Saturday, October 13, 2007

Faces from my childhood

When my mother was in the hospital giving birth to me, my father was in the jungles of Peru, in the province of Huanuco, setting up a post from which to clear the rain forest, build roads, establish cattle ranches and evangelize the natives. When I was just a couple of months old, my mother, eighteen month old sister, and I joined him. I lived there the first few years of my life and then we moved to Lima, where we stayed until I was 7.

Like most people, I have very few actual memories of the first few years of my life. And its hard to distinguish what I do remember from the 8mm home movies that were made of us to send back to my grandparents in the US. I think it was pretty rough going for my mother and an attempt by my father to prove himself worthy to his boss, my grandfather.

As an adult, I've been so ashamed of this family history, that I've never wanted to talk to my father about what he was doing. I just wanted to put it in the past and move on. This last week I've decided to take my own journey and do some exploring on the internet to see what I can learn about the area and the people who live there.

From what I've been able to tell, the people are Ashaninka which means "a brother to all." They are described as fierce and independent in their struggles with the Spanish conquistadors and have since then had to deal with slavery in the rubber plantations, colonizers like my family, and the battles between the Peruvian government and the communist rebels known as Shining Path. Here's a few photos thanks to Bart VO:

I couldn't find much information about what is happening today specifically with the Ashaninka in the area where we lived. But I did find an article about the work to develop El Sira Communal Reserve.

From this report, I learned that the biggest threat to the people and the ecology today is the logging industry, which has now removed almost all of the mahogany and cedar trees from the area. Other threats include road building (mostly to facilitate the needs of the logging companies), gold mining, excessive use of natural resources (mostly overfishing and hunting) and unregulated agriculture. On the horizon is the threat from the big guns...oil exploration and drug trafficking.

I'll probably continue to look for information about the people and places that are the distant memories of my childhood. It finally seems important for me to look them in the eye as much as I can - but on MY terms, not my family's.

One place that might help with that is a very wonderful website I found along the way and have put in my blogroll so that I can check it out regularly. Its Intercontinental Cry, a blog dedicated to news and information about the global struggles and empowerment of indigenous people.

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