Peruvian women, in ‘fulbito Andino,’ find light in the darkness

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América TV in Lima reports on the Mamachas tournament. (2:49)

The late Blanca Varela may have presided spiritually over a unique football tournament Dec 12 in Lima. She dedicated the poem “Fútbol” to sons Vicente and Lorenzo in 1971, making the work, according to critic David Wood, the first Peruvian composition dedicated to the sport.

play with the earth

as with a ball

dance with it

thump it

crack it open

the earth is nothing but that

Wood translates from the short poem, which appeared originally in Valses y otras falsas confesiones (Waltzes and Other False Confessions), and observes how Varela sees football as art leading to “life-affirming poetic discourse.”

Football, womanhood, earth. These concerns merged at the six-team finals of Il Campeonato Nacional de Fulbito Femenino de Mujeres Campesinas Conservacionistas-Mamachas 2009, held outside the north concourse of Estadio Nacional “José Díaz.” Arranged by the Agrorural public-works program, which has enlisted more than 4,000 women’s peasant collectives in implementing land reforms, the indigenous football tournament lasted six months and included 40,000 women from 13 regions. Campesinas competed in traditional skirts (polleras) as well as trainers suited to the hard surfaces of urban fulbito, the Peruvian small-sided football variant.

A side from Ayacucho defeated Arequipa, both southern regions, in the final. Several government ministers attended, Adolfo de Córdoba Velez (agriculture), Nídia Vilchez (women) and Manuela García (labor). A few days later, torrential rains in Ayacucho, more than 9,000ft above sea level, caused landslides and at least eight deaths—a reminder why legislators launched the Agrorural initiative in 2008.

Vilchez, the minister of women, credits campesinas with taking time from labor in reforestation programs, soil conservation, agriculture and alpaca grazing to practice football at weekends. Even in recreation, the minister says, the women are earth-friendly, proving themselves leaders in linked struggles for women’s rights and sound environmental practice.

The Agrorural website pictures indigenous women cradling plants to propagate on bare Andean slopes. They are working toward a recently announced goal of transplanting 60 million eucalyptus, pine and other specimens to mitigate centuries of land clearance in earthquake-prone regions. In 1970, a Nevado Huascarán landslide killed 20,000 in 2½ minutes.

“The Incas were never great lovers of trees,” says an Agrorural press release on Jan 2. “In fact, they cut down forests on the far Amazonian slopes of the Andes, as did other civilisations such as the Chachapoyas, to build their monumental stone cities.”

So how does football fit in? It might be Peruvian women’s latest venture into cultural autonomy. Anthropologist Irene Silverblatt describes indigenous Andean customs, predating Spanish incursions of the early 16th century and subsequent conquest, that recognized women’s contributions in weaving, plowing, sowing, harvesting and brewing chicha (maize beer). Inca women worshiped mother moon, venerated Inca queens and maintained female lines of descent. Rights to fields in Cuzco, the Inca capital, passed woman to woman. Campesinas in the 17th century resisted Spanish control through witchcraft, what Silverblatt calls “an ideology of rebellion.”

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