I Found Celts in Peru (…sort of)

I found Celts in Peru.

My friend and I sitting on the front of a boat on the Las Piedras river.
My friend (on the left) is British, and so are some of the people waiting for us to arrive.

I don’t mean to say that I saw them strolling through the streets of Cusco, climbing stairs at Machu Picchu, or hiking through the rainforest (although some of their European/British descendants certainly were).

But they were there.

In January 2016 I had the honor to be part of a class of students going to the Las Piedras Amazon Center (LPAC). LPAC is this beautiful, newly-begun base on a large plot of land bought by the Alliance for Research and Conservation in the Amazon (ARCAmazon). The class was a test run of what it would be like to bring classes to the site. We were to help them make improvements and give them a lot of things to think about in terms of ecotourism and community.

We were split into different teams for our trip. My team was to think about the communities we would inhabit and move through: aspects of everyday life, problems, solutions, work, education, how people worked together, how conservation fits into it, and so on and so on.

And, much to the chagrin/fascination of my classmates, while trying to understand what I was experiencing there, I kept talking about Celts, be it ancient Celts or their child cultures: Welsh, Scottish, and Irish.

Mostly Scottish.

I knew there was something about the communities there that reminded me of the things I’d been learning in my free time. During the following spring, while I was learning more about medieval Wales while writing my capstone paper on The Four Branches of the Mabinogi, the feeling kept nagging me.

I thought it was because of my fascination with Celtic cultures. Spending almost two weeks in the rainforest and almost a month in a community whose language I don’t speak really challenged and changed me, and it’s no surprise I would think about the things I love. I am, after all, going for my master’s degree in Celtic Studies and there is, after all, plenty of time in the rainforest to get caught up in your thoughts.

However, I didn’t truly understand my reasons until I read Warriors of the Word: The World of the Scottish Highlanders by Michael Newton.

It was because of how the communities worked together and their underlying beliefs about what a community is.

In Quechuan, the language of the Incan people still spoken by some today, it’s ayni: “I will help you now because I know you will help me later.”

In a Gaelic proverb, it’s “Beathaich thusa misa an-diugh agus beathaichidh misa a-màireach”: “Feed me today and I’ll feed you tomorrow” (Newton 157).

There was so much cacao sharing when one of the farmers showed us his land, and it was amazing. Who would've known cacao fruit tastes better than chocolate?
There was so much cacao sharing when one of the farmers showed us his land, and it was amazing. Who would’ve known cacao fruit tastes better than chocolate?

It’s a group of people working together to build a town in the middle of the rainforest just so their children can have better lives. It’s a family sharing its bananas and sugarcane with complete strangers.

It’s faoighe (thigging), in which people can seek aid from their neighbors with no stigma attached (Newton 156). It’s “Bheirinn cuid-oidhche dha ged a bhiodh ceann fir fo ‘achlais”: “I would give him food and lodging for the night even if he had a man’s head under his arm” (Newton 154).

It’s stories told in a small shop and breaks for dancing with people you understand only through smiles, laughter, and body movement.

It’s a ceilidh, a gathering to tell stories and dance and celebrate living.

I’m not trying to make an argument about these types of communities not existing anymore. In fact, I’m mostly trying to make an argument about how similar wildly different communities can be and the basic human need to work together.

Scottish Highlanders and modern Peruvians are thousands of miles and hundreds of years apart from each other, yet they share some basic ideas. In fact, I’m sure you can recognize some of these same things in your own life.

Helping a friend move, paint their house, or prepare for a picnic, knowing they will help you if you need it. Church communities with members that will let people stay with them or cook meals for a family in need that ask only for the kindness to be paid forward.

It’s saying, “It’s okay to ask for help” and borrowing sugar when you’re low.

It’s proms, barbecues, night clubs, Halloween parties, Christmas dinners, and block parties.

It’s not exactly the same, and the rules aren’t always clear, and it can be more complicated now.

Sometimes one of these ideas disappears from an area or a person for a while, and it might take some time and effort to get it back.

But these things can be found in cultures all over the world. That is part of the beauty of them, and that is part of what makes humans beautiful.

And I’m glad there’s a reason that Peru reminded me of men in kilts.

Your Bonnie Celtophile,

Dani

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