Second on-site post: Preservation of culture and migration from the Amazon


Typical street in Pucallpa, Peru

My research project so far has been serendipitous. Before heading to the jungle I attended a conference at one of the best universities in the capitol city of Lima (Pontifica Universidad Catholica de Peru). The conference was put on by the social science department and it was titled, Amazonica Week, We all Have Something to Say. The conference was an interdisciplinary venue for discussions concerning culture and society in amazon communities and how they are interpreted within the city of Lima. It included lectures on health, education, geopolitics, gender archeology, rights and migration.  The conference was sparsely attended but very substantial.

The most interesting part was the last lecture about a community of Shipibo migrants called Cantagallo. The invited speaker for this lecture was Cecilio Soria, a Shipibo radio host from Pucallpa. I say that my research has been serendipitous because I didn’t know it at the time, but Cecilio was actually the person whom my family had helped me schedule an interview with once I arrived in Pucallpa. He is a friend of my family and a ‘padrino’ to the community Shipibo. When I met him in Pucallpa we were shocked by the coincidence.

I conducted the interview and asked him many questions concerning the preservation of traditions and living conditions of Shipibos. He made me realize that all this time I was focusing on the migration of people from the provinces such as Pucallpa to Lima, but I had not stopped to think about the migration of people from the deep jungle to provinces.

Cecilio helped me understand the strength in character of the migrants, who struggle to pass on their language and customs to their children once they have moved to cities. In Pucallpa, Shipibos often take on the lowest lever of work as household employees, construction laborers, graveyard shift watchman, fisherman, and agricultural assistants.

Part of a wood stripping plant, where shipibo migrants work 24 hours a day to produce sheets of wood that are exported or sold to upperclass peruvians to furnish their homes

Cecilio also provided hopeful examples of preservation of traditions by describing his own radio show, the first and only that is spoken entirely in Shipibo for his community, he described new schools and universities that teach the language and he introduced me to his sister who works creating artisan textiles and makes them into bags, clothes and tablecloths that display authentic and traditional design. He took me to a Shipibo community to see these modes of preservation for myself.

Cecilio leading us into the Shipibo community of San Francisco

The following day, Cecilio took me to a Shipibo community called San Francisco to meet a modern potter. To get to San Francisco takes about an hour on a boat down the Ucayali River. Pottery is the other focus of my research, I came here to learn more about the techniques, history, and preservation of the utilitarian art as a form of economic self subsistence, my next post will reveal my findings on this part of my research.

Cecelio, me and my cousin upon our return from San Francisco, in front of the boat we took