As I get ready to travel to Peru this January, I thought it might be good to provide some historical context as to why I'm so interested in working in Peru. Many people have asked me. Some close to me know of my passion for Peru. However, few people know how far back my interest in the cultures of Peru reaches.
As I recall, when I was in my early teens, I picked up a book entitled "The Conquest of Peru." In this book were photographs of the Inca people who had similar faces and headdresses. That realization that this amazing little head was probably of South American origin started my life-long pursuit of information about Peru and other native American cultures.
Years later my mother and I went to Antiques Roadshow and I confirmed that the little head was indeed from native American origin. It turns out that it represents a Mayan king with his headdress from Meso America. Despite the fact that this little head turned out to come from the Mayan culture in the central part of the Americas, my interest in South America and the Peruvian culture was cemented in my soul.
To finish my Masters program I had to design and conduct an ethnographic research project and then produce a film telling the story of the project to get my degree. This was the perfect opportunity to find a project in Peru that I could work on as a visual anthropologist. I searched around, with the help of the professionals at the Cotsen Institute at UCLA, and found a project at the archaeological site of Saqsaywaman just above Cusco, Peru. In 2011, I made my first trip to Peru to film what was supposed to be a stakeholder's meeting between the Ministry of Culture and the descendants of the Inca who lived on the active archaeological site. I was accompanied by Ben Younkman, the on camera researcher, and Becky Roth, the project administrator. Long story short, the meeting never happened because the situation between the stakeholders on the site was too tense. At first I thought this was bad luck, as I had flown us all down there and now didn't have a project to film. But, due to creative thinking by the Ministry of Culture professionals, they asked us to go up into the communities and film their grievances and then bring that film down to the Ministry as a way they could start fruitful conversations in a tense situation.
The Ministry of Culture management staff has changed many times since I've been there last. Thus, this January we will be meeting with them to update them on who we are and finding out how best to work to accomplish their current goals and objectives.
As always, our team MUST remain impartial so both sides will trust us to be truthful reporters of the situation to all sides. It's helpful this year that we are associated the the non-profit Global Purpose Group and have secured our own funding. Thanks again to everyone who has donated to our project.
While in Peru this January, I will also be studying the local Spanish/Quecha dialect at the Maximo Nivel language school. And, I'll be working with this multi-national school to setup the plans for the field school that will start in January 2020.
And, one more point of interest, I recently had my DNA profile done and was pretty surprised to find that I'm 24% native American...with 1% of that being from PERU!!! I hope to find someone in Cusco who might be able to help me find a way to discover my Peruvian roots. Pretty amazing that I have Peruvian blood in me!
If you've made it this far on this blog...I'm impressed! Thanks so much to all my friends and supporters. I've been touched through the years by the notes and cards people have sent me saying they believe in my vision for my project.
Below are some of the cards and well wishes I've received over the years from people who have believed in me and my project in Peru
Thanks so much to you all!! Stay tuned...I'll be posting a blog each week from Saqsaywaman.
Maren Elwood is a visual anthropologist and founder of On-Site Expeditions...a field school that will provide scholarships to aspiring heritage professionals. The first field school session will be in January 2020.