Shaw, 21, college junior
language, literature, fandom things, Nerdfighter, Spanish major, also studying Brazilian Portuguese and French
Fandoms: Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Hunger Games, Downton Abbey.
Currently reading: The Book Thief (Markus Zusak); La casa en Mango Street (Sandra Cisneros)
mitmaes = People previously conquered by the Inca who
Inti-Raymir = A festival occurring around the time of the Summer solstice in many Andean communities. It honors the Sun and involves dancing and singing.
sequia = An irrigation ditch constructed of earth rather than human-made substances such as cement.
Pachamama = An Andean spirit or goddess who embodies the Earth. Pachamama is traditionally an important concept for the indigenous population of the Andes as most people are rural and all their sustenance comes from the Earth.
Salasaka is a small community of indigenous people which still maintains many of the traditions that have existed among the people for centuries. However, the signs of modernization are everywhere. There is a delicate balance in Salasaka between the Andean past and the Western present that serves not to diminish the Salasakan culture, but to enhance it.
One must remember that cultural adaptation is not a new process for the Salasaka. The exact location of the ancestral home of the Salasakans is unknown; however, it is believed that the were subject to a forced migration from the southern part of the Inca Empire, possibly as mitmaes. Naturally, a change in geography would have a profound impact on the culture of a people. In addition, the Salasakans adapted to the cultural practises of the Incas who ruled over numerous people groups from present day southern Colombia to northern Chile. For instance, the designs and symbols that our host, Sr. Alonso Pilla, uses in his weaving are traditional Inca symbols found throughout the old Inca Empire and are not unique to the Salasakan people. Also, the Inti-Raymir / San Pedro Festival of the Sun is celebrated in Salasaka in July. This festival is celebrated in different ways and at different times throughout South America, but its origins are distinctly Inca.
The influence of Spanish colonization on Salasakan culture is also apparent. A major occupation of the Salasaka is the production of textiles from wool. While other Andean peoples use Alpaca, the Salasakans use the wool of sheep, a species native to Europe. The donkeys so common in Salasaka as load-bearing animals are also foreign to the region and the carding boards used to process wool were introduced by the Spanish. The Spanish language is also prevalent in the community, but the people still use Quichua on a daily basis and Sr. Pillas expressed the hope that one day Quichua will be taught at the university level.
The third and arguably strongest outside force that the Salasakans have had to adapt to is the process of globalization. Sr. Pilla and his family own a vehicle, have electricity, use the Internet, watch football matches on television, and listen to modern music. Meanwhile, other aspects of their lifestyle are very different from the modern world that embraces all aspects of Western culture.
In a world that is becoming increasingly urban and industrialized, the Salasakans grow their own food and produce much of their own clothing. They raise animals and use small farming techniques largely nonexistent now in the United States. The production of textiles is a long and arduous process that is still done by hand. It takes 14 months for a sheep to become ready for shearing. The wool is then shorn by hand, picked for impurities, carded, spun, washed, dyed, and woven all by hand. It takes Sr. Pilla two weeks of eight hour days to weave a belt with the processed wool. At any point in this process the amount of time and effort needed could be reduced with modern technology or the importation of materials. Sr. Pilla himself admitted that all of his designs could be programmed into a computer and woven by machine within minutes, but he chooses not to do this.
For the Salasakans, the rejection of some modern advances is not a rejection of progress and the acceptance of some technology is not a corruption of their culture. An example that Sr. Pilla gave us is the construction of the canals that dot the landscape of Salasaka. These canals were constructed by engineers from larger cities in the 70s and replaced older ‘sequias’ that allowed water to evaporate more quickly and provided muddier water. The Salasakans embraced these changes because they benefited the community, but they rejected later proposals by the engineers because they believed these changes would alter the landscape and harm la Pachamama, mother earth. The Salasakan community embrace those changes which will allow them to survive in an ever-changing cultural landscape, but reject those changes which will undermine their cultural integrity. In this way, the Salasakans maintain a unique cultural identity despite centuries of invasion by foreign cultures.