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Urus are one of the most ancient groups in the southern Andes, linked fundamentally with the exploitation of lacustrine and riverine resources through fishing and hunting. They are known as “men of the water” and as the survivors or “leftovers” after a calamitous historical transformation. Thus, their Aymara neighbors see them as beings who are associated with a lack of civilization and a pre-baptismal era.

The testimony of the Uru Murato elder and leader Daniel Moricio tells of his ancestors’ encounter with the Spaniards, whom he refers to almost indistinctly from the Aymara and Quechua. The conflation of the Spaniards with these Andean indigenous groups may be attributed to the unequal, conflictive, and submissive relationship that the Urus have had historically with the Aymara and Quechua and to the alliance between the Spaniards and the other Andean groups in the suppression of the early seventeenth-century Uru revolts.

The overlap of oro [gold] with “Uru” is at the center of this interpretation of the conquest, seen as a process that took place over many years. As the testimony notes, for fifteen to sixteen years the Urus would run away and hide in the reed beds of the lakes. A series of events explains their “discovery”: the loss of their hunting and survival instrument, the liwi, or sling; the introduction of alcohol which led to the surrender of their treasures and the relinquishment of their symbol of political authority, the golden staff of rule; and the baptism of their governor with the name of San Felipe de Austria, in honor of King Philip III of Austria. The name was also given to the city of Oruro on its founding in 1606.

Moricio’s memories of the Urus’ defense of their lands around Lake Poopó recall the struggles of another legendary Uru leader, Toribio Miranda, who was linked to the cacique-apoderado movement of the early twentieth century (see Santos Marka Tola and the Caciques-Apoderados, “The Laws of the Land,” in part VIII). Moricio recalls that the Urus paid pounds of gold to the land inspector José de la Vega Alvarado for their titles. The scribe of this legendary inspector had the last name García Morato, and from him the Urus of Lake Poopó took their own “last name” as Uru Moratos or Muratos.

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