Floating islands? It may sound like something out of a Jonathan Swift novel, but to the Uros people it is a fact of every day life. This small tribe of South American indigents retain a great deal of a culture that goes back millennia and one whose unique domestic arrangements stem from that age old fear - the dread of suppression by other, stronger and more populous peoples.
Lake Titicaca itself affords a deal of protection. Isolated and over three thousand meters above sea level, the lake itself offers - simply by its relative isolation (even in modern day Peru) - some protection from the unwanted attentions of others. However, at some point before recorded history a member of the Uros had the bright idea to do something extraordinary with the reeds that grow prolifically along the banks of the lake - the largest in South America (by volume).
The reeds themselves are malleable enough to dry out, bundle and shape in to extraordinary boats which float quite nicely. With a leap of the imagination, the original Uros saw the possibility for a system of domiciles which, in case of emergency, could be moved away from the mainland. Although they only number in the low thousands, it is thought that around five hundred of the Uros still choose to live in this ancient manner - though with some concessions to the modern world!
The tortora reed islands are meticulously created by hand and are a continually evolving habitat for the Uros. Although the reed used for the island is not as painstakingly ‘woven' as that used for their boats, the construction of the islands represents an enormous workload for the people of the tribe. The islands themselves must be several meters thick in order to support the homes and associated buildings of the Uros.
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