Growing Up in a Culture of Respect: Child Rearing in Highland Peru

Growing Up in a Culture of Respect: Child Rearing in Highland Peru

Growing Up in a Culture of Respect: Child Rearing in Highland Peru

Growing Up in a Culture of Respect: Child Rearing in Highland Peru


"This is a wonderful book, a brilliant book, one that explains Andean culture in a totally unique and fascinating way.... Professor Bolin's truly wonderful powers of observation and her sensitivity and receptiveness to Chillihuani culture combine to provide us with a rare opportunity to see and begin to understand a beautiful people whose culture could not be more different from that of the so-called western world." - Thomas M. Davies, Jr., Professor Emeritus of Latin American History, San Diego State University

"Societal changes have consequences, and how a people choose to raise their children reveals much about their values and spirit of place. Andean children, (though living with material scarcity), are fully entwined in a network of reciprocal obligations, thereby discovering the meaning of being human. It is this culture of respect that Inge Bolin reveals in this splendid and original book." - Wade Davis, Explorer-in-Residence, National Geographic Society, author of One River and The Serpent and the Rainbow Far

from the mainstream of society, the pastoral community of Chillihuani in the high Peruvian Andes rears children who are well-adjusted, creative, and curious. They exhibit superior social and cognitive skills and maintain an attitude of respect for all life as they progress smoothly from childhood to adulthood without a troubled adolescence. What makes such child-rearing success even more remarkable is that "childhood" is not recognized as a distinct phase of life. Instead, children assume adult rights and responsibilities at an early age in order to help the community survive in a rugged natural environment and utter material poverty. This beautifully written ethnography provides the first full account of child-rearing practices in the high Peruvian Andes. Inge Bolin traces children's lives from birth to adulthood and finds truly amazing strategies of child rearing, as well as impressive ways of living that allow teenagers to enjoy the adolescent stage of their lives while contributing significantly to the welfare of their families and the community. Throughout her discussion, Bolin demonstrates that traditional practices of respect, whose roots reach back to pre-Columbian times, are what enable the children of the high Andes to mature into dignified, resilient, and caring adults.


The puzzled tone in the voice of Aníbal Durán, school principal in Cusipata, rings in my ears as I remember him explaining that the children of the Chillihuani herders, who descend to the valley to continue their schooling, are always at the top of the class. “They are curious, self-confident, and always respectful,” he adds. The other teachers agree. Yet for outsiders this is hard to believe. The families of these children are llama and alpaca herders who live in small adobe huts without electricity or running water. Their isolated village has neither streets nor stores, newspapers nor mail service, and only a few families own a book. Far from the mainstream of society, the Chillihuani herders feel more at home among the high peaks of their snow-covered mountains than among the population in the valley.

“It's a puzzle,” the principal and teachers repeated throughout 1984–1985, when I studied the organization of irrigation among agriculturists along the hillsides of the Vilcanota Valley. Herding children made news in specific areas of study and in other activities as well. Since mathematics is the favorite topic of virtually all children in Chillihuani, it was not surprising that a fifth grader from the small school of 164 children took second place in a provincial math competition that included several larger towns. When Alicia, the third daughter of the healer Juan Mamani and his wife Luisa, lived in Cuzco with a comadre (godmother, Sp.), she held second place in her grade after only one year in the city. The children of Chillihuani won all the dancing contests in the district of Cusipata for three consecutive years. These and other achievements are unexpected, as competition is not encouraged in this egalitarian society high in the Peruvian Andes.

Yet despite the achievements of the members of this society, their superb organizational skills, respectful behavior, and the successful upbringing of their children, these high-altitude pastoralists have been subjected to a negative stereotype. Outsiders tend to judge them on the basis of their simple living conditions and adherence to tradition. The herders live in small adobe huts, wear homespun clothes, speak Quechua, the language of their Inca ancestors, and chew coca leaves. (Coca leaves, which have been sacred to the Incas, are still used in rituals and social interactions and release important nutritious elements when chewed.)

When I first met the herders who had descended to the valley to exchange . . .

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