The Ceramics of Huancas: Respect for Ancestral Traditions

Just 10 Kms from the city of Chachapoyas in northern Peru you fin Huancas which is one of the 21 districts that compose the province of the same name in the department of Amazonas. Huancas is located where the high montaña, or upper forest, drops towards the Sonche River that makes it geography privileged.

It has a town’s plaza, incredible views of the Sonche Canyon, incomparable colors in which green and blue predominate depending on the sun’s moods, beautiful waterfalls in the midst of this rocky landscape, and some women potters who have organized themselves within the community to make and sell ceramics that, almost without them being conscious of it, create a marked local cultural manifestation.

Firing Pots in Huancas (Gabriela Filgueira)
Firing Pots in Huancas (Gabriela Filgueira)

Like in the old days, the women make pots of different sizes and types and even home adornments, such as candlesticks and incense burners characterized by their porous texture and which follow they styles of manufacture of the ancestors with decoration that all together does not damage the environment. Every step of the process is a small ritual.

The women of Puctina community explained to us that the first step requires gathering the basic material for pottery, clay, ground stone, and sand, all in equal parts. Then comes the shayashcur which consists in raising the pots form. The wishcur follows which is molding it with the hands on a base and then the pucticur where a concave form is given to the pottery. After this the potter defines the outer edge with a wooden or cane palate and they make the surface uniform. This later process is called tanguear.

Norms of the Potters' Community (Gabriela Filgueira)
Norms of the Potters’ Community (Gabriela Filgueira)

There is another stage called aislamiento in which the potter uses a small piece of damp leather called dulvar. They rub around the edges of the pot. On finishing the molding, they let the pots dry in the shade for hours or for days, depending on the weather, before firing them. The first test of the fire is called rosquear. Then they arrive at the ritual called cusana where they place all the pots that have been rosquear-ed and the fire them directly using eucalyptus branches, straw and cow dung as fuel.

The flames cover every one of the pots and other forms. Together with the crackling sound of the branches and the perfume of burning eucalyptus a special sense is created, something enchanting.

Just as in life, the law of the survival of the fittest rules in the cusana. The pieces that do not rise to exact and proportional measures of materials break as if by magic. Not even the most advanced industry has such a sophisticated and rigorous rule.

Based on the conservation of their techniques, natural materials that do no damage to the environment, their ornamental designs, their ancestral origin, and their historical and cultural identity the Peruvian Ministry of Culture declared the Ceramics of Huancas National Cultural Heritage.

Finished Pots (Gabriela Figueira)
Finished Pots (Gabriela Figueira)

The self-organized women receive another help from the community. Volunteers from Chachapoyas who are interested in fomenting and caring for the development of tourism help promote the pottery. Just some 6 or 7 years about this began to develop on the basis of the most interesting attraction in the zone, the fortified city of Kuelap and the Chachapoyas culture.

Representative of tourist agencies such as Beto Yoplac Chappa and Kuelap Adventure offer asistance with trainings, constant visits, including how one should behave when interacting or sharing daily life with the tourists. The volunteers work every day so that this ancestral tradition can become a meaningful source of paid work within the small town which offers very few possibilities otherwise.

The Huanca pottery is just a small and almost anonymous cultural legacy of the many that our beautiful Peru offers.

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