Monday, October 13, 2014

Return to Dos Mangas pt. 1: Community

Note: this post may be most interesting for friends and family who visited me during fieldwork, or for people who read the early posts on the blog.

What a homecoming!

Simply put, my arrival in Dos Mangas was more than I had hoped for. The garua was really heavy, so the road was wet and muddy and the night was colder than I had anticipated. After a long-ish bus ride from Portoviejo (with a change over in Xipixapa) I arrived in Manglaralto at the combi stand to Dos Mangas. I recognized some of the drivers but the feeling wasn’t necessarily mutual, but after answering some of their questions about what I was up to, and responding that I had lived there for a year, the light bulb went off.

I rode into town in the back of a covered pickup truck, the normal mode of transportation, seated with several comuneros and preoccupied with the feeling of being a stranger to people I had once felt a sense of belonging (though I’m not sure if I belonged with them or to them at the time). I paid my fifty cents for the ride (fifteen more than four years ago) and got off at the casa comunal. All the doors were closed, including to the second floor hostel, but someone came by pretty quickly and waved over the lady with the keys to let me in. The hostel had been fairly close to completion when I left four years ago, but it was clear that they had made some improvements in the mean time, with the help of USAid, whose sticker is emblazoned on everything. The hostel can host about 12-15 people at any time, and has a kitchen, dining room, and common space. It would be an awesome base for a field school if I’m ever in a position to lead one.
The casa comunal renovations, sponsored by USAid.
One of the renovated room, with a private bath!
After dropping my stuff and changing into long pants and my boots, I went off to say hello to some of my nearest and dearest from my time in Dos Mangas four years ago. My first stop was to see Luis, who has been my assistant from the time I began investigations in Dos Mangas in 2006, and who has been keeping an eye on things since I left. His face lit up when he saw me, and I was glad to see him looking so well. Then we made the circuit to visit various friends. I received so many enthusiastic embraces, and a few tears, and everyone wanted to feed me.
Ever-enthusiastic Efrain.
Fanny, Chico and their kids.

Luis and Vicente.

On Saturday, my only full day to visit, I was able to wander around the village and I was struck by how much had changed, and how much was still the same. The road into town actually has a bridge over the river now, meaning it doesn’t turn into an island during the rainy season. There’s also a new high school, so children don’t have to travel to continue with their education, an investment that can be a barrier for many. The church has been redone, the casa comunal has been remodeled, and it's clear that the community has benefitted from the support of USAid. But it's the same two roads, the same people, and the same excitement to get back to work!
The new colegio, located next to the primary schools.
Remodeled church, with room for parking out front!
This is where I used to live. Now a hostel.

A lot of our chatting during that visit was retelling stories about my daughter, known on the blog as Little Miss, who was two and a half when we left. One young woman who used to care for her recounted that she was always asking for “co-co”, comida in her own little language. Many people were sad that she didn’t join me on this trip. I started missing her from my arrival at the taxi stand into Dos Mangas – she was an ever-present part of my time here, and much of my day was organized around taking care of her, whether that was dropping off and picking her up from the village day care, or spending the good part of the day at the local clinic to treat one of her many sinus infections or other ailments. It’s not often that I go a week without seeing her, so this was the double whammy. I got a cute little video of some of her friends, and hopefully she can come back into the field with me soon!

Stay tuned for my next installment, a look at the archaeology after four years!

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Presenting Archaeology and Communities in Ecuador

The main purpose of my trip to Ecuador was to present a four-day workshop titled "Archaeology as a Community Resource" to community representatives at the regional office of the Instituto Nacional de Patrimonio Cultural (INPC) in Portoviejo. Most of the participants have some sort of community-based tourism project in their town. Some traveled 6-8 hour roundtrip every day to participate in the six hours of seminar each day. If I hadn't already felt a responsibility to make the workshop as useful as possible, knowing that people traveled that long in order to hear me talk certainly did the trick! Representatives from the local INPC office and nearby archaeological site also joined us for portions of the seminar.

Museo Portoviejo, where the workshop was held.

The historic building of the INPC Region 4 offices.

