Now Peru Is Mine: The Life and Times of a Campesino Activist

Now Peru Is Mine: The Life and Times of a Campesino Activist

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Born in 1921, Manuel Llamojha Mitma became one of Peru's most creative and inspiring indigenous political activists. Now Peru Is Mine combines extensive oral history interviews with archival research to chronicle his struggles for indigenous land rights and political inclusion as well as his fight against anti-Indian racism. His compelling story—framed by Jaymie Patricia Heilman's historical contextualization—covers nearly eight decades, from the poverty of his youth and teaching himself to read, to becoming an internationally known activist. Llamojha also recounts his life's tragedies, such as being forced to flee his home and the disappearance of his son during the war between the Shining Path and the government. His life gives insight into many key developments in Peru's tumultuous twentieth-century history, among them urbanization, poverty, racism, agrarian reform, political organizing, the demise of the hacienda system, and the Shining Path. The centrality of his embrace of his campesino identity forces a rethinking of how indigenous identity works inside Peru, while the implications of his activism broaden our understanding of political mobilization in Cold War Latin America.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780822373759
Publisher: Duke University Press
Publication date: 12/08/2016
Series: Narrating Native Histories
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 256
File size: 6 MB

About the Author

Manuel Llamojha Mitma (1921-2016) was an indigenous political activist who formerly served as the head of the Peruvian Peasant Confederation from 1962 to 1978.

Jaymie Patricia Heilman is Associate Professor of History and Classics at the University of Alberta and author of Before the Shining Path: Politics in Rural Ayacucho, 1895–1980.

Read an Excerpt

Now Peru is Mine

The Life and Times of a Campesino Activist

By Manuel Llamojha Mitma, Jaymie Patricia Heilman

Duke University Press

Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-8223-7375-9


"I'm Going to Be President of the Republic"


Seven years old and outraged at the theft of his family's livestock by a local landlord, a very young Manuel Llamojha Mitma proclaimed, "I'm going to be president of the republic, and I'm going to make the haciendas disappear!" This chapter considers Llamojha's formation as an activist, exploring how and why he chose to dedicate his life to a struggle for justice. His dreams and ambitions radically transgressed the boundaries of an indigenous peasant's expected life course. The constraints of anti-Indianism in Peru were so tight that many Peruvians deemed campesinos too backward and too ignorant to do anything other than grinding physical labor on the land. Educational opportunities in rural Andean communities were also so grossly lacking that few indigenous peasants could realistically aspire to much more than a life of agricultural labor. The most ambitious and fortunate campesinos were sometimes able to enter positions of local authority — becoming district mayors or justices of the peace — and some were able to migrate to urban centers and find working-class jobs. But the goals Llamojha set for himself, including the priesthood, military leadership, and even the presidency, were ones definitively closed to indigenous peasants, and few Peruvians would have even imagined an Andean campesino having such ambitions. Such were the extreme limitations of life in Peru's rural indigenous communities during much of the twentieth century.

Llamojha was an exceptional child who became an extraordinary man, but there was much about his early life that would seem familiar to Latin Americans who grew up during the first half of the twentieth century. In the 1920s and 1930s, more Latin Americans lived in the countryside than in cities, and many shared Llamojha's experiences of grinding rural poverty, pronounced state disregard for the countryside, and hacienda abuses. Impoverished Latin Americans often desperately wanted access to better schools and better teachers, longing for education, and in these pages Llamojha explains how he acquired his most important political tool: his literacy. Like Llamojha, tens of thousands of Latin Americans migrated from the countryside to urban centers in the first decades of the twentieth century, searching for better opportunities and better lives. Many faced terrible ethnoracial and class discrimination on their arrival in the city. Some joined burgeoning leftist political parties and organizations that promised to fight for socioeconomic justice and build more equitable nation-states. Llamojha himself turned to what soon became one of Peru's most important political parties: APRA.


Born at the base of a tree on May 3, 1921, Llamojha began his life in the humblest of circumstances.

My parents had gone to harvest wheat, potatoes, and that's how I was born, at the base of a tree. When I was born, there was nothing. Just birds singing in the tree, while I was crying at its base. There weren't even any angels there to greet me. When Christ was born, angels came! But not for me; they didn't come for me. Not angels, and not the Three Wise Men either!

