia Earhart and navigator Fred Noonan disappeared over the Pacific Ocean while attempting to make the first round-the-world flight along the equator. On this date: […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Baby’s father charged in slaying of stroller-pushing NYC mom

NEW YORK (AP) — The ex-boyfriend of a New York City woman shot dead Wednesday as she pushed their infant daughter in a stroller has been arrested and charged with killing her, police said Friday. Slain mother Azsia Johnson’s family identified suspect Isaac Argro as the baby’s father and said he routinely abused Johnson, beating […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

...
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
...
Day & Night Air

Tips to lower your energy bill in the Arizona heat

Does your summer electric bill make you groan? Are you looking for effective ways to reduce your bill?
...
Christina O’Haver

BE FAST to spot a stroke

Every 40 seconds—that’s how often someone has a stroke in the United States. It’s the fifth leading cause of death among Americans, with someone dying of a stroke every 3.5 minutes.
Bolivia’s ‘People of the Water’ try to survive loss of lake