Podcast: What Pachamama Can Teach Us About #Feminism

This podcast was produced after my talk at InDigital, a biannual conference on indigenous community media held February 15, 2019 at Vanderbilt.

 

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Finding the Voice

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A mesa ritual spread in the center of a women’s rights and communication training workshop in Peru. Haunting statistics, such as “Seven out of ten Peruvian women suffer from psychological violence,” encircle the offerings of coca, maize, gifts, flowers, and perfumed woods. The women have come to find their voices, to stand up against violations to their physical and political rights as Andean citizens. 

 

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Aymara women gather for a women’s rights workshop at the base of a statue of Mama Ocllo and and Manco Capac, the creator gods of Andean mythology. 

 

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Aymara women in Puno district

 

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Many Aymara communities dwell along the shore of Lake Titicaca, above 3600m in a highly vulnerable watershed embattled in constant territory and usage disputes. Huacullani community is the site of the 2011 El Aymarazo protest against the Santa Ana mining project, and among the rare examples of activist communities that have successfully halted a major industrial extraction project in Peru. Aymara communicators, or community journalists and spokeswomen, frequently attend the weekly market to conduct interviews on topics ranging from land defense to the fetching price of quinoa.

 

 

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The sharing and sorting of coca leaves is an important social tradition among Andean people, and often occurs at women’s rights trainings, media workshops, and even during informal exchanges. 

 

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Participants in the women’s communication workshops are encouraged to “levantarse la voz”, or lift up their voices. To build confidence and leadership skills, women are encouraged to sing their communications as they beat a drum. The drum is seen to provide an encouraging, supportive energy or spirit, to call their voices out from within. 

 

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Aymara women from communities of the Chucuito Peninsula, at the shores of Lake Titicaca, attend a women’s rights empowerment training with the Union of Aymara Women of Abya Yala, or UMA, in July 2017. 

 

Protest on Trial: Peru convicts Aduviri, acquits ten others in Aymarazo verdict

Today,  the fates of  indigenous activists who were sanctioned for their leadership in the 2011 anti-mining protests in Puno region, Peru, have been decided. By the court’s ruling decision, 10 Aymara citizens have been acquitted for their involvement in organizing and leading a region-wide uprising—known as El Aymarazo— against the Santa Ana silver mining project operated by Vancouver-based Bear Creek Mining.

Only the movement’s widely-recognized leader, Walter Aduviri, stands convicted on a count of inspiring destruction of state and corporate property. (All defendants were acquitted of the charge of extortion.)  He left court in high spirits nonetheless, surrounded by loyal supporters who marched behind him through the urban center of Puno, the capital city of the region.  

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Aduviri faces the likelihood of seven years in prison and a fine of two million Peruvian Nuevo Soles (about $575,000 USD). His final sentencing is scheduled for July 18th, 2017, but today’s provisional sentencing carries heavy consequences for the political future of this region’s indigenous citizens.  As a result of the court’s decision, Aduviri, who held political ambitions for 2018 regional governance in Puno, may lose his lands and campaign financing in attempt to pay the exorbitant fees, and be ineligible for public service once his sentence is finalized. Aduviri runs on a stringently anti-mining campaign platform, and his political symbol, a blue gotita (droplet) of water with a winking face, is painted along myriad houses and community buildings all along the highway tracing the southern shores of Titicaca.

The politically-charged consequences of these financial sanctions have incensed many of Aduviri’s Aymara and Quechua supporters, who demonstrated en masse, braving the cold and waving wiphala flags in support of “Hermano Walter”. Discussion and planning is already underway for a new wave of Aymara protests, road blocks, and regional strikes, though citizens are awaiting the final sentencing in a few weeks. Just after the decision was announced, I raced north across the city the recording studio at Pachamama Radio with Aymara communicator and women’s rights activist Rosa Palomino.

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She and her communications team broadcasted their weekly Aymara language news and culture show, Wiñay Pankara (Always Blooming), with a focus on the day’s legal proceedings. On the air were Palomino and her associates from the Union of Aymara Women of Abya Yala, or UMA, and invited guest Lucio Ramos, a local yatiri, or Aymara spiritual leader and

educator, who encouraged listeners to take charge of their indigenous communities’ bienestar (wellbeing) and “train-up” to be indigenous sociologists, anthropologists, and community reporters. Central to the program’s discussion was the theme of representation; from the state’s refusal to address collective land rights issues, to the mainstream media’s avoidance of indigenous rights violations and neglect of Aymara perspectives on illegal land concessions and corporate manipulation of local governors.

