Itinerant Archivists in Cañar

This week we’re featuring two blog posts about our visit to the town of Cañar. One is written from the perspective of a resident (Judy Blankenship), the other from the point of view of a 1st time visitor (Ana D. Rodríguez). Enjoy!

Back to Cañar: Judy Blankenship

To return for a lightening visit of three days in October to Cañar, when every year I live for six months (January – July), was disorienting to say the least. This is my other home, my neighborhood, my town, where I see friends, students, godchildren and acquaintances on a daily or weekly basis. I feared running into someone I know well – suddenly appearing like a ghost on the street – and seeing the look on their face that said: Why on earth are you here? Why didn’t you let me know?

path quilloac copy 2
Path to Quilloac

For the visit of the Archivistas Itinerantes to Cañar, I had only notified key contacts in the two groups we would be meeting: the committee representing the indigenous communities, and a group from the cultural center in town. I’d also let my goddaughter, Paiwa, and her mother, Maria Esthela, know I was coming.

In Cuenca it was easier, a large city where it was less likely I’d run into folks I know. I flew there from Quito a day ahead of the other archivists. I was responsible for organizing Cuenca and Cañar and I knew I must follow up on arrangements made via email in the preceding months. And I did it the old-fashioned way: walking from place-to-place for a face-to-

face. First to the bus transport service I’d hired for pick-up at airport and the trip to Cañar (all nicely arranged). Then the Museo Conceptas, where we were to meet art historian Alexandra Kennedy for a talk and tour (they had no projector) and to the Museo Remigio Crespo, where René Cardoso assured me he was expecting us. At noon I ran to meet my goddaughter for lunch. Paiwa is a second-year engineering student at University of Cuenca, struggling with heavy math and physics courses. She was preparing for an exam that day, so after a quick bite at the student cafe, she took off in one direction and I in the other. I jumped in a cab to the Museo Pumapungo, where I hoped invitations had been sent out for a public symposium and reception on our last afternoon in Cuenca (they hadn’t, and I got the news that museum was temporarily closed for fumigation).

Finally, I called my contact in Cañar to check on arrangements for the following day. “Oh, is it tomorrow?” I heard. This? After months of e-mails? But in the ad hoc world I’ve grown to know well, I knew this was only a polite opening – like saying, “Oh, are you here already?” I figured everyone would pull things together, in both in Cuenca and Cañar, and indeed they did.

For me, the stakes in Cañar were enormous. I’ve had a professional and personal relationship with the indigenous community of Cañar for over 20 years. My husband and I have lived there since 2005. My documentary photography work, both my own and that of others, has brought me to my most recent project: a digital archive and website: Archivo Fotográfico y Cultura de Cañar. So to have seven professional archivists visit Cañar, to meet the bilingual (Spanish/Kichwa) educators I’ve been working with for years, to hear from them what they envision as a website for a window to their world, was a dream come true. Their visit brought serious weight to the project and let the Cañari leaders know that their culture matters to the rest of the world.

After our morning meeting we were invited to lunch a “modified” pampamesa – in the student cafeteria. A pampamesa is a communal potluck meal where traditional foods of Cañar are laid out on a long cloth and everyone sits alongside and eats with their hands: warm potatoes, corn on the cob, cheese, and fava beans. Delicious! “Modified” in this case because the meal is traditionally served on the ground and out of doors at ritual events from fiestas to funerals. We limited our photo-taking that day, but here is an image of a pampamesa from my files. You cannot tell in the photo, but there are probably bits of roasted chicken and cuy (guinea pig) mixed in with the potatoes and corn. We did not have an opportunity to try this important source of protein for the Cañari people. (However, I heard a rumor that Christian tried cuy on his last night in Quito).

Roasted cuy

In the town of Cañar, we visited the new building of the Casa de la Cultura, part of a national network cultural centers, and walked over to the municipal meeting room on the town square for the public event.

Parque Central GOOD copy
View of the plaza in Cañar

In addition to a digital archive to preserve the history and culture of Cañar, audience members spoke of their wish for a religious museum in their town. By then late afternoon, both audience and archivists were hungry and tired, so together we retired to a tiny café nearby and crowded around tables for toasted cheese sandwiches, coffee and more conversation.


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