In the months of October and November this year, Alianza Arkana helped take an important step in providing intercultural education at the integrated pre-, primary and secondary school in the semi-rural Shipibo community of Puerto Firmeza.
Beginning in July 2012, with help from the Rubin Foundation, we funded and coordinated the construction of a traditional building called a maloka, where students would learn traditional crafts, customs, and other traditions of their culture. During this last school term, classes began with elders from the community, teaching crafts and cultural elements the students and community had shown interest in.
Alianza Arkana has been working with this community, its school and teachers for nearly three years to help develop an innovative pilot model of intercultural education, which can then be replicated in other schools. Although much is spoken about the importance of intercultural education in Peru as a way of helping support indigenous languages and cultures, in practice this education often translates into solely providing the minimum number of classes required by law in the indigenous language.
Whilst language is an important part of culture, and the teaching of classes in the native indigenous language is a crucial aspect of helping keep the culture alive, culture is much more than language – especially in respect to the Shipibo culture with its rich variety of stories, legends, dances and songs, beautiful craftwork (which is a recognized part of the cultural heritage of the Peruvian nation) and sophisticated cosmovision.
The maloka, situated on land just behind the main school classrooms, was divided into two to provide separate areas for boys and girls. The girls began learning the traditional methods of treating fabrics to dye them, then to create the painted and embroidered designs for which the Shipbo are justly famous. The boys began with classes in which they were taught how to make bows and arrows and then how to use them for hunting. Separate classes were held for boys and girls twice a week throughout October and November.
Additionally, one afternoon class was held each week in which both male and female students were taught traditional songs. During this time, a mixed group of older students from the school took part in a regional competition of traditional song and dance in which they finished in third place.
These classes were held as part of a two-month pilot program to test the motivation of the students to attend voluntary classes and the willingness and ability of the elders to teach the classes. Attendance was good: between 12 and 25 students participated in each class, which is a good indicator of the sustained interest of the students in the project.
We are now looking to provide further classes beginning at the start of the next school year in March 2014.