Ana Mariella Bacigalupo, Professor of Anthropology at the State University of New York-Buffalo, speaks on poor mestizos in northern Peru, who offer a new way to theorize humanism and sentient landscapes that interact with humans in terms of environmental justice, collective ethics, and health.
Dr. Bacigalupo has worked with Mapuche shamans in Southern Chile and shamans on the north coast of Peru. She has authored 5 books and over 55 articles.
CHARLES STANG: I'm Charles Stang. I'm the director here at the Center for the Study of World Religions. Thank you all for coming out this evening for this lecture. And please join me in thanking the Center's staff for making this event possible. And let me begin with a mundane matter. Please silence your cell phones or just turn them off.
I have the distinct honor and pleasure of welcoming Professor Mariella Bacigalupo from the State University of New York in Buffalo. She's no stranger to HDS. She held a postdoc position here at the Center for-- oops, all right, OK.
I thought that was me. She had a postdoc here at the Center back under Larry Sullivan's directorship many years ago. She was a research associate at the Women's Studies in Religion program across the Dean's Yard over there and has lived at the Center at least one some summer since then. So we know her well. It's wonderful to have her back.
Her lecture this evening, entitled "The Subversive Politics of Sentient Places," falls into one of the Center's programming threads entitled "Matter and Spirit-- Ecology and the Non-human Turn." So permit me to say a word about this thread before I introduce Professor Bacigalupo.
Recent work in the humanities and the social sciences has generated new interest in the age-old religious question of the relationship between matter and spirit and its relevance for the environmental crisis we now face. On the one hand, quote unquote, "vibrant materialists" such as the political theorist Jane Bennett ask us to revise our view of matter as an inert object we manipulate and invite us to think instead of the vibrancy of the non-human and allegedly inanimate things in our world-- that is, to imagine that they have agency and creativity. This promises to cultivate an ecological sensibility and different sorts of political interventions in the environmental crisis.
On the other hand, anthropologists, such as Professor Bacigalupo, have revived interests in spirits and their interactions with humans, taking these phenomena seriously if not literally as occasions to widen our notion of agency and personhood. Perhaps humans are just one expression of a more widely distributed agency, an agency spread across the full spectrum of the alleged antimony between matter and spirit. Richard Grusin has called the decentering of the human the, quote, "non-human turn." The wager is that by shifting our focus away from the human to such things as animals, affectivity, bodies, materiality, technologies, and organic and geophysical systems we might actually summon an ecological imagination that better safeguards humans precisely by displacing them from the center of all inquiry.
We hazard to guess that questions such as these might help us reinvigorate our thinking about religion and ecology. What can these fields of inquiry teach religious studies about cultivating an ecological imagination and a potent activism? And what can religious studies, in turn, contribute to these fields?
I was thrilled when Professor Bacigalupo accepted our invitation to participate in this series. Her body of scholarship on South American shamanism consistently explores notions of distributed agency, the sentience of places, the personhood of alleged inanimate things and communities of humans animals and spirits, and of course, the struggle of political and environmental justice. Her 2016 book Thunder Shaman represents an extraordinary collaboration with the Mapuche shaman, or machi-- am I saying that right, machi?
MARIELLA BACIGALUPO: Yes.
CHARLES STANG: --Francisca Kolipi. As a, quote unquote, "civilized shaman," Francisca narrated the Mapuche people's attachment to their local sacred landscapes, which landscapes are themselves imbued with shamanic power. And she constructed a non-linear history in which the Mapuche people become history's spiritual victors. The book describes Francisca's life, death, and expected rebirth and shows how she remade history through dreams, visions, and spirit possession, drawing on ancestral beings and forest spirits as historical agents to obliterate state ideologies and the colonialist seizure of indigenous lands.
Both an academic text, and as I've recently heard, a powerful ritual object in itself, this book is intended to be its own agent in shamanic history. Thunder Shaman functions simultaneously as a, quote unquote, "shamanic Bible." That is to say, it embodies Francisca's power, will, and spirit after her death in 1996, and it stands as an insightful academic study of shamanic historical consciousness.
Her lecture this evening will touch on many of these same themes, I suspect, particularly the blurring of the lines between the human and the non-human world. We'll hear more about her work with the mestizos of northern Peru and their response to climate change and environmental devastation, namely by including the sentient landscape in their definition of community and by listing its embedded powers and persons for collective social and environmental transformation. So please join me in welcoming Professor Ana Mariella Bacigalupo for her lecture, "The Subversive Politics Sentient Places."
