This is my final week in Huanchaco, and it’s certainly been an interesting and insightful experience. In this post I will write about how I spent my final week and give some reflections on my time here.
I felt I couldn’t leave Huanchaco without going for a ride with a fishermen in a caballito de totora. Fishermen often take tourists out on the water in the caballitos. It is a fun activity for travelers and a great way for them to experience the culture dated as far as 900 years AD. For the fishermen, it serves as a second income, which gives them more financial stability and it particularly helpful for the days where they are unable to fish, or when there is not much fish to be found in the water.
I loved every minute in the caballito. It was so fun and exciting, especially riding the waves like a surfboard. Suddenly, the fisherman jumped into the water, and gave me the oar to steer, which I was not expecting. But I took on the challenge and gave it a go. It was difficult – I hadn’t realized before how much arm strength is needed. It is definitely a skill which requires a lot of practice.
Both tourism and the caballitos are both key to Huanchaco’s survival – Huanchaco’s economy is based entirely around tourism and fishing. Giving rides in caballitos to tourists is an activity which brings these two things together, but I feel more could be done to integrate sustainable tourism with the caballitos and the Mochica Chimu culture. For example, the fishermen could give tours of the totora ponds, give workshops on totora craft and put on shows of the cultural dances. This would allow the fishermen more financial support, and also provide the opportunity for outsiders to learn more about the ancient culture. Huanchaco is so much more than a beach town and surfing spot, and I feel visitors should be given more of an opportunity to see that. I also believe when the community see outsiders find their culture fascinating, it will foster a greater sense of pride about their ancestry. Tourism in Huanchaco must thrive in a way that is sustainable, supports the artesan fishermen and promotes and protects the ancient culture.
Having been told I was going to be spending a month working with an Indigenous community, I was expecting a community with less contact with the outside world, perhaps with their own language and system of governance. However, the Mochica Chimu fishing community have had a lot of contact from the outside world, through tourism, the internet, among other factors. Of course, many Indigenous communities in Peru, especially in the Amazon, do live in isolation. However, due to globalization, there are others such as Huanchaco’s fishing community that are extremely integrated into the wider society, where its members use Facebook, Instagram, wear jeans and watch football on television. The problem arises when this is accompanied with an erosion of Indigenous culture.
Speaking to people, I also found that not everyone identifies as Indigenous. This made me reflect on the importance of self-identification, and the big anthropological question of how to define who is an Indigenous person. Is being Indigenous based purely on ethnicity, or is it also being part of an imagined community? Many people I spoke to claimed to have overlapping identities, as Peruvians, as Huanchaqueros, as Catholics, as fishermen and some as Mochica Chimu, suggesting that many people there have a complex sense of who they are.
However, despite that not everyone identifies as Indigenous, there is still a strong sense of shared culture, and this is based around the caballitos de totora. There is no language to foster a shared identity, so the caballitos are very important in shaping this shared culture. This perhaps the most important reason why the caballitos must be protected, and contrary to other views, I do believe it is not too late. With a three-pronged approach educating young people about their ancestry and culture, recovering lost totora ponds and integrating the tourism industry so it supports the protection of the caballitos de totora, it is possible for this tradition to thrive once more.