Quechua Radio in the Southern Andes of Peru: Part II

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.

Most of the seniors were monolingual Quechua speakers. At first, we had some difficulty understanding each other because of the variation of Quechua. I introduced myself as someone originally from Ancash, in the north-central Andes. I asked them about their radio habits. Most told me they listened to radio stations from their own villages. Every little village had their own station. I asked them if the stations aired in Quechua or Spanish. They looked at me like I was crazy and replied (in Quechua): “Quechua, of course — why would I listen to Spanish radio if I don’t understand it?!”

It was obvious that local Quechua radio was very important to them. They told me that radio was their main source for local news, especially news about their pensions and other State programs. Of course they also listened to traditional huanyo music that is so important in the Andes. One woman told me: “If the music is sad, I cry. If the music is happy, I smile.”

Most of the seniors I spoke with were polite, but after a few questions, they seemed to lose interest or become more guarded. I imagine they were thinking, “why was this stranger with the funny Quechua accent asking me questions about radio and Quechua?” This experience reminded me how important it is to spend time with a new community to build trust. I cannot expect people to answer all my questions immediately, when they don’t even know me.

Natalia Romaní, teacher and radio host for Radio Vilcashuaman

I wanted to visit all three of the local stations in the main town. I woke up at 4:00 am because Quechua radio programs begin very early for their audiences, who typically rise before dawn to work in their fields. I walked through empty streets (except for a few workers sweeping) and up the surrounding hills where the stations were located, under a full moon and stars. One station was run by the municipalid (Radio Municipalidad.) The other two stations were more informal, operating without licenses. One station (Radio Vilcashuaman) was run by a teacher from her house. The third station (Radio La Victoria) also hosted a weekly one-hour program produced by Chirapaq, the organization with whom I began this field work.

After my stay in Vilcashuaman, I returned by bus down to Huamanga, the capital of Ayacucho. I met again with representatives from Chirapaq. and visited their radio program Sapichikmanta (“from our roots”), which airs every Saturday at 5:00 am on the independent radio station Radio Quispillaqta. Most of the show that day was devoted to commentary about the rights of indigenous communicators.

I also learned something new, that Chirapaq was organizing later in July the first encuentro in Lima for indigenous radio producers from Peru: Taller Internacional: Política de la palabra: Communicación y Agenda Indígena. I decided to return to Lima to attend the encuentro.

The three-day encuentro was lead by indigenous leaders from Bolivia, Colombia and Mexico, and an indigenous leader from the Peruvian Amazon. In total about 30 indigenous communicators attended, most from Ayacucho. On the final day, the participants agreed to form a network to stay in touch and share ideas. I was most impressed with a group of young people from the Amazonian region of Pucallpa (“red earth” in Quechua). One was the grandchild of an important Shipibo chief I met in 2005 when I was working in the Ucayali region. They were worried about losing the local language, and wanted to do something with radio to help. Once again, I was glad to meet young people with projects to help preserve their local culture and language.

Posted by Doris Loayza – MA Candidate at CLACS

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