The first day focused on archaeology as a field of study, as a scientific and interpretive endeavor. We talked about stratigraphy and, overall, the importance of context to archaeological interpretation. We did a series of activities related to stratigraphy, chronology, and context drawn from outreach activities on the AIA website and Intrigue of the Past, an online curriculum for school teachers developed by the Research Laboratories of Archaeology at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. The goal was not only for the participants to understand these concepts, but to have materials and activities that they could take back to their communities and use in their own educational efforts.

The second day we discussed the archaeological cultures of coastal Ecuador. I had two main goals for this module. The first is that participants become familiar with the archaeological cultures on the coast, spanning from the Archaic period until Spanish conquest, material that isn't covered in schools. This included being introduced to some of the characteristic pieces of material culture from each period to help them associate these cultures with what they find in their communities. The second goal was to move beyond "the cult of the object", away from an artifact as a museum piece or one that might be worth money on the black market (a fine distinction at times), and towards a greater appreciation of what an artifact can tell us about past societies, particularly when found within its original context. We used some objects from the INPC bodega to help with this discussion, and participants brought photos of some of the objects recovered in their communities. The need and desire for discussion of past societies within primary school curriculum was highlighted by participants. 

On Day Three we discussed community rights and responsibilities according to the national patrimony laws. This was the most interesting and difficult of the days for me. While the constitution states that everyone has an obligation to protect national patrimony, and laws outline the penalties involved for those who damage, deface, or loot (see resources here), there seems to be a gap between what is expected and the skills and resources of various governing bodies. The scenario presented by representatives from one community is not uncommon: archaeological remains are eroding out of a nearby river bank. The next time the river crests it will wash those objects away. If the community rescues them now, to put on dispay in their community center, they will be looting. If they wait until the river floods it will be too late, and they will lose this resource they are trying to develop. The INPC doesn't have the staff or funds to carry out a full rescue project. What can the community do?

We were fortunate to have the director of the INPC office join us on this day. The discussion wasn't easy, and no satisfying agreement was reached. A key point in the community's favor seemed to be the fact that they wanted to gather these objects to display them within their community. This fulfilled the public accessibility and dissemination mandates of the patrimony law. We spoke about ways in which they can document the current state of the materials (photographs with scale, showing the landscape context, etc) in order to document as much about the archaeological context as possible. Of course, no one was willing to say "yes, once you've documented it you can remove it" and not just because of the patrimony law but also because we know that once you remove one object you'll find another, and another, and another (the archaeology version of If You Give a Mouse a Cookie).
Workshop participants on Day 2.

Over the course of these three days we also spoke about ways that communities can integrate archaeology into their community development projects. The culmination on the fourth day consisted of brief presentations by each community of their plans of action to this end. Some focused on education of children to build an interest in protecting the past, while others targeted adults as role models to begin this work. Some plans tied the presentation of archaeological remains to current artisan practices in communities. Others discussed the need for protection committees to mitigate damage to sites from land use practices and development.

To close the workshop we were very lucky to receive a tour of the site of Cerro Jaboncillo. This was a ManteƱo site, one that has been famous for awhile but that only recently been excavated, so from an archaeology nerd standpoint I was very excited for the visit. The Ciudad Civico Eloy Alfaro in nearby Monticristi has developed interpretive material for the site, and the visit was a good opportunity to for workshop participants to see excavations in progress and how this information was presented to a general public. The representatives from Ciudad Alfaro were extremely generous and helped provide a nice capstone to the workshop.
Workshop participants at Cerro Jaboncillo.

This workshop is just the first step in a changing relationship between archaeologists and communities in Ecuador, and if I get the chance to present it again I'm sure I'd do some things differently. I'd love to be able to visit each community and provide a more customized approach, but given the distance people traveled in order to come to Portoviejo that may not be feasible. Regardless, I hope that people stay in touch and I look forward to seeing how they implement things in their communities!

Press from the workshop:
Sept 22 Day 1
Sept 23 Day 2
Sept 25 Day 4
Sept 25 Visit to Cerro Jaboncillo
Sept 25 El Diario (short piece, mostly correct)