By Penelope Eicher, HWF Board Member and co-founder
Throughout sixteen years working in Q’ero communities, we continually reflect on the future of the beautiful Q’ero culture. Will Q’ero culture and wisdom be eroded by the encroachment of cell phones, roads, employment, public education, and migration to cities? There are reasons to have hope that the deeper gifts of Q’ero culture and spirituality will persevere in spite of rapid changes.
Pressures from a Modern World
A growing number of Q’ero carry pay-as-you-go cell phones when they travel to Cuzco or other towns. Some teens and adults have Facebook accounts and make free international calls through Messenger or What’sApp. These digital conveniences help villagers conduct tribal and personal business and stay connected with supportive friends across the globe.
Heart Walk Foundation has contributed to change by opening schools where children are exposed to world geography, history, sciences, modern Peruvian culture, and the Spanish language. Peru’s Ministry of Education has provided small battery-powered electronic games in many classrooms. How will the strengths of Q’ero culture withstand these rapid changes?
A Deeper Look at Culture and Spirituality
We must guard against holding a “precious” view of native Q’ero culture that would frame them in a quaint storybook image of who they are and how they “should” be. The Q’ero carry their culture and cosmology in a deeper place, which is more than the clothes they wear, how they prepare food, and what electronics they use.
Earth-honoring cultures like the Q’ero are rooted in mystical and shamanic practices, and they approach Life and the Universe much differently than modern western societies. Their deepest gifts to humanity lie in their traditional wisdom and “feminine” ways of seeing the world.
Victor Sanchez, anti-anthropologist from Mexico, outlined these essential differences between shamanic-based cultures and western, religion-based cultures.
Modern Tools for Q’ero Perseverance
As the Q’ero people access modern conveniences, they will not necessarily abandon their traditional mystical, or shamanic, way of relating to the universe. But they do need our conscious support.
We acknowledge our responsibility to tread lightly and consciously as we trek into the Q’ero homelands. Even more, we can support Q’ero culture through respect and advocacy. We can help them use the tools of modern life in support of their culture. For example, they can use cell phones to record narratives of their elders. Educated youth can become effective advocates for their villages and the whole of the Q’ero Nation when interfacing with government agencies, businesses, and visitors. Modern tools can strengthen Q’ero communities.
Role of Westerners in Supporting Q’ero Culture
We have seen a strong resurgence of cultural practices in several Q’ero villages where traditions were fading from daily life. This celebration of their own culture appears to be directly related to increasing interest in Q’ero culture by westerners. After centuries of cultural oppression by outsiders, the new westerners bring a form of social protection and encouragement to rekindle appreciation of their traditions. We offer our respect for their beautiful way of life, which nurtures their dignity. In addition, western presence and appreciation of the Q’ero has influenced Peruvian governmental departments to begin to provide some basic services to Q’ero communities.