Preserving endangered ethnographic audiovisual materials of expressive culture in Peru (EAP298)

Aims and objectives

This project will build on the achievements of the previous EAP project conducted by the Institute of Ethnomusicology. On that occasion, three provinces of Peru were covered: Cajamarca, Ancash and Junín - all located to the north of Lima. This project will cover the Departments of Ayacucho, Arequipa and Puno, located to the south of Lima with their distinctive regional variations.

In the Andean world, cultural representations are, in the absence of written literature, the primary expressions of the Andean worldview and the aspirations of its people. These expressions are fundamentally drama, music and ritual-dance defined in a broad sense. The best way to record and remember these cultural representations is through audiovisual means, since these materials are the only visual testimony of Andean expressive culture in the twentieth century. Audiovisual means have been used for decades in the Andes by local intellectuals who took responsibility to record the expressive culture of their own towns.

The physical condition of the audiovisual materials that are kept in Andean Peru generally varies from a careful organisation of the material to the careless storage in cardboard boxes in private homes. These private collections in the Andes do not have suitable environments for the preservation of this type of material. Most of the collectors are local intellectuals in their own towns who dedicate their lives to document by audiovisual means the expressive cultures of their fellow villagers, but who do not have the means to preserve them adequately for future generations. Most of these collectors are older senior citizens, and those who have passed away have left their holdings to their families. Some of these families are eager guardians of their legacy, but others ignore the cultural value of these materials.

If these audiovisual materials in the Peruvian provinces are not relocated, digitised, or both, they will be lost in time to deterioration, or oblivion.

This new project is an opportunity to apply all the experience gained during the previous project to other cultural regions of the country. Peru is a multicultural nation; more than 60 native languages are spoken in Peru besides Spanish. Most of them are in the Peruvian jungles, but even in the Quechua areas there are six different Quechua dialects that are distinct from each other. Modern Peru is divided in 24 Departments, and each Department includes a variable number of provinces.

In this project covering the Departments of Ayacucho, Arequipa and Puno, the focus will be on fieldwork in the city capitals, because in the rural areas there are few possibilities of finding audiovisual materials. Thanks to the previous experience, most of the fieldwork will consist of short field trips designed to locate important collections and establish a relationship with the collectors or their heirs. The previous project established it was better, and cheaper, to bring the materials to the offices in Lima. The reputation of the university throughout Peru makes this possible.

The original materials will be returned to their owners after they have been digitised in the audiovisual labs of the Institute of Ethnomusicology (IDE) in Lima, Peru - except in those cases where the owners wish to donate permanently their materials. The IDE will keep one digital copy of each item in its audiovisual archives, and send another digital copy to the British Library.


In the Puno region, the project team worked in Puno city and Juli city. 1,631 images were digitised, including slides, negatives, black and white photographs and colour photographs. More than 69 hours of film footage were digitised from 8mm and VHS formats, covering traditional dances and other social festivities, and more than 100 hours of traditional music records were digitised.

The main topic of this visual collection was the celebration of the Candelaria Virgin, the most important traditional celebration from the altiplano region and one of the greatest festivities in Peru. There were also other types of social celebrations and religious festivities.

In the Arequipa region, the project was unable to find any significant material regarding Andean cultural expressions in audiovisual format. This was a very particular situation and highly different from other regions. Apparently, this kind of record was almost non-existent and neither local photographers or scholars have focused in the documentation of Andean culture. The interest for recording these Andean expressions is relatively new. In past decades when talking about indigenous peoples, references were made to Puno, thus neglecting the existence of indigenous population in Arequipa’s own territory.

Despite this, Arequipa had some very important photographers that gained fame and reputation in the mid-twentieth century. These photographers developed a certain aesthetic visual style that marked a particular trend. Unfortunately though they did not incorporate ethnographic topics. Eventually, in Arequipa the project did digitise nearly 600 images from slides, negatives, black and white photographs and colour photographs and 1:35 hours of film footage related to religious celebrations from Colca Valley and traditional dances from the region.

In the Ayacucho region, the project digitised more than 800 images from slides, negatives, black and white and colour photographs; more than 20 hours of film footage in VHS format and 75 hours of traditional music from audio cassette format. The topics here have been more varied with a high inclination to festivities linked to agriculture and other religious and social celebrations.

When looking at the collections as a whole, there are gaps in some of the metadata of information that is not known anymore, because the owners or specialists cannot recognise the contents of the documents. On the other hand, and following the aims of the project of revalorising the Andean culture and bringing some inputs for the construction of a collective memory, the project conducted in-depth interviews with photographers, collectors and scholars in Puno, Arequipa and Ayacucho. These interviews focused on the life of the photographers, the role of the local photographer in the construction of a regional cultural memory and other aspects of the importance of building an archive and preserving audiovisual ethnographic material as a strategy to rescue endangered material and endangered cultural expressions.

Almost all the collections were in very bad conservation condition. This material had been stored in very humid, dark and dirty spaces. Therefore, many of the collectors asked for a few weeks to find, order and classify the material they had. Other collectors even with great aptitude to collaborate expressed that they had lost their material in fires, floods, thrown it away or just lost it.

Copies of their own material have been given to individual collectors and a full copy of the material has been deposited with the Institute for Ethnomusicology of the Catholic University of Peru, and the British Library.

The records copied by this project have been catalogued as: