photo of person from Peru Cerro de Pasco
Peru glossary


(PERU 23)






farmer/retired mechanic


Huaynacancha (Old and New)





Section 1
We are in the community of Huaynacancha, about 10 km from La Oroya on the central highway which leads to Lima, the capital of Perú. We are in a poblado nuevo (new town) which was founded about 50 years after the community was abandoned at the end of 1922 and the beginning of 1923 because of the mass poisoning of animals and vegetation from La Oroya copper foundry

Where were you born?
I was born in the old Huaynacancha in May, on May 28, 1915.

Do you remember what the community was like before the foundry days?
I remember when I was small we used to harvest potatoes, corn, coca and barley ... I don't remember ... it was around 1919, 1920. We had the last harvest around then. That was the last harvest sir. It was all planted in the same furrow. We carried on planting but the harvest stopped with the smoke from the foundry, then we left with our animals, we left Huaynacancha.

It must have been a disaster for you, tell me which animals did you have in the old Huaynacancha?
Well, sheep, llamas, horses, that's what we raised.

Was that for the community?
Yes for community food.

Did you sell them too?
No just for our own consumption. The foundry has been harmful to us.

How has it harmed you?
With its smoke.

Before we go on to the foundry, how many people lived here in the community?
It would have had abut 50 comuneros (registered community members with rights and responsibilities), members.

50 members?
Yes and their wives and children.

Did you have a school, any basic infrastructure?
Yes, we had a school, a church, our council, our ... how would you say that, our council building, we had .. that's everything.
Section 2
You had your church and did you have a patron saint's feast?
Yes we did, it was the Virgin Mary.

When was that celebrated?
From a long time ago, it has always been on the 25th of December and it coincided with the birth of the baby Jesus. This custom is still kept today.

How was it done in the old days?
Just like it is today, it's a question of tradition, we hire a band and the priest from Oroya comes to say mass, then after mass we have a party.

Did you go to primary in the old Huaynacancha?
No, no, no. I did my first few years but when the fumes came we all dispersed, we had to leave, to flee because you couldn't live here any longer.

What do you remember about your childhood here in the community?
I went to work with my dad in Yauli, around Ticlio and Galera and that's where I grew up.

Was this before the fumes or after?
No with the fumes, if the fumes hadn't caused damage we wouldn't have left. The smoke turfed us out. The smoke fell like snow. This arsenic dust ruined the land, the rock, the hay and the animals. It was a complete disaster, no harvest and the animals dying off in droves. They didn't die one by one but in big groups.

How did they die, what kinds of diseases did they have?
They got ... it was like they were poisoned by the arsenic dust from the foundry. That's why we went off to different places, like nomads we were, we took our little animals to see where we could rent grazing land. I don't know, we went over to Juaja, Asmachicche and Tarma, we went to different places.

Did the fumes kill the cows and horses?
Everything, they killed off everything in old Huaynacancha. We had to leave everything and the pastures have ended up barren. There's nothing left, it's all barren.

So you said that because of this you left with your father to look for work elsewhere?
We went to Ticlio and Galera, I'd have been about 10 or 12 then, then I went to Honcho. We went to different places then.

What did your father do?
He worked in ENAFER PERU, in the railways.

How many years did he work there?
He worked there till he died.
Section 3
Is that where you did your primary?
I went to primary in Llocllapampa.

Did you have relations there?
No my dad worked there on the track.

On the track?
On the rail track.

Was there a station in Llocllapampa?
There was a hut where they worked and he put me into school there when I was a lad. When I was small I went to school in Huaynacancha but then the fumes came.

How long did you live in Llocllapampa?
I would have been about 10, my dad became a member, we worked there and helped the community, it was a way to get by.

Did they give you some land in the community?
No, no, they only put us up, it was just a house.

And he helped them?
Yes he did.

What did he do?
We used to help with the sowing and the harvest. When they opened up the road between Oroya and Juaja along the left bank of the river Mataro we worked on that roadway. They paid us and gave us coca (South American shrub whose leaves act as a stimulant or narcotic) and canchita (toasted beans or maize). I was about 14 or 15 then.

Where did you go to work after that?
Then I started work in Ticlio, where my father worked, I was a track-worker on the railway line.

How old were you when you began work there?
16, it was around 1931.

How long did you work there?
Until 1941. In 1941 I began work here in the ENAFER mechanic workshop in La Oroya. And I worked there until I retired.

What year was that?
In 1980, I've been retired for 15 years. But it's a real shame about my village the old Huaynacancha. But now they've put a filter on and it doesn't cause any harm.