MARIELLA BACIGALUPO: Thank you so much for that lovely introduction. I'm really happy to be here at the Center again. It seems to be a place of really good spirits. I have written three books in this place at different times. And I'm actually very happy, too, that he was mentioning that the last book was supposed to be a ritual object to channel the spirit of a new thunder shaman to come back.
And that actually just happened in December when I was back in Chile. So I'm very happy about that. And the Center for World Religions seems to be a place for channeling this kind of energy. So thank you so much, and thank you, all of you, for being here today.
Today, I want to talk about something different. I want to talk about my new work in northern Peru and how it is that these sentient places-- and particularly today, I'm going to focus on sentient mountains-- played a really important role in thinking about new kinds of selves, but also environmental justice and collective ethics in a new way. So on June 10, 2018, Percy Valladares, a 55-year-old mestizo with both Indigenous Chimu and Spanish ancestry streaked the sacrificial rock at the base of Campana Mountain with Mountain Power, a soft drink made with malt.
Campana is the oldest and most powerful sentient mountain in the coastal Moche and Chicama Valleys within the province of the La Libertad in northern Peru. In the past, Moche and Chimu divine rulers fed Campana on human sacrifices and other offerings in an attempt to control water resources, prevent flooding caused by El Nino, and to promote environmental stability and environmental health. Today, poor Mestizos see sentient landscapes made by ancestors, wak'a, and ancestral mountains, apus, as connecting the living with Indigenous ancestors who controlled access to water, life, fertility, as well as floods, mudslides, illness, and death.
Percy filled the orifices in the rock with water he had extracted from a well to appease the thirst of Campana in the desert environment. I lodged a mandarin and a piece of a sweet bread made from sesame in the crevices of the sacrificial rock where previous visitors had also left glass beads, fragments of Moche ceramics, shells, and powerful stones. Water, liquids, and blood are the most precious offerings in the desert because they're life, Percy explained.
See how the rock is absorbing the Mountain Power. It's delicious. That's because Campana is an apu, a powerful ancestor and spiritual leader of all of us who live in the Moche and Chicama Valleys. We feed the apu with offerings, and he gives us health, underground water to fill our wells, and rain that fills the rivers that come down from the Andes and allow us to irrigate our fields.
But when people become corrupt and destroy the environment, the apu sends floods and mudslides to punish them. Percy pointed to the place where the flood of 2017 had eaten away the ritual site and carried away one of the stones. The last flood was immense because the human corruption is immense. We need the guidance of the apu as moral leaders in this catastrophe.
Apus, or sentient ancestral mountains, challenge Western assumptions about the separation of matter and spirit and speak to current attempts to decenter the human in what it has been known as the non-human turn. They communicate through rain, lightning, floods, the actions of animals and plants, and through dreams and visions induced by huachuma, the hallucinogenic San Pedro cactus and sentient being who opens the gates to other forms of consciousness.
A few weeks earlier, two local mestizo shamans described to me how they channeled the higher consciousness of apu and wak'a in a ceremony in which we ingested a brew made from huachuma, enabling us to move beyond the boundaries of the human and connect with other beings and worlds. The stones, ceramic fragments, shells, plants, and sacred waters from different mountains, all a curandero's ritual mesa, enable these mestizo shamans to think like apu, much in the same way that the Amazonian shamans that Eduardo Kohn works with think like forests.
And I would like to-- this is Julia, who is a female curandera. I'd just like to play you a little excerpt of the beginning of the ritual that shows how her ancestral curanderos and ancestral places, the apus and mountains that are powerful, are linked in her initial invocation. Well, she's waking up the mountains and lakes to bring them into the Ceremony.
- [SPEAKING SPANISH]
MARIELLA BACIGALUPO: So she's also talking about Saint Cyprian, who was this ambivalent curandero and also the mountain, and whistling him into existence as she goes guiding the visions of the people who are in the huachuma ceremony so that they can also connect with these various sentient places that they're invoking.
So as in other places in Latin America, sentient places in Peru are self-absorbed beings when engaged individually. But they become superior moral persons and intentional actors in the struggle to counteract environmental damage is 2014 and 2017, when the Moche and Chicama Valleys were devastated by the effects of mining agribusiness, including floods and mudslides caused by torrential rains associated with El Nino but exacerbated for climate change. So before you'd have an El Nino phenomenon maybe once every 25 years or once every 50 years. Now it has been every single year.
Now, poor mestizos attribute these floods to angry but moral landscapes, forcing people to focus on the collective good by punishing those who are destroying the world. Now, Guston Gordio has argued that the attribution of human emotions to mountains allows people to understand the mountain's non-human powers and that mountains' emotions are really unknowable and disputed among humans. But the views of curandero about emotions of mountains carry much more weight, because they channel the mountains themselves.
