November 2010

Remembering the Past

Floriane Guyot gives some details about the similarities between the old and new Cochabamba.

Floriane Guyot
Projects Abroad Volunteer
Nantes - France

The history of Cochabamba has as many changing faces as the varied crowd of men and women: white, mixed-race and indigenous people, who contributed to forge it. However, it shows historical constants of long time, which form part of the past, but which old pictures have an incredible echo nowadays, as if they have their photographs taken today; and as if we would live in a perpetual history of the present.

It was probably the Inca Huayna Capac, who at the dawn of the 16th century, occupied the fertile lands of the Valle Bajo, to sow corn and feed the Inca period, which defined the agricultural vocation of the region. Spanish people, who conquered the place at the end of the same century, admitted this role, but they changed the Andean cereal with the traditional wheat. Since then - and for centuries – the wheat flour of Cochabamba fed the population of the valleys and of the high Andean plateau. That’s why it has been called the “Granary of the High Peru”. This name has remained until the end of the last century, when the foreign concurrency ruined the local production. The region recovered from it some decades later succeeding to furnish vegetables to the tin mine, transported them bags after bags until Oruro thanks to the railway which linked the valleys with the high Andean plateau from 1917. The region, facing with an ecological damage, the shortage of water for the irrigation and the excessive urbanization of its productive lands; is less and less this trading center of the past. But, the charges of onions, corn and vegetables keep being traded with the same excellence of centuries.

Here in Cochabamba never thrived the big industrial property. An industrial revolution did not occurred; whereas predominated over the small familiar workshop. The efforts and inventive craftsmen, who searched all the possible crafts to make a blue jean or a shoe, are the heirs of a rich tradition which comes from far off: from the spinners of "Bayeta de la tierra", from the shoemakers of Caracota and from the hatters of the High valley who visited the country already in the colonial period and until the end of the 19th century. Or of the thousands of cans, which taxes contributed to pave the streets of the capital and to build the stadium "Félix Carriles". Even the story of piojaleros (small lands owners) – as they were called them in the past, can go back to the 19th century, if not before. During the first midst of the former century they succeeded to undermine the authority of important landowners, so that when in August 1953, was decreed the Land reform, a crowd of small farmers considered it.

The Cochabambinos were called the "Fenicios de la Bolivia" (Phenicians of Bolivia), because from the 17th century they controlled already the trade roads. That was not a coincidence then than in Cliza throve the biggest and multicolor market of High Peru which astonished anyone who visited it. The thousands of traders, who come from Cochabamba and who in the dawn of the 21st century cross the Andes or tropical plains in their majestic Volvo camions, do not do another thing than following in their set up footsteps centuries later.

Few people from Cochabamba do not have a friend or a relative who live outside from Cochabamba. It seems to be a new phenomenon, but this migration is so old, that it could be in the genetic memory. An overcrowded region with few job opportunities has always expelled workforce.

At the end of the 19th century, hundreds of Cochabambinos began to move to the nitrate fields of Iquique. At the beginning of the 20th century, the human torrent was uncontrollable. Then, the migration to the tin mines came; they brought the chicha and quechua there. They took part to the Argentinean harvest of sugar cane in the 1950´s, the Venezuelan peak of oil in the 1970´s; with the same hope that now they chase the American dream. This is a new road, but an old practice.

Few people from Cochabamba do not have a friend or a relative who live outside from Cochabamba

Local Boy Makes Good

He was sheltered by these lands when he was a boy, he grew up and studied between us and today he wins the Nobel Prize in literature, in fact, it is unprecedented. Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa, (a resident of England and Spain, and a Spanish citizen) spent his earliest years in Cochabamba, and is the first South American in 28 years to be so honored.

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