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Minga the Communal Work Tradition of Bolivia.

The rhythmic thud, thud, thud of women pounding meat and yucca in aged wooden mortars, the staggered thud-smack of girls beating clothes clean in the lake's shallows, and the tssst, tssst, tssst of machetes slicing knuckled cane--these early-morning sounds sing across rust-colored dirt. It is not yet full light; the Bolivian sun only peeks through the forest of a thousand species. Above, the leaves of the tropical oak filter the light and a hundred birdsongs.

The new morning overwhelms our senses. Women chattering, the light of the cookfire, and our anticipation of the coming day had allowed me no sleep. The cup of dark, sweet coffee is welcome. A minga is about to begin. The minga is an ancient tradition--a communal workday to help someone in need. In the Bolivian lowlands, mingas feed families, build communities, and strengthen a region. The concept is inseparable from the legends and livelihoods of Bolivia's native peoples: the Chiquitano, Guarayo, Guarani, Quechua, Monkox, and others. Near a logging road tying western Brazil to eastern Bolivia lies the Chiquitano village of San Juancito. After working here for nearly a year, this is our first chance to participate in a minga.



A visit to the Chiquitano village of San Juancito reveals a time-honored custom of helping others

Forty people, one from each family in the village, sit on knee-high stumps and hand-hewn mahogany benches. We fill ourselves with the meat, chicha (see sidebar), and humor necessary for the day's labor. Jose Barrequi, a carpenter and farmer, has organized this minga. He explains that today we will turn jungle into a clean parcel of farmland for the village women's cooperative. By the time their tomatoes hang heavy, San Juancito will have a bus twice weekly to the regional market and will be a little closer to realizing a dream: "My idea of development," says Barrequi, "is that everyone eats more than once a day."

Birth of a Tradition ...............

The minga communal work tradition comes in whispers from a time well before the Spanish conquered by sanction, by sickness, and by sword. Upon their 17th-century arrival to what is now Bolivia, Jesuit missionaries found the minga a common practice among the native peoples. The Jesuit manner of "civilization" twisted the practice into an unpaid labor system, forcing native people to work parish fields and build a vast network of mission churches. According to Bartomeu Melia, a Spanish anthropologist, the manipulation destroyed the communal work ethic of native groups like the Guarani. Even so, memory of the tradition held strong among other peoples, and the minga quietly flourished from the altiplano to the Amazon. Today, in the Andes of the lost Incas, it is called minka, in the dry, scrubby Chaco of the southern lowlands, motiro.

The practice was born of necessity in villages like San Juancito an isolated subsistence-farming community where small parcels yield limited crops of corn, plantains, and yucca, and hunting and fishing provide much of the meat. Money is rare, saved for tools, medicines, and other basics. The tradition's currency of reciprocated responsibility creates a safety net for all who struggle with their work. "If you have a pig, corn, and yucca, you can throw a minga. The entire community comes to help," explains Mario Barrequi. He is Jose's brother and a community leader. "If someone invites you to a minga, you go," he explains. "One day, they will come to yours."



The work of each session vanes, but the workday passes today in San Juancito as it has for generations: it is a party. Euphoric and full of patasca (traditional smoky pork soup), we saunter over to a 30-foot toborochi tree at the forest's edge. A sinewy young man with a broad smile drives his ax blade deep into the trunk. Men and women work and tease side-by-side. Some swing machetes with one hand, using a stick in the other to find the blade's range. With exacting precision, they lake dew-wet foliage, stubborn brush, and ravenous briars. Others use hoes to pile floral debris and turn the dark soil. Apt children mimic the adults. Easy laughter, playful lies, and shared chicha disguise the labor until our plot is clean and we can return to a meal of fire-roasted pig and fresh chicha dipped from giant clay urns. Our feast becomes fiesta, and drums and violins fuel barefoot dancing late into the night. This minga met today's needs and will meet those to come.



Adapting to New Ways..........