Leoncio Carrion, known as Omballec, the guardian of water who controls the subterranean waters of mountains, channels the thoughts and emotions of the Apu Cuculicote. He says, "everything is alive. Even the stones and mountains vibrate. Our ancestors are part of the apu, the water, the wind. Cuculicote's hard rock face is heavy. His fangs hang out because he's angry at the stupidity of humans who destroy the world mining for a coin.
Sometimes he destroys the greedy world. At other times, he heals people so that they develop a higher consciousness. We need to develop a higher consciousness that is in tune with that of the apu. People have to let go of their selfishness, be aware, and think more collectively with their communities, the earth and the apu."
Curandero Omar Nique elaborates. "The apu and wak'a are sending huge rains, floods, and mudslides to punish humans for our corruption and destruction of the Earth's riches. We are so arrogant, and we've lost the ability to understand that apu and wak'a have a higher consciousness and are protectors of the resources of Pachamama, the Mother Earth.
Scientists explain the phenomenon of El Nino and climate change on television from a scientific perspective, but they don't know that those are caused by the apu and wak'a who are angry due to human corruption. But we know that. And that is why we are working together with our apus and wak'a to counteract this destruction and corruption through rituals and collective political actions through our spiritual and environmental organizations."
Now, as moral and environmental crisis have wreaked havoc around the world, and extractive industries have fed fueled structural violence, non-democratic hierarchies, and socioeconomic inequality, poor mestizos, academics, and activists are beginning to recognize the agency of sentient landscapes in mitigating these crises. So we have scholars such as Elizabeth Povinelli and Donna Haraway, for example, who have criticized the forms of governance that regulate this distinction between life and non-life as well as capitalist divisions of species, landscapes, and peoples that discredit Indigenous practices which collapse these categories. Bruno Latour and many others have argued that landscapes with sentience and agency resist academic distinctions between non-human and human, nature and culture, and act upon humans through what Isabelle Stengers and Marisol de la Cadena have called cosmopolitics, which is a kind of emplaced politics that upends Western perceptions of the human.
Many Indigenous Latin Americans have adopted something called a sort of transactional cosmopolitics, whether basically feeding sentient landscapes with offerings to receive sustenance and then control over resources. But I'm interested in trying to understand why some sentient landscapes acquire moral agency, how people engage with sentient landscapes to promote collective ethics and climate justice, which includes environmental justice, social, and political justice, and how people in the sentient places attempt to address the moral and environmental crisis of a neoliberal world. So I'm hoping to do all of that today. And we'll see how that goes.
Sentient landscapes have rarely been thought of in terms of climate justice, collective ethics, and interethnic communities. OK, I don't know how that happened. So here, I just want to go back to this current slide here. Just I'm not sure how this happens sometimes. OK, here we go, and now.
So sentient landscapes have rarely been thought of in terms of climate justice, collective ethics, and interethnic communities. Scholars who take an ontological approach, including Marisol de la Cadena and Eduardo Kohn, have made extraordinary advances in situating human worlds within these larger series of interactions that exceed the human, including multi-species relationships and engagements with sentient landscapes. But indigenous landscapes in la Cadena's work appear as this radical alterity that is incommensurable with modern politics and alien to the lives of mestizos. And these landscapes take part in community rituals and protest but not in regotiations with the state and not in relationship with environmental movements, nor have scented landscapes really been considered political subjects in place-based ethnic environmental movements. And I'm thinking about work along the side of Arturo Escobar, for example.
Eduardo Kohn does this wonderful work looking at the politics of sentient force within Indigenous Amazonian environmental activism. But mestizos remain marginal to this kind of analysis. And despite the interest in values and moral selves, scholars have really been less interested with a collective ethics that promotes certain kinds of political change.
So what I'm really interested in is in enriching social justice-oriented readings of sentient landscapes by showing that poor coastal mestizos like the ones that we see here in the slide attach moral agency to sentient landscapes for social and environmental transformation. I'm interested in seeing how these landscapes become leaders of environmental movements and co-creators and co-participants in an interethnic world rather than as beings that are incompatible with the world of modern politics. So they transcend the limits of both ontological cosmopolitics and political ecology. By defining community and well-being as humans in relationship to places as persons, poor mestizos re-signify nature itself as an anchor for climate justice and collective ethics.
