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The Hidden Lives of Perú’s Indigenous People

After watching his grandfather, father and uncle dig a large hole in the ground for the preparations of the Pachamanca, Christian ran back into the house to assist his mother with the sauce that would be used to cook the food. A tradition that his family had been following for generations, Christian fondly remembers the memories of the weekly ceremony of celebrating the Pachamama. No longer celebrated after the passing of his grandparents, traditions like these have been fading away since the start of the acculturation of the indigenous communities, which began centuries ago.

Celebrating the Pachamama, or Earth Mother, was a common tradition amongst the indigenous families of Perú. For Christian, he remembers the ceremony, led by his grandfather using hot water, coca leaves and pisco (an alcoholic beverage), along with the Pachamanca feast. Every Sunday, his family would gather at his parent’s house to perform the ceremony and work was delegated to each member. Vegetables, alpaca or llama meat, and various kinds of Peruvian potatoes would be kept inside an earthen oven and baked with firewood and hot stones. While his grandmother would prepare the corn leaves, Christian would run around and build structures using the soil that was dug out. On Sundays, they would also worship Inti, the Incan sun god.

Preparations for the Pachamanca feast (Image: Rainforest Cruises)
Preparations for the Pachamanca feast (Image: Rainforest Cruises)

Born in Surco de Huarochirí in the Huarochirí province, Christian comes from long lines of two indigenous families – his mother was Aymara while his father was the son of a Quechua family. His mother was from a large family of Aymara potato farmers who worked at a haciendo, who had, along with Christian’s father, moved to Lima, the capital of Perú, for work and stability.

Christian grew up with the customs and traditions of his Aymara and Quechua families. He, however, also had a significant impact of Spanish culture because of his Spanish maternal grandmother, who her family disowned for marrying an Aymara boy – his grandfather. His grandmother’s family owned the haciendo where his grandfather worked.

Christian’s father was accustomed to violence. He was from the Ayacucho region and witnessed most of his extended family get killed by gangs. They were victims of terrorism. This was another reason why they had to move to Lima. Since moving to Lima, Christian was never spoken to in any of the indigenous languages his family usually conversed in to protect him against discrimination. He was largely stripped of his heritage and was expected to adapt to Lima’s cosmopolitan culture.

Nevertheless, celebrating Pachamama remained an essential tradition in his family, mainly because of his grandparents. For Perú’s indigenous families, celebrating Pachamama is crucial. For them, she is the mother of life that is born and lives. In Aymara and Quechua communities, celebrating Pachamama is celebrating life and giving back to the Earth what it gives us.

Pachamama is one commonality that is shared amongst most of South America’s indigenous cultures, although with slightly different variations and folklore. Aymara and Quechua cultures share a lot in common. Coca leaves happen to be prevalent, particularly in such ceremonies. The Andean people believe Pachamama to be living in the mountains, where she also protects the riches of the Earth – South America’s treasured natural resources. This is where the indigenous communities have been long at battle with the authorities and mining corporations.

Traditional Indigenous Peruvian Attire (for representation purposes only)
Traditional Indigenous Peruvian Attire (for representational purposes only)

Degradation of natural resources has been one of the many battlefronts Perú’s indigenous people have been fighting. As reported by the BBC, the logging industry has been linked to numerous cases of murder of native people in Perú. Many native communities blamed and accused mining and big industries of tearing away their land’s natural fabric – polluting and destroying their rivers and soil.

Christian, now an indie songwriter living in a big metropolis like Lima, has been a victim of racism and constant discrimination. Being called a ‘cholo’ almost on a daily basis and judged upon because of his heritage makes it all the more difficult for young people like him to accept their native heritage. From his grandfather, Christian learnt about the various ethnic clothes one would usually wear for the Pachamama ceremony along with the folk music that was the life of the celebrations. Yet, he was never able to experience that because of the rapid acculturation. Coming to Lima meant leaving the native culture behind and hiding their traditions. Indigenous identity, particularly in urban areas, continues to be suppressed. Nowadays, he and his family order Pachamanca from a nearby restaurant – which is now a widely consumed delicacy across urban Perú.

Many young people in Perú, including Christian, are hopeful of a better future yet afraid of rising racism. With the election of Pedro Castillo as president and Guido Bellido as prime minister this year, both of whom have indigenous heritage, many are looking forward to a change in the public perception of indigenous communities.

Note: Information and content in this post were mainly derived from an interview with Christian, along with some additional research.



All the images in this particular blog post are not a property of and were sourced from external sources.


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