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Mining Companies in Ancash September 6, 2011

Posted by Joshua Shapero in Doctoral, Graduate, Individual Fellowship, Peru, Uncategorized.
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The valley of Conchucos is a beautiful place—green all year long. Separated from the valley of Huaylas by the Cordillera Blanca range, it is watched over by snowy peaks, ancient shrines, and caves with carvings and paintings. But the river that runs through the southern part of the valley, Rio Mosna, is not as clear as it used to be. Now it carries runoff from the Canadian mine Antamina to the Marañon,

Valley of Conchucos

Valley of Conchucos

then to the Amazon, and eventually to the Pacific ocean. When my Quechua teacher and I visited a town above the banks of the Mosna, I found all the residents at work on a communal project. They were building a road to bring bulls into the arena for the coming festival. This communal labor, called a faena, is a common way of getting things done throughout the Andes. Traditionally everyone works together for the benefit of the community, doing things like cleaning irrigation canals, building mountain paths and fixing churches. Playing the anthropologist, I asked my teacher what would happen if someone didn’t think all this work was worthwhile just to bring a bull into the arena. He responded that it wouldn’t be likely, since they are being paid well for the labor. It turns out that this faena breaks the pattern—it was also a pilot plan, or a community project paid for by municipal money. But the pilot plan is very closely tied to the huge sums of money given by mining companies like Antamina to nearby municipalities.

A bit later that day, while taking refuge from the sun under a shaded bus stop, a troop of uniformed guardias appeared. These were local security officers funded by the same money as the pilot plans. My teacher struck up a conversation—why was the town shipping in vegetables instead of growing them, buying milk instead of producing it? Look at all the unused, fertile farmland and pasture around! Are they teaching their children the local agricultural practices? What would they do when the mines pack up and leave? Will they be able to easily return to the unpaid faenas? Hearing this conversation I felt something like déjà-vu as I realized that Detroit and Flint, towns within an hour of my home, had gone through more or less the same socio-economic crisis. How would such a crisis play out in these remote towns high in the mountains?

While this paints a bleak picture of mining, a different picture emerges from daily life in Ancash. Friends sported coats, shirts and caps with mine insignias, every poster for a cultural event I saw had a mine logo in a corner. I attended the opening of a new archaeological excavation near Huaraz, completely funded by a mine. The teachers I met had laptops emblazoned with the insignia of the mining companies that donated them—except for those whose machines had disappeared among sticky fingers on its way to their school. All of this presents a dilemma: how can locals, academics and politicians react responsibly to the presence of these companies? Should they be rejected completely because of the intense environmental and social disturbance? Should they be accepted because of their contribution to national and local economies, because of their support of cultural projects? Personally, I believe that they should at least be subjected to intense investigation by disinterested parties and required to either fix their problems or get out. Yet there is no way around one key fact: mines are there to make money. This raises the question of whether compromise will ever really be possible.


Quechua Teachers in Ancash July 13, 2011

Posted by Joshua Shapero in Individual Fellowship, Peru.
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During the time I am spending in Ancash, in the central Andes of Peru, I have been conducting field interviews and recordings focused on the Quechua language, primarily in the town of Huaripampa. The town, officially a centro poblado, is located roughly 45 minutes from the urban center of Huaraz. It is in the district of Olleros, located at the end of the same road that branches off from the main highway, directly above the town of Olleros itself. In the past years, Quechua has been taught at the primary level (grades 1-6) at the local school, Academia José Carlos Mariátegui. It is safe to say that all the parents in the town speak Quechua, and the vast majority of these are bilingual in Spanish.

Field Trip to Qitsqay Hirka

A few classes made a trip one day to a nearby hill to make an offering to the Pachamama and have a picnic.

Of the grandparents’ generation, I believe that a large number of the women are monolingual, while most of the men are bilingual. A contribution to the community’s bilingualism, I suspect, is the influence of those who migrated temporarily to Lima after the devastating earthquake of 1970. I asked a friend’s aunt about this. Her response included frequent switches from Quechua to Spanish. She told me that when the earthquake struck, she was sitting in the door of her house cradling her newborn baby. Suddenly rocks started to fall from the roof. She compared it to a pachamanca (earth oven made of clods in a freshly harvested field) and the way that the clods collapse as the oven is closed. After the earthquake she moved to Lima for seven years. All but one of her children remained in Lima. With the children, she told me, usually she speaks Spanish.

This seems to be the trend in Huaripampa: children, and especially adolescents, prefer to speak Spanish. Quechua is associated with poverty and working in the fields, while Spanish is associated with moving to Huaraz to study a profession, earning cash, and becoming modern citizens. This is precisely what the school teachers who teach Quechua in rural communities tell me they are trying to fight. The children, they tell me, understand Quechua. When you speak to them in Quechua, they become more confident. Sometimes they even begin to open up about the culture that they share with their parents and grandparents in their homes, recounting mythic explanations of atmospheric phenomenon or hilarious stories about the fox and the condor. At the same time they begin to explain their feelings when they speak in Quechua. A professor who teaches in a rural community near Carhuaz, Vilma Orellano Mallqui, asked the students in Quechua why they didn’t wear hats when the sun was shining so brightly. A young boy responded that only poor people wear hats.