So I'd like to, first of all, turn to, who are these poor mestizos, right? And what shapes their identities, spiritualities, healing practices, and their cosmopolitic engagement with sentient landscapes? The term mestizo itself is fluid and politically contested. Since mestizaje is neither a state policy nor hegemonic ideology in Peru, race is understood in cultural rather than biological terms and is tied to things like class, education, and ethnic discrimination among white mestizo and Indigenous groups. Poor mestizos on the northern coast really complicate highland versus coastal divisions between race and class that shape engagement with apus and wak'as in very interesting ways.
So we have certain racist political ideologies construe Quechua-speaking serranos from the highlands as uneducated, irrational peasants living in these kinship-based groups with ties to specific sentient landscapes who play central roles in Indigenous community rituals. And they construe serranos standing in the way of the more educated, urban, upper-class, Spanish-speaking mestizos on the coast who don't engage with sentient landscapes.
Right? And this is a golf course in Lima. These guys are clearly-- they're very proud to be part of the golfing team, right? They are not interested in sentient landscapes whatsoever.
But poor mestizos in La Libertad, in contrast, they are monolingual Spanish speakers who don't identify as Indigenous. But they still maintain these historical ties to the northern highland communities in Huamachuco through intermarriage and economic, social, and ritual exchange. So poor mestizos in La Libertad incorporate into their communities poor serrano and jungle migrants, with whom they work in mining, agribusiness, and the sugarcane factories and with whom they practice cosmopolitics in their relationships to apu and wak'a.
So in Huanchaco, Percy says, "the wisdom on which local power is based has been absorbing the culture of peoples who come from different areas. And that is why it still exists. Although these poor mestizos distinguish themselves from the upper-class, urban mestizos in Trujillo and in Lima, they also borrow some of their hegemonic, non-indigenous. Concepts, things such as spirituality, sacred places of the environment. Cultural and natural patrimony emerge in in the language of these poor mestizos because they want to make the cosmopolitics understandable to a much larger public." So there's a political reason for that. But because Mestizo cosmopolitics intersect with both regional and national politics, migrations from the highlands to the coast, and actively shared community places, it also disrupts these divisive highland versus coastal racial and ethnic politics in very important ways. And it tries to be very inclusive in this way of thinking.
And this is actually where they placed me. This is me. This is my dad on the right-hand side. My dad was born in the highlands of Peru in an area called Ayacucho. His family moved to the coast of Peru, where I was born, on the coast. So in a sense, the people in the northern coast, I also think of me in those terms, as a migrant who's come from the highlands to the coast. And so they also try to view me in those same terms.
Now, apu and wak'a have reemerged publicly among poor mestizos now that curanderismo is recognized as national patrimony. And this happened very recently. And environmental degradation, corruption, and illness associated with extractive industries has really become out of control.
Historically, their coastal Moche and Chimu ancestors were first colonized by the Andean Incas, who promoted engagement with apu and wak'a persons in Quechua terms and then by the Catholic Spaniards and Peruvian priests who attempted to extirpate idolatries, demonize shamans, and drive engagements with apu and wak'a underground. Now, curanderos tempered this colonial history and recognized sentient landscapes by dividing the future and healing. And in the process, what they try and do is they try to assert the hierarchy of the Catholic church by re-signifying Saint Cyprian as an ambivalent curandero apu and Jesus as a moral one. Furthermore, curanderos link environmental destruction associated with climate change to systemic violence and human health. And this place-based environmental and spiritual politics sort of unsettles these dichotomies of Western thought and reflects their efforts to engage a sentient nature.
Now, by 2014, La Libertad had been ravaged by mining, agribusiness, and floods magnified by climate change. Throughout the previous decade, the Peruvian government had intensified its resource extractions to boost economic growth, simultaneously accelerating greenhouse warming, deforestation of the Amazon, reduction of Andean glaciers, and pollution of water, air, and soil. Peru is now the third most vulnerable country in the world to climate change. And state-supported industry's exploitations of nature mirror their exploitation of the poor workers.
So we have marginalized mestizo. Their survival really depends on their ability to work in fishing, mining, agriculture, or extractive industries. But the contamination of the air and water produces a variety of health problems. Communicable diseases and respiratory illnesses, cancer, depression, alienation, alcoholism, envy, it's really significant. And it also, in the process, destroys the medicinal plants available to curanderos to heal them.
Now, Peruvian presidents have believed, so far, at least-- we're hoping that will change-- that investment will solve these problems. Yet their separation of the economy, the environment, and human health has really had disastrous consequences. These failures have sparked political unrest in Indigenous and mestizo peasant communities, where the harm engendered by the present order of accumulation and consumption is felt most intensely and where the contradictions of development are most visible.
