Sand Towns: Pueblos de Arena Strives for a Cultural Renaissance

Dear readers: I recently received this intriguing and moving letter from Mariella Rebora, who is directing an attempt to re-inculcate thousand year old artisan and bioregional management skills in the Chancay region of Per™ (coastal region north of Lima). She is looking for program sponsors and collaborators. I believe this is a very important project, potentially a model for similar projects all over the world. As you read her story, I am sure it will resonate with your knowledge of the struggles and ambitions of aboriginal peoples in our own countries, and globally. Please let me, or Mariella, know if you know of (a) organizations that might have the resources and interest to sponsor this initiative, or at least (b) people who Mariella might contact to explore opportunities for sponsorship and collaboration. This is beyond my area of knowledge and expertise, but I’d love to help any way I can!
 /-/ Dave

Following is Mariella’s story in her own words.

It’s interesting to see that when it comes to sharing knowledge or making political decisions, there is very little “attitude” difference between people of “developed” and “non developed” countries. I feel the difference is actually between the thoughts of modern versus non-modern cultures.

Pueblos de Arena (“Sand Towns”) is  a non-profit ‘school’ to enable,  facilitate and revitalize community development processes in the Chancay area. Our proposal is to work out the appropriate attitude that leads to well-being (including economic prosperity) by reframing poverty concepts, learning and teaching cognitive strategies, concepts, and introducing alternative money as a way of generating internal community-based commerce.

Six years ago I moved (with my family) from the city to the country. My husband works in agriculture, we have a farm here in Chancay, a small town on the central coast of Per™. From the 10th to 15th centuries the Chancay pre-Incan culture developed here. Fine artists they were, not warriors: textiles, ceramics, feather crafts, wood, dyes, and bone carvings. Being a potter myself, when I arrived in Chancay, I fancied I would find the local potters here heirs of this fine culture. But I found none, just a couple of guys churning out false copies and selling them as originals.

chancay So I thought it would be great to start a ceramics school, rescuing the Chancay ceramic techniques, but little by little I met other artisans who worked with tapestries, gauzes, and all the pre-Incan arts. There is a Chancay necropolis (ancient cemetery) nearby that was damaged and looted by this people (really poor people ñ immigrants from the Andes communities), and as they had to repair what they found the tombs, they learned, and developed very fine skills in these arts. So, I thought, why limit our project to pottery? Let’s create a pre-Incan handcrafts school with modern arts too. But what would we do with these re-learned crafts?  We would need to create a commercial management facility, and develop modern designs with quality standards.

The challenge was (and is) the ‘poverty inertia’ that governs the spirit of the people. There is a resignation and feeling of hopelessness about projects in which the community helps themselves, a sense that the only way to live is through government subsidies or through illegal activities or menial, low-quality work. Local workers are lucky to earn $4/day, far too little to encourage learning, hard work and true craftsmanship.

So we must create an environment that encourages personal development and local-culture community-based social welfare (independent of the local government), rescuing what it is now called “social capital”. This means that the community must ‘remember’ that it knows how to provide itself with most of the things it needs, through communal works, alternative and preventive medicine, houses for the old and needy. The community must re-learn to transfer their remarkable knowledge and culture, to remember they have a “knowledge” that is truly their own, and which for centuries allowed them to be self-sufficient and prosperous.

In searching for the methodology that could help us translate the cultural and linguistic differences (in Peru we have several etnias, native communities with different dialects and languages, and our pilot
project is with a community of immigrants from the Andes on the coast) we’ve been investigating the cognitive sciences, cognitive linguistics, neurolinguistics, anthropology, and, on the other hand,
everything that is related to alternative currencies.

The idea is to give the tools to the community as a whole that will enable them to raise their standard of living, their perspective of their chance for self-sufficiency and prosperity, and at the same time demystify modernity (today they are surrounded by modern advertising and marketing, but none of the prosperity that makes it meaningful), while rescuing their cultural identity and traditional knowledge and wisdom, so they can manage successfully in this modern world.

Once the methodology is developed we plan to implement it bottom-up through small neighbourhood groups, what you called ‘cells’ in your recent cellular organization article (though we prefer not to use the term ‘cells’, because in Per™ we had some very traumatic years of terrorist activity and the terrorists were organized in ‘cells’).

Our proposal takes the form of a ‘school’ — we do not want to be seen as a non-government organization (NGO), because people in these communities distrust NGOs), nor do we want to link with any political or religious group. ‘Schools’ are well received and accepted by everyone.

At the moment we have some support from the Universidad del PacÌfico related to the development of educational materials for the introduction of alternative currencies.

We are looking for sponsors for the research we will need to do to develop the methodology (attitude and strategies) and its appropriate teaching and implementation. We would appreciate your comments on how we might identify and attract such sponsors.

Sometimes I feel this ambitious project is possible, and at other times I have many doubts. I want to believe that it is possible. Thanks for reading.

Mariella Rebora (
Pueblos de Arena, Chancay, Per™

This entry was posted in Our Culture / Ourselves. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Sand Towns: Pueblos de Arena Strives for a Cultural Renaissance

  1. Dave, this sounds like the sort of project Ashoka funds: are a venture capital group for social entrepreneurs.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Thanks, Evelyn — I’ve now told Mariella about this.

Comments are closed.