Issue - April 2010

April 2010


In this edition, Emma Pedersen puts down on paper her interview with the artist Alejandra Dorado; Husein Meghji gives an insight to his meeting with the past at the Museo Arqueológico; Ed young tells us about the history of aviation in Cochabamba; Paola Garcia Ovando invites us to visit the exhibition of the last two centuries Bolivian sculptors at the Cultural Center Simón I. Patiño ; and ultimately Walter Sánchez lets us know about the traditions and history revolving trees in more...

April 2010

Bridging The Gap Between Past and Present

The Museo Arqueológico’s programa interactivo presents itself as a “Bridge of Communication between Cultures”. Husein Meghji discovers that the world that awaits on the other side is as inspiring and fascinating as it is unfamiliar

Husein Meghji
Projects Abroad
London - United Kingdom

The drab exterior of the Museo Arqueológico – housed in an old bank - betrays nothing of the dynamic, multi-faceted educational programme that it operates within. Yet primary and secondary schools and kindergartens in and outside of Cochabamba flock to its doors to take part in the so-called programa interactivo, whose aim is to allow young people to discover the history and culture of the past of their country; treasures more valuable that the monetary wealth once guarded under lock and key in the safe which can still be found down a back corridor of the building.

I speak to the director of the programmes, René, who explains that each group’s visit to the museum always consists of two parts: a tour and a workshop. He tells me he’s expecting a group from the San Antonio de Pagua school for a tour at 8.30 the next morning. I agree to return then to witness his work firsthand.

Tour of the Main Museum

Its opening time the next day, and thirtyfive bustling adolescents have taken over the corner of the street where the museum is located, forcing passers-by into the road. As the doors open, each hands over 2 bolivianos to their teacher - this goes straight to the university, I am told – before filing into the building. The street corner gratefully regains its early-morning tranquillity.

The Museo Arqueológico is divided into three sections: palaeontology, anthropology, and ethnology. René’s tour takes us through each of these sections, and millions of years of history.

The link between past and pesent is nowhere more evident than in South America

His impassioned and informed account is always complemented by the impressive artefacts of the museum. They catalogue all aspects of indigenous life, from religion and marriage customs, to the use of hallucinogenic drugs. Ranging from trilobite fossils to weapons to pottery, they serve as colourful illustrations to his explanations, whether he is describing the continent’s earliest life forms, or the way Indian tribes hunted, cooked or dressed.

Despite his wide scope, René is always easy to follow. He presents history as a series of developments leading to the here-and-now, helping us to understand how outlandish cultures transformed into those of our time. He always impresses upon us the links between past and present, nowhere more evident than in South America, where, to this day, 29 indigenous groups still exist.

Throughout, the students’ attention rarely drifts. There is plenty in René’s weird and wonderful accounts and anecdotes to interest, shock and amuse them. Under the spell of his storytelling, they are oblivious as I take photographs to document the scene, the like of which are a rarity in the trans-continental history of school trips. They even enthusiastically jot down the names of local historical sites that René suggests they visit, by way of a conclusion to his tour. Carried away, I follow suit, just about managing to scribble ‘Inca Raya’ and ‘Incallajta’ in my notebook with the last ounce of energy remaining in my writing hand. My brain, saturated with facts, is in a similarly exhausted state. I try to disguise this fact when René invites me to return the very same afternoon to view the Interactive Museum, assuring him enthusiastically that I would be there.

Workshop in the Interactive Museum

A colourful sign reading Museo Interactivo de Ninos marks the entrance to the room where the second stage of the programme – a hands-on workshop – takes place. Inside, it is dominated by six square pits, each about a metre deep. A widescreen TV and a map of Bolivia at each end of the room comprise the rest of the modest equipment.

can either visit the Museo Interactivo for part two of the programme on the same day as their tour or at a later date. Having been introduced in part one to the entire collection of the museum, the teacher must specify a narrower theme for the workshop. Amongst the choices are archaeology and pre-Colombian farming, popular with younger groups, and economics and ethnography, more popular with young adults.

I ask about the mysterious pits and discover they are used in the archaeology workshop. They are in fact filled with sand, under which numerous replica artefacts have been buried. The kids are put into groups and play at being archaeologists, digging up the objects and attempting to identify them using worksheets and the knowledge acquired during their tour. Finally, they present their finds to the class. The excitement generated by the activity can border on riotous, I am told; children tend to voice their differences of opinion at full volume. René makes no attempt to restrain exuberance, however. His liberal approach extends to the handling of original artefacts, believing that touch aids learning. For example, he allows the children to feel for themselves the sharpness of genuine stone-age spearheads, in order that they understand how shards of stone can be used in hunting. The workshop concludes with a film, which helps the children to visualise difficult concepts, such as the formation of fossils. In these ways, René’s workshops attempt to incorporate the visual and tactile, in order to better inscribe their history in the minds of the children.

My visits to the Museo Arquelógico have given me a greater awareness of the indigenous culture whose influence in Cochabamba is plain to see. The dress of campesina women, the wares they flog on the street, the ingredients used in popular street foods; all these are imbedded in history. These days, this heritage co-exists with city life in Cochabamba, with its roaring traffic and abundant internet cafés. For city-dwelling Cochabambinos, particularly the Facebook-using, cellular-obsessed youth, I imagine that life in the surrounding countryside appears to belong to another age altogether. Indeed, such is the distance between the cultures in question that any ‘bridge of communication’ between them needs to be wide-spanning and well-designed; I have had the pleasure of discovering that the programa interactivo is both.

Aviation in Cochabamba

It is impossible to overstate the importance of aviation in the economic development of mountainous, land-locked Bolivia.One need only look at the fact that, before the pioneering airline Panagra created routes from South and Central America to North America in the 1930s, it took a truck about eighteen hours to transport goods from La Paz, Bolivia to Cuzco, Peru. The first flight between these two cities took roughly eighty minutes. There was no need to sell government and business leaders on the importance of such a breakthrough in transport efficiency, indeed, the clamor for flight facilities worldwide began not long after the Wright Brothers’ first ascent.

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