Now, because apu and wak'a work for the broader environmental, social, and political interests of poor mestizos rather than relying on ethnic politics, it opens a new kind of political debate based on the value of a shared interethnic world. And I'd like to talk now a little bit about these kind of transactional apu cosmopolitics that these mestizos practice.
Curanderos in northern Peru are now attempting to erase some of this history and experiences of colonization and to legitimate sentient landscapes with whom they work via these transactional cosmopolitics. They don't really think about mountains. Elizabeth Povinelli has often talked about mountains as being effective without intention, meaning that the sentience and power of these landscapes is uncontrollable and irreducible to what humans make of them. But in the case of the coastal mestizos, perception is never really unmediated. And like Indigenous people in Latin America and their Moche and Chimu divine rulers of the past, most poor mestizos perceive apu and wak'a as non-human persons who depend on the actions of humans for their survival and also express their emotions accordingly.
In the Andes and on the coast, apu and wak'a are thought to have a fertile, life-giving side and a destructive life-taking side. Humans reproduce the personhood of apu and wak'a by feeding them pagos a la tierra, which includes coca leaves, corn, chicha, sweetbreads, llama fat, and fruit. And in turn, wak'a grants humans, gives sustenance, health, and control over resources, divination, and healing.
Percy shared the consequences of his blood offering to Cerro Campana, the oldest and most powerful apu. "I made an offering of coca to the apu. And then my mind went blank. I reappeared disoriented about 150 meters farther down the slope. I sat on a stone and looked down and saw a civil triangle, part of a pectoral. I looked around, and there were fragments of ceramics. I saw a human bone, and I went to bury it. I found offerings of shells, beads, quartz. Then I cut my hand badly. And as I came down the mountain, there was a beautiful ceramic waiting for me, which wasn't there before. The apu received by offering of blood and pulled me to this place to grant me gifts."
The interactions between humans and the life-giving apus and wak'as is sometimes imagined as a reciprocal exchange involving respect for nature and the controlled use of its resources, which bolsters the power of the apu and wak'a as well as the well-being for the community. Today, however, exchanges in La Libertad often depend more on human desire for personal gain and social mobility while avoiding retribution for failure to making offerings for contaminating apu and wak'a and for mining and over-harvesting. This local cosmopolitics is further complicated as mestizos respond to the larger political and economic implications of extractivism, including mining, which partakes of both a neoliberal logic and an Andean logic related to the destructive, or life-taking, dimensions of the Earth, which Michael Taussig refers to as the devil and links to commodity fetishism.
The case of Luis, a poor mestizo from highland Huamachuco, exemplifies this dynamic. Although Luis healed his family with medicinal plants and declared himself protector of nature and the apu, he worked at El Toro Mine and also practices informal illegal mining. Illness and poverty led him to rent out his machines and then turn to Catholicism to protect himself from the revenge of the apu that he mined.
Luis told me, "first, I worked for the mining company El Toro. Later, the Canadian mining companies came with a huge capacity to invest and took over. In those older times, workers extracted gold with pickaxes One day, I was hacking at the mountain, and it screamed at me. Ouch!
I ran out of the mine. I became very ill. Then I found gold in my own land. I chewed coca leaves while I thought about the prospects of gold mining my own land. The coca leaves were bitter, a bad omen.
But I decided to exploit it anyway, because I was poor. I hired people to work it, and I paid each man 50 soles a day. There were eight men, so it was way too expensive. I couldn't compete with the Canadians.
Then my water became contaminated, and everything started going backwards. I had bad luck. The mountain was angry with me and made me poor, impotent, and ill. I stopped working and started renting my machines to extract minerals to the mining company for 150 soles a day. That's how I live.
I had no energy left of work. I had trouble breathing and moving. I cleaned the machines with Florida water and holy water at night so that Catholicism would protect me from the apu, and the apu wouldn't kill me."
Omballec, the rain shaman, argues that the extraction of wak'a riches, including pre-Columbian artifacts for archaeological research, is a theft of the wealth and life force of the wak'a. And this theft triggers a response from the life-taking side of the wak'a, who becomes hungry and must be fed with blood to compensate for the life-taking side. To compensate for the loss, he explains, "if you want to steal water and richness from the apu and wak'a, you have to sprinkle bread on the ground. And then the spirits with whom you've been communicating will come and eat to recover the life force. Our Moche and Chimu ancestors fed apu and wak'a with human sacrifices. If you don't sprinkle blood, then the spirit will start taking human lives by causing accidents, deaths, floods, and mudslides. So that's a way to dissuade extractivism in some way, right?
