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Interculturalidad – Learning Between Cultures (part 2)

Interculturalidad – Learning Between Cultures (part 2)

Posted by on Apr 8, 2013 in all posts, Chile, Peru, PRATEC | 0 comments

Through Grimaldo Rengifo’s connection in Lima with Pratec, we met Elena Pardo in Cusco. Elena is a warm, committed and generous person. After two long conversations, she invited us to attend a Quechua ceremony at the winter solstice (December 20) in the ruins of Saqsaywaman above Cusco, an amazing and unforgettable experience. Knowing we would be in Chile in late February, Elena also invited us to join her in a visit to a Mapuche school she has been in contact for a number of years. Actually her invitation was even more enticing, to join her at a ceremony with some Mapuche people by the Lago Arco Iris (rainbow lake) near the Icalma volcano! Needless to say we were excited about this and faithful to our principle of being open to what arises we took the thirty-hour bus ride from Buenos Aires across the border to Temuco, Chile, about 8 or so hours south from Santiago. We will write about our learning and experiences of ceremony later, but this was a moving event and spiritual exchange between Quechua and Mapuche Elders.

temuco - trani trani.jpg

Trañi Trañi, a Mapuche intercultural school

In our third day in Chile we were invited by Elena’s friend Don Roberto, who was also at the ceremony, to visit Trañi Trañi, a Mapuche intercultural school a few kilometres outside Temuco and be part of two days of meetings with Elena, teachers, parents and students before the school year begun. The school has around 90 students from the surrounding communities and 14 teachers, some Mapuche, a number of whom we met at the ceremony a few days before. Mapuche language, history and culture is taught at the traditional ruca building made of mud and straw which sits by the rest of the school’s buildings. The other buildings are also designed so as not to have corners and the desks are positioned in clusters so that the authority of teacher is not emphasised as in traditional classrooms.

The meetings took place in the ruca and we were treated to a warm and overwhelmingly generous Mapuche hospitality. Around fifty of us from young students to the village elder sat in a circle and greeted each other with hugs and a single kiss on the cheek. When latecomers arrived they also went around the whole circle doing the same. Everyone spoke and introduced themselves. We were left with a warm, affectionate glow and a deep connection to all in the room. A far cry from the often inhospitable conferences, seminars and staff meetings we are used to!

Temuco inside the ruca.jpg

Trañi Trañi, which has been around for over a decade, is considered a model intercultural school in the region. In the south of Chile where most of the Mapuche live and make up a considerable percentage of the population and ownership of land there are around two hundred such intercultural schools. These are a new phenomena only beginning to emerge after the Pinochet era (from 1973 to 1990) and hundreds of years of cultural oppression. Such intercultural schools are beginning to emerge all over the Americas. We visited the wonderful school in the Blood Reserve in Alberta where Kelly ran with teachers and students in the annual race across the prairies. We visited another school in Lamas within the Quechua Lama community, also going on a school trip to the forest with the students, teachers and a local elder who knew the forest. Across these schools and the hundreds or thousands of others like it in the continent there is a constant tension between teaching the national curriculum and the incorporation of local ways of knowing, doing, being. National curriculums tend to offer learning that is completely divorced from indigenous language, culture and history, suppressing these in favor of a Euro-centric national identity.

Masters of two cultures

The commitment to and desire for a truly intercultural education on the part of teachers, students and parents also varied. It takes remarkable individuals, people like those we referred to here, masters of two cultures to really inspire others of the importance of interculturalidad. We saw how rare or transient were the spaces for learning about or sharing the competencies of being intercultural.

temuco - trani trani students.jpg

We came across some wonderful experiences for training teachers such as the course in Blackfoot Ways of Knowing run by Narcisse Blood and Cynthia Chambers (professor of education) at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta. (see the posts we have written on this here and here). Elena also organised a course along similar principles at the University of Cusco for teachers, based on Quechua ways of knowing. These initiatives deeply impacted the teachers who took the course opening their lives to inhabiting this space in-between. But both these courses only ran once and were not made regular by these universities. As both Cynthia and Elena related to me, there is a deep resistance of the traditional university to accommodating other ways of knowing.

At Red Crow Community College the Kainai Studies course (one of the most advanced course on indigenous ways of knowing we have visited) the inspiring effects of the course on a number of students from the College we talked to were clear to see. Many spoke of rediscovering their history, their identity, of reconnecting with their ancestors, with grandparents, their land, and most importantly with a sense of pride and value of a way of life that had been oppressed for many decades. But the course has also been taken by non-Blackfoot, people who came to find a renewed connection and responsibility to the place they live in.

In the course of these seven months of traveling and learning from these different initiatives I have become convinced that we are all going to have to learn to be intercultural. We will learn to inhabit a cultural space between the ways we have been educated to see and be in the world within our industrial societies and other ways of relating to place and community, many of which have existed for thousands of years. These other ways may not necessarily be entirely Native or indigenous cultural practices, although we can learn much from them. But wherever they come from, in building sustainable societies we will need to master practices, other principles and values that reconnect us to place, each other and ourselves.

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Interculturalidad – Learning Between Cultures (part 1)

Interculturalidad – Learning Between Cultures (part 1)

Posted by on Apr 4, 2013 in all posts, Freda Diesing School of Northwest Art, Peru, PRATEC, Red Crow Community College | 0 comments




Across our travels in Latin America, we came across a wonderful word and practice, interculturalidad (the process of being intercultural). The term is common in Latin America amongst those engaged in educational initiatives that try to include, or bring together, different cultural knowledges and ways of living.

Currently, attempts to integrate interculturidad learning involves combining two very different cultural worldviews – most often those originating in Europe and found in “settler” or so-called ‘modern’ societies and those that originate in diverse, particularly indigenous cultures across the Americas. I can only begin to imagine what it might be like to have to learn and master two dramatically different languages, ways of seeing and being in the world, sets of values and forms of conduct.

