BACKGROUND

The province of La Jalca / La Xalca / is an enigma in northern Peru, an island of cultural abundance in a flood of modernity. It is a place full of pre-Inca traditions that still have incredible importance for the identity of the community. The capital of the province, La Jalca Grande, is known as the folklore capital of the Amazon region and is designated as an enormous archeological site due to the wealth of history that pervades throughout the small town. The annexes span for hundreds of square kilometers passing through semi-tropical lowlands/ immense tracts of pristine cloud forest and towering mountains with many areas still yet to be explored. La Jalca is also where the pilot Slow Village Project is currently underway 

As in much of rural Peru, many of the residents here have difficult economic realities with limited opportunities for education or social growth. The population depends on often back-breaking agricultural activities for their economy and poverty is common.  The pressures and distractions of modernity have increased in the last 15 years as transport links have connected the population with the rest of the region. One of the first victims of this encounter with modernity is inevitably culture. And despite this, much of the community struggles to maintain it’s customs and folklore

Some of the last indigenous Quechua speakers, storytellers and the most talented and innovative of the many traditional weavers remain open to opportunity and have constantly participated in our leadership and community governance workshops where we have sown the seeds of long-term change through traditional gastronomy, experiential tourism, and environmental initiatives.

We have organized a group of proactive, young participants who are eager to conserve the traditions of the past and stop the danger of the community becoming disconnected from its origins as the older members of the pass on. We are training them to become future ambassadors for the community, supporting their professional and leadership development as they learn from their elders, creating hope for the future of La Jalca.

THE PROBLEM

In this male-dominated society, women are expected to stay limited to traditional roles in the home and fields with domestic violence existing as a particular problem. Single mothers are both common and at the same time socially excluded. Pregnancy at a young age is also traditional and limiting for teenage girls, who rarely make it into higher education. This pattern is repeated throughout the region, finding little existing support structure in place to nurture social development.

Domestic violence to both mother and children is another unanswered problem that urgently needs to be addressed as concepts of equality and gender filter into the community and create much confusion and resistance.

 La Jalca district is a largely indigenous population dating back at least a thousand years. Peruvian society is susceptible to racism and classism and discrimination has led to younger members of the community distancing themselves from their indigenous culture, with migration to cities an ever-increasing reality with no real economic or social motivation to remain.

 The recent growth of tourism to the region is a strong lure for the community who see it as an opportunity to rise out of poverty but social divisions, ill-thought-out development projects, and personal interests have all hampered previous efforts to create a suitable destination. Local craftswomen need product support, creative stimulation and access to a more globalized market in order to find a sustainable income from their art.

A lack of public investment in services and infrastructure means that tourism services are deficient and the cultural guardians of the village are mistrusting of projects and feel abandoned after many promised opportunities and failed public programmes.

OUR CONTRIBUTION

We connected with the local primary and secondary schools who provided us with a room in an old, unused school building in order for us to begin a community governance intervention and work together with our group of participants on aspects leadership, economic opportunities and individual empowerment.

We will renovate the old schoolroom, converting it into a community center where the population can learn new skills and women & youth can find a safe space to share their problems.

The classroom would also be a point of reception for visitors to the Slow Villages Project, allowing for workshops and tours and also exist as an information point and cultural centre with a plan to convert traditional activities into experiential tourism services and workshops. The young members of the group will help us to decorate and rebuild it into an educational centre.

We will create an experiential tourism information centre where we will train the community in cultural revaluation, creating economic opportunities and the chance for youth to learn about their traditions from elders.

Our groups contain several female weaving associations who sell their wool products to a regional market place. There is an abundance of woven products in the region and prices are low. There is a need for more diverse, modern products and improved quality in order to be competitive. The community classroom to bring in professional artisans and work on creativity based on traditional techniques and iconography.

We will help to strengthen the quality and creativity of weaving products, giving them relevance and accessibility to a wider market as well as exploring the reintroduction of working and planting native cotton.