So poor mestizos' multi-layered transactional engagements with apu and wak'a and their life-giving and life-taking forces allow them to make sense of the poverty, illness, and death that rule their precarious lives and to establish a matrix of human and non-human accountability around extraction. But poor mestizos also argue that the destructive side of apu and wak'as emerges when they're over-exploited. These destructive forces have now acquired moral implications, compelling people to work for the collective good by taking revenge upon those who abuse the environment, poor mestizos, and the community.
So Wak'a and Apu, Moral Cosmopolitics, Prophetic Critique and Climate Change-- for poor mestizos, life in the Anthropocene is politically and morally fraught, a time in which the planetary changes caused by humans are inseparable from liberal capitalist forms of governance and the exploitative patterns of extraction and accumulation. By working with apu and wak'a as political active beings, poor mestizos ground collective ethics in place and grapple with resource exploitation, climate change, and greed as a single problem.
After the devastation of their communities by mudslides and floods in 2014, poor mestizos in the Moche and Chicama Valleys broadened the scope of their work. They began to speak of them, apus and wak'as, not as self-absorbed entities but as superior persons who critique human corruption and greed and to include them as intentional actors in the struggle to counteract the environmental devastation caused by neoliberalism and climate change.
Omballec told me, "the clouds and lightning accumulated on the mountain, and the water came down in waves. The apus threw the rain to cleanse themselves. The water came down with such anger to teach us to respect apu, wak'a. People came to ask me to calm the Cuculicote Mountain and tell it to stop. But this is not something that we should try and stop. Apu cannot be dominated. It's a superior power telling humans to change their behavior and to develop a higher consciousness, to think collectively."
Mestizos draw on Indigenous apu and wak'a not just because they play a central role in their lives and identities but also because sentient landscapes offer the only viable strategy for counteracting environmental devastation in the long run. Poor mestizos are attempting to challenge the power of extractive industries and the government by incorporating apu and wak'a into two local environmental movements created by curanderos in 2014 in the fishing town of Huanchaco. The first, the Asociacion de Rescate y Defensa del Apu Campana, defines Campana, the tallest mountain near Trujillo, as "the highest spiritual and gnostic authority of our Indigenous past, who nurtures our collective and ecological values, central to our collective health as our curanderos invoke it and use its medicinal plants to heal, and as a fundamental natural and cultural patrimony of the region."
The Colectivo Comunidad Consciente includes participation of apu and wak'a as intentional agents led by curandero Omar and administrator Percy who reject neoliberalism as a way of life inherently in conflict with the health of the climate, the environment, and the community. They argue that capitalist frameworks imagine nature as an not-inexhaustible non-person separated from human life, transforming reality itself into a commodity and individuals, corporations, and states into corrupt market agents who exploit the environment, a non-commodity that is indispensable to the survival of all.
Now, through these organizations, poor mestizos create a world of value by using fundamental indigenous forces for political purpose, purposes Percy explains, "apu are our ancestors who give organizing principles for the lives of all human and non-human people and stress morals and respect for relationships between them for collective well-being. El Colectivo's goal is to use these principles to create a platform for collective decision-making on issues that have to do with regional environmental agendas, natural and cultural patrimony, and anti-corruption campaigns and the management of disasters. We value the collective good, transparency, and democratic co-governance against corruption, exploitation, and abuse by the extractive industries and the government. We seek to improve the environmental laws to protect green spaces and work with environmental organizations, people who defend natural and cultural patrimony, wak'as and apus, and authorities who are committed to El Colectivo's goals to create a better world."
So we have here a lot of different entities, human and non-human, which are collaborating together. Mestizos collaborate with wak'a and apu to negotiate for spiritual protection against government officials, mining companies, and others to manage natural, socialist, spiritual capital for the welfare of future generations. Percy told me, "El Colectivo has been involved in the protection and respect and the conservation of sacred beings, such as Cerro Campana, Quebrada Santo Domingo, Cerro Cuculicote, Chan-Chan, wak'a El Brujo. We defend these places not as structures but as entities with power, with energy, that flows from each wak'a and apu towards its inhabitants. Curanderos like Omar, Omballec, and Julio in turn engage apu and wak'a for ritual healing purposes and as political actors in the collective. They use the collective to educate their communities about this connection between climate change, morality, floods, and mudslides as well as the action of apus.
Omar explains, "I tell, but I also show people how the disasters they are suffering are caused by apu and wak'as who control climate change. And if they act responsibly towards the environment and become moral citizens who fight to conserve wak'a and apu and to oppose greed and corruption, they will be saving not only their own lives but the world." This collective draws on local curanderos, lawyers, journalists, and activists who become the voices of this local grassroots movement and comprise a real and virtual platform via an online journal focused on social responsibility.