Have you been back to your village?
Yes, we've been back a few times.
Section 4
How did you find it?
The grass is growing back where there's water.

Is it like it is here in the new Huaynacancha?
No, it's very sparse.

Is it is still no good?
Yes, it's still no good. That's how the years went by from 1970 .. 1968, that's when we began with the agrarian reform, when Velasco Alvarado enacted the agrarian reform and they expropriated the Cerro de Pasco company. It was all an estate then, the Huaymanta South, North, Mesarumi, the Curipata estate, it all belonged to Cerro de Pasco, the gringo (westerner, foreigner, in this context North Americans who owned/ran the mines) company, it all belonged to them. When Velasco Alvarado took it back for the state it had no owner or shepherds for five years. So we put in a claim for this land for our village, we hoped that we could get by with a little business because of the main road. The way I'm doing now.

So you set up this village so you wouldn't have to live from agriculture?
Well, we've planted barley and I'm having that harvested now. It's not much good, it's only for big animals but the little ones won't eat it.

Do the small animals die?
Yes they die.

According to what you've told me you split up, the community dispersed like the fumes.
Yes, we split up, like nomads we wandered from place to place.

Didn't you get any compensation from the Cerro de Pasco Corporation?
The compensation that we got was tiny in comparison with what our leaders had requested. We must have got about 30 Soles to give to each member who had lost his harvest, everything, nearly his whole life. Do you think 30 Soles is worth that? There were 50 of them and they had to give to each one, so it wasn't enough for a whole year and we had to go off in search of work and a way to educate our children. This is what happened to us.

And haven't you had any more compensation?
They took it away from us. Well, we asked for money when General Odria was president, we asked for the compensation to be paid in advance so we could buy some land. We looked for land round Tarma, near Tarmatambo, further on into the district of Huarycollca. That area belongs to the Hualquín Grande estate.

So you bought the Hualquín Grande estate, in Huarycollca district, in the province of Tarma.

What happened to that land?
We still have it but we've come back because it's so far away and we haven't had much luck there either.
Section 5
When did you buy that land?
I don't remember the date, it was around 1954. There's a date they call "The resolution of the 6th of October, 1954". We bought it because we had borrowed money from the Cerro de Pasco company to buy the land, we wanted them to give us twenty years compensation in advance. The Cerro de Pasco company didn't accept this proposal, they were quick off the mark and put the money into the Caja de Depósito y Consignaciones (Deposit and Remittance Bank) and they kept the money for years. Once we got it we bought Hualquín.

Do you know how much it was?
I think it was 100,000 soles (Peruvian currency), but I don't remember it very well.

Just to check this up. You got a lump compensation payment for the effect of the fumes. That was at the end of the 1940s and the beginning of the 1950s. You asked for an advance payment for 20 years of compensation, but the Cerro had already deposited a sum in the Caja de Depósito y Consignaciones. You talked about the compensation which was decided by a special commission for all the affected communities set up in the 1940s, but you didn't agree with this. So you didn't agree with this settlement.
Yes, well, it was definitely against our interests, how could we agree to this, but ...

Since you had no alternative you took it to buy this land?
Yes, and when the public titles were drawn up we were listed as children and not as community members. We children did what we could, we also put in some money, some gave 50 soles, 20 soles or 5 soles depending on our possibilities. And they gave us parcels of land accordingly. We're in a mess on account of this because the ones who live over there want to be the owners and they don't recognise our claim. But we have a public title which we want to effect. Either we give it to the ministry of agriculture or they buy it from us because we don't want to lose our money.

It's you own investment?
it's an investment and there are public title deeds, so it's not fair to let them take it without paying in. They're happy because it's like manna from heaven ...

I'm sorry, I don't understand this very well, who are they?
They're the children of the farm-workers from the estate which was owned by a certain Belom. It borders with the Tinco estate on the east and the Huallachanchan estate on the west. About 60% of it s for animals because of the pastures and the spring-water and it's about 3,700m above sea level. It's a sheep farm.

You were talking about new Huaynacancha?
No, Hualquín, it's another story.
Section 6
Tell me why you didn't go there where you had the land?
Because it was very far away, we bought that land because we didn't know what would happen but it was very far off and we didn't go in the end, even though we put money in to pay, to buy it.

Did you work to be able to pay your individual quota?
Yes, I worked in ENAFER in the main Railway, it used to be the Peruvian Corporation. At that time we did all the paperwork and got the public title deed for Hualquín Grande.

