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Le meilleur héritage

Marguerite Bey


The Best Heritage Peasant Strategies in a Andean Valley of Peru

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1This is an abridged version of my doctorate thesis in Social Science which I defended in 1990 and for which I had received a research grant from the Orstom (from 1986 to 1987).

2The subject of this research is the comparative study of social change in two peasant communities in a valley near the capital of Peru. The community and the peasant family serve as bases for the analysis; they will be defined in terms of strategies, practices and social connections. This approach will lead to an overview of the way in which the community has opened out toward the nation space during the past thirty years. In observing the relations and conflicts of the various social actors, I will attempt to clarify what is at issue through procedures of reinterpretation of the internal and external reproductive modes of the communities.

3I did not think, when I began my research in 1986, that I would choose the community as my principle subject, nor that I would study the effects of school attendance on the changes undergone by the community in the last decades. I was simply interested in the dynamics of development amongst the small farmers.

4When I joined the Orstom research program with the national agrarian university La Molina, I chose a site-the upper Cañete valley (in the department of Lima)-and a core question: can the communities be considered as units of development?

5This implied taking as my starting point a study of the vast literature on the peasant community and deciding where I stood with regard to two theories: one is that the community is a social and economic unity based on a principle of interdependence and cooperation, while acknowledging a differentiation of the peasantry and the existence of family dynamics; the other States that the community is being destructuralized as a result of the penetration of capitalism into the peasant milieu.

6In order to distance myself from these interpretations, I deemed it essential to begin with the social actors who are the comuneros, their strategies and practices, so as to understand what their relation was to the community structure and how they defined that structure.

7Why did I center my study on the role of education? One must take into consideration historical and structural factors to understand the process of change. In this approach which is both diachronic and synchronic, one has to consider the role of the social actors who, because of their distinct interests, impel these changes.

8When considering the historical factors, a first break in the history of the contemporary community appears in the nineteen twenties: on one hand, the Constitution officializes the communities’ defense of their territory; on the other hand, the first comuneros to be educated will play a major role in the defense of the territory, acting as intermediaries between the community and the public authorities. The Andean peasants discover the import of the institutionalizing of their community and, at the same time, that of knowing the laws of their country to ensure the protection of their territory. The second break occurs in the sixties with the reformist policies. There are three essential aspects: the road network is developed, the State instigates modernization of the agricultural sector and primary and secondary schools are set up in rural districts. Modernity infiltrates the communities via these three channels, raising the problem of integration and national identity. It must be stated that the communities are not aloof to these changes, and more than once have brought them about themselves by building roads and schools, by learning from neighbouring haciendas improved techniques for their agro-pastoral activities. When education is democratized, the comuneros begin to enter the national socio-economic space.

9Objective conditions concerning the communities’ physical situation must also be taken into consideration. The communities are found, for the most part, in the Andes, where productive resources (land and water) are rare and difficult to exploit. Faced with these conditions, the Andean peasants have organized themselves so as to make the best of their resources. This type of organization does not prevent socio-economic differentiation but limits it, since everyone must adhere to collective norms. In this case, progress is thought of only in terms of the collectivity.

10However, when considering the role of education in community changes, a paradox arises: education is an instrument for individual promotion and, as such, contradicts the aim of collective progress. However, even if it is obvious that access to education gives rise to individual strategies, it is necessary to keep in mind the importance of family relationships which enable reproduction in a larger sphere. The role of the educated comuneros and their sons must be underlined, first in strengthening communal institutions, then in incorporating the whole community in the national socio-economic space.

11With regard to these premises, there are three hypotheses in this study:

  1. Family strategies for reproduction are tending toward individualization and independence from the communal organization, widening the family socio-economic space beyond the communal territory.

  2. The community, on the other hand, needs to reproduce as an institution so as to protect the territory which it occupies and with which it identifies.

  3. These two tendancies provoke conflicts arising from contradictory interests. What is at stake is the transformation of the institutions which govern the organization of the collectivity. With this in view, it is necessary to evaluate the importance of the community in the organization and the activities of peasant families. Indeed, the education of comuneros children leads to changes in the units of production, which in turn leads to attributing a new role to communal organization and new functions to its institution.

