by Ana D. Rodríguez
Thursday, October 1st, 2015
Today we woke up in beautiful Cuenca, Ecuador. Our day starts early and our mission today takes us to visit the town of Cañar. Located two hours away from Cuenca, Cañar is the small and quaint town where the village of the Cañari people is located. Cañar is also the second home of our own Itinerant Archivist (IA) Judy Blankenship, who with her husband Michael Jenkins, has been residing half a year there for the last twenty-years. The purpose of our journey to Cañar is to meet two communities divided by socioeconomic differences: the Cañari nation and the staff of Casa de la Cultura. Magnifically orchestrated by Judy, the encounter with the Cañari people was organized primarily around the idea of helping them build a digital archive of their cultural objects.
Views of beautiful Ecuadorian landscapes paint indelible memories of our journey to Cañar. Chains of eternal mountains, colorful vegetable crops, and farm animals are our ambassadors along the way to Cañar. When we finally arrive, our first stop is the Centro Educativo Quilloac, a multi-purpose facility that serves as a school and cultural center of the Cañari people. We’re welcomed by Gladys Quinde and Pedro Solano, and after initial introductions with other member of the Cañari community, we proceeded to begin our meeting.
With Pedro acting as a coordinator of Cañari participants, and Tayta Antonio Quinde, a Cañari historian and an elder member of the group, initiates the conversation. Antonio illustrates to the IA their idea of developing a digital repository to document their own history. This digital collection will feature images of Cañari cultural artifacts. Sentido de Hogar (sense of home), preservation of the Cañari cultural identity as well as the proper dissemination of it, are the foundational tenets framing the Cañari digital initiative. Natalie Baur, IA founding member, gave the example of her work with the Cuban Heritage Collection, and how it endeavors to preserve the history of the Cuban Diaspora, mirrors the historical preservation values of the Cañari.
Jorge Vicente, director of the Quilloac educational compound, talked about their concept of “cultura viva” (living culture), and how it relates to the preservation of Cañari rites, traditions and oral history across generations. Pedro also exposed some concerns and negative experiences of previous Cañari efforts made to establish collaborative ties with historians and archaeologists. Appropriation of their archeological objects is the most common situation experienced by the Cañari in the past.
The meeting concluded with a plan structure to help the Cañari achieved their digitization project. Tayta Antonio let us know that training and equipment are the most pressing aspects to head start the project. But above all funding is the most fundamental resource needed to make viable the necessary components. The IA group in our role as consultants, proposed the drafting of a document that will contain information of sources of funding as well as technical information about equipment, such as scanners, digital cameras, computers, and training. One particular detail of this visit is the absence, or better-said, limited display of visual documentation of the meeting. Per Judy recommendation and as sign of respect to the Cañari people, we decided not to take photographs during the time of the meeting. Instead, I took some photos of our interaction with the Cañari in a garden where massive stones used as a calendar are deposited.
We continued to share some time with the Cañari as guests of a luncheon. It took place in a school cafeteria where we had a feast of Ecuadorean delicacies such as mote (gigantic corn on the cob), fava beans, potatoes, and queso fresco (fresh cheese).
In the afternoon we continued our visit to Cañar, stopping at the Casa de la Cultura. Located in the center of town, it’s a small museum and cultural gathering center that houses archeological objects related to the foundation of Cañar as well as the history of the Cañari people. Patricio, the museum’s collection assistant, welcomed the IA group into the facility.
An interesting situation took place during our meeting with Patricio. Happens that in his office he keeps a monolith of a Cañari deity, one that according to Patricio is the crown jewel of the museum. After showing us and letting us touch it, Patricio took it with him to the meeting we’re about to have in a facility outside the museum.
We met with Patricio and other staff members of Casa de la Cultura in a meeting that also included members of the community. After introducing our selves, a discussion about the museum and the needs of the community took place. Contrasting with our earlier meeting with the Cañari, this was characterized by the absence of a concise agenda and work plan. Participants manifested different points of view and needs in regards to Casa de la Cultura and other museum interests. Some community members even pointed to the need of creating a religious museum. The highlight of this afternoon meeting was the presence and participation of the children of Rigoberto Navas, the town’s photographer whose photographic material Judy is working with. The Navas manifested their interest in preserving and disseminating their father’s work as a way to create a historical document of Cañar, with special emphasis on the community dynamics with the Cañari Nation. Finally, the meeting concluded with an invite to a nearby café where over cups of coffee and tostadas we said our goodbyes to Cañar.