And did you pay people to look after the estate?
No, a few of the farmhands were still there. How could we throw them out if they were workers like us, I don't know, so we came to an agreement with them. They looked after the land for us but now they're the ones who want to take it from us.
Sometimes it's not a good idea to be good-hearted.

You're saying that the new Huaynacancha areas was just to live but they didn't allocate you land for grazing?
Yes, you know this is the piece they gave me.

But land for cattle?
The cattle are included in law 17716, they have to be for everyone and cannot be individually owned.

So it's communal land?
Yes, it's communal land.

Could you keep your sheep there?
Yes, we can keep the sheep we own there. It's all in the Ministry of Agriculture's laws and the statutes approved by the government. But they've given us plots of land for housing. I've got a piece for my house, but it all means sacrifice. They've only given us land for one thing and we've made contributions for others, millions, so we can have something to live off of.

Do you keep cattle on the communal lands?
Yes, the community has a little farm.

Is it a communal farm?

Which animals do they raise?

About how many head of sheep?
Only a hundred and fifty because the grazing can't take any more. As you can see the hills are all red, there are a few streams and springs, a little bit of grass and that's where they eat. That's why we say that with a leader we've lost ground, we're almost in the same situation as old Huaynacancha. The environment and the rivers have been ruined. You can't drink the water from the Yauli river, it's full of mineral pollution. Up there the water is full of lime, it's really heavy and no good for food, you have to boil it for ten minutes to get rid of the lime.
Section 7
Your drinking water is lime-water?
Yes, but we recently got drinking water through the government, we've got water from Lake Tingocancha, there's a reservoir up there. It's dry at the moment because there hasn't been enough water.

Is there a water shortage?
Yes there is.

This lime-water and the Yuali river?
It's no good. Talking about compensation from Centromín, they don't want to take responsibility for anything because they say the Cerro de Pasco Corporation bought the estate from us and so the problem has been solved. It's a trick argument, a lawyers' argument. If the company had really given us what they were supposed to give us things would have been different. Moreover, it's a lie that Centromín doesn't harm us any more, they're still polluting and they still affect us. Of course they can abuse us because they have power and because we're not as well versed in legal issues as they are, sometimes we fall into their lawyers' traps and with all that documentation. All the members had a few head of cattle here at the foot of the hill and we used to take 20 to 30 animals up to graze.

Tell me, what kind of an impact did it have on you, losing your lands, having to move to other places, think about setting up a new community perhaps with the same name but a different place?
It was quite a painful experience, I remember it being quite hard. We didn't know what would happen to us. Our community, our land, this land had been ours since our ancestors time and it's not so easy just changing this for another place and little money. That's why we objected. Even after all this time we're still raising objections to the situation, still trying to recover some of what we lost even if it's in terms of value (?courage?). Their solution wasn't good, not for us at any rate... Another effect was that the families broke up and never came back together as members of the community, not together in the way we knew.

What happened in your case?
We went with my father because as I told you he had to go to different villages with his job in the railways. That's how we went to Llollapampa and I ended up marrying a member of that community.

What year did you get married?
In 1941. She died in 1964. I've got another compañera (companion/comrade) now to keep me company. I got married again but I don't have any children with her, I do have children from my first wife. Five boys, there were six of them but one died.

Where are they now?
One's in ENAFER he works in the train company.
Section 8
And the others?
They're all in Lima.

They went to Lima, there were no opportunities for them here?
No there was nothing for them here. They went to study and they stayed on. One got what he dreamed of, he's a journalist, the others failed, they didn't manage to finish their studies. They got married, found work to earn money and stayed there. They've made their lives there in Lima and haven't wanted to come back.

And your daughter?
The eldest got married and she lives in La Oroya. She worked for the Ministry of Agriculture. She was in the agrarian law section in that institution. So my daughter goes to Huancayo and other places representing this organisation, the Agrarian League.

And what do you think of the fact that your children weren't able to stay here?
What can I say. That's the way life is, in the end they have to make their own lives and try to get ahead. One thing's for sure, there's not much future round here. You can only be a miner round here because you can't live from being a community member, working the land, the farm. The people who work the farm do it as an extra, they have to work in the mine or as a trader or in transport too. You can't live from farming any more the way our grandparents did before the foundry and the concentrator. So as I was saying the young people have to go to Lima or Huancayo or other cities to set up their lives, that's where there's more work. That's what happens. We, the old folk, have fought all our lives to improve things in this community, when we were leaders we fought with the company but we didn't get very far as I was saying to you.

Have you been a leader of the community?

Which posts have you held?
I've been president, then vice-president and the last time I was treasurer. I don't hold any position now.