Situating the very start of his life on a plot of his family's farm land, a few kilometers away from the community of Concepción — a small town in what was then Cangallo province in the department of Ayacucho — Llamojha stressed his connection with rural Peru, his poverty, and the unremarkable beginning of his very remarkable life.

The eldest of six children, he was born to indigenous peasant parents who were themselves from the region. Like the overwhelming majority of campesinos in early twentieth-century Ayacucho, Llamojha's mother, Paulina Mitma Vásquez, spoke only the indigenous language Quechua. His father was different. Although Quechua was his first language, Anselmo Llamojha Martínez spoke some Spanish, and he even knew how to read, something that was exceptional among indigenous peasants of the period. That rarity was a symptom of the Peruvian state's terrible neglect of rural Andean communities. Many communities, like Concepción, had no schools at all, and those few rural schools that did exist rarely taught past the earliest grades. Such schools also suffered from a lack of resources, and their teachers often had little more than basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Anselmo Llamojha's path to literacy was one followed by other Andean campesinos privileged enough to have the means to privately fund literacy training. Such peasants, however, were rare: most were so impoverished that they could not spare animals, crops, or cash to pay for an education. The Peruvian state's pointed abandon of the Andean countryside meant that it was not until the 1940s that the state initiated significant efforts to expand access to education there. It was not until 1969 that education became compulsory for all Peruvian children, forcing the state to ensure access to schooling. Some Andean communities were able to cobble together enough resources to establish schools in the 1920s, when Llamojha was a child, but as he notes, many such schools faced concerted opposition from hacendados who felt threatened by indigenous education, no doubt fearing that widespread literacy among campesinos would limit landlords' abilities to exploit them and gain access to their lands and resources.

With his literacy and musical training, Llamojha's father then began assisting local priests with their duties.

My father worked in the fields and he was an assistant in the church; he helped the priests say mass. He was also a cantor and he played the church's organ. They always called him to other] pueblos [towns or communities], too, to get him to go and celebrate the patron saint festivals. As for my mother, people tell me she was just like me. She was really good to me.

Llamojha had much more conflicted memories of his father, a demanding and sometimes violent man.

My dad didn't have patience for anything. For us, for kids. He wouldn't let us play at all. Not at all. When we were at home, he'd give us wool to spin. We had to spin wool until we got sleepy. He didn't let me do anything. We couldn't play when he was around. It was only when he was away that we could go and play for a while, run around. But when he was at home, not at all. Not for anything! He'd give us homework, or make us help in the kitchen, anything. We couldn't be lazy.

If I was doing something, everything was fine. But if not, the whip! He wasn't just this way with me; he was the same with people on the street, kids out on the street. When he went out, no one could be out in the street playing. He'd get out his whip and chase the kids. He'd even whip their parents!

"Why are your kids outside playing?" he'd say. The whole pueblo was afraid of my dad. And they respected him. That's what my dad was like.

Llamojha's father also provided young Manuel with what would soon become his most important skill: the ability to read and write.

When I was about five years old, my dad taught me to read and write. First, my dad taught me the alphabet. After I learned the alphabet really well, he gave me homework from the Mantilla book; he made me finish it. Back then, Mantilla was the famous book. You had to finish that book. Those who did so perfectly, who mastered Spanish, could be authorities. Also, the book Mosaico. Mosaico was for learning to write. That's how it used to be.

Llamojha's father not only taught him to read and write but also pushed him to study and improve. There were many reasons why Anselmo Llamojha was so determined to educate his young son. Literacy enabled indigenous peasants to gain access to positions of political authority in their home communities and districts, and it allowed them to personally examine the legal documents that were a fixture of rural life — documents that often led to exploitation, as unscrupulous individuals routinely tricked illiterate men and women into signing unjust contracts and bad land deals. For males, literacy meant access to citizenship, as the right to vote was restricted to adult men able to read and write. Literacy also conveyed a tremendous amount of respect and dignity, as it correlated so closely with urbanism, modernity, and power in Peru. Many indigenous people also valued literacy in its own right, treasuring the ability to communicate and learn through reading and writing.

Because of his father's stern exactions, Llamojha was forced to turn his childhood labor responsibilities for tending the family's animals into a space for studying and learning.

