Between September and October of 2014, in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, a meeting took place between researchers of rock art from different countries (trained in Western scientific tradition) and Quechua researchers of Peru and Bolivia, specialists in indigenous epistemology of quilcas (indigenous graphic expressions in Quechua language and cognition). It was the First International Congress of Rock Art and Ethnography that has extended and consolidated the foundation for the development of dialogues between indigenous and Western cognitive systems around the theme of rock art in a South American scale.
One of the main points discussed was that indigenous people can no longer be considered just as informants for Western science, but rather as relevant cultural and scientific research authors in a broader epistemological, intercultural and decolonising perspective. That is, the ethnography of rock art, or the informed method of rock art study, can no longer be regarded as the compilation of indigenous interpretations that may or may not have usefulness to the Western researcher in his final analytical and scientific world. New and more symmetric research strategies must be put into practice in what could be characterised as an inter-epistemological approach of rock art research, or an indigenous rupestrian archaeology.
From this intense and fruitful debate, that lasted for over fifteen days in Cochabamba, Mizque and other parts of the Bolivian mesothermal valleys, emerged an urgent and consensual concern: the protection of indigenous sacred places with quilcas in all South American countries. These places are subject to direct and severe threats and some have effectively been destroyed by the expansion of major infrastructure work like mega-dams and massive, industrial extractive exploitation of finite natural resources. A process that has been intensified with the acceleration of a certain type of economic growth observed in several Latin American countries.
The disturbing realisation is that as much as South American biomes, the rock art and indigenous knowledge attached to them (people and societies that provide social and cognitive life to rock art, being simultaneously part and builders of these landscapes) are equally vulnerable and can also be considered as ‘finite resources’. They are at the brink of extinction as phenomena of South American socio-environmental diversity.
Propelled by these concerns, a group of seven organisations that congregates rock art researchers from South America and the rest of the world have decided to make public their apprehensions through the document entitled The Cochabamba Declaration. Added to this document are the conclusions of the congress, a list of recommendations and a specific report which addresses a sacred Quechua and Aymara landscape threatened by real estate speculation in the vicinity of Cochabamba. To access all the conclusions achieved at the First International Congress of Rock Art and Ethnography (Cochabamba, Bolivia 2014), in addition to the Manifest, the recommendations and the report about the Kalantrancani site with quilcas (in English and Spanish) please visit here.
The discussions around this thematic should be amplified to include indigenous experts from the Amazon and other regions in South America and the rest of the world. Archaeologists, anthropologists and other researchers interested in this matter are also relevant to integrate and collaborate in the development of this reflection and in the creation of direct actions.
The next meeting around this subject will take place in the city of Tacna, Peru, between 30 November and 3 December 2015, during the VI National Symposium on Rock Art (SINAR – PERU) in the thematic session No. 8 – Arte rupestre y problemas de desarrollo y sustenibilidad (Rock art and problems of development and sustainability). We invite the interested and relevant social protagonists to this discussion to join us on this occasion with the aim of deepening the debate and to plan action strategies that are in urgent need to be carried out. For more information about this next event visit here.
Finally, The Cochabamba Declaration, although only recently released, addresses the protection of sites with quilcas, or rock art and sacred landscapes in South America. Therefore, it is an intellectual and committed deportment with the preservation of an irreplaceable ancestral legacy that we are morally and intellectually obliged to conserve.
Gori Tumi Echevarria Lopez
(Archaeologist/Peruvian Association of Rock Art – APAR)
(Archaeologist/Brazilian Association of Rock Art – ABAR)
THE COCHABAMBA DECLARATION
Rock art protection and policies of development in South American countries: concerns from the First International Congress of Rock Art and Ethnography held in Cochabamba, Bolivia, between 23 and 26 September 2014
In the past twenty years South American countries have speeded up considerably their process of economic growth. One of the outcomes of this process is the acceleration of the destruction of very specific, diverse and fragile ecosystems like Amazonian forests, rivers and savannahs in South American lowlands for the sake of massive constructions of mega-dams, roads and industrial mining projects, for example. But, all around South American countries several other areas of ecological importance and singularity have been destroyed, damaged or are still under considerably menace by the expansion of such intra-continental economies attached to global trends in political and economic development.
