The peasantry everywhere can be defined as a class of survivors…. The word survivor has two meanings. It denotes somebody who has survived an ordeal. And it also denotes a person who has continued to live when others disappeared or perished.
John Berger, Pig Earth1
The Lake Titicaca Basin is part of the altiplano, or high plain, that lies at an altitude of 12,500 feet between two high ranges in the central Andes and stretches from southern Peru deep into Bolivia. The area immediately around the 136-mile-long lake is one of the most densely populated peasant areas in Latin America, even though the climate and altitude only permit one harvest per year. The altiplano is mainly occupied by Aymara-speaking Indians; a much larger population of Quechua Indians starts at the north end of the lake and extends throughout Peru and into Ecuador. Historically, the Aymara were notoriously closed to outsiders. Because they had been able to maintain their household land rights when most of the rest of Peruvian Indians were enclosed within haciendas, they tended to be deeply suspicious of the dominant mestizos, who were perceived as an exploitative class. As a result, the Aymara were portrayed in travel literature and anthropological studies as dour and hostile. Through the 1950s, outsiders were not permitted to stay overnight in campesinos communities. As late as 1973, a cover article in Science News designated them—absurdly—the “meanest people in the world” (Trotter 1973:76). 2