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March 08, 2012

Andean Journal: Chawaytiri Energy

Potato planting in Chawaytiri
Potato planting in Chawaytiri, 2010. Chawaytirinos sustain a traditional agricultural practice depicted in the early chronicle of Guaman Poma, 1613.

Jose Barreiro (Taíno), assistant director for research and head of the NMAI’s Office of Latin America, offers this dispatch on his recent fieldwork in Chawaytiri, Peru. Barreiro is collaborating with the people of the community on Chawaytiri on the Road, part of the museum's research and exhibition project on the Qapaq Ñan (Inka Road).

Back Sunday afternoon from Peru, after a long delay in Lima. The oil truck pumped too much oil into the plane, and so I was bogged down by excess petroleum and missed my next connection. I got a kick out of that—dogged by over-abundant oil, even as the world supply dwindles.

I spent a few days this time in Chawaytiri, a strong Quechua community on the Antisuyo Road between Cusco and Paucartambo. I was first in Chawaytiri, and captured by its people, in 2008 while passing through studying the Inka Road for an upcoming exhibition at the National Museum of the American Indian. The Inka Road—the Qhapac Ñan—runs through the Chawaytiri community for several kilometers and then out for hundreds kilometers in a northeasterly direction, linking Cusco to Antisuyu, one of the quarters of the Inka Tawantinsuyu, "the four-part empire."

Chawaytiri has a strong leadership, largely under the system of warmi–qari, the woman–man kuraq authority and foundational duality of the Andean Native (originario) communities. The kuraq families of Chawaytiri have become our relations and coöperants over the past four years. The traditional bases Chawaytirinos retain resonated with me that first time—their strong practice of cultivating potatoes and many companion plants, their rational use of water; their sense of long-term sustainability, their food self-sufficiency; their appreciation and spiritual "payment" ceremonies to Pachamama, to the mountain apus; the continuity of their wachu, the traditional village government of the kinship-based community called ayllu.

Two years later, we produced a documentary by and with the community, one that the elders' group is using as a sort of manifesto or message to their generations. This trip we reviewed and critiqued our four-year production. I had a chance to show a PowerPoint of themes for our Qhapac Ñan exhibition, and the kuraq requested a group review of their inspired documentary Chawaytiri Strengthens: Message to the World. This kind of encounter is integral to our museum methodology, to check our thinking and production against the intelligence of the indigenous community.

Harvesting Lucio's garden
Barreiro picking habas (lima beans) in Lucio Illa's field. A community leader, Lucio grows a very nice garden of potatoes, quinoa, and habas.

The Chawatiri elders as always bid us welcome with speeches and song, lots of food, and serious discussions. They are a people of the llama, master herders and weavers of uniquely Andean textiles. The elder kuraqs drive an agenda of respect for Andean traditional skills and a way of life. They keep and guard patrimonial sites in their community, such as at Llamayoq Qaqa, at the base of the Apu Muruwiksa, where pictographs are estimated to be 5,000 years of age. The kuraqs also collectively keep up their stretch of the Inka Road, and Llama Tinkay, the Andean ceremony toasting the llama and other domestic animals, is active.

Lagoons at Paro, Peru
Excursion to the lakes at Paro. These beautiful lakes are kilometers long, clean, bountiful, and in the hands of a Native community.

During our meeting the kuraq group announced the decision that they would institutionalize the Llama Tinkay Ceremony and Feast Days to be an annual public event, where Chawaytiri would host the twelve other communities of the Pisaq valleys. "We want to continue with our agriculture, our own foods," said don Lucio. The ceremony in August 2011, the first community-hosted Llama Tinkay in half a generation, had been a success. There had been many suggestions for expanding the event to develop an agricultural fair.

"We have a fine community, and can host people with our culture, with our dances and feasts," said Lucio. The documentary—the "giving ourselves to get known"—all goes to build "a good marketplace for our people," reiterated Ermogenes Baca, another kuraq. Like so many traditional American Indian community leaders, the Chawaytiri elders seek to improve their capacity in the marketplace, but also continually point out the value of the independent sustenance provided by healthy local agricultural life. One subject was the price of transportation: Rather than transport their own goods, they sought to bring people, including international tourists still flocking to the region of the Inkas' origin, to Chawaytiri's own community market.

In Lima, on the way out of the country, we broached the subject of oil depletion, which clearly signals an age of global energy scarcity, with Leonardo Alcaywaman (Quechua), dean of engineering at Ricardo Palma University. Science holds many promises, but salvaging land for local, regionally consumable agricultural production is a premium strategy for all societies. Dr. Alcaywaman likes to point out the long-term principles of Inka civil and social engineering. Of that old Andean tradition, consciousness of long-term inhabitation, the Chawaytiri elders are clearly keen observers.

Watching the community documentary "Chawaytiri Strengthens"
The children's showing of the documentary Chawaytiri Strengthens: Message to the Future, February 27, 2012.

It was great to be in Chawaytiri again. The community had good questions and new suggestions for the museum's exhibition and documentary. They reiterated that the exhibition needs to show how "grand"  their ancestor Inka were and that they, the people, still remember them. We had some great laughs watching the documentary as people who appeared in it kidded each other. For the children, it was a powerful experience to see their own parents seriously and interestingly representing themselves in a medium that usually depicts silly entertainment, cheap violence, and confusing sexuality. 

—Jose Barreiro


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I appreciate that these ethnic groups help each other in their agricultural activities and they were able to preserve their natural resources. Thanks.

Those days are still upon us we just have to be as caring as the ethnic groups are.

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