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Webinar Recap: 2024 Incomindios-Lippuner Scholar Katherin Tairo Quipse’s “Cconchas: A Communitarian-Territorial Practice of Quechua Women in the Andes”



On 28 March, Incomindios had the pleasure of hosting a webinar presentation by Katherin Tairo Quipse, a Quechua activist and 2024 Lippuner Scholar. Quispe’s work is closely tied to her Indigenous homelands, including her community in Sicuani, Cusco in Southern Peru, as well as other Quechua territories throughout the Andes.

 

As a current PhD candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, Quispe’s research focuses on Indigenous cooking practices and how they relate to sustainable development initiatives. Her webinar presentation examined the use of cconchas, or earth-ovens, by Quechua women. While not everything she said in the 1.5 hour webinar can be reiterated here, read on for a summary of her presentation, as well as the final Q&A.

 

Indigenous Language Reclamation

 

Quispe began her presentation by reiterating her passion about using the Quechua language. Calling it “the language that [her] heart speaks,” she allowed her audience to experience the beautiful nuances of the Quechua words that both scaffold and illuminate her work.

 

This intentional use of the Quechua language became evident early on in her discussion. After showing some example photos of cconchas, the women cooking at them, as well as the guinea pigs that are reared adjacently, Quispe expounded upon several Quechuan words that offer richness and complexity to her analysis.

 

For example, she explained how wayk’uy (knowledge, particularly of the traditional, Quechua sort) “takes shape around the cconcha fire.” This, she explains, is an embodiment of the Quecha principal of uywanakuy (multidirectional and biodiverse relationships).

 

In other words, she explained that the workings of a Quechua kitchen offer insight into a very rich system of Indigenous knowledge. How women interact in the kitchen, what sorts of decisions they make in regards to the cconcha, the multidirectional relationship between the guinea pigs and their keepers, are all a part of this system.   

 

Quispe continued by pointing out how this Quechua model differs from contemporary Western systems. She gave the example of how in Western, mainstream society, hosts typically receive their guests in the living room. However, in Quechua communities, guests are welcomed in the kitchen. Conversations, particularly the sharing of Indigenous knowledge, takes place around the cconcha. Additionally, the cconcha is also a source of heat for both the house and for the resident guinea pigs. In this way, a Quechua kitchen is a place of nurturing and care, for both humans and animals.

 

Quechua Triad of Principals

 

Having explained the importance of the cconcha in Quecha life, Quispe once again turned to her Quechuan language to enrich her analysis. She identified a “Quechua Triad of Principals,” that are at play in Quechua kitchens.

 

For the first principal, Quispe turned to the previously mentioned concept of uywanakuy. Whereas at the beginning of the presentation, she explained this word as “multidirectional and biodiverse relationships,” Quispe elucidated further, saying it also means “care-nurturing.” According to Quispe, the use of cconchas is evidence of this “care-nurturing” in Quechua life. For example, the community cares for biodiversity,  just as biodiversity (in this case, ingredients) care for them. Quispe mentioned how greatly this differs from the Western idea of “self-care,” which is unidirectional.

 

Next, Quispe explained the second principal, ayllunakuy, which means “communality.” In her analysis, the cconcha reinforces family and communal ties. She also explained how the cconcha plays a part in Quechua food sovereignty practices, as the women make choices regarding food. In a personal anecdote, she related how her own mother prefers to cook for family and friends in the cconcha  (rather than a modern cookstove), because she believes it tastes better and wants to provide a delicious meal for her guests. Quispe found this belief that traditional cooking makes for better food among other Quechua women.

 

Quispe then explained that the “care-nurturing” and “communality” of the first two principals add up to the third, ayninakuy, or “reciprocity” in living and coexisting. She stated that this reciprocity “guarantees the subsistence of one another, and therefore maintains the Quechua yachay (Indigenous knowledges, plural) in an umbilical relationship with the territory and its living environment.”

 

Traditional Ecological Knowledge vs Environmental Justice

 

For the last part of her presentation, Quispe contrasted the use of cconchas and development initiatives by NGOs and other organizations. Historically, these initiatives have sought to eliminate fumes within Quechua homes by replacing the cconcha with a modern cookstove. Quispe acknowledged that the cconchas do, in fact, cause pollution. However, she explained that not only does this approach reinforce patriarchal and homogenous systems, but it also increases the risk of Indigenous knowledge erasure.

 

To emphasize this, Quispe referenced an oft-quoted statement from the United Nations 2023 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change:

 

“Climate justice is crucial because those who have contributed least to climate change are disproportionately affected.” (IPCC, 2023)

 

Here, Quispe inferred that the traditional ecological knowledge of Quechua people far outweighs any minor pollution caused by using the cconchas. Quispe reiterated that Indigenous knowledge (yachay) “and its umbilical relationship to Pachamama (mother earth) represents the potential not only for environmental justice, but above all for Indigenous autonomy and the subsistence of biodiversity itself.”

