The project

  • The objective

In July 1970 my wife Margaret and I traveled to Peru with the goal of undertaking an anthropological study as part of my doctoral degree from the University of Wisconsin.  We had lived in Peru between 1965 and 1967 as volunteers in the U.S. Peace Corps – a service initiated by President John. F. Kennedy. We married in the town of Chepen in the Department of La Libertad.  During that time, we became familiar with northern Peru and in particular with La Libertad. This region drew us back for the research necessary to my degree.

  • Arriving in Uchucmarca

Shortly after arriving in Peru, we made a reconnaissance of the Andean region in the area of the Marañón River, including visits to Llamellín in eastern Ancash, Tayabamba in La Libertad, and the Province of Bolivar. Our first visit to Uchucmarca was in October 1970.  What impressed us most about the town was the people’s friendliness.   In addition, two things attracted me to the place:  its control of an Andean valley where people grew a wide range of crops and its relative self-sufficiency.

  • Settling in

We returned to Uchucmarca in December.  The final leg of our journey began in Pusac, 30 km by road from the Marañón. From there, we travelled another 30 km on horseback, climbing for six hours and up some 1800 m on the trail to the upper valley. Along with three mules carrying our bags, we finally arrived at our destination.

We found a small house to rent from the Navarro family, located two blocks off the central plaza.  We constructed a raised platform for cooking on in the kitchen, and a local carpenter built some simple furniture. The house had two upper rooms above the passageway to the kitchen.  We used the one where firewood was stored as a sleeping room and the other as a living room and office.

Our first task after moving into our new house was to look for people who could provide basic food supplies.  Lacking trade goods, we sought out people who could sell provisions such as a sack of potatoes or wheat that could be ground at the small, water-powered mill outside of town. With this flour, we could bake bread and fry the local cakes known as “cachangas.” Once provisioned, we were ready to begin research.

  • Verticality

In the 1970s, anthropologists studying Andean culture were strongly influenced by the work of John Murra that stressed the importance of the vertical ecology of the Andes.  Murra proposed that Andean social organization was based on controlling distinct Andean zones.  

I investigated the hypothesis that Murra’s model could be used to understand contemporary Andean life, beginning with the community. Focused on locating in a community that controlled an Andean valley and was relatively self-sufficient, I decided to base my study in Uchucmarca. 

  • Methodology

I relied on the well-established ethnographic method of “participatory observation.” This involved living in the community, participating in daily activities alongside its people, and carrying out informal but direct observation. In addition, I did a census of the population as well as a survey of agricultural production and a study of economic activities. 

Milciades Rojas Sagástegui was my assistant, and his work was very valuable to my investigation.  He introduced me to many people and helped explain my objectives to them. He also helped me interpret air photographs of the valley. Although my work might have seemed strange to the people of Uchucmarca, they always showed great friendliness and patience. 

While I did anthropological research, my wife Margaret established relations with the women of the village, helping me to understand some social relationships and household activities such as obtaining provisions.  She especially remembers her neighbor and namesake, Margarita Vega, and Enma Rojas, the wife of my field assistant Milciades.  She also undertook important research in the national archives in Lima where she found documents valuable to understanding the history of Uchucmarca’s region. 

  • Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the Uchumarquinos who contacted me a few years ago and whose interest in my experience in Uchucmarca between 1970 and 1971 led me to look through materials that I have kept for 50 years.  Richard Man Photography in Palo Alto, California scanned 700 black and white negatives to provide the foundation for this website. Carlos Tello Barreda, along with my wife Margaret and son Jason assisted in the difficult job of selecting the photographs, and Carlos provided essential help in designing and assembling the website.

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