Tucked away in the Andes mountain range, the small city of Ayacucho was the birth place of the notorious Maoist insurgent group, the Shining Path (SP). The movement began in the 1960s and 70s in the University of Huamanga, and then spread out into the surrounding communities in the early 1980s. At first, the ideas and ideals of the Shining Path revolution were attractive to many Ayacuchans, the majority of whom were quechua-speakers campesinos (farmers or peasants), who as a population had been historically excluded from full participation – economic, democratic, and social – in the Peruvian nation. Slowly, however, as rural communities began to witness SP’s use of violence as a tool for discipline, punishment, and social control, many began to turn their backs on the group. In some villages ronderos (civilian guards) were formed as a mechanism of defense against the Shining Path. The rondero groups were themselves notoriously violent, especially those which allied with Peruvian armed forces. The Peruvian military itself was also heavily complicit in violence that constituted violations of human rights; in its desperation to rid the country of leftist “terrorists,” it massacred and “disappeared” civilians throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
This last point was driven home for me in no uncertain terms when, upon arrival in Ayacucho, I visited Los Cabitos, a former military base in the desert just outside of city limits. Hundreds of people were said to have entered the base and never been seen or heard from again. These accounts were confirmed when the Specialized Forensic Team (an entity of the Peruvian judicial branch), exhumed more than one hundred dead bodies from impromptu graves in a small valley behind the base. The entire area is still today covered in the grids left behind from the forensic archaeological excavations (pictured). Perhaps even more haunting was the infamous Cabitos oven, which was eventually installed by the military to burn bodies and dispose of remains more effectively. During the excavation, calcined bone fragments, especially teeth, were said to have been found under the site of the oven and scattered around the perimeter of the property. Although it is possible to extract DNA from bone, the charring and calcificaiton of remains greatly reduces this prospect and limits forensic investigators’ ability to identify remains and accurately estimate the number of people killed at Los Cabitos. Continue reading →
In Part 1, I shared my experiences with Quechua radio in Huanta, Ayacucho. I continued my research by traveling to Vilcashuaman, a tiny, cold town high up in the puna, 11,350 feet above sea level.
When the bus reached a mountain peak, the radio picked up a strong signal from Vilcashuaman’s main station, even though we were still three hours away. The station played huaynos. Occasionally, the announcers shared news from the municipalidad and del Estado, in both Spanish and Quechua. We passed Condorcocha (condor lake). When the bus stopped to pick up passengers, I heard playful comments in Quechua like pipas tanqay mamayta — can somebody help push the mamita wearing many skirts] through the door?”
Monolingual Quechua speakers, Plaza of Vilcashuaman
Finally we arrived into town. There was an amazing plaza constructed by the Incas after they conquered their longtime enemy, the Chankas. The plaza was full of senior citizens dressed in beautiful traditional clothing. I began to talk with them, mostly the ladies. They came from small villages throughout the region, traveling by foot or combi, to pick up their pensions from the local office of Banco Nacion, the state bank. They were beneficiaries of Pensión 65, a program started by the State in 2012 to provide monthly benefits (125 soles or $45) to seniors in poor rural areas.
I arrived to Madre de Dios on July 1st. The same day the illegal and informal miners started a strike against a recent decree declared by the state (DL-1100), which ordered the process of formalization of the illegal extractivism and established a list of requirements for that formalization. According to the miners, those requirements were impossible to fulfill, and the state was just trying to declare their activity as a crime. According to the state, the miners were not respecting the law and had no will to formalize their activities. Until today, they have not reached an agreement.
Certainly, the strike altered my plans in the region and limited my access to the area where my research was taking place. There was a constant threat of blocking the Interoceánica highway, a corridor that connects the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, and Peru, Bolivia and Brazil. The Interoceánica is nowadays the only route of access to Madre de Dios. And, therefore, the one used for trafficking women from nearby provinces, especially Puno, Cusco and Abancay. Continue reading →
This summer, I am traveling to three sites in Peru to investigate the development of the photographic technology during recent decades. Having established that my dissertation will address the broad topic of social practices of photography in Peru, this trip is intended to help narrow the focus of my research and explore potential sites for more extended fieldwork. I have chosen three locations, each with a rich photographic legacy.