In much of Bolivia, however, the practice has faded to little more than a nostalgic reminiscence of elders. Old ways collide with a global consumer economy; Mercedes and horse-drawn buggies cross in front of United Colors of Benetton in Bolivia's growing cities. And in remote villages, young people sell traditional land or ancient mahogany trees to buy generators for karaoke machines and beer coolers. The way of lid is changing; people want to work for money, not chicha. People also want to finish projects efficiently. Josefina and Hildeberto Uropogui, from the Guarayo village of Salvatierra, see the custom as a waste of time. "Mingas are fun, but they are usually a little work and a lot of chicha," says Hildeberto Uropogui. So, they pay laborers to cut motacu palm and fashion a roof on their adobe home.

Elsewhere, local proprietors and international financiers alike adapt the event to meet the goals of a new reality. Cafe Minga, a coffee cooperative m San Ignacio de Velasco, pools resources of 60 communities to support small stands of cashews and organic shade-grown coffee for export to Germany. In nearby San Antonio de Lomerio, known for master native Monkox weavers and leather workers, the World Bank provided materials to build an artisan workshop in a two-day minga. The tradition's adaptability and resilience are emblematic of a people's path through the complexities of Bolivia's burgeoning social transformation. Sixty-two percent of Bolivians self-identify as indigenous; and in rural areas, 72 percent speak indigenous languages. Yet, for the first time since Bolivia's independence in 1825, a native president leads the nation. Though his polities are heavily debated, Evo Morales' presidency is irrefutable evidence of an historic indigenous movement.

The world is changing rapidly and people are beginning to again explore tradition for answers. Three seasons after the minga, we return to San Juancito to see the communal parcel and visit friends. Dona Guadalupe, president of the women's cooperative, explains that after our workday, the tomatoes ripened only for a moment before the bugs rendered them mottled and rotten. The soil, once watered by children in the evenings, has surrendered to the persistence of the forest's leading edge. But the event was not a complete failure. September will bring the hope and newness of cleansing fires. Time and the red Chiquitano dirt heal all. The women of San Juancito will again hold a minga and Dona Guadalupe will lead the charge. In the evening, women will again gather to cook and laugh. In the early morning, there will be singing across the rust-colored dirt. Men, women, and children will meet beneath the tropical oak canopy to find the humor and energy for the day's work, clearing the head-high brush, making the parcel ready for planting. With luck, the tomatoes will flourish this time, and the women will take the crop to market--one step closer' to a dream. Everyone will come, because the gathering is collective work, it is community; and at least for now, here in San Juancito, the minga is a way of life.



Chicha: Key Ingredient for a Successful Minga

Bring the minga Tradition to your community with some local flavor. Lowland chicha--the beverage of the event--is a traditional drink mode from masticated corn. The following recipe is a popular Chiquitano adaptation with peanuts (nomastication necessary!).
Chicha de
 mani (Peanut Chicha)
 Serves 8 Preparation time: 4 hours, plus
3
days
* 7 oz peeled peanuts
* 7 oz ground dried white corn
* 8.5 quarts water
* Large pot
* 1 lb molasses or sugar
* Hermetically sealable glass  bottles
Mix peanuts, corn, and water in pot. Boil for four hours. Strain,
saving
the liquid. Dissolve molasses into the liquid and allow mixture to
cool.
Pour the liquid into the glass bottles and seal. Do not
refrigerate.
Ferment for three days. Add more molasses to taste. Chill and
serve.


Shane Townsend is anindependent.writer, disaster-relief professional and a former Peace Corpsvolunteerin Bolivia. Kristen Evans, a writer; researcher, and socialentrepreneur, has lived and worked in Bolivia's forestcommunities for several years. This article was originally publishedinNative Peoples Magazine and is reprinted with permission fromtheauthors. ----------Please note: Some tables or figures were omitted from this article.
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Author:Townsend, Shane
Publication:Americas (English Edition)
Article Type:Reprint
Geographic Code:3BOLI
Date:May 1, 2012
Words:1605
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