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Mobility magicians

Our post-modern world is one of growing complexity. Data is being passed around the globe at all times making it difficult to keep track of where it ends up and what it means. Yet, it is important to realise that not all of human kind is immersed in the information and communication technology age. Consequently, our information civilisation is not an adequate representation of mankind as whole. Myriad of ethnic groups living in remote areas remain untouched by technological advances. Meet one of the most famous tribes of Peru, the Uros – ancient inhabitants of Lake Titicaca. They (used to) celebrate mobility as a life insurance.

Move my island

Evolutionary biologists agree that part of what makes humans such a successful species is “niche construction”. It’s the ability of humans to engineer a life-supporting habitat at a place where survival is unlikely. The Uru people used to be nomadic, but approximately five centuries ago they started building their own islands on Lake Titicaca. Troubled by freezing temperatures at an altitude of more than 3.000 metres above sea level, the Uros became masters at building little households on floating self-made islands. These are made and re-made from totora, a special kind of reed, which exists in abundance in and around Lake Titicaca.[1] The islands themselves, all houses, beds, and boats are made from it. The decision to leave the mainland to settle down on water was a desperate move to avoid ongoing combat with other tribes. In response to facing an attack from the mainland, the Uros simply moved their islands away from the threat. Today, around 2.500 Uros live on 45 movable islands, the largest one is currently Tribuna.[2]

It’s all about the niche

The Uru lifestyle is a remainder of humanity’s diverse adaptation skills. They embody the spirit of mobility and its importance for survival. In some ways the Uru people’s bold move provides an inspiration for us today. It must have been an enormous challenge to actually implement the idea of moving onto the water with very limited technological tools and know-how at hand. With that in mind, it doesn’t seem to be entirely megalomaniac to believe that – given our technological standards now – we could be driven around automatically from A to B, for example. Is it crazy to think that we’ll be able to fly to work soon in order to ease city’s traffic congestion? What niche will humanity engineer next to achieve better life quality?