Basic Chemistry: the Bonds of Evolving Culture

When we talk about culture, we often unwittingly call to mind a solid entity, a single word that in its brevity somehow manages to encapsulate all the characteristics of a people. But is that the state of culture? Will that conception help us realize the human interactions and expressions we want to see?

Here at Alianza Arkana, where we work in partnership to revitalize local Shipibo culture, these are questions we are asking ourselves.

olivia LmLet’s whip out our basic chemistry: the difference between a liquid and a solid is in the particle bonds. Particle bonds at a solid state are fixed and humming, rigidly maintaining their shape and volume, and prone to breakage due to inelasticity. In a liquid state, particles vibrate at a higher frequency, flowing freely while still touching and taking any form while still holding their volume. The interactions are flexible and much wider in scope.

From this vantage, it would seem that culture is liquid, ever evolving with the touch of fresh influences and the vibrations of unprecedented events.

Jiwexon Axebo, or Cultural Revival as it were, was an event that embodied such a state. Here many Shipibo communities and their mestizo neighbors came together to witness the new tributaries that their musical tradition has carved. Shipibo cumbía and opera. Icaros blended with dubstep. These were sounds that only a few years ago hadn’t even been imagined and now with new influences boomed on stage in the heart of Shipibo homeland.

Children dancing with their mothers at eventThis was at home right alongside more ‘traditional’ representations of Shipibo culture. The wares of local women, intricately embroidered clothing and cloth representing an art form that has been practiced for generations, stood out both on and off stage as a fluid but always proud evolution of Shipibo dress. And the legends acted out by the local school children were testament to how the tales that shape these people and their conception of the world are still alive and well understood.

Deborah Rivett

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