Every winter on the dreariest, snowiest, coldest days, people and I’d also imagine late birds will decidedly say to each other, “It’s sunny somewhere else,” and then flock in droves to the airports (well, not the birds, although that would be funny—can you imagine a goose with a little suitcase?) to head to Mexico or anywhere warm and preferably with a beach. The reason being what we all learned in school—that the farther south we go, the warmer it gets, something about the equator, blah blah mumble mumble.
Well, this “sunny somewhere” witchery means that farming cycles can be quite different for the world’s diverse land-based people. For example, whereas the Pueblo Indians of New Mexico are just planting their corn now, the Wanka (pronounced wan-ka), my mother’s Peruvian Indigenous people, are harvesting theirs.
My mother’s village is aptly named Hatun Shonko, which in our Quechua Wanka Native language means “brave heart.” Although images of painted Scotsmen fighting for their FREEDOM!!!! (cue Mel Gibson’s scream) may come to mind, please erase and replace with this more beautiful image of our sacred mountains and rich farm fields:
We, the Wanka nunakuna (pronounced nu-na-ku-na) or human beings hail from the breadbasket of Peru, the Mantaro Valley.
We don’t offer the international yet controversial mecca of touristy-ness that Q’osqo (pronounced k’-o-sko) or Cusco is known for—No, the Wanka homelands are the place where daily life is tough and somewhat stereotypical of the so-called Third World, BUT for those with an eye and heart for beautiful farm fields, tradition and an appreciation for the bounty of the earth, the Wanka Nation is paradise.
For me, being home on my mother’s land is like being able to breathe, and standing in her farm fields barefoot, I can literally feel my ancestors and our Mother Earth, Pachamama (pronounced pa-cha-ma-ma), in sync with my heartbeat. Yes, yes, perhaps you are rolling your eyes at this thinking, “What a hippie!” and picturing me in Birkenstocks and flowing skirts wearing crystals. (No offense to Birkenstocks, clothing flowage or crystals). No, no, this is actually me (I’m the one on the left):
Farming in Hatun Shonko is a lifestyle replete with traditions, beliefs, hard labor and of course, a love for what is produced and appreciation for what the earth gives. There is an annual cycle of activity around farming that connects every man, woman and child, with every other living being. Community is not just human or dictated by humans—community is earth, animals, trees, wind, sun, mountains, sky, water, ancestors.
Corn or hala (pronounced ha-la) is one of the main crops we farm, and the story behind it is pretty cool, I think. Corn is known as a grandmother who came to our people in human form during a time of hardship. She sacrificed of herself to feed us and then after her passing, taught us how to care for her so that we would always have food. And the many varieties of corn that are produced in Hatun Shonko are quite beautiful, like her legacy to us.
The corn that reaches our tables has journeyed through a process: hala talpukuy (pronounced tal-poo-kooy) or corn planting of heirloom seeds, hala calchay (pronounced kal-chai) or corn harvesting, hala tipikuy (pronounced ti-pee-kooy) or corn shucking, and hala pilway (pronounced pil-wai) or corn storing.
Currently, we are in the time of hala calchay and hala tipikuy. And this is the part of the journey we are so very thankful for—to that which nourished the corn towards its growth and fruition, and to each other for our work and love and devotion.
We are not without our challenges, unfortunately. Genetically modified organisms (GMOs), corporate hormones, the historical environmental impact of DDT, massive mining pollution runoff into our sacred river, and global warming impacting our glacier water sources has weakened our ecosystem and lifestyle over the years. Not to mention the fact that farming is in many ways stigmatized in the West as the “poor man’s work” of the underdeveloped and uneducated.
In spite of these obstacles, the majority of our farmers today continue honoring the legacy of corn and her journey to us with Wanka songs, dances, prayers, hopes and of course, our deep thankfulness. So when I think about the journey that Mother Corn made to get to my table–the corn that I eat year-round–I am thankful. And this knowledge helps me to be mindful of the other beautiful Indigenous foods I eat, the people who sacrificed to plant and harvest and of all the elements that go into allowing me to continue to exist as a human being.
Sulpay (pronounced sool-pai). Thank you.