Peru - Merillo school and village.jpg
Quechua intercultural school in Merillo village, outside of Lamas, Peru




The closest to interculturidad learning I have personally experienced was being raised in Rio de Janeiro and learning the local Carioca (locality of Rio) language and ways of being and then moving to the UK at a young age where I had to pick up the various nuances of the British English language and behaviour, the values and etiquette, humour and cultural references. Aside from the language, it was not such a great leap, other than some significant differences around emotional expression and interpersonal relations, but still…

I have gained a kind of competence in these two places, Rio and the UK, navigating through day-to-day life in each place in the way a local might. But these ways of knowing, being, relating, at least within the circles I was raised, are not so very different in their underpinning cosmovision, their fundamental way of seeing and being in the world. This is not such a leap of interculturidad as say between Blackfoot and North European culture that settled and colonized North America, or Quechua and South European culture that settled and colonized South America.

Amongst our journey we have been lucky to have met individuals who are masters of considerably distinct cultures. People who have been living amidst this European-derived settler/colonizing culture and who have also deeply studied these ways of knowing and being in the world, often at a university level. At the same time they have not been completely seduced by this way of seeing/being in the world and have also a deep knowledge and identification with the ways of their indigenous ancestors. These individuals live their lives in this in-between space of interculturidad and many are also deeply committed to teaching others how to inhabit this space.




Encountering mastery of two distinct cultures during our journey

We saw the mastery of two distinct cultures in the re-emergence of Blackfoot Ways of Knowing at Red Crow Community College in Alberta, Canada, with Ryan Heavyhead, Duane Mistaken Chief, Narcisse Blood, Alvine Mountainhorse, Ramona Bighead and Cynthia Chambers. In the field of art we experienced the mastery of two worlds at the Freda Diesing School of Art in Northern British Columbia with Dempsey Bob and other First Nations teachers such as Stan Bevan, Ken McNeil and Dean Heron. We witnessed this in the comunalidad work of Zapotec anthropologist and activist Jaime Luna in the hills surrounding the city of Oaxaca in Mexico.

In Peru doing inspiring and courageous work in this sphere of interculturidad were all of those we met as part of the Pratec network (in Lima, Lamas and Cusco although there are many other Pratec organisations in other parts of the country).

Peru - Cusco - Elena interview shot.jpg

Elena Pardo has not only mastered two cultures, she has developed interculturidad education that has influenced all of Pratec. Elena had worked for many years in the Ministry of Education before leaving and founding her own organisation CEPROSI (the Centro de Promocion y Salud Integral), part of the PRATEC (Projecto Andino Tecnologias Campesinas) network, which is active in the promotion and support of Quechua cultural knowledge and practices in agriculture, schools and in the field of health. Her work focuses especially on the food, ceremony and spirituality of the Quechua peoples in and around Cuzco, trying to integrate these fully into schools beyond the mere tokenistic approach that is most often taken.  




Experiences of interculturidad education with Pratec

Pratec generally aims to support and strengthen genuine interculturidad and we learned much about this when speaking with Grimaldo in Lima and then spending nearly a week in Lamas, at Waman Wasi. During the days we spent visiting the work of Waman Wasi, in the upper Amazon region of Lamas, we visited different villages and schools, and school trips, accompanied by either Leonardo or Gregorio who had been working at Waman Wasi for a number of years. One day we went to a Quechua Lama village a few kilometres away from Lamas to visit a school Wama Wasi had been working with. We were met there by a lively non-Quechua Lama teacher who was engaging and well-liked by the students.

It was just before Christmas and the students, ranging in age between 10 – 12 had been making Christmas trees from paper and branches when we arrived.

School in Quechua Lamas village, Lamas, Peru, photo by Udi.

This teacher had been working with Waman Wasi for some time and was open to incorporating the videos they produced on local knowledge and cultural practices into his own teaching. We observed the class watching a video Waman Wasi made with another group of children on fishing and river pollution at another Quechua Lama village. The activity of watching the video, which the school-children had to write about later, was part of the days’ curriculum which was all about the environment.

Peru - inter-cultural school kids watching video.jpg

Though the days’ teaching activities went well and the students seem to have enjoyed it we were both surprised to hear that the teacher, like many others in this region, did not speak Quechua Lama even though he had been teaching in the same village for many years. Thinking back to the school trip to El Monte, to our conversations with Leonardo, Gregorio and Elena Pardo in Cusco, we saw how important it was to have teachers that are committed to interculturidad education. Committed to being, learning and teaching between cultures.

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“What we need are Grandmother’s Universities”

“What we need are Grandmother’s Universities”

Posted by on Mar 21, 2013 in all posts, Peru, PRATEC, Red Crow Community College | 0 comments

Grandparent’s school, Quechua village near Lamas, Peru, photo still from film footage by Udi

In Carol Black’s 2010 critical education documentary, Schooling the World: The White Man’s Last Burden there is one particular quote that has returned to me again and again. It is something that Vandana Shiva, the internationally renowned eco-feminist, physicist and activist says at one point during the film: “What we need are Grandmother’s Universities. All over the world.”

Whilst the film brings up a series of profoundly important points that urgently need to be critically reflected on, this quote by Vandana Shiva was something that I kept thinking about. I had read much of her work in the past – on bio-patenting and its disastrous effects on local communities and also her writings of ‘monocultures of the mind’, or how schooling tends to encourage singular and universal ways of thinking and learning, rather than encouraging diversity and plurality. All of the writing I have encountered from Vandana Shiva is provocative, political and poetic. I am a fan. While I was not surprised at her being included in the film as a speaker, I was surprised to hear of her particular focus on higher education – with grandparents as taking the central role of the leading teachers and thinkers.

I could clearly relate to the logic of her argument. I knew something of the importance of Elders, especially within indigenous communities. I also feel deeply about the devalued place that grandparents and the elderly generally hold within so-called industrialized societies. During this journey, Udi and I have come to understand much more of the importance of knowledge and experience that can/should be valued from grandparents and Elders in communities. We encountered the significance of this from the very beginning of our journey, during our time in southern Alberta, with the Blackfoot community.  We learned about the traumatic experiences of the past, the processes of healing in the present and the future of Blackfoot language and knowledge that is kept but also re-generated and re-claimed with the support and encouragement of Elders.