My first stop was Huamanga (also known as Ayacucho), the capital city of the Huamanga province in the Ayacucho region of Peru. Among the people I spoke with was Giovana Alejos, granddaughter of photographer Baldomero Alejos. I found her in the Alejos photography store, with its own studio and laboratory, located on a side street off of the Plaza de Armas.
A photographer based in the city center of Huamanga from 1924-1976, Baldomero accumulated an archive of over 60,000 images. The subject matter of the photos ranges from high society portraits to funeral processions, student groups, and popular festivals. Continue reading →
Junio killapi, 2013 watapi, Doris Loayza investigacionninta ruwashaqtin Huamanga llaqtapi, Perupi, qelqakamayoq Wari Zaratewan tuparan. Pay pintor, yachachiq ima kan Escuela de Bellas Artespi Huamanga llaqtapi. Chaypi pay pinturata, esculturata, dibujota ima yachachin. Kunan pay huk librota qelqashan. Kay libroqa rimanqa: imaynatachus colores nisqakunata, muhuta, laqhekunata ima kay pacha kawsayninchispi mana chinkananpaq kawsarichispa. Pachamancata mihuyta tukuspa, Doris, Wari ima rimaranku.
En Junio de 2013, Doris Loayza se encontraba realizando su investigación de campo en la ciudad de Huamaga, Ayacucho-Perú, donde me encontré con el pintor Wari Zarate. Actualmente es professor de la Escuela de Bellas Artes de Huamanga donde enseña pintura, escultura, dibujo y otros. Escribe un libro sobre la recuperación y uso de colores naturales de hojas y semillas nativas de la zona. Esta entrevista se llevó a cabo luego de una suculenta pachamanca como almuerzo.
In June 2013, Doris pursued my field research in Huamanga city, Ayacucho-Peru where she met a painter Wari Zarate. Currently he works at the Escuela de Bellas Artes Huamanga where he teachs paiting, sculpture, drawing, etc. He is writing a book about tradicional colors made from native plants and seed of the region. This interview was made after a delicious pachamanca meal.
The focus of my thesis is on Quechua language, culture and media. During winter break last January, I went to Lima and met with Chirapaq headquarters, an NGO in Peru that supports indigenous culture.
One of their oldest projects is “Sapinchikmanta,” which means “From our roots” in Quechua. This project trains people in Ayacucho and other parts of Andes to produce radio shows in the Quechua language along with Spanish.This summer, I decided to start my field work researching this project as part of my thesis project, but before returning to Peru, I was able to start my research in New York in May, when I attended the United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. I followed and attended presentations on community radio from Guatemala, and met people who identify themselves as indigenous from different parts of Latin America.
In mid-June I arrived in Huamanga, the capital of Ayacucho where I began my work by meeting the staff of Chirapaq at their office in this city.
They introduced me to three stations in the region. I was surprised to learn that that these stations only broadcast one hour a week. I read that that there used to be five stations, which broadcast more frequently. During the next two weeks, I visited each station. First in Huamanga, then onto Huanta and Wilcashuaman, about two hours away in rural areas with a distinct climate and history. I did interviews (in Quechua) with the producers and listeners.
I came to Peru to conduct research with Grupo Cultural Yuyachkani, a popular theater group based in Lima. In fusing aesthetic and theatrical activity with collective memory, Yuyachkani’s performances, such as Rosa Cuchillo, Adíos Ayacucho, and Antígona, address issues of memory and trauma after Peru’s internal armed conflict primarily between the Peruvian government and the members of the Marxist-Maoist organization, Sendero Luminoso.
During my first week in Lima I met with Juan Carlos Buezo de Manzanedo Reategui, a lawyer who worked as a volunteer on the Final Report of the Peruvian Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which was presented in 2003. As part of his work, Juan Carlos, along with other young lawyers, traveled to some of the villages most affected by the internal armed conflict and worked closely with the victims in order to collect testimonies. Meeting with Juan Carlos and discussing his work with Peru’s TRC made me think not only about the importance of remembering and memory after trauma, but the ways in which we, as a society, remember. Processes of memorialization, trabajos de memoria, and truth gathering are numerous, and I find myself wondering whether one type of memory project is more effective than another (i.e. formal documentation vs. other forms of memorialization, such as museum or art exhibitions and performances) or if they complement each other.
