Issues

Hombre Oveja Qoyur Riti, 2006
Masked dancer at May 2006 Qoyllur Rit’i glacier pilgrimage, representing fertility deity in form of a sheep / photo c. Jorge Vera for Clima y Cultura, 2006

Clima y Cultura explores the impact of climate change on indigenous rituals and practices related to agricultural and pastoral cycles in the high Andes regions of central and southern Peru, as well as in the Amazon region.

For thousands of years, life in the Andes has been organized according to the predictable seasons of planting and harvesting and herding of llamas, alpacas and sheep. Rituals and festivities mark the onset and end of important events and are crucial to maintaining agricultural productivity and community cohesion.

 However, since the 1990s, the accelerating effects of climate change have raised air temperatures and led to extreme weather events and the rapid melting of the high-altitude glaciers upon which farming life depends. These radical changes have disrupted the seasonal patterns of farming and animal husbandry, which, in turn, have grown out of step with the age-old ritual cycles upon which the Andean people rely to make sense of the world.

As a result, the rituals of the high Andes are undergoing rapid metamorphosis — some are being abandoned, others changed. In some case, new rituals and responses are being invented. Researching these changes is a priority for Clima y Cultura, since they provide a unique and compelling lens into the human dimensions of climate change, involving loss and suffering as well as creative adaptation.

These changes dramatically testify to the severity and extent of climate change effects that will ripple throughout coastal Peru in coming decades, as the country’s supply of glacial melt-water dwindles (Peru depends on melt-off for 70% of its water needs for personal use, farming and electricity generation).

Indigenous culture is particularly strong in the southern Andes around Cusco and Puno. However, climate change effects are also impacting cultural practices in the Cordillera Blanca, the great mountain chain that runs through north-central Peru. Farmers in this region must contend with not only glacier retreat, but with competition for water resources from hydroelectric plants, mining companies and extrensive agro-industries around Trujillo. 

Climate change is also morphing indigenous practices in the Amazon, which makes it a key area of research investigations given the centrality of the Amazon as “the lungs of the planet.” Sensitivity to indigenous practices in the Amazon is paramount for the success of climate change adaptation strategies in this often-contested region, which is besieged by competing mining, oil and logging interests as well.

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