Interview with Duane Mistaken Chief, Blackfoot Elder and Blackfoot language teacher at Red Crow Community College, photo still from footage by Udi

Interview with Narcisse Blood, Black Elder, curriculum writer for Blackfoot Pedagogy and teacher at Red Crow Community CollegeCurrently, the Elders of the Blackfoot community actively participate in the teaching and learning process within Red Crow College.

Not only were the Elders active in the preparation of the curriculum (Udi has described in previous posts the inspiring story of the repatriated beaver bundle and how this led to the ‘Blackfoot learning with the land’ curriculum that Ryan Heavyhead and his wife Adrienne developed through their own learning of how to traditionally bring beaver bundle ceremony back into practice), they teach and also declare and provide their own degrees which are not provided by the University of Lethbridge. For example, Ryan Heavyhead is recognized as having a PhD in Blackfoot ways of knowing from Blackfoot Elders that is not recognized by the University of Lethbridge.

Ryan and Adrienne, explaining their own Blackfoot learning as keepers of the Beaver Bundle and how this translated into Blackfoot Studies at Red Crow Community College, photo still from footage by Udi

During our time visiting with Pratec, in Peru, this understanding was furthered. Greatly. Udi has described some of this in his post on the Quechua grandfather coming from Wayku (the Quechua village next to Lamas) to teach the Quechua children and young people more about the sacredness and depth of knowledge that is within the forest of El Monte. The grandfather’s knowledge and the Quechua cosmovision was demonstrated by the tobacco ritual he offered to purify each of our bodies as we entered the forest that was once one of the most sacred hunting grounds of the Quechua Lamas. This process of purification is also a process of respect toward the guardian of the forest. It is an act of reciprocity to also be looked after safely – and previously, to ensure a successful hunt.

Quechua Elder providing tobacco purification ritual, El Monte, near Tarapoto, Peru, photo still from footage by Udi

The grandfather also offered many stories of particular plants and animals, how they act as different types of medicines and how we can interact with them, as we ventured through the forest.

Quechua Elder teaching us, telling stories about trees, plants in the forest in El Monte, photo still from footage by Udi

photo still from footage by Udi

I remember noticing his ease of walking through the forest, his feet bare, his body more deeply connected to the Earth. For Udi and for me, we would have liked many more hours of time with him there in the forest, to hear his stories and deep knowledge he has with the living beings that make up the forest. The encounter that we did have, with his knowledge and story-telling, made the forest come alive. I felt a sense of the soul of each individual being in the forest as we passed through in a new way that I had never experienced.

The day before we visited El Monte, Lucho had taken us to a ‘grandparents school’ in a Quechua village 45 minutes outside of Lamas. On our way to the village, I heard Vandana Shiva’s quote echo in my head, and I wondered how much the experience would resonate with her vision.

It was a hot afternoon. The sky was cloudless and the sun felt relentless. We sat with a family in the village as we waited for the grandparents’ gathering to begin. There were five or so children, boys and girls, and a mother and father of three of these children. The mother was molding a bowl from wet clay, her two young daughters helping – one watching and the other starting her own. The bowls would be used during each meal once dried in the hot sun.

photo still from footage by Udi

photo still from footage by Udi

The father had taken a large palm branch and was using a machete to cut and twist various leaves for weaving. His son came over and started to weave the palm leaves with his father helping him, giving him instructions and showing him what to do when needed. The woven palms would be used as mats (typically about 4ft by 6ft – or 1.5m by 2m) to sit on, to put on the walls or even used as walls. Udi had a conversation with the father about what was being taught (weaving and pottery) and how important it was for them as a family but also as a community.

photo still from footage by Udi

The grandparents ‘school’ occurred several times per week, after the hours of formal schooling, offering different learning experiences for the children, but also adults, that were not offered within the school. These various activities, central to Quechua ways of knowing and being are not a priority within the walls of the classroom in spite of the claim of Quechua ‘inter-cultural’ learning and teaching that is offered in all schools in the area.

photo still from footage by Udi

Photo still from footage by Udi

After nearly an hour, some kids came and ushered us into a house. We entered a large room and were shown to a seat along a long piece of wood that had become a bench. There were 5 women sitting against woven mats that were lining one wall. I guessed they were aged between 30 and 70. There were 9 children in the room, girls and boys, the youngest looking about 4 years of age. Colourful threads of yarn were tied around posts and several girls were beginning to weave – belts, blankets, skirts, etc.. Another little girl was working with a very old woman, the grandmother of the ‘school’ to spin cotton – again for different types of clothing. Several younger boys were on the far side of the room with the grandfather, weaving mats from palm leaves, similarly to what we had just observed outside.

photo still from footage by Udi

The grandmother came to speak with us, her face in a constant smile, tremendous warmth emerging from each line on her beautiful face, touching all parts of me. Udi had a difficult time understanding her Spanish and once Lucho came in we were able to converse more easily. The little girl who was spinning cotton seemed nervous next to us and I was told later that I had cat eyes which scared her. We moved around the room and were shown slowly and deliberately the different forms of artistic and practical materials that were emerging. There was gentle interaction between everyone in the room and quite intense concentration. These gatherings happen at least 3 times per week.

photo still from footage by Udi

A little while later, the grandmother took us outside to show us her medicinal garden. I was really excited to learn from her as I have always been keen to learn much more about natural healing. She gave us a tour, describing the great variety of plants outside. Her wisdom and warmth were captivating – as were her descriptions of the multiple plants and their healing benefits.

photo still from footage by Udi

There were many there that supported all aspects of pregnancy – from helping with fertility and conception, to health during pregnancy, healing during miscarriage, to reducing pain during delivery, to speeding up the birthing process. There were plants there to be used as anesthetics, antiseptics, pain-killers and basic nutrients rich in various vitamins and minerals. She told us that in addition to weaving and spinning that the children come to work with her out in the garden, cultivating and nourishing the plants – whilst learning about the various ways they heal and nourish them. I wanted to attend this school – this grandmother’s university!

photo still from footage by Udi

Weaving hats, mats, walls from palm leaves; spinning and weaving wool; embroidering complicated and colourful patterns onto materials for skirts, tops; cultivating medicines for every health complication, particularly for women; cultivating foods from their chacra for sustenance and nourishment… I know I could greatly benefit from such a wealth of knowledge. I doubted that either grandparent could read or write in our measured forms of literacy. Yet – the forms and depth of literacies I had just experienced far exceeded my own.