In Quechua, Yuyachkani means “I am thinking, I am remembering”; therefore, I hope to ask some of Yuaychkani’s actors how embodied performance serves as a memory recuperation project. For instance, how does a performance like Antígona reflect this idea of “I am remembering”—active memorialization?
I have been working closely with Augusto Boal’s “Theatre of the Oppressed” to help contextualize the importance of popular theater and its techniques with my research. In the foreword to his book, Boal writes that popular theater functions as a weapon. That is, popular theater is a tool, a “weapon of liberation” against sources of domination (ix). Boal writes that popular theater fundamentally changes some of the theatrical forms established by traditional theater. In applying Boal’s concepts on popular theater to my research with Yuyachkani’s Antígona, I see how this particular one-woman performance also serves as a tool. In this case, Antígona is a tool not only to remember, but also to make a political statement. In my first blog, I talked about the existence of various forms of memorialization (truth commissions, museums, and performance). Along with this, there also exist different memories, sometimes conflicting. There is not one, sole memory of the internal armed conflict. It may be a result of the same event, but the way one remembers and what they remember is based on certain experiences. Antígona specifically triggers the memory of women who had members of their family disappeared and the struggle in demanding proper burials for their unburied dead. In fact, Teresa Ralli revealed that her portrayal of Antígona was based directly on a group of eight or nine women, whom she later invited individually to share their experiences and stories with her in Casa Yuyachkani. In the performance, Antígona serves as the embodiment of the fragility and power in these women’s testimonies.
I came to Peru to study how the illegal mining for gold in Madre de Dios province, on the Peruvian border with Brazil and Bolivia, has increased prostitution and human trafficking. The weak presence of the state, combined with the opening of the Interoceánica highway, the growth of illegal mining for gold, the trafficking of goods (arms, drugs) and people, and a high rate of population increase have resulted on severe social, cultural and environmental effects in the area.
According to a research conducted by INFOS Peru, for every new illegal mining camp in MDD, 45 “prostibares” (brothels) open, and between 2004 and 2011 there were close to 1.700 denounces of human trade in the area (RETA). In MDD, the illegal mining camps have grown keeping pace with brothels.
Despite the core of my research was in Madre de Dios, my fieldwork started in Lima. Before going to the field, I needed to have a bigger picture on how human trafficking for sexual exploitation was understood by the Peruvian state. I interviewed Ricardo Valdés, from Capital Humano y Social Alternativo, an NGO specialized in human trafficking.
(Photos taken with permission at Yuyanapaq; collage original)
I recently began my summer fieldwork in Lima, Peru, where I visited the photo exhibit Yuyanapaq, or “To Remember” in Quechua. Created by Peru’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2003, the exhibit is a compilation of photographs that document the impact of political violence on the Peruvian population in the 1980s and 1990s. It groups violent events geographically and categorically, portraying the aftermath of bombings, murders, and attacks by the Peruvian military, the Maoist group the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso), and the other communist armed group the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). Yuyanapaq is impressive not only in that it does not shy away from exposing the realities of violence, but in that attracts a wide range of Peruvian visitors who, upon being reminded of the country’s violent period, will hopefully work to prevent it from recurring.
The photos evoke Peru’s violent past, even showing physical harm done to the war’s victims. Multiple images show dead and mutilated bodies. They capture inadvertent looks of shock and awe from survivors and first responders, and the utter anguish of family members as they look over the corpses of their loved ones. The only thing that I can think to compare the exhibit to in the United States is a miniature version of the Holocaust Museum. Yet whereas in the Holocaust it was easy to place the blame on the Nazis, and even on one clear, specific perpetrator, in Peru political violence and human rights abuses were committed by both the state military and leftist armed groups such as the Shining Path. How might the moral ambiguity that this type of conflict generates help us better understand the nature of violence? Were all those who committed violent acts in the context of Peru’s war “bad people” at heart, no matter what side they were on? If not, then what pushes otherwise decent people to commit such horrific acts?