Living on Lake Titicaca’s Floating Islands

Virginia GlennIndigenous Connections

In October 2022 we visited the Uros communities on their floating reed islands on Lake Titicaca. I wondered why would their ancestors chose to create and live on floating islands, when there’s so much open land altiplano surrounding the lake. It seemed like a challenging existence. According to legend, the Uru (or Uros) people originated in the Amazon region and migrated to the area of Lake Titicaca in the pre–Columbian era, where they were oppressed by the local population and unable to secure land of their own.1 Another source added that the Uros people considered themselves the owners of the lake and the water and that they had black blood because they did not feel the cold.2 A third resource … Read More

Book Review: Deep Rivers

Virginia GlennBook Reviews

When I first picked up the book Deep Rivers by José María Arguedas, I was fascinated that it was originally written in Quechua—not Spanish. Even though the author was born into an upper class, Spanish-speaking family in Andahuaylas, Peru, Arguedas spent most of his childhood being cared for by Quechua-speaking servants. This background gave him the unique advantage of seeing the world from the perspectives of both the oppressors and the oppressed. And this semi-autobiographical book shows us how he interpreted these two views. Ernesto, the main character and narrator of Deep Rivers, is closely connected with his country and its people. He visits or mentions many different cities—so many that I found myself needing to write them all down … Read More

Chuspas: Small Bags with Big Significance

Virginia GlennIndigenous Connections, Textile Traditions

When I started researching this topic, I was merely focused on the one very old chuspa that I had in my collection, which I purchased in Peru in 1980. Chuspa is a Quechua word for bag or purse. Elaborate chuspas are used as part of dancers’ costumes during festivals; every-day, smaller chuspas often carry money (these chuspas are also called monederos). I knew that chuspas also are used for carrying coca leaves, but I never thought about the significance of coca to the Andean culture. I had only been told that the Indigenous Quechua speakers would chew the leaves to help give them energy or to keep from getting hungry. While chuspas are made using traditional techniques, the sacred substance … Read More

Unraveling the Mystery of Khipus

Virginia GlennTextile Traditions

I don’t remember the first time I read about khipus (also spelled quipus). Most likely, it was the summer that I spent at a Spanish language institute in Mexico and was assigned the topic “Who were the Incas?” for a culture report. I remember being intrigued with the mathematical possibilities of something that sounded like a soft abacus. But I set aside my curiosity in order to focus on learning the names of all the Inca leaders—names that all seemed to have way too many letters. So now, all these years later, I was very interested in the ATA Textile Talk, “Written in Knots: What We Know Today About Khipus,” presented by Juan Antonio Murro, the curator for pre-Columbian art … Read More