The proposed Santa Ana mine at the center of today’s conflict is located in the Aymara village of Huacullani, an Andean community of the altiplano, the arid high-altitude plain that traverses the Peru-Bolivia border along the shores of Lake Titicaca. Back in 2011, the conflict over unwanted mining infiltration at Huacullani ignited the El Aymarazo uprising, which quickly spread to protests and demonstrations against various extraction projects throughout the region, all of which were operating against the United Nations’  ILO 169, which guarantees indigenous communities the right to free, prior, and informed consent on all extraction and development projects on their territories. It remains to be seen if a second wave of El Aymarazo will retain the same strength in numbers as the 2011 movement that successfully halted state and municipal roadways, and shut down the center of Puno for days on end. But after Thursday’s momentous court decision, across the radio fields of the altiplano, cries for a new “Quechuazo y Aymarazo” echoed into the night.

Radio Fields of the Aymara Nation

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In the arid, high altitude landscapes of the rural Aymara villages of Southeastern Peru, radio is the primary source of news, entertainment, grassroots organizing and political communication. Mining development is accelerating in the region, and moving to a more destructive, open-pit model that devastates local ecology and pollutes waterways.

In   2011,   indigenous   men and   women   at   the   Peru- Bolivia   border near  Lake Titicaca  successfully  halted one  of  the  world’s  largest projected   silver   extraction projects using radio for local organizing and social media—particularly, Facebook  and  WhatsApp— to garner regional and international  support.

In May of that year, on the eve of a national presidential election, 25,000 Aymara and Quechua from around the region gathered in the principal city of Puno to protest the Santa  Ana mining project managed by Canada’s Bear Creek Mining Company.

After weeks of road blockades and multiple incidents of police brutality, during which protesters were joined by thousands of supporters and featured in international broadcasts on CNN, FoxNews and other major networks, the Peruvian state revoked the site prospecting license.

Since the 2011 protests, Aymara community radio activists, or comunicadores, have begun to train at international indigenous communications conferences where presenters claim that using “media power” will help advance gender equality in communities and support the tactical defense of Pachamama. Indigenous activists at Santa Ana argued that the proposed mine would contaminate local water sources, including the sacred lake, Titicaca, and demanded that the Peruvian government recognize the legitimacy of Aymara communities and  the  sanctity  of Pachamama, the animate Earth Mother who pervades every level of social meaning in the Aymara sense of place (Stone 2009).

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The marshy shoreline of Lake Titicaca as seen from the hills above the town of Chucuito.

Given the extreme glacial melting of the Andean Cordillera (Rasmussen 2015) highland Peru is one of the most notable exemplars of the consequences of rapid climate change. Peru exercises control over vast ecological territories. In the Andean Highlands, mining and gas extraction operations threaten to further pollute Lake Titicaca, a watershed considered vital, sacred and alive by the Aymara.

Here in the Peruvian altiplano, or high plains desert, indigenous radio fields comprise both the social and geospatial networks of people and places where community radio content is created, produced, listened to and discussed. When imbricated in social movements, these Andean radio fields become site of identity formation and political strategy. Bessire and Fisher have examined recent renewal  in anthropological concern with radio fields, noting that “radio’s rugged and inexpensive materialities have become invested with new import in the many places where topography, poverty, or political oppression limits access to web connectivity, computers, or electricity” (Bessire and Fisher 2013:364).

Below, Aymaras sift crops in the early afternoon while listening to the radio.

Culturally, the Aymara see their landscape as animate, having a willful presence, known as Pachamama, who is both embedded in the landscape and transcendent. Within communities, many other Earth Beings reside (De La Cadena 2015).

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Most frequently, the two highest peaks within community landscape are considered the Achachilas, or ancestor peaks, of the place. The highest peak is considered male, and the second highest, his female compliment.

In Huacullani, the community’s feminine Achachila sits atop a silver reserve projected to be one of the largest in South America.

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“We come from within Pachamama, Live on Her, and Return to Her” (Stone 2009).

The ethnohistorical record shows a historical continuity to the Aymara’s self- identification as autochthonous inhabitants who emerged from Lake Titicaca after being created by Pachamama in the realm of Manqa pacha, the underworld, place of transformation, death and reemergence (Silverblatt 1987).The Aymara live and dwell and have their being in the realm of taypi, meaning center place, or navel. The land of human dwelling is also known as Aka pacha, the Center world. The word Pacha means ‘everything that exists’ ‘totality’ or ‘holism’. It means both “time” and “place”, embedded, as one. Adding to Pacha the modifier, mama, makes her gendered. She is the landscape of Aymara Radio.

CITED REFERENCES

Bessire, Lucas and Daniel Fisher     2013   The Anthropology of Radio Fields. Annual Review of Anthropology, 43:363-78.

Rasmussen, Mattias Borg    2015   Andean Waterways: Resource Politics in Highland Peru. Seattle: University of Washington Press.

Silverblatt, Irene    1987    Moon, Sun and Witches: Gender Ideologies and Class in Inca and Colonial Peru. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. 

Stone, Mary Louise     2009    The Andean Mother: Weaving a Culture of Reciprocity. MA Thesis. San Francisco: California Institute of Integral Studies.