Landscape and spirituality in the Bolivian highlands

Two campos blowing the horns to prevent hail. Photo Helga Gruberg 2015

Two “campos” blowing horns to prevent hail. Photo: Helga Gruberg

The Aymaran community of Cachilaya is located on the shores of Lake Titicaca in the northern highlands of Bolivia. In Cachilaya, farmers grow different Andean crops such as tubers, quinoa and amarant. The landscape covers crop fields, fallow lands, totora (Schoenoplectus californicus) wetlands and islands in the deep blue Lake Titicaca. The lake, hills and mountains are living deities, with individual characteristics, strengths, weaknesses and personalities. Mountains are also special features of the community, since most of the community infrastructure and social life (social centre, schools, church, households, etc.) develops there.

A sacred hill called Pukara is a place where various types of rituals including offering to Patchamama (Mother Earth) are performed. At the top of this hill stands a small stone and mud house from where campos can watch the community. Campos are the guardians of the community. Each year the community chooses six male community members to become campos, to protect the community during the next three months (when crops are growing) against bad weather situations and magic. Day by day they walk the mountains looking for signs of magic such as hidden mud pots because they can bring harm to the community. Campos try to protect the community against bad weather events such as frost that enters the community through that hill and destroys the crops. They read natural indicators such stars and clouds in order to forecast the weather. If frost or hail are “coming”, the campos “fight” them in a fierce encounter. They blow horns to the clouds in order to make them go away. They also shoot fireworks at them and wave palm crosses. If they lose the fight, they play the horns again announcing to the community to take measures to protect their crops, at least from frost. Hence, community members leave their homes and set fires near the plots to protect crops.

Spirituality is a central part of the landscape of Cachilaya since the Andean view of the world plays an important role in the lives of its inhabitants. Cachilaya is an example of the close relationship between landscape features. The mountains, beliefs and agrobiodiversity management are linked together. In the Andean view of the world these features are alive, coexist in the same space and time as humans.

Cachilaya is one of the eight research sites of the Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research project “Supporting agrobiodiversity maintenance and use in the context of land management decisions”, funded by The Christensen Fund. The aim of the project is to develop a framework for assessing the consequences of land use change on agrobidiversity.