E. Morales “Guinea pig: medicine, food and ritual animal in the Andes”

CHAPTER I. From pet to marketable product

In South America, plants such as potatoes and corn and animals such as llama and kui are widely used for food. According to the Peruvian archaeologist Lumbreras, domesticated cui, along with cultivated plants and other domestic animals, have been used in the Andes since about 5000 BC. in the area of ​​Altiplano. This area was inhabited by the wild Kui species.

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Kui (Guinea pig) is an incorrectly named animal, as it is not a pig and is not from Guinea. It doesn’t even belong to the rodent family. It is possible that the word Guinea was used in place of the similar word Guiana, the name of the South American country from which Cui was exported to Europe. The Europeans may also have thought that the Kui were brought from the West African coast of Guinea, since they were brought from South America by ships transporting slaves from Guinea. Another explanation is that kuis were sold in England for one guinea (guinea). The Guinea is a gold coin minted in England in 1663. Throughout Europe, the Kui quickly became a popular pet. Queen Elizabeth I herself had one animal, which contributed to its rapid spread.

Currently, there are over 30 million cui in Peru, over 10 million in Ecuador, 700,000 in Colombia, and over 3 million in Bolivia. The average weight of the animal is 750 grams, the average length is 30 cm (sizes vary from 20 to 40 cm).

Kui has no tail. The coat can be soft or coarse, short or long, straight or curly. The most common colors are white, dark brown, gray and various combinations of these. Pure black is very rare. The animal is extremely prolific. The female can become pregnant at the age of three months and then every sixty-five to seventy-five days. Although the female has only two nipples, she can easily give birth and feed five to six cubs, due to the high fat content of milk.

Usually there are from 2 to 4 pigs in a litter, but often there are eight. Kui can live up to nine years, but the average life span is three years. Seven females can produce 72 cubs per year, producing more than thirty-five kilograms of meat. A Peruvian cui at the age of three months weighs approximately 850 grams. A farmer from one male and ten females in a year can already have 361 animals. Farmers raising animals for the market sell females after their third litter, as these females grow larger and weigh more than 1 kilogram 200 grams and are sold at a higher price than males or females who did not have offspring of the same age. After the third litter, breeding females consume a lot of food and their mortality during childbirth is higher.

Kui are very well adapted to temperate zones (tropics of highlands and high mountains), in which they are usually bred indoors, protecting them from extremes of weather. Although they can live at 30 ° C, their natural environment is where temperatures range from 22 ° C during the day to 7 ° C at night. Kui, however, do not tolerate freezing and high tropical temperatures and quickly overheat in direct sunlight. They adapt well to different heights. They can be found in places as low as the rainforests of the Amazon Basin and in the cold, barren highlands.

Everywhere in the Andes, almost every family has at least twenty kuis. In the Andes, approximately 90% of all animals are bred within the traditional household. The usual place for keeping animals is the kitchen. Some people have cubicles or cages built of adobe, reeds and clay for keeping animals, or small hut-like kitchens with no windows. Kui always run on the floor, especially when they are hungry. Some people believe that they need smoke and therefore specifically contain them in kitchens. Their favorite food is alfalfa, but they also feed on table scraps such as potato peelings, carrots, grasses and grains.

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In low altitudes, where banana farming is, the Kui feed on ripe bananas. Kui begin to feed on their own a few hours after birth. Mother’s milk is only a supplement, not a major part of their diet. Animals receive water from succulent feed. Farmers who feed their animals only dry food have a special water supply system for the animals.

The people of the Cusco region believe that cui is the best food. Kui eat in the kitchen, rest in its corners, in clay pots and by the hearth. The number of animals in the kitchen immediately characterizes the farm. A person who does not have kui in the kitchen is a stereotype of lazy and extremely poor. They say about such people, “I am very sorry for him, he is so poor that he does not even have one kui.” Most families living high in the mountains live at home with the Kui. Kui is an essential component of the household. Breeding it and eating it as meat affects the folklore, ideology, language and economy of the family.

The inhabitants of the Andes are attached to their animals. They live together in the same house, take care and worry about them. They treat them like pets. Plants, flowers and mountains are often named after them. However, Kui, like chickens, rarely have their own names. They are usually identified by their physical characteristics such as color, gender, and size.

Kui breeding is an integral part of Andean culture. The first animals usually appear in the house as a gift or as a result of an exchange. People rarely buy them. A woman going to visit relatives or children usually takes a kui with her as a gift. Kui, received as a gift, immediately becomes part of the existing family. If this first animal is a female and she is more than three months old, then there is a high probability that she is pregnant. If there are no males in the house, then it is rented from a neighbor or relative. The owner of the male has the right to the female from the first litter or to any male. The hired male returns immediately as soon as the other male grows up.

Caring for animals, like other household chores, is traditionally done by women and children. All food leftovers are collected for kui. If a child returned from the field without collecting some firewood and grass for kui on the way, then he is scolded as a lazy person. Cleaning the kitchen and nooks of the cui is also the work of women and children.