Did you do that after you retired or before?
No, no, no, they give you this post to be a leader.

And has the organisation in the community changed, or is it just the same?
It's basically the same though they have created some new posts. They've created more committee members and the sports secretary, some new things, but the basic structures are the same.

And were you a community leader when you worked for the Peruvian Corporation?
No, when I retired, but I was working when I was vice-president of the community's administrative council, that was around the time when we took over the lands you see now.
Section 9
In the 1970s?
Yes in the 1970s, when the gringo's firm was nationalised.

Have you been living here since then?
No, no when I was appointed treasurer I had only just arrived because the authorities have to be where they are needed, in the community.

Where did you live before you were treasurer?
I was living in Oroya Antigua in the San Luis neighbourhood, in Plaza Libertad. Just a little up from there.

And I imagine the company gave you a house?
Yes, they gave me a house in the settlement called Horacio Zevallos, number 206. I lived there but when I retired I went to live in my house in Oroya Antigua, in the July, I had it built because I knew that I'd have to leave the company some day and where would I go with my children and my wife and everything.

And in your community when they appointed you treasurer?
I came to live here, on this land, my village needed me and it's in our statutes. I was vice-president. The last one was in 1980, 1982 around then, I was the treasurer then.

And did you hold any other post after that?
No. I was old by then and my mind didn't work so well. Life had been hard for me and I need time now so I don't work the way I did when I was young. There are other younger folk who can work for the community.

Listening to you I think despite the fact that you set up a new community you still really belong to the village that was destroyed and uprooted from the land, and that never managed to reunite, is that right?
We've been like wandering jews; we've been in different places. That's what it's been like. When we got the new land we couldn't join together the way we used to. We've kept the land for security, for our old age. We came to participate, to work a little but we also had to live in other places. As I told you I lived in Oroya Antigua like many others. But I've always come here to keep us together, even if it was only a little.

In the end, has the land you won back served as kind of reference point, a meeting point for the old community?
Yes it has. We've kept up some of our customs.

That's interesting, talking about customs, have your father or your grandparents told you anything about marriage customs in old Huaynacancha?
No, no, I can't say anything about that.

How do they get married here?
They do it with the mayor and the municipal council. They have the civil wedding here and the religious one in La Oroya or anywhere else.

And they don't get married here, they go to La Oroya?
They do get married here sometimes, but they get married in La Oroya, and some do it with a band.
Section 10
With a band?

How do they do it?
They only do what they call ..., the guests come and throw back a few drinks, then they dance all night. they give them presents. So they give them some drinks. Now about the churches, the 16th of June is the anniversary of the founding of this village, the 16th of June is the new village's feast.

How old will it be?

Will there be a party?

How will it be celebrated?
There'll be a solemn part, with a mass and then a party with a band, it depends on the Master of Ceremonies. There will be school processions and the José Gálvez ones come too. The military also comes to the procession. Then there are other activities, games, they give out prizes. That's what we are used to doing here.

What kind of games?
Football and races.

Horse racing?
No, people. The boys run, the there's football. They do all these things.

And the patron saint's feast you were telling me about in old Huaynacancha is it the same in the new Huaynacancha. How is that done?
It's not much now, that's being lost.

It's not celebrated any more?
Not any more.

What has it been replaced by?
It's been replaced by the 16th of June.

So the 16th of June is the main event now?
Yes, it's when the village was founded. there's no patron saint's feast any more. They've got a statue of the Virgin Mary and they say mass, but that's all. It's not the same community these days. Most of the community members are lifeless, it's mostly outsiders here. The old ones no longer exist.

Has the custom been lost because the community broke up?
Yes it has. We did celebrate it when we were on our own land but we don't now, it's been lost.
Section 11
So even though you still have land many of the customs have been lost, or have they been changing?
That's what has happened and the old folk have been dying, some die in other places and a tradition is being lost.

How many of the old community members are here now?
Maybe 20 of them. One by one the people who created the new community have been dying. There must be only eight of us the rest are outsiders.

So twenty people founded the new community?
No more than that, the rest are outsiders and they have other customs.

There's definitely no patron saint's feast?
Well we say it's the 16th of June, and we include the Virgin Mary there. It's just one expense. The economic situation is very hard.

What do most people do now?
Most of them work in transport, and those of us who are retired live from our animals and our pension which is 200 Soles a month, that's not enough for me. We're pressuring the government to give us a rise but it doesn't look as though the government is interested in old age pensioners and poor folk. Ours is a sad life, so sometimes we drink a bit to forget. We drink our cañita, shots of rum, from Vichaycoto de Huánuco. There are two kind of rum, first and second class.