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Inter-weaving people and the land: Choba-Choba and Comunalidad

Inter-weaving people and the land:  Choba-Choba and Comunalidad

Posted by on Feb 28, 2013 in all posts, Mexico, Peru, PRATEC | 0 comments


The terms choba-choba and comunalidad come from different cultures and places (Peru and Mexico).  Yet, they share a common bond of inter-connection.  In this post, Udi and I tell a bit about how we came to learn something of these different (but similar) ways of being and understanding the world.

Village outside of Lamas, Peru, photo by Kelly

Kelly:

Our first morning in Lamas, in the Northern Amazonian region of Peru, Udi and I walked the ten minutes from the Hospedaje Girasoles guesthouse (highly recommended by the way), through the far end of town and down the reddish-coloured mud hill that is surrounded by forest on one side of the road, to the entrance of Waman Wasi.  There was still a cool breeze in the air but the tropical sun was gathering strength.

Road down to Waman Wasi, photo by Udi

We were meeting Gregorio, one of the three main members of staff at Waman Wasi, who was taking us to several chacras that morning a few kilometres outside of Lamas – to meet with families working the land through choba-choba.  Gregorio lives in Wayku, the Quechua Lamas section of the town and travels often to meet with different Quechua families around the region.

View of Wayku village from the top of Lamas, photo by Udi

The evening before, there had been a brief introduction to the cosmovision and activities involved with ‘choba-choba’ and its association with ‘chacra’ – during Lucho’s overview of Waman Wasi’s work presented to a group of European students.  Udi and I had an understanding that the ‘chacra’ was similar to the ‘milpa’ in Mexico –  land is cultivated in a way that imitates and is intimately connected to natural processes.  In a chacra or milpa, Rather than planting one crop as tends to be the agricultural norm, different types of foods are planted together (typically maize, beans, squash and chili) with the intention of nourishing the land as much as to nourish those eating from it.

Steep hill of chacra cultivated through choba-choba

Choba-choba to the Quechua Lamas is the way that family members and friends came together to cultivate the land, dividing up responsibilities in accordance to ability and strength.  Through choba-choba, there is no need to pay anyone from the outside to help with planting and cultivation as choba-choba entails reciprocity and abundance.  The idea is that all that is needed is already there.  Every person, regardless of age and gender gives to the process and also receives.

Outside the wooden gate of Waman Wasi, Gregorio stopped a passing motor taxi that is basically a seat for 2-3 (depending on size) positioned on the back of a motor bike.  Udi and I hoped in and the motor-bike-taxi sped away.  The warm breeze enlivened our senses with smells of a myriad of plants and trees as houses and buildings almost immediately disappeared, the road windings its way through hills and valleys of intense green.  We stopped 25 minutes or so later and Gregorio led us down a dirt road, telling Udi that we would be walking for a good half an hour or so…

Along the walk, Udi and Gregorio were deep in conversation, about the nuances of the land in the area, about different agricultural processes and techniques of growing food, about the continual deforestation in the region, about the insidiousness of mining companies and the weakness of the government condoning their exploitative modes of intrusion and extraction, about the importance of the chacra and choba-choba, about different species of plants that we passed along the way.  I was envious of Udi being able to converse so freely in Spanish.  I was catching about 15% of the conversation and yearned for much more.  Udi generously broke the flow of conversation many times to translate some of the missing details.

Gregorio describing chacra plants with Udi and I, photo by Kelly

View along the walk – chacra and mountains, valleys, photo by Kelly

A thatched house came into visibility amidst thick trees after at least 45 minutes of walking, and we stopped to chat with a young woman sitting outside.  Her infant little girl was sleeping and we spoke until there was a soft cry emerging from her house.  She offered us chicha the drink of maize/corn and water that is consumed in every type of context in Peru – restaurants, houses, schools…

Following Udi and Gregorio into the village, photo by Kelly

We walked further, through thick forest and down steep chacras where a view of the surrounding landscape was alive with undulating hills of greens, a diversity of foods growing within them.  Suddenly there were people – children and adults, male and female, at the bottom of a steep hill, in a line, working with what looked like small sickles, on the ground.

Choba-choba, photo by Kelly

After a series of holas and handshakes, we sat down and spoke with the eldest members of the family.  They spoke to us about what they were doing.  They were planting beans and maize on that day, but would return later to plant chillies and squash when the moon was right.  All of the children and young people were related within the family.  On most days, the children and young people went to school in the mornings and came back to work on the chacras in the afternoons.  This was the first planting that had been done in this chacra for several years as it had been lying fallow to re-nourish. Chacra and choba-choba occur in alignment with lunar cycles, a sophisticated and ancient form of knowledge which is ignored by the vast majority of the world.

Sitting and chatting with some members of the family, photo still by Kelly

More chicha was offered, the taste was refreshing, slightly sweet.  We said good-bye after 45 minutes or so and the elder man, the father of the family, walked us through another thickly forested area to visit with another choba-choba.

Chicha, photo by Kelly

We walked for another 30 or so minutes, up and down steep hills, some forested, some chacras, my legs becoming increasingly tired under the increasing strength of the sun.  Another line of people came into view – different ages, male and female, near the top of a steep hill.  The arrangement was similar, some people were actively pressing their sickles into the ground, digging up the dirt and putting in different small plants and seeds whilst others were resting.  There were again a series of friendly holas, warm smiles and handshakes.

Second choba-choba, photo still by Kelly

Within both choba-chobas was an atmosphere of joy and conviviality.  The heat, which at that time was intense, did not seem to increase anyone’s irritability.  Rather, there was lots of laughter and joking around.  This is not to say that the work everyone was doing was not difficult.  It was very difficult, exhaustive and physically demanding.

Choba-choba conviviality, photo still by Udi

The atmosphere of doing choba-choba work is within a framework of sharing – not just within the family – but with other families in the area and also with a deep sense of reverence to the nourishment of the land.  This reciprocal form of nourishment has been at the cultural core of Quechua life and is a far cry from industrialized forms of agriculture that is extractive and dependent on monetary exchange, rather than nourishment to all those humans and non-human beings involved.

