¡Buenos días! After having spent the past three months in Cusco, Peru learning the Quechua language and conducting research for my master’s thesis, I’ve decided to focus on Peru for the ¡Mira, Look! book reviews this month. I hope to share with you how my experiences in Peru have influenced my perception of these children’s books!
I’ll be kicking off the Peruvian children’s book reviews with Kusikiy: A Child from Taquile, Peru, written and illustrated by Mercedes Cecilia. The book is about a child named Kusikiy and his environment on Taquile Island of Lake Titicaca. The story begins with an introduction of the different family members’ household and societal roles, in addition to traditions situated on Taquile Island. The illustrations are colorful and filled with symbols and images integral to highland Peruvian life, such as potatoes, wool, looms, thatched roofs, hummingbirds and musical instruments like the quena. In the story, Kusikiy worries about the delayed arrival of the rains for the continuance of the agricultural cycle. Thus, he embarks upon a journey to help with the appearance of the Llama Constellation, which announces the yearly arrival of the rainy season in highland Peru.
Kusikiy draws attention to how the “trees are wilting, the birds are silent and the wind is hot and dry,” demonstrating the interconnectedness of all aspects of life and the environment with the agricultural cycle, which directs Andean life. The first person Kusikiy looks to for guidance in his search for the Llama Constellation is his great grandmother, Yatiri, emphasizing the necessary role of elders in the community as knowledge-keepers. He then looks to his great grandfather, Kuriwallpa, for help in finding the Llama Constellation. In the end, Kusikiy decides “to bring an offering to the APU, the Guardian Spirit of the Great Glacier” to ask him for rain. His mother suggests that he “bring an offering of flowers, potatoes and quinoa for the APU.”
After his fantastical journey to the glacier, Kusikiy is able help bring the rains to Taquile Island. With the coming of the Llama Constellation and the rain, community members spend the night dancing and playing music. The book highlights the importance of actions associated with the agricultural cycle, and how each being and element of the Taquile environment has a purpose in its continuance. It also demonstrates the importance of celebration with the changing of the seasons.
The drawings in the book are exquisite, accurately depicting the clothing worn by residents of Taquile Island as I remember it from my visit to the island in 2012. The bright colors and depictions of the weaving tradition are also a critical aspect of this book. I do, however, find it necessary to bring attention to the fact that people of Tequile generally use motor boats to move from the Island to the nearby city of Puno and other islands, rather than the traditional boats made from reeds that are depicted in the book. Furthermore, the boats made from reeds are actually more from the Uros people, who live on islands made of reeds closer to the mainland. Also, tourism is an extremely important industry on the island. When I visited the island, I saw many other tourists and artisan shops directed at tourism. In this way, it is important to view the book with a critical eye, as it depicts traditions more so than modern realities. Nonetheless, these traditions are an integral part of the modern reality of people from Tequile and other parts of the Andean highlands. They are present along with other modern technologies, such as goods brought from Puno, ideas transmitted through travelling and migration, and the international presence on the Island. My personal experience in the urban center of Cusco also demonstrated the importance of the agricultural cycle, spiritual connectedness with the Apus and the Pachamama (Mother Earth).
While teaching this book in the classroom, apart from highlighting Peruvian highland traditions and teaching about Lake Titicaca, often known as the highest navigable lake in the world, the story also touches on the effect that climate change has on communities in the Andes. The arrival of the rainy season is necessary for the maintenance of crops integral to Taquile life. The interruption of the agricultural cycle means both economic and cultural hardship. While I was living in Cusco, my Quechua class visited a community outside of the city to see traditional methods for freeze drying potatoes (making ch’uñu). The potatoes that had been left outside to freeze overnight were rotten because of the rain, and they could no longer be used to eat or sell, causing economic, cultural and health impacts on the community. At the Parque de la Papa outside of Pisac, Peru, I learned that many varieties of potatoes have to be grown at higher and higher altitudes because of rises in temperature, causing a loss in potato varieties.
Mercedes Cecilia posted a youtube video of select images from her book that go along with sounds she recorded on Taquile Island. This video could be used for thinking about the interconnectedness of life and the role of all the sounds and images throughout the community.
Here is a video of a dance done by high school children on Taquile Island. It is very typical for high school students from different communities in the Peruvian highlands to participate in traditional dances in public places throughout the year.
Here is a great video about a cooperative of female weavers from five communities across the Cusco region in Peru called Inkakunaq Ruwaynin. It demonstrates the step-by-step process of weaving and teaches about the importance of fair trade. I was able to meet individuals from this cooperative, which is concerned with the importance of passing down weaving knowledge from generation to generation. The Quechua language was never written until the arrival of the Spaniards, and weaving has always been an important way for Quechua people to record knowledge.