Now, activists, communities, and national governments in India, Australia, New Zealand, Bolivia, and Colombia have recognized the legal personhood of nature, which is an extraordinary conception and legal advance that allows for the prosecution of polluters under personal injury laws. The goals of this recognition include radical new conservation and social measures to reduce pollution and increase the regulation of mining and other industries. Now, although the Peruvian government has not yet recognized the legal personhood of nature, in April 2, 2018, president Martin Vizcarra passed the climate change law to strengthen climate policy, prepare people for extreme events, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Despite the efforts by Asociacion and the Colectivo, the implementation of these laws is providing difficult because of the interests of the extractivist industries. But despite these impediments, in July 2018, the Asociacion with the help here of our lawyer, basically petitioned for the recognition of legal personhood of Apu Campana and denounced its destruction. The organization is currently working with a number of local lawyers to modify its laws on the rights of persons in Peru and to create new ones that recognize the legal personhood of nature as well as addressing the barriers surrounding these legal initiatives.
But despite all these efforts, they still believe that there will be an apocalypse. And this apocalypse is predicted by curanderos' observations through visions and nature. Many poor mestizos believe that modernity's project of indefinite growth and progress is coming to an end, halted by finitude of resources that will bring about the collapse of industrial civilization in which humans will be devoured by the Earth that they betrayed. Christophe Bonneuil identifies this as an eco-catastrophic narrative which calls for a radical change in dominant ways of living, consuming, and producing, and rejects technological means of saving the planet.
Poor mestizos predict not a Christian apocalypse but a millenarian cyclical pachacuti that would overturn the spacetime of modern industrial civilization and bring a return to the era of sentient landscapes in an indigenous world order. Omballec argues, "the apocalypse will affect the whole of humanity, although the poor will suffer the most even though the greed of the industries are the ones that contributed to the problem the most. But the moral poor will continue to make offerings. And then they will return to the new era where apu and wak'a will rule. The beginning of this pachacuti is marked by the rains and floods predicted by curanderos."
In the past, Peruvians mocked curanderos predictions about El Nino phenomenon, which were based on local science which they could not understand. Omballec explained, "in 1983, we had a drought. And a journalist came to ask for my predictions about El Nino. He published an article in the newspaper mocking me, saying that it would rain in February and March. But then the rain started pelting down, and all the ravines we visited became one huge river.
There were huge mudslides. People lost their homes, and others began to use water and mud for their crops. From 1998 onwards, climate change and the disruption of wak'as and apus made El Nino worse.
And people desperately want predictions. The archaeologists learned that I have my own science and come to ask me when it's going to rain to protect their site. A scientist came to ask me too, and since my prediction coincided, he published it."
And actually, today, you have the Center for Natural Disasters in Trujillo also goes to visit Omballec to ask for predictions about where El Nino is going to go. So we see then that curanderos meld the agency and morality of apu and wak'a expressed through flood, mudslides, tsunamis, dreams, and visions with scientific discourses and their own observations of these rising temperatures and changes in the movement of current winds and animals and in the blooming patterns of plants in order to make their knowledge accessible to a large interethnic audience. As poor mestizos have seen the connection between apu and wak'a, curanderos biometric readings, and environmental science, they've also understood the consequences of over-exploitation simultaneously in environmental, moral, and social terms.
Omballec told me that "climate change has changed the rainy seasons too. Before it rained in October and November. Now it rains in January and February. And the most recent Nino have been in March and April." And actually, I spoke to Omballec this morning. I don't know if you've looked in the news that there's a national disaster going on in the north of Peru. And he predicted that for the Chicama Valley, the first week in March is where it's going to be flooded. And he's also predicted the path of the flood, so people have been able to take precautions.
He said, "I knew El Nino was coming in 1983, 1988, 2014, 2017, and other times because the apu showed me through visions, and the animals and plants showed me through their actions. The termites began to crawl out of the wood, and the dragonflies would feed on them. So there were many dragonflies of all colors. The spiders, insects, and snakes came down from the mountain and into the streets and houses, seeking refuge so they wouldn't drown. There was a huge number of herons, and the birds and animals were alarmed.
I lit a candle, and it sputtered, a sign that there would be a lot of human evil and immorality. And the apu would punish that with a lot of water. The pacay and guaba trees bloomed early and lost their flowers and got new ones. The zapote tree, which is small and grows in ravines, grew really tall and got a lot of green leaves on the top because there was a lot of water accumulating underground."