The term choba choba is a Quechua word that means ‘hair with hair’ (choba means ‘hair’ in Quechua Lamas).  The significance of the meaning of choba-choba comes from the interweaving of hair braids that occurs during marriages.  This notion is extended to the interweaving of people, communities and the land.   One choba-choba inter-weaving of the land with people influences the next choba-choba and so on, strengthening the social fabric of communities.  Gregorio, through his work with Waman Wasi, helps to strengthen choba-choba, providing materials (sickles) when needed, visiting continually and sharing fiesta and laughter.

Udi:

Cut to the deep green undulating hills above the city of Oaxaca, Mexico. This is where we met Zapotec anthropologist and community activist Jaime Martinez Luna in his village of Gualetao birthplace of the only indigenous Mexican President, Benito Juárez, serving five terms between 1858 and 1872. We first came across Jaime in the chapter he wrote for a book called New World of Indigenous Resistance. The book is a collection of chapters by writers across Latin America in response to transcribed interviews with Noam Chomsky on the history and continuing legacy of colonialism, state and corporate power in the continent, and the effects on and responses by indigenous communities.  Interestingly, the majority of the chapters focus on education.   We found this book in a wonderful bookshop, Amate, in Oaxaca.  Jaime kindly replied to our email inviting us to his village, nestled high up in the hills an hour outside of the Oaxaca.

photo by Kelly

To get to Guelatao, we take a taxi 5 miles or so outside Oaxaca city to the ‘place to get a colectivo to Guelatao’ which apparently every taxi driver in the city knows.  We are dropped off rather suddenly in a car park that has a long bench in the corner.  We join the other 3 people and wait.  After 30 minutes or so of conversations with a couple of the people also waiting and the woman running the small shop in the corner of the car park (selling tamales and sodas), a car pulls up.  We are both given the front seat and so configure our bodies in a way so as to endure the hour of driving.  After only 5 minutes we have left signs of human habitation behind.  The air is clear, the sky is more blue – we pass steep hillsides – evergreens and scrubby trees filling it all in.  We notice evidence of mining in the distance and recall seeing in the news how two Oaxacan activists were recently killed protesting mining activities.  There are also milpas (or chacra to the Quechua in Peru) – golden maize that have dried on their stalks.  We are continually reminded of the intense importance of maize here – fiestas, foods of all kinds for all meals of the day…

Drive to Guelatao – view from front seat of colectivo-taxi, photo by Kelly

We are tightly positioned together in the front seat for over an hour.  Although uncomfortable, it gives us a much better view than had we sat anywhere else.  The car stops quite suddenly.  We have arrived at the entrance to the Guelatao village.  There is a small road leading up a steep hill.  We immediately walk to the top of the hill to check out the village.

Mural and bust of Benito Juarez, Guelatao, photo by Kelly

After briefly capturing the beautiful view which stretches across miles of rolling hills and mountains, we explore the lagoon, the government building, the giant statue of Benito Juarez and mural – we ask a woman at the shop where to find Jaime.  His office is just around the corner where there is a sign ‘Foundacion Comunalidad’.

photo by Udi

Jaime is inside and invites us in.  He is very tall and lanky.  His voice is deep and melodious, Leonard Cohen-like.  We are not surprised discovering later that he is also a singer, a musician and has published many cds.  Jaime speaks with a different Spanish, very slowly, enunciating each syllable with purpose.  Kelly is even able to understand much of what he is saying!  We arrange to meet later, to record a conversation by the laguna.  In the meantime, we find a restaurant to sit and write and enjoy some home-cooked Zapotec food.

Jaime, walking along the laguna in Guelatao, photo still by Kelly

During the hours we spent with Jaime, he taught us a great deal about the key word we had discovered across chapters in the book he contributed to, and also in a number of conversations we had across Latin America — comunalidad. As Jaime says in this book:

Comunalidad is a way of understanding life as being permeated with spirituality, symbolism, and a greater integration with nature. It is one way of understanding that Man is not the center, but simply a part of this great natural world. It is here that we can distinguish the enormous difference between Western and indigenous thought. Who is at the center – only one, or all?  The individual, or everyone?

Recorded conversation with Jaime, photo still by Udi

Jaime, like many others we talked to in our journey in Canada, Mexico and Peru, were highly critical of the school as an institution that has historically destroyed the cultures of original peoples across the Americas. As Gustavo Esteva put it, in his own contribution to this same book:

The Indigenous State Forum of Oaxaca in 1997 stated that the school had been the main instrument for the destruction of indigenous cultures, dispossessing them of their way of being and seeing the world to ‘Westernise’ then.

To counter the destructive effects of the school indigenous teachers and community activists have been advocating for interculturalidad in schools, an intercultural education that grounds students in and in between two cultures. A key concept in this struggle for intercultural education in Oaxaca has been comunalidad a word that the State Education Act of 1995 added as a 4th guiding principle of education, alongside democracy, nationalism and humanism. (Jaime comments in his chapter that this may have been a response of local government fearful of the Zapatista uprising of 1994).

Jaime’s Fundacion Comunalidad is working with schools, teachers to re-learn comunalidad as a notion, a practice, a cosmovision.  The emphasis is on bringing this into all aspects of the school, not only in the teaching and learning, but in the ways that people relate to each other – within the school and beyond the boundaries of the school – with the community and with the land and non-human world around them.  Jaime explained to us sitting by the laguna in Guelatao that comunalidad consists of four interrelated ingredients:

1. Territory

Territory involves knowing the land where one is, the place that sustains the community, its history and stories, its plants and animals, not unlike what the Blackfoot where also teaching at Red Crow around place-based learning and traditional foods.

2. Work

Work involves the different kinds of jobs and skills that people from the community take part in and which is not necessarily only about an individuals’ work and skills. This can also be about collective or cooperative forms of work such as the choba choba in Peru, or the mutirão in Brazil.

3. The organisation of the community

The organisation of community life in indigenous communities and around Oaxaca happens through the various assemblies and individual roles of responsibility, cargo, which take charge of different aspects of the community.

