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Tropentag, October 5 - 7, 2004 in Berlin

"Rural Poverty Reduction
through Research for Development and Transformation"

Aymara Indians in Chile: Water Use in Ancestral Cultures at Odds with Water Rights in Modern Times

Isabel Maria Madaleno

Tropical Institute, Department of Agrarian Sciences, Portugal


South American Aymara culture, as well as Inca Empire were born high and above, in the vicinity of Titicaca Lake, over one of the highest plateaus on earth, in the nearness of active volcanoes and snowy peak summits. Soon the Indians descended to the valleys, following rivers and streams, fed on Andean ices, building up terraces and carefully channelling the precious liquid in order to irrigate potatoes and quinua. Whereas the Incas disappeared, Aymaras persevered in Extreme Northern Chile, raising llamas and alpacas, growing vegetables and fruit trees at lower altitudes, even in desert areas where ancestral “canchones” and Spanish adopted “socavones” became common techniques, intended to capture either superficial and subterranean waters from dry pampas and nurture food crops in beautiful oasis. However, water resources are running scarcer these days, for higher return activities developed in port cities, all together with rich copper, nitrates and other sorts of mine enterprises, gave way to a recent water code (1981) that turned the contended liquid into a transacting commodity, totally separated from land or property rights. During 2003 and 2004 hotter summer months, a joint Portuguese-Chilean team, led by the Portuguese Tropical Institute, field researched Aymara Indian communities in extreme northern Chile, a millenary ethnic group still stubbornly inhabiting hard to reach adobe houses settlements, located up the Andes and high oasis valleys, persevering against all odds their nature respectful farming traditions. The paper discusses differences between modern Chilean policies and ancestral Indian ecological practises related to water use and management in the First Region of Tarapac√°.

Keywords: Canchones, irrigation channels, oasis valleys, socavones, terraces

Contact Address: Isabel Maria Madaleno, Tropical Institute, Department of Agrarian Sciences, Rua Andrade, 8-2ºe, 1170-015 Lisbon, Portugal, e-mail: isabel-madaleno@clix.pt

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