National Geographic : 1955 Jan
At Home in the High Andes Village Life in Peru's Mountainous Back Country Has Its Ups and Downs, Including Blood Sacrifices and Bewitched Scientists BY HARRY TSCHOPIK, JR. Assistant Curator of Ethnology, American Museum of Natural History With Illustrations from Photographs by the Author EVER since the days of the Incas the Aymara Indian village of Chucuito has stood on a high, rocky outcrop over looking the blue expanse of Lake Titicaca and the glittering snow mountains beyond (map, page 136).* As a small town in the southern Peruvian Andes, it is in no way distinctive. Its thatched stone huts and massive Spanish colonial churches could be duplicated in many other villages around the lake. The Indian farmers and fishermen differ in no important respects from those of neighboring towns. Yet my wife and I have a special affection for this village, our home for two and a half years. To its friendly people we were known as "Sefior and Sefiora Gringo." Town Nearly 21/2 Miles High We had gone to Peru on an expedition sponsored by the Peabody Museum and the Division of Anthropology of Harvard Univer sity. My objective was to make a detailed study of a contemporary community in the Lake Titicaca region. My wife planned to excavate archeological sites in the same area. After a brief survey of the Aymara Indian towns clustering around the northwestern shore of the lake, we selected Chucuito as the most likely spot for our studies. There were various technical reasons for our choice, but the fact that we fell in love with the place almost at once probably decided the issue. The town stands at an altitude of almost two and a half miles and is surrounded by higher peaks. With a slight alteration of de tails, it might be colonial Peru of more than 300 years ago. Altogether, it has about 800 residents-some 50 mestizos, or mixed bloods, and the rest pure Aymara Indians. Life in Chucuito was often uncomfortable, frequently hectic, but never dull. We were fortunate in getting one of the larger and more attractive houses in the town, a solid old structure with thick walls and a thatched roof. The rooms were ar ranged around a patio that was planted with flowering shrubs and honeysuckle vines and paved with black and white pebbles set in geometric designs. During the day we literally lived in the patio. The sheltering walls trapped the sun and cut off the chill breezes from the lake. Our chief source of discomfort in Chucuito, summer and winter, was the cold. For there was no means of heating the house in a region which is always chilly and frequently below freezing. Our household, in addition to ourselves, was composed of Manuel, the houseboy, and Car men, the cook. Carmen was a mestiza from the market town and railway center of Puno, 10 miles away. By virtue of a thin strain of Spanish blood acquired by her forebears many years ago, she considered herself to be several cuts above Manuel, a local Indian. Although active hostilities broke out but rarely, there was at first a marked under current of antagonism between them. Yankee Tastes Confound the Cook After the dinner things had been cleared away in the evening, we could hear Carmen through the thin kitchen door. "Fetch water to wash the dishes, Indian!" "Si, Sefiora Carmen." Then, after a pause, Manuel would add, "It is true that I am an Indian, sefiora, but my father owns much land. I have heard that your family is land less." And so it went. Eventually, after work ing together in close association, even they came to see the humor of these exchanges. Carmen, in addition to cooking, did all of our laundry. And as if these activities were not enough to keep her busy, she also ran a small tienda, or general store, in her spare time! * See "Peru, Homeland of the Warlike Inca," by Kip Ross, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1950.