Tag Archives: Quilmes

Living with an indigenous community in Quilmes, Argentina

25 Jul

After defrosting from the hike in El Infiernillo it was off to Las Ruinas de Quilmes (the Quilmes ruins).

Quilmes means “between the mountains” and the setting of the settlement is truly that.  After a 5km walk along a dusty road I arrived at the base of the ruins and it was totally spectacular. Although there has been some reconstruction of the ruins much of what remains is the original settlement.

The Quilmes inhabited the area from AD1000.  They managed to withstand an Inca invasion and were only removed from their lands by the Spanish at which point  some 2000 made their way to Buenos Aires (though many did not survive the journey).  There is a city which bears the name “Quilmes” there in recognition of the people who made it.

Their fight for their land did not stop there. In fact their battle continues to this day.

For the Quilmes people the territory is sacrosanct.  They see it as the place where the blood of their ancestors was spilled in defending their culture and existence.  The ruins was also the place where ceremonial activities were carried out and where offerings were made to Pachamama or Mother Earth.  It is for this reason that they call the ruins the “Ciudad Sagrada” or “Sacred City”.

Even today they are fighting for their land after part of it was taken out of their control and passed onto a private landowner who built a hotel and a swimming pool (amenities which the Quilmes´people think an insult to the Sacred City).  They started a legal battle to have their rights recognised in law founding on a title which was given to them by representatives of Spain in 1716.

In 2007 they evicted the private landowner from the land and at the beginning of 2008 they decided to take possession of the Sacred City by force.  The hotel and swimming pool remain closed but now the Quilmes people allow visitors in and do tours of the site while also informing visitors of their legal battle.

I decided to do some volunteer work at Quilmes as the whole place just fascinated me.  So I went to speak with Mathias, one of the coordinators who said he would need to speak with the Cacique (The Chief of the Quilmes people) at a meeting of the people to see if I would be allowed to assist the community.  A few days later a meeting was convened and it was agreed that I could do some translation work for them.

After the meeting I met Juan Molinos.  Juan is an artesan at Quilmes.  He carves boxes out of cactus wood and makes jewellery.  He said we could stay with him. His address “Juan Molinas, Quilmes, Dos Quadras de la Escuela” which translates as two blocks from the school. Had a lovely walk through cactii to his house stopping en route to make offerings to Pachamama with white quartz stones.  That night we collected fire wood for his wood fire, went for tea with a local family and then Juan played his guitar for hours for us.  Truly delightful.

All in all I stayed 10 days with the Quilmes people.  Their kindness was remarkable.  I learned a lot about their lives, their struggles but most of all I found that they had great peace within themselves. They love their land. They do not believe in land ownership.  They believe that all the elements of the earth (the land, the soil, the air, the flora, the fauna) should be shared and that the spirituality of Mother Earth allows them to exist.  They don’t have much.  Their houses have no heating and no hot water.  There are no luxuries in their lives but they are at one with what they have which was very moving to see.

David, one of the Quilmes people, told us that he had lived in the city for a while.  One day he was sitting by a river.  He heard a frog.  He took that as a sign to return home to Quilmes as he did not want live away from his land and in a place without nature.  Maybe it is that sense of being at one with nature which epitomises the Quilmes people and gives them the aura of peacefulness? I am not sure but it certainly did show me how simple life can be and how little you need to be content.

Community meeting, Quilmes

Community meeting, Quilmes

Las Ruinas de Quilmes

Las Ruinas de Quilmes

The sky above Quilmes

The sky above Quilmes

Me and Juan

Me and Juan


Thanks Marco for the video.

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