[HimalAndes Focused Conversation] Case 8 by R.Ortega: "Indigenous Systems for local weather forecast and strategies of adaptation to climate change in southern Peru"




Ramiro Ortega Dueñas*


   Indigenous Knowledge has been defined in a multitude of studies and in a variety of contexts for a wide range of purposes. Indigenous knowledge is understood as a form of circumscribed Local Knowledge in Communities and their lifestyles.

   The way of transmitting this knowledge is orally and its origins may be due to signals or previous experiences. In any case, they are collective, and are built over time and generations. Indigenous knowledge is developed through the transmitting, and probable adaptation of existing knowledge, which in turn are created, developed and transformed collectively. This knowledge has been the basis for agriculture and for the many other activities that supported and still support societies in many parts of the world.

   In this context, current climate crisis offers a unique opportunity for indigenous peoples and their knowledge systems to be considered and valued within the discourse on climate change.

   In the Andes, the man among many of his skills has a great ability, perceptual acuity and Behavioral interpretation of Climate Time, this ability allows them to find answers to the uncertainty of the weather, and also insure their crops and their survival through time.

   The Andean farmer is an expert decoder of Codes that Nature itself is responsible for sending as a true preventive "warnings".

   The amazing ability of the Andean farmer to read and interpret and the Signs or "Messages", help them to apply this knowledge to face issues such as: drought, frost, hail, floods, etc.; caused by weather, no doubt this is one of the greatest contributions of the Andean Agriculture.

   With the understanding above, only after patiently observing the behavior of the “Signs” (the very own Nature components and their behavior) we can see its value for climate change forecast. The signs are manifestations of Nature and then “Señaleros” (in the local language these are the Andean messengers , sign decoders); the Astros : the sun, the moon, the stars; the meteorological features: lightning, clouds, rainbows, cloudscapes and winds; Animals: birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles and insects; Plants: wild and cultivated;, and finally their “Dreams”, are defined and implemented in different strategies such as: seed exchange, vertical ecological monitoring, use of interspecific and intraspecific variability, sowing and harvesting season, and additionally in the process of decision making when it comes to cultivating systems.

   This article is a summary of a research performed in Highland Communities in Cusco, Puno and Arequipa during 2011 and 2012.



*Instituto  de Investigaciones para el Desarrollo Sustentable de los Agroecosistemas Andinos Antarki: IDSA-ANTARKI,  CUSCO-PERU

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Comment by Ramiro Ortega Dueñas on October 11, 2013 at 7:34am

Dear Alejandro,

Thank you very much for your excellent comments on my article, they substantially extend its content. As you mention, in the Andes –as on any other center where culture is generated- rich culture and complex knowledge systems have been developed , including large capacity and acuity of perception and interpretation of the behavior of the local climate. This allows the Andean farmer to find answers in face of climate change, and also ensure his survival even in modern times.

On the other hand, Europeans upon arrival and establishment in the Inca Empire, introduced some knowledge as the "cabañuelas " that where assimilated by the Andean farmer, although his form of interpretation varies to some extent from one location to another.

Finally, I would like to use the opportunity to congratulate all participants of this important forum. It made possible to share experiences and concerns from all over the world as distant as the Himalayas and the Andes. I am sure this will be a new milestone for future efforts.

Best regards,

Ramiro Ortega

Comment by Alejandro Camino on October 8, 2013 at 12:05am

Comments to Ramiro Ortega paper, by Alejandro Camino D.C.

This most important contribution highlights the rich and ancient Andean tradition of weather predictions based on a series of indicators which are particularly important on some specific dates as per the ritual / religious calendar: starts, moon, behavior of wild animals, vegetative cycle of wild vegetation  (particularly the sprouting and flowering of  certain species). Thus the case of the Pleyades (Qóto in Quechua language) observed on the early dawn of winter solstice. As well explained by Dr. Ortega, the luminosity of the several stars conforming the constellation will tell whether the rains will come on time, early or late. Moreover, in my personal research in Puno, they also estimate whether the luminosity of Q´oto announces wether rain will be abundant or scant. Based on this first indicator, from there on the traditional Andean peasant will keep an eye on other indicators that should follow: the flower. By early August, right before the sowing period starts at certain altitudes, they will also follow the “cabañuelas” indicator (said to be a tradition imported from Europe):