4. The fiesta.

Lastly, the fiesta is the celebration of work, of the community and the land, also having as Jaime points out, a spiritual dimension. It is the culmination of community life and comunalidad.

Poster outside of Jaime’s office, Guelatao, photo by Kelly

Kelly:

There is much more for us to learn about both choba-choba and comunalidad.  By being immersed for the time that we were in Oaxaca, in Guelatao and in Chiapas and hearing repeatedly the term comunalidad, we began to learn, to feel, what it meant – the significance of it.  Then by walking and pausing within the chacras around Lamas with Gregorio, we learned more about not only what comunalidad means, but could better comprehend and value the cooperative and communal gift-practice of choba-choba.

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the School and El Monte

the School and El Monte

Posted by on Feb 7, 2013 in all posts, Peru, PRATEC | 2 comments

Wayku, trucks ready for school trip, photo by Udi

We arrive early in the central square of Wayku, the Quechua Lamas village that is found below the town of Lamas, and wait for the trucks to arrive for the school trip. The square is next to the local bilingual secondary school (Spanish and Quechua) and the students wait outside sitting and chatting dressed in their uniform and packing their lunches in bags and rucksacks. We talk to a few of the students, but mainly we talk to Leonardo, who works at Waman Wasi in the surrounding villages and schools and who invited us to come today.  He introduces us to some of the teachers coming along today. One teaches computers at the school and is a local Quechua Lama. We had heard of these bilingual schools before, where classes are held mostly in Spanish and some in Quechua. We wondered about how these formal bilingual opportunities for children coming from Quechuan communities offered an intercultural environment, how different cultural contexts were combined within the school – and in particular, how Quechua ways of knowing were integrated and cultural practices cellebrated.

Terapoto, school trip truck, photo by Udi

Waman Wasi, part of the PRATEC network and also started initially by Grimaldo, has been practicing the approach outlined in the previous post working to strengthen and promote the values and practices associated with the chacra as well as to ways of knowing and being of Quechua Lama peoples of this region more generally. Wama Wasi had also been trying to encourage the local schools to open their doors to the communities they were inserted in, involving more the parents and grandparents in the teaching, and especially their knowledge. To this end, Wama Wasi had also been running a number of workshops with local teachers over the years to sensitise them to the surrounding cosmovision, for even if many of these teachers may themselves be Quechua Lamas, few retain the connection to this way of seeing and being in the universe.

Leonardo and Gregorio, two Quechua Lamas working in Wama Wasi who generously showed us around during our stay, spoke of how challenging it has been to engage with teachers who have been trained and culturally assimilated into another way of thinking that has tended to devalue local ways of knowing and being. A similar challenge was conveyed to us by Elena Pardo in Cusco, from CEPROSI (Centro de Promoción y Salud Integral), also a part of the PRATEC network, who works with Quechua communities of the high Andes. This challenge was further narrated to us by Jaime Luna Martinez, the Zapotec activist and anthropologist we talked to in Oaxaca, who is similarly trying to bring to the school the ways of knowing and being of the local Zapotec community, especially around the notion of comunalidad (see the post on this).

The two trucks arrive 30min late, they are returning from an earlier trip that day, organised by Wama Wasi with local schools, to go to the local salt mine, a few hours away by road and then an additional 8 hours on foot up to the mountains.  It is a key spiritual place for the Quechua Lamas. The salt mines, like the forested mountain region we are about to go to, is part of the Quechua Lamas ancestral hunting and gathering territory. Once a year villagers go to the salt mines to get a years worth supply of salt. The mine and the territory around it, is now threatened with being appropriated by the state under a policy of ‘conservation’ that excludes traditional uses, such as hunting and gathering medicines, and thus the caretakers of the land. This, we are told a number of times during our visit, is happening across Peru and especially to these upper Amazon mountainous regions. There was also talk that the salt mine, used collectively by the Quechua Lamas for thousands of years, was going to be taken over from this collective use and privatised by an international mining company for their own use.

The school trip was also headed to what used to be Quechua hunting and medicine gathering territory, the region of el monte, the mountain, which alongside the chacra, the field were much work life happenings cultivating a variety of plants, and the river, make up the trinity of places in Quechua Lama cosmovision. This particular el monte, lying by one of the region’s central attractions, the large Ahuashiyacu waterfall beyond Terapoto, is now a biodiversity park looked after by the local university. This dates back some two decades, coinciding with the period in which the state was fighting against the guerrillas emerging from rural areas.

The Quechua Lama computer teacher called the students to attention and read out the register so they could jump to the back of the truck. 30 students, 3 teachers, a few parents and a couple of grandparents later, the troupe packed shoulder to shoulder, standing up at the back of two small pick-up trucks chatting and excitedly screaming as we pulled away and hit the road. Kelly and I imagined health and safety procedures and professionals back in Europe and the US eyes open in disbelief staring at the unfolding scene, tightly gripping regulation manuals and consent forms. Driving across the undulating green landscape with our merry band we did not feel the clenching of officiousness, bureaucratic care or fear of litigation, instead there was the blowing wind rushing through faces smiling with the raw enjoyment of a day out. We were going to El Monte!

El Monte entrance, grandfather blowing smoke, photo by Udi

El Monte is the territory of spirits, the souls of plants and animals and of the forest itself who must be supplicated to provide for those entering it. To enter El Monte, the Quechua Lama need to be purified, their bodies prepared and made ready to enter this place of spirits. At the entrance of the biodiversity park one of the grandfathers stood on the other side of a small stream preparing dozens of small hand rolled cigarettes. The Quechua Lama computer teacher once again read out the register and the students filed through accordingly. As they passed by, the grandfather blew smoke on them, purifying them to enter into the forest. The whole troupe filed past, each person undergoing the same procedure, including ourselves, and entered El Monte covered in a haze of tobacco.

