The Story Of Juan El Osito: Community Cohesion In La Jalca Grande, Peru
After an earthquake struck the Amazonas region of Peru, the historic church of La Jalca Grande suffered serious damage —including the total destruction of its unique free-standing tower. Among the affected parts of this sixteenth-century structure is a curious carving of a bear with a unique backstory that continues to be central to the importance of the townspeople today.
La Jalca Grande, located in the province of Chachapoyas in Peru’s Amazonas region, is a town whose history is of great importance for the expansion of Spanish power. Colonial documents indicate that it is where the “Foundation of the Chachapoyas Frontier” occurred on September 5, 1538, by Captain Alonso de Alvarado, making it the first site of Spanish occupation in the region. At the end of the colonial period, the place was known as the Town of the Purísima Inmaculada Concepción de Badajoz de la Jalca, a name it kept until 1827, when it was definitively changed to La Jalca Grande. The free-standing tower of the town’s church is a rare feature in early colonial buildings. One of the most unique features of the church, however, is a stone engraved with a figure known by the local population as Juan el Osito (Juan the Bear).
According to local belief, centuries ago, a young woman from the town of La Jalca Grande was kidnapped by a bear. From that union, Juan el Osito was born, and according to legend, it was he who built the tower of the church, which dominated the landscape of this town until the earthquake in November 2021. The story of Juan el Osito is popular to this day, and the community has created various cultural manifestations around this legend, such as dances, songs, festivals, the production of large bear-shaped bread, and decorative motifs in their textiles, among others.
Due to the importance of this heritage, World Monuments Fund (WMF) allocated seed funding from its Crisis Response Fund at the request of the Ministry of Culture of Peru as a seed fund to start the restoration process. The reconstruction of the tower and the return of the stone of Juan el Osito to its original place is a way of reaffirming the identity of the local population, which will actively participate in the reconstruction of the tower. World Monuments Fund’s (WMF) team in Peru remains committed to the protection of Peru’s cultural heritage in conjunction with local populations and allies in the public and private sectors.
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