What concerns us here is the fact that this process is violently attacking not only faunal and floral contents of the biota, but also several people’s traditional lifestyles and indigenous ways of relating society and finite natural resources in highly complex manners. A cultural heritage that represents more than twelve thousand years of human occupation and accumulated knowledge on how nature works and how people could take adaptive advantage on this, respecting its intrinsic limitations and possibilities, enhancing, indeed, those possibilities. Rock art sites are a fundamental part of these knowledge traditions and millennial processes of landscape domestication and, together with other archaeological sites and all sorts of sacred indigenous landscapes, are prime targets, due to their location, of the aggressive expansion of projects such those mentioned above.
Not a single legislative proposition has been made in South America to increase the legal protection of this heritage in the face of this considerably unequal and questionably planned process of economic growth. On the contrary, what have been observed over the major policies of development on countries such as Brazil, Peru and Bolivia, are the systematic disapplication of already extant protective legislation bodies concerning the cultural and historical heritage, including rock art, substituted by more flexible political dispositions taken by the governments of these countries violating and/or contradicting their own constitutional laws. They also fail to implement previously signed international treaties such as the Convention 169 of the International Labour Organization of the United Nations that, among other aspects, demands previous, freely consented and culturally adequate process of consultation to the human communities that will be affected by projects such as mega-dams.
This constitutes a very serious menace not only to indigenous South American history and present lifestyle of indigenes, but represents a menace to every living creature in this part of the planet and elsewhere, considering the climatological interconnections between the Amazonian biome and the rest of the world, still very poorly understood by the scientific community. In this regard, of utmost importance is obedience to the Precautionary Principle stated by the Rio Declaration in 1992 and Kyoto Protocol in 1997 and other previous international treaties, which constitute fundamental legal artefacts that seem not effective in those countries.
Rock art sites and Sacred Indigenous Landscapes related to them in South America have recently been destroyed by hydroelectric and mining projects. These include the Sete Quedas Rapids on the Teles Pires River, in Brazilian Amazonia (this site has already been dynamited and subsequently flooded with the construction of the Teles Pires mega-dam); Toro Muerto in Peru; El Mauro in Chile; Ilha das Cobras on the Madeira River, Brazilian Amazon (also submerged by a mega-dam); Santa Luzia and Pedra do Ó on the Volta Grande of the Xingú River, also in Brazilian Amazonia (affected by a massive combination of Belo Monte mega-dam and industrial gold mining), to state but a few. Unlike Foz Côa in Portugal and Dampier in Western Australia, where rock art was accorded a decisive role in the protection of the cultural heritage of humanity and of important socio-environmental landscapes, the aforementioned sites have been destroyed, or are threatened with annihilation.
In view of these considerations, AEARC (Association of Rock Art Investigation of Cochabamba, Bolivia), APAR (Rock Art Association of Peru), IFRAO (International Federation of Rock Art Organisations) and rock art investigators from Brazil and other countries, gathered together in the First International Congress of Rock Art and Ethnography, that took place in the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia, between 23rd and 26th September 2014, and decided to express through this letter their alarm and discontentment regarding the construction of mega-dams, industrial mining projects such as gas, oil and bauxite exploitation, agro-industrial expansion, opening of extensive roads across natural areas (like in the case of Tipnis in Bolivia), and all sorts of massive-scale extractive initiatives in Amazonia and elsewhere in South America.
Furthermore, we have produced this document in order to express our support to the struggle of indigenous and traditional South American societies, such as the Munduruku ethnic group from the Tapajos River in Brazilian Amazonia, against the construction of mega-dams and industrial mining projects in their traditional territories and sacred landscapes. By the same token, we recommend and demand from the heritage institutions and from the political representatives of these countries, clear and responsible propositions and actions concerning the protection of cultural, historical and archaeological sites. We expressly emphasise rock art sites and the indigenous knowledge attached to them, both cultural expressions and finite cultural-environmental resources, severely threatened by what seems to be an uncontrolled, misconstrued and politically biased process of economic growth of South American countries.
Cochabamba, Bolivia, 4 October 2014
AEARC – Asociación de Estudios del Arte Rupestre de Cochabamba, Bolivia
APAR – Asociación Peruana de Arte Rupestre, Peru
ABAR – Associação Brasileira de Arte Rupestre, Brazil
GIPRI – Grupo de Investigación de Arte Rupestre Indigena, Colombia
ANAR – Archivo Nacional de Arte Rupestre, Venezuela
CIAR-SAA – Comite de Investigación del Arte Rupestre de la Sociedad Argentina de Antropología, Argentina
IFRAO – International Federation of Rock Art Organisations