El Monte entrance, grandfather blowing smoke2, photo by Udi

The students quickly made their way through the forest and in a few minutes we arrive at a clearing where the administration of the park and a small zoo are located. Here we are all received by the park keeper, a non- Quechua Lama ecologist from the local university. The children proceeded to ask him a number of questions about biodiversity, the park, its animals and what they ate. The questions had been prepared earlier, perhaps in the classroom, and had been written in their notebooks. The students meticulously wrote down the answers to the questions. Of note amongst the biological and ecological answers given by the park keeper were the sharp distinctions drawn between things that were living ‘biotic’ and non-living ‘abiotic’, as he put it. After several rounds of questions and answers, and breakfast, we set off to walk through the park. Immediately the majority of students rushed ahead with the park keeper and the computer teacher.

El Monte, the park-keeper-ecologist, photo by Udi

We stayed with a smaller and slower group of some six students who were walking with Leonardo from Waman Wasi and with the grandfather, realising that this was the actual teaching about the forest we thought the trip had been organised for. We had been waiting for a coordinated encounter of all the students with the grandfather and the forest, the intergenerational transmission of knowledge! Instead as we later learned, the whole idea to invite grandparents had come from Waman Wasi, not from the bilingual school. Rather than a coordinated and integral part of the trip, the grandfather element was very much a late add on, an afterthought, to the ‘real learning’ to be had on biodiversity from the park keeper. We had come to the trip expecting to see interculturalidad, interculturality, a strong principle across Latin America that seeks not only a bilingual education but a form of education where people learn to be grounded in and in between two cultures, the dominant ‘western’ culture of subjects, disciplines, of maths and ecology and computers, and the indigenous ways of knowing, in this case, how to be in the forest, walk through it, hunt, gather medicines, know its plants and animals and their behaviour.

El Monte, the grandfather, photo by Udi

What we witnessed instead were the very real challenges of enacting such an education. These were not only challenges of organisation but also around the value and respect that teachers and students place on indigenous ways of knowing. Further than that we also observed how formal schooling instils certain deep habits of literacy that make it harder to engage with indigenous ways of knowing and learning. As I wrote previously on the post on literacies, technologies and techniques that mediate the world, whether the written or printed word or the computer screen, subtly shape our experience and how we make sense of the world and relate to others. We saw the sharp contrast of different kinds of literacies operating in the trip to El Monte. The group with the grandfather also asked him questions that they had written down in their notebooks and also wrote his answers down, rarely looking up as they did. By contrast the grandfather animatedly demonstrated through stories, or walking through the forest, or imitating the calls of animals, or reenacting a hunt or gesture, his knowledge and way of knowing. He knew and conveyed his knowing through his body and voice. Yet he was surrounded by his grandchildren’s generation who could read and write well, but did not know the forest through their bodies. They were forest illiterate.

El Monte, literacy, photo by Udi

After the school trip we talked to Leonardo and shared some of these observations, he was surprised that we had noticed these things too and spoke of the challenges of enacting interculturalidad in practice in schools and engaging the interest of teachers and students. There are so many other mediating technologies now that call young people away from knowing the forest with their bodies; tv, mobile phones, digital music on demand anywhere. Even in El Monte. Every so often the sound of the breeze and swaying trees was interrupted by something much more prosaic, Lady Gaga coming from a student’s mobile phone. We spoke with the grandfather later in the trip and also back in his home in Wayku. Though he is happy and excited to talk to the younger generation and be asked to go on trips like this, he lamented that very few young people are interested in learning the Quechua Lama ways of seeing and being in the forest. So in days to come we wondered how many would still know the forest and have the deep relation that he had, how many will be able to know and imitate the calls of the birds in the fiestas?

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Development = Cosmovision and Crianza… Learning from PRATEC

Development = Cosmovision and Crianza… Learning from PRATEC

Posted by on Feb 1, 2013 in all posts, Peru, PRATEC | 0 comments

We are sitting in the beach-front barrio of Barranco under a once again grey Lima sky relaxing in a cafe after another danger-taxi-ride through the aggressive traffic. We have just had a 90min meeting and interview with Grimaldo Rengifo Vásquez one of the founders of PRATEC (Proyeto Andinas de Tecnologías Campesinas) a grassroots network of organisations working with indigenous communities throughout Peru through a perspective that values and seeks to strengthen Andean knowledge and practices. The organisation was started in 1986 by Grimaldo Rengifo Vásquez, Eduardo Grillo, Francois Greslou and Marcela Velásquez development and agronomy professionals who were dissastified with the development models that had were being unquestionably applied across Peru and elsewhere.

As Frederique Apffel-Marglin wrote in a wonderful article about PRATEC in 2002.

In the course of their professional activities they eventually came to the conclusion that development itself was the problem. This realisation did not come swiftly; it emerged slowly after a lifetime of professional activity in the service of development. At first they thought that things were not working because the methodologies that they used were faulty. They worked hard to devise better methodologies. They lived through many phases and fashions in development: community development; participatory development; appropriate technology; sustainable development; women and development. They tried everything available, always striving to capture the reality of Andean peasant agriculture and of peasant life in general. At long last they came to the conclusion that no methodology would ever deliver and that the problem lay in the very idea of development. It is at this juncture that they left their professional activities and their secure jobs and founded PRATEC, a non-governmental organisation. In other words, they deprofessionalised themselves. They had come to the realisation that development had failed. The evidence lay scattered throughout the Peruvian landscape in what some of their colleagues have called ‘the archaeology of development’, namely ruined infrastructures, abandoned to the elements after the project officials had left, uncared for by the peasants for whom they were intended and left to deteriorate. The evidence also lay in their experience of repeated efforts to devise better methodologies and the final realisation that within their professional perspective and constraints it was impossible to approximate peasant reality and therefore make development relevant to their lives.

From Fieldwork to Mutual Learning: Working with PRATEC. Environmental Values 11 (2002): 345–67

I especially like this image of an archaeology of development, the ruined traces of failed schemes dreamnt up elsewhere with different visions of the good life, now scattered across the landscape overgrowing with plants and home to birds and insects.  I guess that the PRATEC team considers the landscape of development ideas to be similarly littered with half-baked schemes, now laying useless on the ground at the mercy of the elements, designed in the distant offices of some large organisation far away from the day to day lives of the peoples here in Peru. And in the picture below, just how many different cosmovisions, different models of how to develop towards the good life!