My father gave me homework, and I'd go out to tend my sheep, but I had to take my book with me.

"You have to study up to this part," he'd say.

I studied, I wrote, I copied, so that it all entered into my head. I'd go home and he'd give me a test, and then he'd give me more homework for the next day. He taught me to read, little by little. We always lived in the countryside. So, when I would go out to tend to my sheep, I always went with my books. Before, because there wasn't a school, they didn't even sell notebooks in our community, or pencils either. So, I wrote on maguey leaves. Hojepajpas [the Quechua term for such leaves], we said. We wrote on the leaves with little sticks. Using little sticks, the writing comes out really clearly.

As Llamojha recalled this period of his life, he drew a clear connection between his education and his political goals. He recalled, "I had a plan: to learn to read, and I wanted to be president of the republic! But first, I knew I must study." Llamojha's literacy also propelled him into his very first position of leadership.

Back then, no other boys knew how to read. Of all the adults in the pueblo, only four people knew how to read. Because I was the only boy in the pueblo who knew how to read, no one else, the kids followed me around. They also had their sheep, their cows. Every day, I went out with my sheep to watch them as they grazed, and kids followed me where I went, to the puna [high Andean plateau], so that I could teach them to read and write. Each boy brought a huge number of maguey leaves, and I taught them how to write the alphabet on those leaves. Every day they followed me! Poor little things.

I taught the boys to read, to write. And at night, I made them march in the plaza. I made them march in the plaza, made them do their military exercises!

The people, they liked this. We did these exercises, and later, my dad made me to go to church with these boys. Inside the church, I made them pray, I made them sing.

But, one day, while these boys and I were having fun in the puna, a fox took our sheep! There used to be a lot of foxes — not like now when there aren't any — and you had to be very careful. But because we were having fun, a fox took my sheep and theirs, too. So when I returned home in the afternoon: a whipping!

When Llamojha shared his life stories, he directly connected his life as an activist to an event that occurred in 1928, when he was just seven years old. This event involved the Ayrabamba hacienda, a large sugar-producing estate that bordered the community of Concepción. As was typical among landowners in the region, Ayrabamba's owner collected hierbaje, fees levied on indigenous community members for pasturing their animals on hacienda land. Hierbaje fees were often paid with animals rather than cash, and many peasants felt that these fees were highly unjust and that hacendados routinely used them to justify their illegal seizure of peasants' livestock. Those seizures also imperiled campesinos financially, as families depended on their animals for their very subsistence.

I would have been seven years old. We lived in Kalabazayoj, about eighteen kilometers down from Concepción. We lived there in winter, in the rainy season, with our cattle. We had some sheep, too, but not many. Thirty sheep, more or less, and I guarded them.

The hacienda Ayrabamba, it's just down from here [Concepción]. The hacienda took all the cattle from the people, they rounded them up.

"Hierbaje!" they said.

So, when I was tending my sheep, a huge number of police and people from the hacienda appeared, gathering everyone's cattle, sheep, and hens. They came over to where I was and they took away all of my sheep, every last one of them. They took all of them and I got really upset. I went home to tell my parents, to inform them. My dad wasn't home, just my mom, and I told her, crying. My dad came home from the fields in the afternoon and he yelled at me.

"Why did you let them take the sheep?"

"What was I going to do? So many people came, and they took them," I said. But he whipped me anyway.

"You let them escape," he said.

The next day, my dad went to demand the sheep. The hacendada, her name was María Elodia Parodi, she didn't want to give them back, not one sheep. She kept all of them, and six cows, too. And from there, my idea was born.

I swore, "One day, I'm going to be grown up, and I'm going to study, and I'm going to be an authority!" My plan was to study and become president.

"I'm going to be president of the republic, and I'm going to make the haciendas disappear!" I said.

This idea has stayed with me all my life. That is, once I was grown I would struggle against the hacendados, fight with the hacendados until the haciendas disappeared. And with this idea, I've fought, to the point of making the hacendados disappear.

