The Pacchanta Project

Getting to know the high Andean peasant society and participating in social change

During a trip to the Ausangate mountain range in 1983 I met a great social leader, Mariano Turpo, who was also an important altomesayoc, in other words, a shaman.[1] During that time Mariano lived in Lake Alcacocha, at Pacchanta, about 4,500 masl.

Mariano Turpo is famous in Peru for having confronted the owners of Hacienda Lauramarca, whose land ancestrally belonged to the villagers of that region. His protests during the 1960s lasted until he was received by the then President Fernando Belaunde Terry towards the end of his first mandate.

Turpo was also one of the last influential shamans in the high Andean zone of Cusco. His son Nazario, who became the altomesayoc that accompanied President Alejandro Toledo to Machu Picchu in 2001, and advisor to the Smithsonian National Museum in Washington, as well as consultant of many anthropologists, inherited his knowledge, before he died in an automobile accident in 2007.

During this time, in the 1980s, Mariano and I became very close friends and later on his son Nazario introduced me to the Assembly of Comuneros of Anexo de Pacchanta of the Lauramarca Cooperative (in which the hacienda had been transformed into after the Agrarian Reform at the end of the 1960s) already functioning as a peasant community.

The community lent us a house to live in and gave us the possibility to participate in their assemblies, and screen the images we were taking in the community. The debates on local problems grew longer and intense. Soon, a group of young people began to join us in the long walks and would help me discover the conditions and problems they faced (Photo). I took photos in which I tried to link different moments, to compare times and spaces in a single moment during the community Assembly.


With this approach, the young people began to debate our analysis with comuneros -their parents-, which helped in decision-making for the assemblies. My friendship with Mariano and Nazario was important for this process, as both were well respected and participated actively in the debates.

It was then that for the first time in my life as a photographer I realized that what I personally was seeking with my images was not important; I had to find a way in which people from a completely different culture to mine could understand me. I discovered that visual communication processes are more emotional than rational and transmit many implicit messages and I had to learn them. The social, corporal and geographical language is different in each culture, as well as the way to look and observe. From the West, we compare and associate based on what we have learned rationally, while non-alphabet villagers -or nearly- from the Quechua world learn by observing their social and geographical environment, in other words, they learn by seeing, observing and analyzing real images of their surroundings.

For my part, I had to learn to read the symbols on their fabrics. I had seen narrative images in Q’ero; in Pacchanta, Mariano helped me understand that the knowledge and images they handled were different to others in the Q’ero world, as the place, presence of nature and contact with the outside world are also different. The same occurs with the oral tradition that is also dynamic; although the heroes they present and structure are panadine, the variations narrated depend on the place and moment, in the context in which it is narrated.

As discussions at the assemblies ended up in concrete decisions and actions, I began to take a number of images that were easy to understand, with geographically reachable plans, to maintain the debate alive, as in a world that thinks and organizes their time cyclically, nothing or little is realized in a single act.

This cyclic time is given between harvesting, planting, grazing and temporary migration for some several works… So tasks and non-traditional collective work can only be undertaken during recreation hours, therefore the changes take time. In the case of Pacchanta, the changing process took 30 years, as modifications promoted by their own population seek to avoid endangering their precarious food security system. External agents such as NGOs are not always helpful in this process, as they execute their own plans in a frame time enforced by the donors. However, it is worth mentioning that the role of the Catholic Church, the Jesuits and their local NGO -CCAIJO-, was important as they all patiently accompanied the populations of high zones in Ocongate for more than three decades, with many professional technicians of peasant origin, some of which became the District Mayor of Ocongate, such as Graciano Mandura on two opportunities

At this time, the political and social situation played a key role. We had already seen changes for the elections of mayors, with the new Political Constitution of Peru during the 1980s.[2] Although at the beginning, municipalities did not count on sufficient resources and it took years for the comuneros to become aware with regard to their new power, which they had not exercised since the Colony.

Once the Fujimori dictatorship was over and with the commodity boom, since the beginning of 2000, and with the start of the decentralization process at the national level, provincial and district municipalities began to mange their budgets, allowing them to undertake their projects. At the same time, some ministries began to include for the first time extreme poverty areas from high Andean regions in their plans to fight against poverty, and facilitated funds for infrastructure, irrigation, roads and other needs, such as seed, breeding stock, etc. We may recall, for example, the programs “Luz para todos” or “Agua para todos” that today reaches nearly all the communities in Quispicanhis. Rural telephony was also implemented, and finally, in 2010, the construction of the irrigation canal was initiated after being programed since 1986.

Furthermore, following the Cooperatives dissolution –that occurred between 1983 and 1986- and the creation of new peasant communities, agricultural land was inhabited, that had been reserved since the first decades of the past century for farms and subsequently for the Cooperative. After nearly half a century, the people returned to their land, with improved conditions for agricultural production to those previously “allowed” for cattle cultivating and grazing.

In 2016, after this long and complex process, we returned to the old images of the now Ausangate community -that incorporates various annexes of the Lauramarca Cooperative- in order to debate in an assembly, on the changes occurred during that period and assess the situation with the new generation. The present leaders saw us as youngsters and had heard from their parents the communal agreements fully realized until today. As the projects sustained the agreements, they have been replicated in many other communities at the foot of Ausangate. In effect, four new canals exist or are under construction, the region exports 1,000 kilos of cheese a week to various areas -even Pucallpa- and the production of guinea pigs reaches 29,000 a year.

Debates with the new generation has been interesting, as the actual young adults are not only surprised with the differences regarding the old situation 30 years ago, but approved at the assembly of the photographic exhibition, the construction of a dam, as water for the new canal is becoming increasingly scarce, due to thawing of the glacier that feeds it.

During nearly three decades, this process was accompanied by many technicians both from CCAIJO and local or regional NGOs, the Meriss Plan with regard to water and irrigation, the German Development Cooperation, as well as friends from Cusco and many others. The debates on agricultural issues were not technical, but substantiated by images, encouraging them to discuss on the basis of their dreams and helping to activate their existing skills within the community. It has really been a program on awareness raising and the actions of comuneros themselves, in support of their rights.

The district mayors, sons of the peasant communities, have played a key role in this process. The budget of the gas canon, paid by the central government, and the economic impact by the new Interoceanic Highway, gave the financial background for these changes. It has been essential for local governments to request State funds to make these changes possible.


thumbnail of pacchanta


[1] See: “El altomisayoq tocó el cielo” (La República, July 26TH 2007,; and also the book Earth Beings. Ecologies of Practice Across Andean Worlds, by Marisol de la Cadena (2015,


[2] See the book mentioned by Raúl H. Asencio ( and an interview with the author in “Los nuevos incas de Quispicanchi”, in La Mula ( ).