Imminent Displacement: the Shipibo in Lima

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About 1000 Shipibos live in Cantagallo, a shanty-town in the Rimac district of Lima, Peru.  The Shipibo-Conibo are an indigenous group that live near the Ucayali river in the Amazon region of Peru. They make up about 10-15% of Cantagallo, the rest being populations that migrated from other areas in Peru, particularly the Andean regions.  Although Cantagallo began being populated in the 1970s, the Shipibos began arriving there in the year 2000.

I started my first week of living with a family in Cantagallo on June 14.  I arrived close to 5:00 and tecnocumbia music was already blaring.  A male voice announced father’s day celebrations on a loudspeaker that the whole community could hear.  He spoke in Shipibo, with only a few words of Spanish seeping through.

The family I’m staying with is headed by a woman who is the president of the oldest Shipibo association there named Ashirelv: Asociacion de Artesanos Shipibos Residentes en Lima Pro Vivienda.  The name was formerly Ashirel, but it evolved as the necessity to claim the land they invaded became more and more prevalent, and the ‘v’ was added.

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As the music blares, the president of the association is distributing little pieces of cloth that will one day be small bags that can fit a camera.  They say Via Parque Rimac on them and will have a small square of a Shipibo embroidery on each side by the time they’re finished.  The degree of irony does not escape me: Via Parque Rimac is the name of the project that has already displaced 52 families from a level up above the hill to where we are now: only a few meters away from Evitamiento, one of the fastest thruways in the capital.  A derivative project called Rio Verde will ultimately displace everyone living in Cantagallo in the next couple of years, Shipibo or not.  Rio Verde is a project that will turn Cantagallo into a public park.

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The state, embodied by the Municipality of Lima, is finally doing what it should have done decades ago: caring about two of Lima’s most egregious problems: traffic blockades and environmental pollution. To say that the state of the Rimac river is deplorable is a mild understatement. If one looks hard enough one can see dead dogs, trash, and tires amidst other debris that lies in pestilent turbid waters. Traffic is also a problem that grows worse by the day as more cheap cars get imported into the country every week and nothing is done to regulate their usage.  Yet, following in its tradition, the Peruvian state only acts when the situation has become almost untenable. The project will ultimately displace about 1200 families, an impact that is considered significant within Peruvian norms.

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Nevertheless, the ultimate displacement by Rio Verde has no set date and life in the Shipibo community must go on. After a night of father’s day celebrations, with multiple parties going on in the community and Shipibo, bands with names such as Karisma entertaining, the president of Ashirelv, with the help of other ladies from the community, begins to cook pachamanca a la olla.  The ground is too hard and too dirty to dig and prepare this typical Andean dish in the ground with hot stones, as it is typically cooked. The women cook for the members of the association who are fathers, but I’m able to eat the delicious corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, broad beans, rice, and skip the chicken, and so are other women who belong to the association.  Two gigantic metal pots have been placed outside of the house and a makeshift fire has been built from wood lying on the ground. The ingredients were put in the pots in layers and ultimately everything was covered with plastic bags, with stones and the husks of the corn to keep it in place.  After it has finished cooking, the food is served on rectangular Styrofoam plates and people begin gathering around the food to talk, laugh, drink beer and soda, and rejoice in a Sunday in which the sun actually deigned to shine on us.  At this time of year metropolitan Lima is mostly drizzly, humid, and the skies painted an unbreakable and blinding chrome.

Posted by Constanza Ontaneda- MA Candidate at CLACS, NYU

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