Tales From Origin

Peru – How to Make Friends and Influence People

My first visit to Pangoa Co-op in Peru in 2003 marked the first time an American roaster had come to the co-op. Because of my background as an indigenous rights lawyer, I was particularly interested in visiting some of the more distant native grower communities of Pangoa. All of the cooperative’s directors and office staff wanted to come, as did many farmers from other towns.

In the morning, our three-truck convoy carried on over the mountains. This was the Amazonian side, where the mountain streams drained into that incredible river and flowed on to its Brazilian and Ecuadorian tributaries. The roads were considerably degraded here, and what towns we passed were miserable and small. We were headed to Boka Kiatari, an Ashaninkas settlement of about sixty families.

“It’s really wonderful that all of the directors came along,” I remarked.

“This is the first time for any of them to visit Boka Kiatari,” Esperanza replied.

“They haven’t visited their own members’ lands? Just because it’s so far from Satipo?”

“No, they are not allowed by the Ashaninkas. They might get shot if they came uninvited. Thirty years ago, colonos invaded the territory with the approval of the government. They really tore up the land. They logged all of the oldest trees and dammed some rivers. So a lot of the Ashaninkas sided with the Shining Path rebels up here. It’s kind of a dangerous place.”

As we rolled into the first hamlet within the indigenous territory, ten short, stocky men stood in the road. They were barefoot and dressed in red ochre-colored shrouds. The bottom half of their faces were painted a deep red and their straight black hair was covered with feathers. Some carried rifles, others had bows and arrows.

Esperanza, Evaristo, and I got out of the first truck. Nobody else moved. Esperanza waved hello to the oldest man and introduced him as Don Nyako, the village leader. He patted my shoulder warmly and welcomed me to the land of the Ashaninkas. He introduced his sons, Fredi and Adolfo, and the other men. Then Don Nyako looked long and hard at the trucks. After an excruciating silence, he nodded and walked back toward the village. Esperanza told everybody it was safe to come out now. The Pangoans piled out of the trucks and walked quietly behind the Ashaninkas men. The village was a small compound of 10 three-sided huts arranged in a semicircle. The walls and roofs were made of saplings strapped together, and the walls were adorned with skins, feathers, bows, and arrows. In one of the huts, five women and several small girls worked over a huge metal pot plunked down onto a well-stoked fire. An armadillo leg bobbed up and down in the stew. Don Nyako called to the oldest woman, who came grudgingly over to his side. She wore the same maroon shroud, the lower half of her face a dark red. Her eyes were black, but they burned with the intensity of the coals in the wood fire.

The men and women of the co-op and the tribe were talking in small groups, getting to know each other. Occasional bursts of laughter or shouts of approval rang through the compound. Cameras appeared and group shots were organized.  After the photos, Don Nyako called everybody to sit for the formal greetings. He invited Esperanza to speak first. She recited the long and painful struggle of the cooperative, ending with the good news of their first Fair Trade sale to Mr. Beans (nobody ever gets my name right!). She passed around the little green foil bag of Pangoa’s Pride that I had brought, the first time anyone at the co-op had ever seen their coffee roasted and packaged –  and with their name on it! The Ashaninkas fondled it lovingly, sniffing the aroma through the gas valve in the bag. Esperanza explained the description on the bag. The men smiled and nodded approvingly. She also told the crowd that I had delivered a profit share to the co-op to fund needed development projects.

Don Nyako spoke next. He told the history of the Ashaninkas and how they had resisted Spanish colonizers and kept their culture into this modern age. He spoke evenly about the land invasions of the recent past and the damage done. He ended brightly that it was a new day, as the colonos and the Ashaninkas were gathered together for the first time. Don Nyako turned to his wife and asked her to speak. She looked at the ground, shook her head, and mumbled something sharply. Don Nyako asked her again and a third time before she finally consented to speak. She walked into the middle of the assembly and stood next to me. I smiled at her. She looked slowly around, her eyes burrowing into each face she focused upon. We waited expectantly. She took a deep breath and spoke. The words exploded out of her fiery red mouth.

“You people stole our land! Now you are here to steal our coffee! Get away from here!” She looked straight at me. “Get away from here now!” She folded her arms and glared at Don Nyako.

The crowd was dumbstruck. Esperanza turned to me and said pleasantly, “It is now your turn to speak.”

Although I was taken aback by her accusation and the intensity of her short speech, I recognized that she was right.

“My friends, Dona Nyako is correct. In the past, people came and stole the land and abused the people. And we come here with promises that it will be different. So I ask Dona Nyako not to judge us on our words, but to judge us on our deeds.”

Dona Nyako stared at me for a long time. Then she grunted, turned, and stomped off toward the cooking hut. Don Nyako smiled at me.

“She really likes you.”

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