Uros Indians

The Uros Indians of Peru and Bolivia are a very interesting people. They live high in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes and on Lake Titicaca on floating islands. They were forced onto the lake as the Incan Indians pushed further and further into their territory. The Uros Islands are made of reeds which grow naturally on the banks of Lake Titicaca. The reeds are matted down and added to as they disintegrate at the bottom. The islands float on the surface of the lake. The make their homes, their furniture and their boats out of the reeds. They also eat the tender bottoms of the reeds. There are more than 40 floating islands, the largest being Huacavacani, Toranipata, and Santa Maria.

Habitat is important and becomes tricky when you have to adjust from season to season. In the case of the Uros Indians, there are 40 different floating islands that all have to deal with differing climate change. On the largest islands of Huacavacani and Toranipata, it is not unusual for these islands to float around on the surface of the lake during the rainy season, from November to February. For this reason, conditions have been difficult for the Uros and many have decided to move inland, leaving only the strongest to survive along the island dwellings.

The reeds used to make their island, homes, boats, etc. are called tortora reeds. Life on the islands is hard. Many have moved to the mainland leaving only a few hundred on the islands. The islands rot from the bottom very quickly so that new reeds must constantly be added to the top. The surface is spongy and sometimes difficult to walk on. They also have to travel a distance to find fresh water. Legend says that the full-blooded Uros Indians had black blood that protected them from the frigid temperatures on the water and also from drowning.

The Uros were pushed back onto the lake when the Incas took over the region. The Incas considered the Uros Indians to be so poor that the only tax they required of them was a section of hollow cane filled with rice. After a drought worsened their poverty, most Uros left the islands and intermarried with the Ayamara and Quechua-speaking Indians. The last full-blooded Uro was a woman who died in 1959. The Uros who moved back to the islands are actually a mix of Uros, Ayamaras and Incas, though they follow the ways of the Uros. After the Incas and Spaniards quit exerting their influence, the Uros once again became proud fishermen who survive by living off the tortora reeds as well as hunting, fishing, and selling their beautiful handicrafts.

Though life has been difficult, a recent onslaught in tourism over the last few decades has given hope to the Uros Indians. In terms of work, the Uros Indians like many tribes have made a living through artisanship – namely the arts of weaving and embroidery. With the use of reeds, artisans have been able to create antiques that cannot be found in other parts of the world – such as authentic reed boat caricatures and quilts. These beautiful crafts, known for their colorful designs, have lured tourists who have also given the tribe a glimpse of modern life. In addition to artisans, other jobs for Uros residents include fishermen and hunters which are equally important for gathering food. While good for business, many believe that the slew of tourists is also a prominent reason that many Uros Indians have decided to leave the islands to pursue their normal life on the mainland.

Reed Boats

Made from the reeds on the Uros Islands, these hand made boats feature tiny clothed figures in the traditionally shaped reed boats.

uros artwork

uros art

Uros Handwork

The Uros Indians are known for their beautiful and intricate handwork, weaving, spinning, and embroidery.

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Photos property of Hands Around the World

Additional Information

Puno – The islands are inhabited by the Uros Indians and the flow of Indians departing to live on the mainland has been stemmed by the onslaught of tourism.
CULTUREFOCUS: Peru photos. Pictures from Lake Titicaca.
Lake Titicaca
Puno, Gateway to Lake Titicaca
Puno, Titicaca lake: travel to Bolivia and Peru

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