By Sara Shahriari in Suriqui, Thursday 20 December 2012 Source: guardian.co.uk
The looming end of the Mayan long-count calendar has prompted fervid doomsday predictions on the internet, mass arrests in China, and a small tourism boom in southern Mexico. But whereas some believe Friday’s solstice will mark a fiery endpoint to the world as we know it, Bolivia’s president, Evo Morales, says the date is the beginning of a new era of peace and love.
Morales will mark the day by boarding one of the largest reed ships built in modern times and join thousands of people for celebrations on the Island of the Sun on Lake Titicaca.
“According to the Mayan calendar, the 21 of December is the end of the non-time and the beginning of time,” he told the UN in September. “It is the end of hatred and the beginning of love, the end of lies and beginning of truth.”
The Bolivian government has hailed the solstice as the start of an age in which community and collectivity will prevail over capitalism and individuality. Those themes have long been present in Morales’s discourse, especially in the idea of vivir bien, or living well. He has stressed the importance of a harmonious balance between human life and the planet, though some people question its application in Bolivia, where the economy depends heavily on mining, oil and gas industries.
Morales has attempted to shake off European cultural denomination, creating a vice ministry of decolonisation and celebrating Native American beliefs and customs.
The 15-metre totora reed boat is a replica of those that plied Titicaca’s waters for thousands of years. The Thunupa is the creation of Demetrio Limachi, 67, a renowned Aymara boat builder who worked with the Norwegian adventurer Thor Heyerdahl.
Titicaca is the largest lake in South America and situated more than 12,000ft above sea level. All along the shoreline the flexible, sweet-smelling totora reeds ripple in the wind, sheltering water birds, serving as food for livestock, and providing raw material for boats. Limachi learned to dry the reed and bind it into cylinders as a child, creating the tiny craft that local people used for fishing and transport before the rise of more durable wooden or fibreglass boats. But when the Limachi family crossed paths with Heyerdahl, they became wrapped up in international adventures of epic proportions.
Heyerdahl, who had already sailed a balsa wood raft from Peru to Polynesia and attempted to cross the Atlantic Ocean in a papyrus boat, was fascinated by early sea travel. That’s how a young Limachi found himself travelling to Morocco to spend three months building the Ra II, which set out in 1970 and successfully travelled from Morocco to Barbados, more than 3,700 miles (6,000km) away. The Aymara boat builders were at first shocked by the size of the boat Heyerdahl wanted them to construct, because until their boats had been just three to four metres long. But effort showed they could build bigger, and the Thunupa, now ready to sail across Lake Titicaca, is the child of those experiments.
“As our parents taught us – that’s how I am teaching our children,” Limachi said. It’s a skill his son Porfirio has taken to heart. “Building this boat united the community,” said Porfirio, as he watched young men on the island of Suriqui bind the reeds of the Thunupa tight with yellow cords under a bright blue sky. “It’s preserving the values and the knowledge of the Aymara of Lake Titicaca.”