Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


How do traditional societies change as a result of contact with the modern age?

A Treasure from the Archives

How do traditional societies change as a result of contact with the modern age? You can only tell if you know what they looked like before that. For the rural culture of the Peruvian Chancay Valley, this has just become easier–with help from the University of Bonn, a Peruvian anthropologist just saved 50-year-old records about this region from oblivion.

For centuries, the small rural village somewhere in the mountains slept its peaceful sleep. Peacefully, the locals followed their ancient traditions. Then, a street came. Then, electricity. Then, the first TV. And today, only a few years later, the locals don't even recognize themselves anymore. The way in which established societies change under the influence of global one-size-fits-all culture is a research subject in Anthropology – and such studies require descriptions of what those societies used to look like before the road, electricity and TV arrived. Anthropologist Dr. Juan Javier Rivera Andía calls this “filling the ethnographic gap.” This is exactly what he did for his own homeland, the Peruvian Andes. He rediscovered the long-lost records of a fellow anthropologist, and edited them for publication. He was able to find the last pieces of this academic puzzle during a research stay at the University of Bonn's Institute for Archeology and Cultural Anthropology. “The Department of Anthropology of the Americas there has always had a significant reputation regarding Andean cultures research.” Dr. Rivera Andía's stay at Bonn was supported by the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation.

The earliest documents date from 1962

The rediscovered records were from the Peruvian anthropologist and musician Alejandro Vivanco Guerra (1910-1991). They tell about everyday customs and music, myths and legends, and the cultural and religious life of rural culture in the valley of the Chancay River, which is about 120 kilometers long and empties into the Pacific some 60 kilometers north of Lima. According to Dr. Rivera Andía, Vivanco traveled to this region “at least three times between 1962 and 1982.” It is not known whether there were additional research trips because three notebooks (of probably 15) are still lost. Alejandro Vivanco was not the only researcher studying the Chancay Valley – but it was his work in particular that awakened Dr. Rivera Andía's interest. For Vivanco was “the only scholar who actually spoke the language of the people there” – namely Quechua, formerly the language of the Inca Empire and still the third most frequently spoken language in South America.

According to Dr. Rivera Andía, finding the dozen of Vivanco's notebooks we have now was already “some kind of treasure hunt.” When he himself went on his first trip to the Chancay Valley in 1999, he noticed that “Vivanco had published very little about his field studies – and I wondered why.“ Dr. Rivera Andía was certain that Vivanco must have left some records behind, even though initially, there were no real indications. “Nobody had mentioned the existence of such records anywhere, neither in a publication nor a lecture.” Dr. Rivera Andía searched for dependents of the scholar, who today is almost completely forgotten also in Peru, and he finally found his widow. And in her house, Vivanco's documents.

Difficult translation from Quechua

Dr. Juan Javier Rivera Andía wrote out the 12 notebooks page for page, as well as the many examples of musical pieces that Vivanco (an impassioned player of the native Quena flute) had recorded in the Chancay region. The scholar reconstructed the itinerary his predecessor had followed, and if information on individual topics was found in several different places in the notebooks, he compiled it into tables and lists – such as, from which local native sources Vivanco had received his information. A particular difficulty during editing was translating the Quechua terms (such as place and landscape names) Vivanco had provided – for the specific Quechua dialect of the Chancay Region is almost completely extinct now.

“Just about everything we know today about the region's cultural heritage comes from Alejandro Vivanco,” explains the Peruvian expert, and that Vivanco’s records “provide an accurate picture of an indigenous culture that is going through very rapid and profound changes due to the modernization of society.” To ensure that this knowledge cannot get lost a second time, Vivanco's notebooks are now being safeguarded in the library of the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru in Lima.

Publication: Alejandro Vivanco Guerra: Una etnografía olvidada en los Andes. El Valle del Chancay (Perú) en 1963. Edición de Juan Javier Rivera Andía. Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas. 344pp., 44 euros


Dr. Juan Javier Rivera Andía

Johannes Seiler | idw
Further information:

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht New population data provide insight on aging, migration
31.08.2016 | International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA)

nachricht PRB projects world population rising 33 percent by 2050 to nearly 10 billion
25.08.2016 | Population Reference Bureau

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Ice shelf vibrations cause unusual waves in Antarctic atmosphere

25.10.2016 | Earth Sciences

Fluorescent holography: Upending the world of biological imaging

25.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Etching Microstructures with Lasers

25.10.2016 | Process Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>