The anger that seven-year-old Manuel Llamojha Mitma felt toward local hacendados was a sentiment shared by campesinos across Peru's Andes. Many of them felt terribly abused by landowners who unjustly seized their animals, encroached on and stole community lands, and forced them to perform unpaid labor services on haciendas. During the 1920s this anger coalesced into a massive rural movement for dramatic social, economic, and political change. Indigenous peasants sent innumerable petitions and letters, invaded haciendas to reclaim their lands, and in a few instances even staged armed uprisings to protest abuses and demand better treatment in Peru. Much of this mobilization was informed and directed by the Comité Pro-Derecho Indígena Tawantinsuyo (Tawantinsuyo Pro-Indigenous Rights Committee), until it was outlawed by President Leguía in 1927.

Llamojha's anger was also shared by many members of his home community. In 1929 a number of indigenous peasants from Concepción filed a complaint before the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Lima, accusing the owner of the Ayrabamba hacienda, María Elodia Vassallo de Parodi, of a wide range of abuses. Those abuses included her unjust seizure of community members' cattle, unfair fines for pasturing animals, and her attempts to claim ownership of a lake that community members used for irrigation. The following year, four Concepción campesinos appealed to the foremost authority in the department of Ayacucho, the prefect, requesting urgent protection against this landowner. Their letter charged that she had ordered one hundred of her workers to raid Concepción. Those workers had then seized seventy head of cattle, forty horses, six hundred sheep, and two hundred goats, all on the claim of charging hierbaje. The campesinos wrote that the seizure of animals had been unwarranted and, worse still, had been carried out with violence and intimidation. Vassallo de Parodi's workers had fired gunshots into the air, flung rocks at community members, and even whipped some women and children. From the perspective of the men writing to the prefect, all of this was done "with the fundamental and premeditated end of appropriating the lands of the community." Yet, as happened so often in rural Peru, these complaints and pleas brought no meaningful action from Peru's courts, government representatives, or politicians, who showed little interest in defending indigenous peasants. Llamojha thus grew up in a community where hacendados' abuses were angrily discussed and challenged, but to little avail.

As he matured and thought more and more about his future, dreaming about becoming president, he also considered a different path: the priesthood.

I didn't like working in the fields. Instead, I wanted to be something else when I grew up. My intention was to become a priest. From the time I was little, when I was around five years old, I wanted to be a priest. I liked that. My dad played the organ and he taught me to play, and also how to read Latin, to celebrate mass, to help the priests. I learned all of this. And so, when I was bigger, ten years old, I started to assist with mass. I was really little, but I helped them celebrate mass.

I wanted to become a priest, and so when my father died in 1936, I went to Lima with this intention.


Excerpted from Now Peru is Mine by Manuel Llamojha Mitma, Jaymie Patricia Heilman. Copyright © 2016 Duke University Press. Excerpted by permission of Duke University Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

A Note on Place  ix
Acknowledgments  xi
Introduction  1
1. "I'm Going to Be President of the Republic": The Formation of an Activist, 1921-1948  19
2. "I Made the Hacendados Tremble": Defending Jhajhamarka Campesinos, 1948-1952  41
3. "Jail Was Like My Home": Fighting for Concepción, 1952-1961  65
4. For Justice, Land, and Liberty: National and International Leadership, 1961-1968  99
5. "Everything Was Division": Political Marginalization, 1968-1980  131
6. A Wound That Won't Heal: Political Violence, Displacement, and Loss, 1980-2000  153
Afterword. "You Have to Stand Firm": The Elderly Activist, 200-2015  175
Notes  189
Bibliography  217
Index  229

What People are Saying About This

The Allure of Labor: Workers, Race, and the Making of the Peruvian State - Paulo Drinot

"Now Peru Is Mine makes a brilliantly original contribution to the study of twentieth-century Peru. Illuminating Manuel Llamojha Mitma's compelling and tragic life as well as his contribution to peasant politics, it provides insight into Peruvian politics, the politics of the Cold War, and the Sino-Soviet split as well. This is a wonderful book."

The Peru Reader - Orin Starn

"A winning character with strong storytelling skills and a lifelong commitment to social justice, Manuel Llamojha Mitma takes us into the labyrinth of twentieth-century Peruvian history. And Jaymie Patricia Heilman contextualizes Llamojha's compelling story with great insight. Now Peru Is Mine is an exemplary collaboration as wondrous and lovingly fashioned as the little painted wood dioramas, the retablos, for which Llamojha’s native Ayacucho region has so long been renowned."

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