Biologist Carlos Quiroz commented, "Omballec is right. When the rains begin in the highlands, the first thing that fills up is the phreatic water layer underground. And once those are saturated, the river flows above. And many springs can also emerge. And the seeds that were underground sprout, and then the whole desert becomes green with running water, frogs, insects, deer. So it is clear a big rain is coming."
Many curanderos, poor mestizos, and mestizo scientists talk about climate change as messages sent by apus in dreams and vision and as a scientific prediction. Carlos describes scientific measurements along his experience with the apus. "People dream about apus becoming angry because of environmental devastation and apus as causing earthquakes and exploding with water to destroy the world. These experiences have a scientific basis. As temperatures rise because of El Nino phenomenon, the atmospheric pressure over the mountain falls, and then winds move in from areas of high pressure to areas of low pressure to compensate.
The mountains of the coastal range are affected by the tropical rain that saturates the aquifers under the rocky surface. The low pressure areas generated by high temperatures of the atmosphere make the water and the water tables rise and reach the surface of the mountains, dramatically increasing the water volume of the ravines. Earthquakes exacerbate this effect and therefore often occur together because of the water pressure produced by rain infiltrated under the surface.
Apu can also show you things that science cannot. We took the San Pedro brew with a curandero named Julio, and he saw the Apu Campana as a mountain of crystal. And then the next day, we found an ancient crystal mine that Moche artisans used to make marvelous crystal beads."
One man visionary from the area predicted enormous destruction of the region over the next five years as a result of subterranean waters flowing from the mountain apus. And he articulated this prediction by combining scientific discourses with local narratives about apu ancestors. He said, "there are two mountains who will destroy this area in the next five years.
San Ildefonso will empty its water on Trujillo on Chan-Chan, and the ravines from Campana will flood and destroy Huanchaco. San Ildefonso is the mother. She's receptive to all mountains, and she has no tensions with any of them. But she'll still kill people.
Cuculicote is the healing mountain. San Ildefonso the mother loves her children, but she also teaches and punishes them. The Campana is the great-grandfather and the warrior, and he has tensions with all mountains.
The mountain is becoming really green because it's filling with water. Before, the winds on Campana ran from north to south. Now they go from south to north. The hot air will clash and create cyclones.
Campana will become drier while other mountains are green, filled with water, and the clash of the cold Humboldt current with the warm waters from El Nino will cause cyclones in the Pacific. And tsunamis of more than 30 meters will come from the sea and flood all the way from to Chocope and Ascope. Or as Omballec said almost a year earlier, "humans will eat disasters and anguish today and tomorrow."
By promoting limits on growth, working to reverse the destruction caused by modern industrial civilization, and arguing that we need to change our lives and the global order, poor mestizos create the possibility of a new era of participatory politics in which moral humans and sentient landscapes create collective ethics and community life together. Both matter and spirit, the subversive sentient landscapes of northern Peru, have much to contribute to current discussions of the social and environmental inequities produced by these radical transformations in the functioning and regulation of the global economic order.
While spirituality and sentient landscapes are often considered marginal to these discussions, I've shown that they play a central role in challenging Western assumptions and the epidemiologies that exploit people and the environment in devastating ways. A study of the cosmopolitics of landscapes with sentience and agency offer new ways of thinking about the Anthropocene while also providing a model for radical environmental political action.
I focused on the radical politics enabled by the adaptability and resistance of local populations to environmental challenges. I've been focusing on an Indigenous, place-based environmental and spiritual politics and asking how imperial capitalism, the dichotomies of Western thought, and their effects can be ruptured in order to engage nature as a subjective being at local and global scales. I argue that the vulnerabilities produced by climate change have catalyzed a rethinking of values and the development of movements for change that reconcile the cosmopolitics of sentient places with scientific discourses and political activism.
In some ways, this work is trying to exceed the theoretical limitations of ontological approaches that focus only on different ways of being and political ecology approaches that focus only on political impacts. Poor mestizos use sentient landscapes to mobilize based not on the divisive identity politics of Indigenous versus non-Indigenous people but on the sense of a shared interethnic world.
The appropriation of the power of sentient landscapes moves us beyond these academic distinctions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous, nature and culture, ontology and political activism. Instead, through ritual and political engagements with apu and wak'as, they construct a world in which corrupt and immoral humans and angry but moral wak'as and apus are together accountable for climate change, which locals describe simultaneously in scientific terms, through local observations, and from dreams and visions. The morality and agency of apu and wak'a and the actions of curanderos and communities thus shape the well-being of people and the planet. Thank you.