What's first class rum like?
It's a little stronger and the second one is lighter.

Is it blended?
No, it's got less sugar-cane rum. It must have. You'd have to be a chemist to understand the composition. The people from Vichaycoto say what's first and what's second class. I don't know the difference because I don't usually drink much, sometimes I have a little beer, that's all. I drink less rum, it's very strong. I'm 80 years old and still firm on my feet, I'm against this vice.

When the fumes came to old Huaynacancha did any people die too?
They affected us too but since we already felt bad from the smoke we had to leave. You can't stay in the house, you have to go other places. We went to Yauli, to Tarma, Huaricollca, other people went to Juaja and Huancayo. We went to all these places, as the say "every cat to his own claw" (each to his own?), we have had to be nomads. Some will have died off, what can you do, many are no longer alive, others died in Tarma or in Harquín.

Do you know what happened to you own family?
My uncle died in Huancayo, he was also in Halquín for a while, about fifteen years.
Section 12
Any other relations?
My uncle died in Huancayo and I've no more family, my dad died in 1944, before they found the land.

What did you father die of?
Bronchitis. He worked in the Cerro de Pasco company. He died one 6th of June of bronchitis, the doctor in Oroya Antigua didn't understand this. He worked in the foundry.

How long did he work?
From 1938 to 1944. He died when he was working.

Have you lived in La Oroya too?
Yes I lived there and I've got a little house there.

And about the fumes, how did the affect the people of La Oroya?
It was very dense and made your eyes sore. They really affected us horribly, that's why when we bought this land we could see it didn't affect us much. But now the smoke's coming here but it's not as bad as it was in Oroya Antigua and in La Oroya. Most people say that now there's tuberculosis as a result of the fumes.

It's from the environment. The fumes ruin the grazing land which is why they pay Paccha and Saco. The river Yauli is polluted, and all this causes disease.

Are there any other diseases, skin diseases for example?
No there aren't any as far as I know, but the animals are diseased.

Where does it affect them?
In the face, the legs, we have to put paraffin, white spirit, on them.

Is that a remedy?
Yes it is.

And it cures them?
It cures them. This is why the new Huaynacancha doesn't make progress. All the construction materials are dear, so is labour and we've no money to pay for them. Recently we had a little help from the government to put in water and a sewage system.

Going back a little over your life when the fumes came to Huaynacancha and you father took you to Ticlio. Then you went to Llocllapampa and you lived there for a while and you went to primary school. Then you left to work on the Oroya-Jauja highway. And from the road-building job you went to La Oroya?
Then I came back here to Yauli.

To Yauli.
I worked in the railway station in Yauli, maybe one or two months. Then I went back to Oroya to work. I worked on the trains, they knew me there and they always gave me a job. Then I became a mechanic and I stayed with that until I retired. Before that I worked with the trains, cleaning the tracks.
Section 13
Was it repair work?
Thanks to my uncle who was working in the mechanic workshop, he told me he would take me in because they needed staff. That's how I got into the mechanics workshop in ENAFER PERU. My uncle's dead now, he put in a good word for me, and I worked there till I retired.

And from there with the compensation from Cerro de Pasco, that they had put in the Caja de Depósitos, and with the extra you put in you bought the Halquín Grande land. Is that right?

And then with the Agrarian reform in 1970 you asked for a ruling on the Huaynacancha land or was that a government measure?
No, no, it was us. We asked for it because our land had been ruined. We asked for it because the land had lain there for five years, since there was no other claimant we put ourselves forward for the land.

And did the government grant you it?
Yes they gave us it. It was a public title in the agrarian reform. Moreover, it wasn't just handed over, we paid for it.

You paid for it?
Yes we paid for it.

How much did the rights cost you?
We must have paid two thousand, two thousand eight hundred or three thousand Soles. I don't remember exactly.

You didn't get the lands for free?
No. The assignment of the lands meant we had partly paid for them.

The customs from old Huaynacancha have been lost because of the dispersion of the community or because the original community people died.
Yes that's it. But what can we do, we can only move forward. It's always been like this. We've always had this approach of trying to carry on, and if we didn't we'd be dying of hunger, we wouldn't exist any more. Thankfully that hasn't happened, we've been able to live, poor but with dignity, that's how you find us now. Thankfully I've been able to reach old age and I think I've done my bit.

Many thanks Don Andrés, many thanks for having given us your time and your testimony which has been very interesting. You have brought to light something which we never thought would be so dramatic, the situation of villages which have had to move away but they have resisted disappearance. Many thanks.