 

Indigenous Research Approach

 

To close, Quispe celebrated her research as a way for her to practice her own “Quechua indigeneity.” She embodied the concept of tinkuy (gathering action), by being an active community participant, and not only a scholar. In stark contrast to Western academic research practices, Quispe used “every-day, spontaneous encounters...without strict planning of interactions.” She said how she particularly finds an issue with calling her research participants “informants,” as they are her community members.

 

Of vital importance to all involved in advocacy or development programs, Quispe stated: “Indigenous principles must be at the core of any socially and environmentally engaged program and project within Indigenous territories.”

 


Q & A Highlights

 

What do you think will be some of the implications of the findings of your research?


“Some other organizations are incorporating [traditional knowledges] into their structure... Usually they have the infrastructure component, that [teaches] to people how to build, for example, a clean cookstove. But some other organizations [could] incorporate the social component, paying attention, even talking with someone in the community, even asking their permission to say, “[Do] you agree if we implement this program? If we implement this project in your territory in your community?” I think that is a very simple action that...can contribute to the sustainability of these programs...If these organizations came and [got to] know [the community], or even hire[d] an Indigenous person who [could] provide specific cultural activities, key information from that community, I think in an engaged, very committed way, even those developmental projects can overcome their issues, be sustainable in the future.”

 

Can the Quechua approach to care and nurturing, which emphasizes multidirectional relationships, offer insights for fostering resilience and social cohesion in modern societies?

 

“[In India] they are engaging into a financial sphere of how to gain money from these clean cookstoves. So that is why for me it is tricky to say how these traditional cookstoves and all of the knowledges it involves... it seems like [that changes] when modern societies comes into dialogue. Because when we talk about modern societies, as in some big cities in India, now the economic chain is impacting and influencing those Indigenous actions. I hope in the future, in Peru at least, that...this does not impact Indigenous actions. It’s hard to say how to incorporate or how to dialogue with modern society.  But of course [does the use of cconchas] offer insight for fostering resilience? Absolutely. I would say this isn’t only resilience but incorporating Indigenous autonomy by using their own way of cooking by deciding [on] their own how to cook and what to cook.”

 

The concept of "food sovereignty" was mentioned once in your slides. Do you use this concept - soberania alimentar - as part of your argument to preserve Quechua's traditions? It has gained some traction in the context of farmers' rights in international law.

                              

“[Food sovereignty] has a very powerful contribution for people who are conducting research regarding environmental care [and] traditional ecological knowledges...[There is] a huge challenge when we have to connect with Indigenous territories, but in a very meaningful way...Unfortunately when we are talking about Latin America, specifically Peru, when we talk about Traditional Ecological Knowledge...it is not impacting or escalating in a more politicized sphere, in a more nation-state sphere... At least in Peru, [food sovereignty and environmental justice] is incorporated in the sumak kawsay, [which] was incorporated in two countries in Latin America, in Ecuador and also in Bolivia...but only in their legal constitutions, just in words. But at the end of the day, we don’t know exactly how these policies have been implemented in these countries.

 

Do you know of a similar concept like the cconcha in other cultures/ Indigenous communities? (regarding for example its potential for Indigenous autonomy or environmental justice)

 

Yes, absolutely. I mentioned in some other Quechua territories in Latin America...for Miskito people in Central America, they have the same experience with cconchas...for Mapuche people in Chile, they have the same concept of cconcha, but of course with different linguistic application. For Nahua people, [it’s] the same in Mexico.

 

You mentioned how NGOs need to think about the implications of changing the Cconchas for clean cookstoves, what do you think these organisations could put in place to consider the wider context and environment of these communities and realise how important Cconchas are for the communities?

 

Of course, NGOS and international organizations have a huge challenge to co-lead and co-produce the design and implementation of these projects. And of course, they have to realize how important are not only cconchas, but also what the cchoncha represents, and what are the relationships that surround the cconchas.

 

Through your research it seems evident that Quechua women hold are incredibly important and powerful positions within the community in terms of knowledge production and preservation. Is this an idea which is recognised within the wider Quechua community and among these women themselves?

 

I would say that usually in our communities, we overlook what is the common[place]... you will talk with some Quechua women [and] they will say, “Okay, this is just my kitchen.” Sometimes, perhaps they will feel ashamed of their kitchen. Why? Because of the poverty, because of some people leading these [development initiatives]...say, “you are living in pollution, you are contaminated, you are a polluter.” Right? If you have that argument [said] to you all the time, [women] feel ashamed of this space, this place.

 

To see the recording of the entire webinar please follow this link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=a_tVQguHJZA 


To find out more about Kathy's work and to connect, please email: katherin.tairo@utexas.edu



 

Note: The Lippuner-Incomindios scholarship is made possible by the wonderful legacy of Eva and Heinz Lippuner, coordinated by Dr. Alicia Kroemer and Pascal Elsner with the support and collaboration of Prof. David Stirrup at the University of York and Dr. Matthew Whittle at the University of Kent. Countless others are involved

in this work, and Incomindios expresses its gratitude to them as well.

 


To find out more about our Lippuner-Incomindios Scholarship, see here: Incomindios-Lippuner Scholarship |

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