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6.7.03

Rough Waters For Peru's Floating Islands

Centuries ago the small indigenous Uros tribe conceived of the [floating] islands [of Lake Titicaca] as a way to isolate and protect themselves from rival tribes, the Collas and the Incas. The Uros people harvested the reeds in the shallows of the lake, bundled them together tightly and built floating island platforms complete with reed houses and canoes.

... "The issues facing the people living on the floating islands are multifold," says anthropologist Arrufo Alcantara Hernandez, director of the faculty of social sciences at the Universidad Nacional del Altiplano in Puno. "The waters of the Uros have been overfished by commercial fishermen, tourists are affecting their traditional culture and sewage from Puno is causing environmental and health problems."


This is an interesting -- though hardly unique -- story of how, after a lifestyle becomes unviable after being out-competed in the struggle for resources, it is preserved on the basis of showing off the lifestyle. Instead of being a straightforward solution to the problem of making a living, it becomes a secondhand or once-removed solution -- making a living from tourism by pretending to make your living in a "traditional" way.

Usually when we hear these stories, the blame is placed on those who have made the traditional lifestyle unviable -- in this case polluters and commericial fishers. Indeed, it often seems that making someone else's lifestyle less viable is prima facie wrong, even if the actions in question aren't otherwise bad. But this article ultimately swings in the opposite direction, portraying the situation as purely an issue for the Uros to deal with, as if it were akin to a storm or earthquake that no entity can be held responsible for:

"They've successfully dealt with many serious challenges over the last few centuries," he [Hernandez] says. "I think if the Uros people use foresight and care, they'll be able to overcome their problems and balance their traditional lifestyles with the modern world."

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