Folklore in Peru: diversity as a great strength

September 2007 -

Promperú, the official Peruvian organisation for tourism and trade, promotes Peru as the "Land of the Incas". Like other tourism slogans, first and foremost this propaganda confirms a cultural stereotype. Peruvian Zoila Mendoza authored two books on folklore and the formation of identity in relation to the rising tourism in Peru’s Cusco province. She is an anthropologist who teaches at the University of California in Davis, California.

Zoila Mendoza: "The province of Cusco has an incredibly rich and colourful tradition in cultural folklore, primarily in dance, theatre and music. Today that tradition is kept alive and continuously rejuvenated by the youth culture and the communities in the countryside in particular.

Sadly, production in folklore and crafts for tourists and extensively commercialised local festivities have subordinated the creative process to commerce. And yet there are positive sides to that. I have noticed, for example, that the large-scale commercial festivities are generating smaller cultural activities and exchanges. During the annual Inti Raimi, an ancient Inca summer festival re-enacted each year on the 24th of June just outside Cusco, musical and theatre groups from every corner of the country meet in and near the site of the festivities. There they can present their work to a large audience and get to know one another.

The enormous local and regional diversity has always been a driving force behind folklore in Cusco. Now, for example, a local music group plays music of the Andes at the airport while tourists retrieve their baggage. The fact that they are wearing traditional costumes for festivities does not really bother me. In many villages in the area, people still wear those costumes during festivities and for official events. What is much more disturbing to me is the fact that their fixed repertoire is primarily groomed to the tastes and expectations of those tourists. I would therefore advocate giving many more local music groups the opportunity to play there at the airport. This would give the tourists a broader, more varied selection and the music groups would be able to sell their CDs.

The cultural state institutions here should be stimulating this cultural diversity rather than striving to continually confirm cultural stereotypes. Tourists are now being sold pre-fabricated cultural cookies, and the tourists’ possible cultural interest is not taken seriously. If they would take a less prominent approach to promoting a folklore cannon, tourists could meet with a much more interesting selection of the incredibly varied traditions of this region."