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January 29th 2012
Published: February 15th 2012EDIT THIS ENTRY

It was overcast and drizzling when we arrived in Patacancha. The air was thin, the mud too thick for our car to pass. We walked the short distance to the the town, if the scattering of adobe huts could even be called that. We were on a tour, with us was a middle-aged couple from North Carolina.

The weavers were unaware we were coming, so as we past through the street Kiri had to call out "tenemos un tur, queiren tejir?" The women either dropped what they were doing or had nothing better to do. Thirteen of the indigenous women gathered under the four straw huts Awamaki had erected as an exposition area.

Their brilliant orange skirts seemed to consume them as they sat down. They set to work, pounding stakes into the ground. When this was done, they attached their threads, which extended from a backstrap. This style of weaving has created back problems in many of the women. Kiri is putting a project together to furnish the weavers with special benches that help realign their spine.

The women spread out their woven goods on a blanket, as fishermen may set a net. They looked at us with impartiality. For them, we were clearly nothing more than a means to an end. Kiri stood before the three of us, in the center of the weaving circle. She ran through her routine, explaining the importance of the tradition, the origin of the dies, etc.. I reached out to a couple of the women, tried my hand at spinning the wool while making friendly conversation. The weavers acted as if my words were only for comic relief, these being the women who even acknowledged me. They seemed to be listening for a few select words. Perhaps "cuanto cuesta?" or "puedes venderme?" would have got their attention. Otherwise, they were disinterested, if not reluctant to even listen to me speak. I'm getting used to this kind of treatment in Peru.

Sometimes I feel that I'm seen as nothing more than a dollar bill on legs. I felt especially dehumanized in Patacancha. The women had no desire to exchange, unless the exchange entailed overpriced goods. The objectification I felt myself subjected to was really a reflection of how we objectify their culture. We preserve and observe their way of life, as if it were an elaborate display in a musuem. Though maintaining authentic indigenous traditions is important, they must not be viewed as static entities in a vaccuum. The women of Patacancha should be economicaly dependent on displaying their weaving traditions, they should have the freedom to choose how their culture is expressed. Cultures are dynamic and shifting with the times, failing to recognize this results in the objectification of both tourists and locals. We see them as relics of an ancient epoch, they see us as a form of income. Fair enough.

We met our driver half way down the muddy road. It was raining and I had enough of Patacancha for one day. I could not see myself living their, even for a short period of time. My romantic vision of indigenous life had been reduced to the reality of rural poverty. However, these were only my first impressions, how I view both Patacancha and cultural tourism is bound to change over the next five months. I hope so anyway.

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