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MEMORY OF THE WAR AND “THE ARTS OF RESISTANCE” IN THE PERUVIAN ANDES

Open Panel

Abstract

A singular memory of political violence has emerged in Huancapi, a mountain village of the Andes of Ayacucho in Peru, devastated by the “dirty” war between the army and the Shining Path followers, from 1980 to 2000. Despite the massive conversions to new Christian churches during the conflict in this region, the Huancapi villagers remained fervent Catholics and the worship of their protector Saint became then intrinsically linked to the war events, through narratives on his attributed salvation miracles. How should one interpret these accounts in which the Saint appeared, in dreams or night visions, to armed actors to dissuade them from abusing the civil inhabitants? What status should be given to these narratives and what is the meaning granted to the miraculous intervention of the protective Saint, given the high death tolls that kept Huancapi in mourning? I will first review the leading role given to this personage by examining the political and symbolic content of these wartime narratives to understand how they succeded to shape one of the village’s “emblematic memory”. Making use of James Scott’s notion of the “infrapolitics” of dominated groups, I will focus on the process of construction of a heroic collective memory that allowed an unusual reinterpretation of the bodily and morally painful experience that Huancapi endured; from a “hidden transcript”, in which is expressed offstage the aversion to the usual exactions in the military base, to an opened criticism made possible during a brave clash with soldiers, only apparently depoliticized, in order to protect the “Saint’s tree”, about to be cut in 1995. Finally, I will seek to appreciate the success of this consensual collective memory as a peculiar configuration of local micro-reconciliation which avoids remembering certain individual and unclear involvement of villagers in the tattling and disappearance of their own neighbors.