Thursday, May 14, 2015

If this Church could talk

Once, long ago it was probably the center of commercial and social activity in an important village at that time known as Tùcume.  We don’t know when the church was built, but we can make an educated guess. The oldest known Catholic Church in Peru was built in 1534 in Piura; just two years after Pizarro founded the city.  In Lima, founded in 1535 again by Pizarro, churches started taking shape in 1536. In 1536 Juan Roldàn Dàvila (born 1490 in Spain) was entrusted by Pizarro with the administrative control of Tùcume and the surrounding area. Given the pattern of two years between Spanish founding and building it is reasonable to assume that the Tùcume church was constructed around 1538 - 1540. Juan probably did not live to see his church completed…he died in Trujillo in 1538.

Northern coastal Peru lacks the metal mines that drove the Spanish appetite for wealth, but the fertile valleys irrigated with water from the mountains provided a wide variety of marine and agricultural food, as well as cotton and ceramics.  Tùcume would have been the center of food processing, manufacturing, trade and social activities with much of it taking place in the large open area in front of the church; today the site of the village park.

The church was built by Moche Culture descendants of adobe brick and other material.  Its massive four-foot think walls, high ceiling and huge archways could have elicited a feeling of awe upon entering. It still has that same affect if you open up to it. Stand in the archway; touch the walls; use your imagination and the church will talk to you… it will tell you what it has seen over the last 475 years. Of all of its memories, both good and bad one of the most impactful occurred in the year 1622. That’s the year the Milk River (La Leche Rio) driven by an El Niño overflowed its banks and completely flooded the village. There had been other floods, but not like this. With that flood the residents had had enough. The village was relocated 10 miles to the west on higher ground. What remained was a renamed village - Tùcume Viejo (Old Tùcume), a handful of villagers and a once proud 400 year old church.

This is what the church exterior looked like on August 22, 2014. There still remains enough of it to imagine how it might have looked all those years ago.

The interior is silent and peaceful. The only indication of human activity is a handful of graves containing the remains of children placed there by parents who either could not afford a cemetery funeral, or perhaps felt that the church ground was the more appropriate location. The graves have been there for many years and have not been disturbed.

This is how the church exterior appears today. El Niño and floods are once again threatening the village and church. The government has committed about $87,000 USD to protect and to some extant restore the site.

Walls are being reinforced and new brick is being added to fill the gaps. It appears at least at this point that the children’s graves sites are being worked around.

Though Machu Picchu and Lima are still Peru’s biggest tourist attractions, every year more visitors are discovering the attractions in the north. It’s probably for the best to preserve and restore the old church in Tùcume Viejo for future visitors, who hopefully will understand and appreciate what they’re seeing. But there is a degree of artificiality in any restoration/preservation efforts. Tourists won’t have the opportunity to walk through the old church…to touch and feel and listen to it. It may be that the cost of preservation is the loss of its voice.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Things are getting serious in Tumàn

In some recent posts I’ve commented about workers and educators protesting against the sugar cooperative in the Tumàn District, charging corruption, incompetence, and the failure to pay workers and teachers. The protests had been generally peaceful but that has changed abruptly. Late last week protestors barricaded the road to Cajamarca in an attempt to block sugar cane transport, and forcefully confronted police who tried to clear the road. Several police and protestors were injured. Four of the protestors were arrested and taken to the police station in Tumàn.

Yesterday protestors attacked the police station in an unsuccessful attempt to rescue the four individuals. They threw rocks and home-made fire bombs at the station, causing some damage to the station and an adjacent clothing store.  Unable to enter the station, they took out their frustration by burning a police motorcycle (photo: Wilfredo Sandoval/El Comercio newspaper). The crowd dispersed when confronted with a larger police presence.  

This situation has escalated far beyond disrupting the school term.  It may be that similar to the copper mine protests in Tia Maria in the south, we’ll see the military here to restore peace before it’s over.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

The unique history of the village of Santos Vera

Disclaimer – The following information regarding the man Santos Vera Sandoval came from various sources. Some of it is fact...some probably legend. I haven't bothered to try to sort it out.

On November 1, 1933 Santos Vera Sandoval was born in the city of Tùcume.  Beginning at around age eight Santos’ grandfather, who was regarded as one of the area’s most powerful bruhos (feel free to substitute warlock, wizard, shaman or sorcerer) took Santos under his wing and began instruction in ‘brujeria’ – witchcraft.  Santos was fascinated with the art; studied hard and before long gained the reputation of a powerful bruho (bruha is the feminine form) in his own right. That reputation was further enhanced when Santos’ grandfather died and bequeathed to him all of his paraphernalia including a staff said to have come from one of the Tùcume pyramids. 

Santos prospered as a bruho. He accepted cash and other considerations for his services, which included divining, healing, exorcism, and counseling in family matters. He sometimes performed his services with the use of the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus. Natural plant concoctions were normally part of his prescribed cures.

At some point he and his family moved from the city of Tùcume to a large expanse of land just north of the Tùcume pyramid complex and Purgatory Mountain, an area regarded as sacred and spiritual. Santos named the new community Fundo Vera, fundo generally meaning a community owned by one man or family. The community is still referred to as Fundo Vera by some, but officially and to most locals it is Santos Vera. The road through the village doesn’t see much traffic. We walked about a mile to another village to get a mototaxi ride back to Tùcume.

It is well known that bruhos are competitive with and jealous of each other, and it is said that Santos had many battles with other bruhos jealous of his popularity.  Bruhos don’t fight physically…instead it is a mental contest done at a distance. Santos always prevailed. On September 9, 1993 Santos died. His remains were placed in a tomb in the Tùcume cemetery. In early 2004 the tomb of Santos was broken into and his head removed. Bruhos believe that the power of a bruho is resident in the brain, even after death so it is suspected that one or more bruhos desecrated the tomb to gain Santos’ power.

Santos is said to have had thirteen children, one of whom, Orlando Vera continues the practice of witchcraft handed down to him by his father. He describes himself as a master healer and spiritual guide. Orlando has a website, and a residence and small museum in Santos Vera containing the ritual articles used by him and his father.

Orlando isn’t the only Santos descendant active in Santos Vera. A niece is the director of the pronoei "Mi Mundo Fantastico", an attractive and reasonably well maintained school on the northern edge of the village surrounded by fields of corn and cotton.  

Maria Bravo Vera was born in Santos Vera and has been the director at the pronoei for three years. She has 22 students ages 3 to 5. When we entered the school she was reading a book to the kids with the theme of working hard to realize dreams, and used finger puppets to keep the kids focused on the story. 

The school is reasonably well equipped. Parents are able to provide basic school supplies, and using her own money Maria has accumulated some books and playthings. The only issues she has is the lack of storage and not enough tables and chairs. She’s using government supplied gym equipment as storage shelves and would like to free them up for their original purpose. One of the four tables needs to be replaced, and many chairs are on the verge of not being serviceable. She has asked us for two storage shelves, twelve chairs and three tables. That’s a modest request that would cost about $200 including transportation and we’re going to do that. If you’d like to contribute to this project please visit the Promesa Peru webpage. Thank you.