In many communities, kui cubs are the property of children. If animals have the same color and sex, then they are specially marked in order to distinguish their animal. The owner of the animal can dispose of it as he wants. He can exchange, sell or kill him. Kui serves as a petty cash and reward for children for a job well done in the house. The child decides for himself how best to use his animal. This type of ownership also extends to other small pets.

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Traditionally, kui is used as meat only on special occasions or occasions, and not as a daily or even weekly meal. It is only recently that kui have been used for exchange. If, on these special occasions, the family is unable to cook the kui, then they cook the chicken. In this case, the family asks the guests to forgive them and makes excuses for the impossibility of making kui. It must be emphasized that if kuis are cooked, family members, especially women and children, are served last. They usually end up gnawing on their heads and internal organs. Kui’s main special role is to save the face of the family and avoid criticism from guests.

In the Andes, there are many sayings associated with kui that are not related to its traditional role. Kui is often used for comparison. So a woman with too many children is likened to a kui. If an employee is reluctant to hire because of his laziness or low qualifications, then they say about him “that he cannot even be trusted to take care of the Kui”, implying that he is unable to perform the simplest task. If a woman or child traveling to town asks a truck driver or itinerant trader for a ride, they say, “Please take me, I can be helpful at least for giving water to your cui.” The word kui is used in many folk songs.

Breeding method changes 

There are currently three Kui breeding models in Ecuador and Peru. These are the domestic (traditional) model, the cooperative (cooperative) model, and the commercial (entrepreneurial) model (small, medium and industrial animal husbandry).

Although the traditional method of raising animals in the kitchen has been used for centuries, other methods have emerged more recently. Until recently, none of the four Andean countries seriously considered the issue of a scientific approach to Kui breeding. Bolivia still uses only the traditional model. Bolivia will need more than one decade to reach the level of the other three countries. Peruvian researchers have achieved great success in animal breeding, but in Bolivia they want to breed their own local breed.

In 1967, scientists at the Agrarian University of La Molina (Lima, Peru) realized that animals decrease in size from one generation to the next, as the inhabitants of the mountainous regions sold and consumed the largest animals, while the small and young ones were left for breeding. Scientists were able to stop this process of grinding the kui. They were able to select the best animals for breeding from different fields and create a new breed on their basis. By the early seventies, we received animals weighing as much as 1.7 kilograms.

Today in Peru, university researchers have developed the world’s largest Kui breed. Animals, whose weight averaged 0.75 kilograms at the beginning of the research, now weigh more than 2 kilograms. With balanced animal feeding, one family can receive more than 5.5 kilograms of meat per month. The animal is ready for consumption at the age of 10 weeks. For the animals to grow quickly, they need to be fed a balanced diet of grains, soybeans, corn, alfalfa and one gram of ascorbic acid for every liter of water. Kui eats 12 to 30 grams of feed and increases in weight from 7 to 10 grams per day.

In urban settlements, few breed kuis in the kitchen. In rural areas, families living in one-room buildings or in areas with low temperatures often share their housing with kuis. They do this not only because of the lack of space, but because of the traditions of the older generation. A carpet weaver from the village of Salasaca in the Tungurahua region (Ecuador) has a house with four rooms. The house consists of one bedroom, one kitchen and two rooms with looms. In the kitchen, as well as in the bedroom, there is a wide wooden bed. It can hold six people. The family has approximately 25 animals that live under one of the beds. When the kui waste accumulates in a thick wet layer under the bed, the animals are transferred under another bed. Waste from under the bed is taken out into the yard, dried and then used as fertilizer in the garden and vegetable garden.Although this method of breeding animals has been sanctified by a centuries-old tradition, it is now gradually being replaced by new, more rational methods.

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The rural cooperative in Tiocajas occupies a two-storey house. The first floor of the house is divided into eight brick boxes with an area of ​​one square meter. They contain about 100 animals. A family lives on the second floor, looking after the property of the cooperative.

Breeding Kui with new methods is cost effective. Prices for agricultural products such as potatoes, corn and wheat are volatile. Kui is the only product that has a stable market price. It is important to note that breeding Kui enhances the role of the woman in the family. Women are engaged in animal husbandry, and men no longer grumble at women that they are wasting time in meaningless meetings. On the contrary, they are proud of him. Some women even claim to have completely changed the traditional husband-wife relationship. One of the women of the cooperative jokingly said that “now I am the one in the house who wears shoes.”

From pet to market product 

Kui meat reaches consumers through open fairs, supermarkets and direct deals with producers. Each city allows farmers from nearby areas to bring animals for sale to open markets. For this purpose, the city authorities allocate special places.

On the market, the price of one animal, depending on its size, is $ 1-3. Farmers (Indians) are actually prohibited from selling animals directly to restaurants. There are many dealers in the markets, who then sell the animals to restaurants. The reseller has more than 25% of the profit from each animal. Mestizos always strive to outwit the peasants, and as a rule they always succeed.

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Best organic fertilizer 

Kui is not only high quality meat. Animal waste can be converted into high quality organic fertilizer. Waste is always collected to fertilize fields and orchards. For the production of fertilizer, red earthworms are used.

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