12As it evolves from the economic function of productive resource control toward a service function for its members, the community must find new leaders. Power no longer has a territorial economic base nor is it founded on typically Andean know-how; it is being transformed into intellectual power, with a national base and universal knowledge and values.

13Even if it is obvious that peasant families’ space for reproduction has been enlarged, it is also true that the community remains an unavoidable social reference: it is the community which confers upon the individual an identity and a social status and family relationships (real and imaginary) remain the bases of social relations.

14This study is divided into three parts.

15The first part examines the influence of schooling on various aspects of life in the community.

16In the beginning there is a presentation of the two communities in the upper valley of the Canete, objects of the study. In choosing Casinta and Tomas we undertook a comparative study of two communities which, despite their proximity, offer very different historical, physical, demographic, politico-administrative and land management characteristics.

17Both communities are within range of Lima’s influence, belong to the sub-region of Yauyos and, in the eighties, received public and private support for communal development projects. Nevertheless, it is important to know how these communities are made up so as to understand their present characteristics. Casinta lies between 1,700m and 2,400m. A small community applying irrigated agriculture (595 hectares of which 142 are irrigated), it only broke away from its mother-community in 1957. The basis for the locality was the private appropriation of land, where now only 35 families live. Because of this demographic limitation Casinta became an annexe of the Pampas district and consequently has few infrastructures. No road links the community to a main axis and it has only one primary school.

18Tomas is a very ancient community of herders which covers 30,000 hectares, 80 of which are cultivated. The community is made up of about 150 families. As is the custom high in the mountains (here, from 3,300m to 4,800m), the distribution of land, both agricultural and puna pasture land, is under regulation by the communal institution. Because of its historical importance, Tomas is the district seat and consequently is equipped with urban infrastructures (primary and secondary schools, health center, electricity, drinking water and drainage) and, moreover, is on a major road running from the coast to Huancayo.

19In this first part, the role of education is underlined, beginning with the institutional and territorial consolidation of the community, where in the first half of the century, the few educated comuneros served as intermediaries between the community and the power spaces confronting it. Equally notable was the mobilization of the comuneros in defence of their territory and, to that end, the institutionalization of their community. This seems to have laid the base for collective solidarity and the foundation for group identity. The comunero does indeed identify with a territory which gives him access to resources enabling him to survive and endows him with a social status. Only on these grounds can he develop strategies to widen his space for economic and social reproduction. This is seen clearly in the peasants’ claims for schools and other services or infrastructures which are both improvements on a local level and bridges to national society.

20Peasant values are veering toward an urbanized way of life. The sharp increase in the number of educated citizens which began in the sixties has brought about an infiltration of “urban” values and a desire for integration in national life. The community realized that through education it could gain from public authorities. Education also means greater social mobility for the individual. With this aim, the community as well as the families are ready to “invest in heads”, as the peasants say. This investment often leads to decapitalizing the units of production and abandoning the traditional institutions of reciprocal aid.

21Schooling has developed rapidly in a short time and studies last longer, especially for the children of richer families, who go on to the City. This affects all families, the “rich” even more than the “poor”, in two ways: it reduces the number of family labourers and increases costs. The fact that the peasants recognize that “education is the best heritage one can leave one’s children” suggests that not only are they willing to make sacrifices toward their children’s education, but they also see it as an investment in an eventual installation in the City, thus widening their space for reproduction. Every day more comuneros acquire houses or even businesses in town.

22As for units of production, the community must turn toward marketable produce requiring less labour. Of course, these changes do not affect all peasants to the same degree; as a result, recourse to reciprocal aid and community control and administration of resources become more difficult.

23In the case of Casinta, where land tenure is very unequal, dairy cattle and sheep breeding has decreased as have food crops, replaced by perennial crops (apple trees or alfalfa for pasture rental) which the comuneros often give over to share cropping. These crop changes by necessity entail changes in the distribution of water for irrigation.

24In the case of Tomas, the tendency is toward increased breeding and, often, the abandonment of agriculture which serves only to feed families, given the little amount of land cultivated and poor productivity. As travel increases it becomes more advantageous to purchase certain produce. Many families live in the village to see their children through school, so trade has grown on the spot and owners hire herders whom they go to see frequently.

