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Young Heritage Promoters in Andahuaylillas, Peru: Past Achievements and Future Challenge

Thursday, February 16, 2012

By Ernesto Noriega, Youth Program Coordinator

In 2009 major conservation work was initiated on the sixteenth-century Church of San Pedro Apóstol in Andahuaylillas, a town in the Peruvian Andes. The local parish and World Monuments Fund, partners in the endeavor to preserve this historic monument, understood early on that a meaningful involvement of the community was necessary to lend depth and sustainability to their efforts. In this sense they launched a three-year pilot program with the objective of encouraging local youth to actively participate in the study, protection, and advancement of their cultural heritage.

Through a series of workshops, excursions, and practical field exercises, the young men and women who have since been participating in this program have had the opportunity to explore the works of their ancestors and consequently become aware of the rich cultural legacy they have inherited. Additionally, they have been exposed to various documentation techniques that enable them to record both the material and intangible aspects of their culture and have developed means to interpret them in novel ways, making them more accessible to the community.

Over time, the young group has matured and so has its members’ perception of the nature and value of heritage. They have expanded their appreciation beyond the most celebrated monuments such as baroque churches and particular archaeological sites, and their regard now encompasses the overall fabric of the historic town, with its domestic structures and public spaces, which they see as embodying traditional knowledge and values and as important purveyors of identity. Furthermore, they believe their responsibility as cultural custodians includes the preservation of local knowledge and traditional practices as well as the protection of the town’s surrounding landscape, which they understand as integral elements of their heritage.

Conscious of the magnitude and complexity of this challenge and of the necessity to find partners to tackle it, they have organized public events, launched information campaigns, and produced educational material in an effort to raise the level of awareness among the rest of the population in the hope that a newfound pride in their rich heritage will motivate them to get involved in its protection. To a large extent these efforts are directed at children and school students.

The group’s early accomplishments have already started to earn them the attention of the local population and regional authorities. One of their concrete achievements has been the establishment of a “Heritage Day” as a yearly celebration commemorating the inscription of Andahuaylillas as a National Historical Town. The project participants conceived and organized the first such event and managed to secure the collaboration of the town and district councils, the Ministry of Culture, the local parish, a regional NGO, as well as the private sector. The event, which included exhibitions, drawing and photographic competitions, a film projection, conferences, and round-table discussions, was well received by the population.

On another occasion, as the political campaigns for local elections were about to begin, the group summoned all candidates to a meeting and convinced them to respect the integrity of the townscape by agreeing to abstain from plastering the town with posters and to remove all painted slogans. The unanimously signed agreement was unprecedented and there were public calls in the local media urging other towns and districts to follow this example.

Now the group is pushing for the establishment of a new Heritage Protection Office that would function within the town council and would be supported by the Ministry of Culture, as a regulating agency that would oversee and enforce the compliance of building guidelines and protective measures.

The project participants have also made strides in the development of instruments designed to further appreciation and respect for local heritage and aimed at promoting community participation in the efforts to protect it. Among these are the production of videos, comic books, power-point presentations, and short performances intended to be shown in schools. They also hope to eventually influence the educational curricula through the introduction of heritage-related learning units.

In addition they have started to catalogue every building in town, documenting its architectural characteristics, state of conservation, and recording information related to its inhabitants. They are using this data to create an interactive 3-D map that will include technical drawings, texts, photographs, and video clips, and which will be continuously fed by the town’s neighbors who will contribute their family stories, memories, and personal testimonies. The aim is to create a user-friendly, participatory representation of the town and put forward a broader notion of heritage with which the population can easily identify. Members of the Ministry of Culture who have seen an early version of the map have been very impressed and think it could be applied effectively nationwide.

The group’s vision for the future is no less ambitious. The plans include: producing pamphlets instructing the population as to the existing building guidelines and encouraging them to repair instead of replace their historic houses; promoting the continuity of local craftsmanship; lobbying for the declaration of the district as a protected cultural landscape; proposing the creation of a cultural commission in every village of the district and assisting them in the protection of their local heritage; documenting all festivities celebrated throughout the year; advancing a form of tourism that does not negatively affect the integrity of their cultural and natural heritage; promoting traditional crops, particularly protecting the genetic integrity of maize (corn), which has historical been the foundation of the region’s development; promoting exchanges between the young and the elderly, thus facilitating the transmission of traditional knowledge and historical memory; and creating a website dedicated to the protection of the district’s heritage.

These goals may seem overambitious and the sense of urgency exaggerated, but they reflect where the group is at today. At the end of these three years we observe that the shared experience has consolidated the project participants into a dedicated unit, their commitment strengthened by the growing realization of how fortunate they are to live in such a special place. Today they express the willingness “to assume the responsibility” that comes with such a privilege, especially now that they have been given the opportunity and have acquired the skills to protect it. They view this as a generational challenge: in these disorienting times of rapid change, when most educated young people are leaving town in search of better economic opportunities, they feel that it could ultimately be up to them and their peers to guarantee that the works of their forebears be respected in the future and that the traditional knowledge and values still present in their community remain relevant and continue to be transmitted to the next generations. In their own words: “We have understood that if we now fail to take the necessary measures to guarantee the conservation and continuity of our cultural and natural heritage, we will be judged harshly by our children and grandchildren in the future.”

Their success will depend on whether they find a way to continue dedicating themselves to the protection and promotion of their heritage while at the same time be able to make a living through this work. Some group members are already graduating from college and are under immense pressure from their families to emigrate and get “real jobs”. Yet they are committed to stay. Developing a strategy that enables them to do so will be the central task of the last workshop, taking place in February 2012.


Related Projects:
SAN PEDRO APÓSTOL DE ANDAHUAYLILLAS CHURCH