An indigenous map of Peru found in the offices of PRATEC in Lima, photo by Udi

In our meeting with Grimaldo he conveyed to us the story of the emergence of the organisation in the mid-1980s amidst a climate of violence and conflict in the country following from the guerrilla uprisings. Decades of development projects, the effects of this conflict and of state-supported neoliberal encroachment on indigenous lands and resources had left these populations in a desperate state, destroying the cultural base or social fabric that had sustained these communities for thousands of years. The conflict with the guerrillas alone, Grimaldo told us, had killed 70,000 people, the majority indigenous.

From this period of the 1980s on, Grimaldo said that a new period of rebuilding had started amongst these groups and PRATEC had been a partner in this process. In Grimaldo’s case, and in the trajectory of PRATEC, this has involved coming to understand a different culture and cosmovision (a way of seeing and being in the universe) from his own. For Grimaldo the cosmovision of the Peruvian Andes was different to the  Amazonian campesino culture where he was raised but also from the academic agronomy in which he trained in university. The fundamental and sustaining base of this Andean culture is agriculture and a cosmovision of crianza or nurturance that characterises people’s relationship to nature.

Choba choba, or communal work at the chakra, Lamas, photo by Kelly

We often came across this word crianza, we heard it in the town of Lamas, where the local project Wama Wasi, part of the PRATEC network, works with Quechua Lamas communities in this upper Amazon region. We heard it in our conversations with Elena Pardo in Cusco, from CEPROSI (Centro de Promoción y Salud Integral), also a part of the PRATEC network, which works with Quechua communities surrounding this region of the high Andes.

We loved this term crianza, it has a depth and beauty to it conveying the heart of this cosmovision that is widespread in this region. It also has deep resonances with Kelly’s previous post on Maize and milpa in Mexico, and on the buffalo in Alberta. In our understanding the term crianza means that people help create and sustain, or nurture, nature whereas nature in turn helps to create, sustain and nurture people. The relationship is one of kinship, of the same family, and as such quite different from a habitual way we have come to understand ‘agriculture’ where crops are ‘produced’. For here in ‘agriculture’ there is no sense that the ‘agri’ the crops, are also ‘producing’ us. This relationship, practice and understanding of ‘nature’ being outside of us and manipulated by us for our our ends, and increasingly purely commercial ends, is replaced by a sense of mutuality and reciprocity. I help the plants grow because they help me grow, and we are both part of a larger life collectivity which is, in this cosmovision, our mother earth, a living being that keeps us all alive.

The uniqueness of PRATEC has been to practice a deep listening and learning from the indigenous communities they work with. Rather than begin with the view of ‘experts’ schooled in a particular cosmovision with keywords such as ‘progress’, ‘development’, ‘poverty-reduction’, ‘increasing yields’, ‘growing GDP’, ‘crop production’, PRATEC has instead payed attention to the values and cultural practices that have sustained the life of these communities in these places for thousands of years. Coming to know these values and practices, such as that of crianza but also those surrounding the chacra, the actual field or place where the nurturance is practiced and which makes up most of the community’s working life, was the first step in the trajectory of PRATEC and its founders. We will write more on the chacra in a later post though just briefly we could observe how central this was for the Quechua Lamas communities we came to know and how similar to the Mexican milpa this was (see Kelly’s posts on Maize and Milpa).

PRATEC’s next stage, as Grimaldo narrates in our interview, involved disseminating this particular understanding of close listening and knowing to others. To this end they spent a period of over fifteen years conducting courses across Peru to different groups of professionals and students. This gradually led to a consolidation of a group of people across the country, development and agriculture professionals, teachers and community activists, who were keen to practice this alternative approach to development. PRATEC’s next phase of work has then been guided to strengthening these local practices and systems so as to fulfil not an external expert’s conception of the good life, or of development, but to actualise what this means for the people themselves.

All of this has involved a great deal of unlearning and of re-learning from the people who work at PRATEC, comprised amongst others of university educated agronomists, agricultural engineers, educationalists, and others. Like Grimaldo, others we talked to in PRATEC describe this process of questioning the assumptions they learned in these academic and development institutions and in the cosmovision that sustained the forms of knowledge and values that were reproduced here.

So pervasive and powerful has been the force of this cosmovision promoting a particular kind of technology-driven and market-oriented development and progress, that one important strand of PRATEC’s work with local communities involves redressing the de-valuing of indigenous ways of life which has been happening since the arrival of the Spanish five hundred years ago. What has been interesting to note is that though many of PRATEC’s founders and those they work with now started in the field of agronomy most of them now are actively involved in working in the area of education. As Grimaldo says the latest stage in PRATEC’s trajectory has been to work with schools and with education policy as a way of strengthening local ways of knowing. Important in this shift is also the work of Elena Pardo in and around Cusco, someone who does have a background in education and worked for many years in the Ministry of Education before starting CEPROSI. Here in Peru, as in Mexico and Canada, we found the school as a key institution for the dismantling or the reproduction of a particular cosmovision. How PRATEC and its affiliated organisations work with schools is the topic of the next few posts.

Network of PRATEC projects across Peru (from http://www.pratecnet.org)

PRATEC’s approach to development, some label it ‘post-development’, is both well-known across Peru and internationally and is both respected and controversial. It challenges thinking about who the experts are, who should have the right to impose development (particularly with certain ideas of progress) on a community, what kind of development or conception of the good life ought to underpin these. When we visited one of PRATEC’s many umbrella organizations (this one called Waman Wasi) in the upper Amazon region of Lamas, we were told how the area is filled with different development initiatives by numerous organisations, each with its own set of experts, advice and models. Some offer incentives for the Quechua Lama to grow coffee or cacao for export. The rationale is that the Quechua Lama ought to enter into the global monetary economy to meet their needs, as they are money poor. For Wama Wasi, whom we spent time with, this approach does not recognise the self-sufficiency of these communities and the food security they already have, nor how the chacra embodies a cosmovision that sustains a whole way of life, not only materially, but also culturally, in terms of family roles and relations, and spiritually. Though they are money poor their sense of the good life, buen vivir, is found not in having and owning stuff, but in relation to crianza, to the chacra, and to other elements of their cosmovision that supports their being in the world.

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