In Peru in the eighties, violent death became a routine event as Sendero
Luminoso’s insurgency acquired greater proportions. During the early stages
of the war, however, other than experiencing frequent power outages, we
Limeños did not feel much a√ected. The death toll then was worst in the south-
central departments of the highlands, most prominently in Ayacucho. It was
during these early years of the war, in the early to mid-eighties, that I completed
my university education in Lima and became a historian. But it was not until I
moved to Ayacucho between 1986 and 1987 that the reality of the violence
began to have a major impact on my work—this book attests to what extent.
On my subsequent trips to the highlands of Huanta in the early to late
nineties I continued to nurture the dialogue between past and present that I
have sought deliberately to keep alive during the lengthy process of writing
this book. Present-day Huanta’s war-torn agrarian landscape has informed my
representation of Huanta’s nineteenth-century rural landscape. My conversa-
tions with villagers and communal authorities, and the simple observation of
the geography and facts of life in the punas, the highest ecological niche where
humans settle in the Andes, rendered meaningful often di≈cult and decontex-
tualized archival data.
Although the events this book deals with are not directly connected to Peru’s
recent wave of violence, my motivations were. Writing about a nineteenth-
century uprising in Ayacucho was probably my way of coming to terms with a
present which I did not feel prepared to deal with in more direct ways—or
could not otherwise grasp as rationally. To say it more optimistically (and
‘‘professionally’’), as a historian I felt driven to dig up the past in search of
answers to the present. Be that as it may, the feelings of fear and confusion that
prompted me to write about Ayacucho in the first place did not dissipate after I
had left the scene of the war to become established in purportedly safer places,
and for this reason bringing this book to completion felt at times beyond my
strength. Luckily, I have counted on the support of many people, and thus my
list of acknowledgments, though necessarily incomplete, is lengthy.
I should like to thank in the first place my friends and colleagues in Ayacucho,
Delia Martínez, Jaime Urrutia, Denise Pozzi-Escot, Alicia Echecopar, Juan
Granda, Enrique Gonzales Carré, and Teresa Carrasco, with whom I shared not
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