The guinea pig pervades nearly every aspect of Andean life. Traditionally important in folk medicine, native religion and as a food source, guinea pig use continues to proliferate. Once a woman's domestic chore, raising guinea pigs today is a profitable commercial practice in Latin America—this once-sacred animal is now exploited as a source of cash income. As the drive to integrate indigenous peoples into the modern global market economy becomes a priority with Latin American governments, the implementation of new economic policies regulating guinea pig husbandry is aggressively changing traditions and values in the Andes.
Sociologist Edmundo Morales traveled back to his homeland in the Andes to conduct extensive research on the changes and continuities in the traditional uses of the guinea pig in his culture. Morales, a native speaker of Spanish and Quechua, easily ventured into many isolated communities and examined social customs centered upon the guinea pig. Although the guinea pig lives in the Andean home as would a family member, it is also serves as a special delicacy. Folk doctors employ the black guinea pig to determine the cause of illness—pressed against an ailing body, the animal reportedly squeals when it finds the source of disease. These are only some of the uses for the guinea pig in the Andean cultures of Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru.
A study of cultural traditions and changes, The Guinea Pig: Healing, Food, and Ritual in the Andes will be useful for social scientists, humanists, and policymakers, as well as for general readers interested in this unique aspect of Andean culture. The book records the cultural traditions of an indigenous people while demonstrating how participation in the global market economy can alter a way of life.