25So land tenure, the rigidity of which affects Casinta more than Tomas, is evolving toward forms such as sharecropping, and in the case of breeding, the fact that the herder can herd his own animals (albeit few) on the owner’s land is becoming prevalent. It seems clear from this that the function of resource administration attributed to the communal institution is losing relevance and force, while the peasants are diversifying their activities, whether within or outside of the community.

26Although it is true that many comuneros have traditionally worked outside their community (as in the case of the Tomas miners), it is now possible to assert that an actual economic bridge has been built between the community and the city.

27Changes in the economic activities of peasant families and in their way of perceiving their space for reproduction lead us to the second part of the book.

28First, the arguments in favour of a change in the functions of the institution are taken up. This change results as much from a different use of communal resources as from a redefinition of the power System within the community.

29As peasants enter into non-agricultural and even extra-communal activities, power within the communal authorities is transferred from the richer farmers to the more educated comuneros with introduction to an urban milieu. In this way, gerontocratic power based on peasant know-how and linked to agro-pastoral production is giving way to younger members of the community who are better prepared to act as intermediaries between their community and public or private development agencies.

30Modernity has come to the communities through the educational System, but also because of increased economic and political intervention on the part of the State and better access to the city via the road network.

31It is true, as explained by Alain Touraine, that modernity seen as an openness to change enabling social differentiation and autonomy of institutions is at present bringing about a change in power, which no longer resides in prescribing procedures for work, but rather in laying down a new way of life. We see that, after struggling for the recognition of their territory and their institution, the communities have not prevented an internal differentiation which leads to economic and political changes. The communal institutions are also fighting for greater autonomy, either by breaking away from larger communities or by aligning themselves with urban power. Today we are witnessing a decrease in communal control over resources and a transfer of power to actors instilled with new “urban” values. As the comuneros become confronted with new needs and new ways of life, the institution of the community is coming to have a service function.

32This appears clearly in the development projects undertaken by the communities and in the way in which the comuneros define development. In Casinta and Tomas the most important projects were fostered by sons of educated comuneros living in the city. Although these projects were designed to increase production, their main objective was the improvement of the population’s living standards. In Tomas, the community did not balk at investing the proceeds from the commune’s sheep farm in the electrification of the village. In Casinta, part of the budget earmarked for the construction of an irrigation canal was used to pay workers, since there were no benevolent volunteers to do the collective jobs undertaken by the community.

33The comuneros have learned to use the outside support offered to them and have surprised financial bodies by the way they use it.

34In the third part of the book, I wanted to illustrate changes that have occurred in the peasant communities with several stories about the comuneras families.

35First, the life cycle of the family unit has to be broken down into three stages:

  • the founding of the family, which comprises two essential aspects: age at the time of marriage and the choice of endogamy or exogamy;

  • the development of the family, corresponding to its maximum social and economic expansion;

  • the decline of the family, from the time the comunero “retires” and the unit of production is reduced once more to the couple.

36Then there is a presentation of three families in each of the two communities divided into three economic categories. The heads of the families chosen are elderly so as to permit a study of how their strategies and those of their children evolve.

37It is to be pointed out that family strategies for reproduction aim for better integration in the national society, economically and socially, and therefore include members who do not make up part of the unit of production in the community.

38Lastly, I outlined a synthesis based on three essential points.

39First, one must remember that all families are interdependent as concerns activities connected with the communal territory. The biggest producers depend on the labour of those who have the least productive resources, while these latter in turn acquire their resources thanks to the more privileged. In order to maintain the status quo as regards unequal access to community resources, the more powerful families avail themselves of a network of family relations and patronage which enables them to orient those poorer than themselves within the community while at the same time strengthening their own power.

40Second, these dynamics occur in Casinta as well as in Tomas, despite the differences already discussed.

41Third, the community remains a central element in the strategies for reproduction of the comuneras families.

42The changes which have occurred at the level of the communal institution are the result of contradictory family interests. Conflicts induce dynamics in a community. Parallel to that, each family aspires to more social, economic and political space, to more autonomy with respect to its community and to a more “urban” way of life.

© IRD Éditions, 1994

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