          An ancient means of forecasting the weather for the agricultural year, las cabañuelas has roots in Europe, even though it has connected with traditions from the Inca past. While in the city it is giving way to more high tech means of making forecasts, people still talk about it.In many parts of the world people have paid attention to the sky to see when it would be good to plant or harvest, August. This is the month of the Pachamama, the earth, when she is argued to be open and needing attention. The first of the month people make a payment to her, although they continue to do so throughout the month. During this time of opening and ritual attention, the sky takes on particular importance. This is the time of the cabañuelas….. (in August) people divide the month into two periods from the first to mid month and on to the end of the month. Then they pay close attention to cloud formations and to weather it rains because of the implications they understand that to have for future months and especially agricultural production. Every day represents a future month. In Cuzco’s countryside, the cabañuelas play an important role. They set up expectations for weather it will be a good rainy season or not. If not then people know to take appropriate ritual action to try to stem the negative effects……If the right kind of clouds and rain appear before mid month in August, people take that to mean that this will be a good agricultural year and that they can proceed with planting. If they come in the last half of the month, then people fear their seeds will not get the moisture they need to grow once planted, since they rains will be late in coming or may be weak. As a result, they fear the harvest will be a disaster……While Andean priests have long used such observations to make sense of the weather, the cabañuelas specifically as a name and custom associated with August comes from the South of Spain and is widely spread in the Spanish New World, from New Mexico south.

There is debate as to the origin of the cabañuelas, among historians. with some locating it in the Jewish tradition of Spain and especially the feast of Sukkot. But the great Andeanist ethnohistorian, R. Tom Zuidema, draws connections deep into the ancient past of the Mediterranean. He then argues that when the Spanish came to Peru, the Inca feast of Qoya Raymi, held in what we would call the month of September, reminded them of the Spanish cabañuelas. These, he argues, went beyond Jewish tradition to Roman and earlier to make a rich set of practices that seemed to the Spanish much like the Inca. If Zuidema is right, then the cabañuelas and, indeed, much of August’s ritual, has deep roots into Cuzco’s Inca past.

                                                           Hebert Edgardo Huamani Jara: Predicting a Year’s Weather in August’s  Sky, Las Cabañuelas (In:                                                                                                   http://www.cuzcoeats.com/2012/08/las-cabanuelas/


The moon is as important: planting potatoes under new moon will yield tubers with no eyes, not good for seed. Under full moon the plant will grow tall but will produce few tubers.

This are just very small sample of a massive oral encyclopedia aimed at performing well in a difficult and unpredictable environment, even taking advantage of negative conditions, such as using the night frosts of winter in the uplands to freeze dry their eventual surpluses. Or taking grains of maize uphill and exposing them to the severe sunlight at those altitudes in order to stimulate genetic mutations as induced by ultraviolet rays, thus expanding their diversified maize varieties to an extreme. Their response to a diversified environment was precisely to deal with it diversifying their crops.

Dr. Ortega is right when he says that traditional knowledge should be considered and valued for any strategy to mitigate climate change. Resiliency is utmost important in managing unpredictable climate, a characteristic of all mountain environments, especially those ranges located in the tropics, such as the Central Andes.

This ancient knowledge of the Andean “decoders of the codes of nature” is been lost at a fast rate. Young descendants are trained in state rural schools to become dysfunctional to their mountain habitats, and thus, making of them potential migrants into the city. Agronomers trained at universities in an extremely rich country in agropastoral traditions are not informed of this ancestral know how, and, furthermore, are told that this are unsound superstitions.

When the Spanish invaders came into Inca land, crazed by the voracity for gold, were also surprised to see the huge storages all over the country, packed with the massive surpluses of exceptionally good years, freeze drying their many tuber species and cultivars, dried fish and meat, Andean cereals, enormous packs of cloth and dress. This was a thousand of years of a tradition to prevent risk in the uncertainties of the unpredictable tropical mountain environment of the Central Andes.

Thanks Ramiro for bringing this so important issue related to climate change management and mitigation!   

Comment by Alejandro Camino on October 5, 2013 at 1:45am

Great article with very important insights on weather prediction in the rather diffiocult to predict mountain environments. I have seen the importance of "qoto" (pleyades constellation) reading the early morning of the winter solstice  east of lake Titicaca, as well as hearing carefully how the mating fox barks. Flowering of certain plants either before or after certain festivales also operate as indicators. Nobody used to dare plant potatoes during new  moon: they will have tubers with no eyes, not serving as seed for the next sowing campaign. Planting potatoes with full moon is believed to have the potato plant grow fast and tall but not yield much tubers.

Each observation leads to technological alternatives to deal with the predicted phenomena: if the rain will come late, for example, the  large sowing period (hatun tarpuy) will be delayed.  Also the "qoto" announces if the rains will be intense or if there is a risk of drought, and based  on this prediction, and corrobaoarting with the other indicators, will tell the direction in which the furrows should be made in order to  contain  or drain the rain water depending on the case.

Traditional weather forecast as Dr. Ortega states, is a highly valuable knowledge to be considered and valued for climate change responses. Thanks Ramiro for this excellent contribution.

Alejandro Camino. The HimalAndes Initiative 

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