People of the Water is an ethnographic analysis of the cultural practices of the Uru-Chipayans—how they have maintained their culture and how they have changed. The Chipayans are an Andean people whose culture predates the time of the Incas (c. AD 1400), but they were almost wiped out by 1940, when only around 400 remained. Yet their population has quadrupled in the last 60 years. Joseph Bastien has spent decades living with and studying the Chipayans, and here for the first time he discusses the dynamics between traditional, social, and religious practices and the impending forces of modernity upon them. With the support of more than 100 illustrations he documents how, in spite of challenges, the Chipayans maintain ecological sustainability through an ecosystem approach that is holistic and symbolically embedded in rituals and customs.
Chipayans have a resilient and innovative culture, maintaining dress, language, hairstyle, rituals, and behavior while also re-creating their culture from a dialectic between themselves and the world around them. Bastien provides the reader with a series of experienced observations and intimate details of a group of people who strive to maintain their ancient traditions while adapting to modern society. This ethnographic study offers insightful, surprising, and thoughtful conclusions applicable to interpreting the world around us.