In the last few days, I’ve been trying to soak up all I can about Ayacucho. And I’ve gleaned a fairly sad picture. Violence has left the city and surrounding province reserved and with a marked sadness. Violence runs deep in the history of the community, well before the 20 years of terrorism centered at the city. I’ll start from the beginning and move forward.
Ayacucho is very close to the starting point for the first ethnic group to unite much of the Andes, the Wari. The Wari spread from the center of Peru and created the network of roads throughout the west coast of South America, known as the Incan trails. The Wari confederation was the leader of the area, until the Incan empire conquered the area and took control, likely violently. Violence started early in this area.
It later continued with the entrance of the Spanish conquistadors. I will not go in depth here, but state that colonization did not go well for any part of South American and Ayacucho is no exception to that rule.
Later, Simon Bolivar succeeded in ousting the Spanish and declaring independence for Peru and several other South American countries during the Battle of Ayacucho in 1825. This final battle marks a source of pride for those of Ayacucho, but again the memory is one centered on violence.
And still later, the area was the epicenter of the 20 years of violence in Peru. Sendero Luminoso, or the Shining Path, came out of Ayacucho to push their radical leftist agenda for communism. Their leader Abimael Guzman taught at a university in the area as part of a push for popular education. From 1980 to 2000, Sendero Luminoso, the Movimiento Revolucionista de Tupac Amaru, and the authoritarian government engaged in violent conflicts leaving nearly 70,000 dead in the country. Two out of every three were Quechua speakers from this area, which is a testament to the wider world’s tendency to oppress indigenous groups.
This all gives me pause. Not out of any fear. I’m quite confident that the area is safe and a sense of peace does pervade the country. Instead, I worry about how this has affected the people I will interact with. A speaker we met voiced my worries openly, saying that violence has marked the people of Ayacucho as more sad and quiet.
This affects the best way to interact, he said. Instead of asking lots of questions, it is best to just have a conversation and glean information via small talk. Also, avoid pressing on most matters as they could be linked to sensitive areas. It is an area in which I may need to watch myself and ensure that my desire to know more and be empathetic does not push others out of their necessary comfort zones. These people have gone through real, tragic losses, the likes of which I have never known.
This will add a layer of challenges to my experience that I am not sure how I will face yet. So far it seems I should tread on the respectful side, but it makes me nervous that some of the Silly Little Things may turn out to be a much bigger deal. This may be part of the growing experience, but I don’t want that to be at the expense of others feelings and healing from years of tragedy and loss.