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Traditional Knowledge
Amazon Wachiperi Communities
Photo by Holly Wissler
Wachiperi women prepare the traditional fermented beverage masato.
Photo by Holly Wissler

Reciprocity and respect between the people and the Amazon environment is the foundation of Wachiperi life. Historically, they lived off the plant, animal, and fishing resources from the Kosñipata cloud forests to the Madre de Dios River basin. However, social disruptions caused many to shift from a subsistence economy to a market-based one, working in logging, gold mining, agriculture, and tourism, while some migrated to the cities for work. In the first half of the 20th century, the community suffered many losses due to forced enslavement during the rubber boom and a smallpox epidemic in 1948. They were displaced from their original territories and in the 1960s consolidated into two communities: La Comunidad Nativa de Queros and Santa Rosa de Huacaria.

Today the Wachiperi work on conservation projects with the Amazon Conservation Association and its sister organization in Cusco, Asociación para la conservación de la cuenca amazónica. In fact, they are the first Indigenous group to manage a conservation concession in Peru.

The Wachiperi men are skilled at making arrows, which they use to hunt birds and other animals in the jungle and fish in the rivers. Women have specialized knowledge of plants, gathering them for food, medicine, and crafts. They harvest vines and bamboo for baskets, gather seeds for necklaces, and strip tree bark to make cushmas (traditional outfits), which they paint with natural dyes.

Wachiperi Songs

The Wachiperi use songs for healing and expressing grief, complaints, and loss. Their life stories are shared through singing about the landscape and revered birds and other animals. Through documenting these songs, the Wachiperi are making steps to revitalize their native language and assert their cultural identity.

Crisscrossed with paths connecting communities across geography and history, Peru boasts a stunning vertical landscape that integrates a diversity of ecosystems and cultures. Peru is one of the world’s most biodiverse nations, containing ninety microclimates across extreme variances of altitude. The coastal, rain-forested, and mountainous environments provide abundant resources, including major exports such as fish, copper, and asparagus. Many culturally and historically significant areas are popular tourist destinations that encompass complex layered histories.

The uniqueness of Peru’s diversity lies in the connectedness of its landscape in the form of rivers, roads, and pathways that existed long before the Inka Empire (fifteenth–sixteenth centuries) and Spanish colonization (sixteenth–nineteenth centuries). Across its different altitudes and climates, communities exchange commodities and practices, shaping deeply rooted but constantly changing daily customs and celebrations. The influx and movement of people between and beyond borders also influence and transform these exchanges.

The 2015 Peru program featured projects, organizations, and groups whose cultural expressions highlight these social, cultural, and economic exchanges. It demonstrated how the networks of celebration and community, crops and markets, textile and craft production, foodways and technology, and music and dance forge the diverse cultural heritage of the country.

Visitors to the Peru Festival program could experience these unique connections through cooking and craft demonstrations, music and dance performances, moderated discussions, ritual and celebratory processions, and other participatory activities. In addition, there was a robust involvement with Peruvian American and diaspora communities. The public had the opportunity to learn, to eat, to dance, to shop, to witness these vibrantly connected cultures, and to create their own connections with Peruvian artists and specialists on the National Mall and beyond.

Olivia Cadaval and Cristina Díaz-Carrera were Curators for the Smithsonian; Rafael Varón Gabai was Curator and Consultant to MINCETUR. Valentina Pilonieta-Vera was Program Coordinator; Alexia Fawcett was Community Engagement Manager, and Betty Belanus was Family Activities Curator. A Curatorial Advisory Committee included: Madeleine Burns, Marjorie Hunt, Mary Linn, Luis Guillermo Lumbreras, Giancarlo Marcone, Soledad Mujica, Diana N’Diaye, Luis Repetto, Marcela Ríos, Daniel Sheehy, Jorge Ortiz Sotelo, Milagritos Saldarriaga, Francisco Tumi, and Madeleine Zúñiga. A Community Advisory Group included: Catherine Cabel Chicas, Nelly Carrión, Billy Castillo, Kristy Chavez-Fernandez, Fabiana Chiu- Rinaldi, María del Carmen Cossu, Miguel García, Elmer Huerta, Vicky Leyva, Doris Loayza, Ana Noriega, Elena Tscherny, and Ricardo Villanueva.

The program was co-presented and co-sponsored by the Republic of Peru Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR). Additional support was provided by the staff of the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, directed by Kevin Gover (Pawnee), coordinated by Amy Van Allen; Washington Dulles international Airport and the Smithsonian's National Museum of African American History and Culture. The program received federal support from the Latino Initiatives Pool, administered by the Smithsonian Latino Center. Special media support is provided by Telemundo Washington DC,, Latin Opinion Baltimore Newspaper, Orange Barrel Media, WAMU 88.5, El Tiempo Latino, Washington Hispanic, Washington Blade, El Tiempo Hìspano (MD-DE-PA), CTM Media Group, El Zol 107.9, Digital Conventions, and Greater Washington Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. Support for the Smithsonian Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage's welcoming ceremony was provided, in part, by Avocados From Peru and Pisco Portón (in-kind).

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