Working with local chefs from the regional university we will help train the community to prepare modern food for visitors based on traditional recipes and using local ingredient. This will also allow for the development of gastronomic abilities and tackle common nutritional deficiencies seen in young and old. Visitors will also have the opportunity to participate in gastronomic workshops in hosts housing and agricultural activities.

We will fortify gastronomic abilities, relearning traditional recipes and improving nutrition whilst developing economic opportunities.

A volunteer programme held in conjunction with the local primary and secondary school, as well as with the community groups will allow for all members of the community to have access to language lessons and collaborate with professionals in agriculture, economic development, education, art & crafts, and health. 

We will begin a volunteer programme helping to stimulate sustainable educational and economic activities, creating further opportunity.

Income gained from services provided by the community space is easier to invest in a shared fund and then distributed back into assets or activities which would be of benefit for the common good. The center will be of benefit beneficial to the entire population.

We will continue to teach leadership and community cooperation, helping individuals to fulfil their potential.

FURTHER INFO

T he climate is variable and temperatures can drop to around zero at night. It is recommended to wear warm and waterproof clothing. Trekking boots or ankle boots and waterproof boots are usually necessary for trekking. Sunblock, mosquito repellent, and a hat are also advisable items to keep in your bag all the time. The most recommended time for trekking is outside the rainy season between May and November. There are trekking options for all fitness levels, but to reach other destinations, prepare for steep and rocky cattle roads.

GEOGRAPHY
A variety of typical dances and festivals are held throughout the year.

Throughout June, the community celebrates several festivals and, more interestingly, the patron saint of San Juan over the course of 10 days, being the central day on June 24. This festival has several customs that are exclusive to the community, culminating in the emblematic performance of Bear throughout the town and over the course of a day. The story has its origin in folklore and in a character called San Juan del Oso, the son of a human bear and a spectacled bear. You will be greeted with an uproar of traditional music, bands, food and drink, as well as street parades that demonstrate the customs of the entire region. Incredibly, almost no tourist comes to see this show.

Other important dates extend during the Holy Week period, which shows street parades, gastronomic fairs and various dances, while the last week of December combines the traditional activities of the festive season with cultural events.

HISTORY

La Jalca was part of the Chachapoyano kingdom. The empire of the Chachapoyas or “People of the Cloud” covered an area that today includes the departments of San Martín, Amazonas and La Libertad. Society had no way of documenting its life beyond petroglyphs, textiles and ceramics, so we know very little about these people in addition to these archaeological finds that point to an extremely sophisticated civilization.

Built by the Spaniards on pre-Hispanic foundations in 1538 as the first capital of the region, the town of La Jalca Grande has preserved some houses that are built on a circular plan with thatched roofs aimed at pure Chachapoyas tradition. The modern population is almost entirely indigenous and many of the women continue to wear their traditional costumes as they develop their daily lives. This is the folklore capital of the Amazon region with dozens of annexes and natural areas that are still, in general, isolated from the outside world and where traditional agricultural practices are common. There are hundreds of roads to archeological sites, colonial ruins and tropical valleys. Stay alert in wooded areas that still extend over huge areas and you may see rare birds, large mammals or the spectacled bear: the only bear native to South America. Its traditional festivals dotted throughout the year come to the forefront of the community in a wave of color and music, where enormous devotion to culture and history is shown.

INTERESTING DATES
A variety of typical dances and festivals are held throughout the year.

Throughout June, the community celebrates several festivals and, more interestingly, the patron saint of San Juan over the course of 10 days, being the central day on June 24. This festival has several customs that are exclusive to the community, culminating in the emblematic performance of Bear throughout the town and over the course of a day. The story has its origin in folklore and in a character called San Juan del Oso, the son of a human bear and a spectacled bear. You will be greeted with an uproar of traditional music, bands, food and drink, as well as street parades that demonstrate the customs of the entire region. Incredibly, almost no tourist comes to see this show.

Other important dates extend during the Holy Week period, which shows street parades, gastronomic fairs and various dances, while the last week of December combines the traditional activities of the festive season with cultural events.