Negotiating Landscapes, Survival, and Modernity: Goats, Migration, and Gender in the Arid Lands of Northern Peru



This paper explores the role of gender, cultural change, and market dynamics affecting the resilience of adaptive livelihoods in arid landscapes in Northern Peru for families who lack access to irrigation and rely on goat herding in a context of cyclical droughts. Based on interviews conducted in the community of Salas in 1982, 1983, and 2007, the analysis shows that better access to formal education and/or migratory experience can facilitate cultural change that supports economic diversification and larger herds. However, market dynamics keeps “traditional” ways instrumental to reduce costs of goat herding and livelihoods, therefore it reinforces the persistence of “traditional” cultural elements in daily life. The article shows the structural limits of adaptation for established families and how access to high school for younger generations of men and women seem to accelerate their emigration as they cannot find stable employment in Salas.

Understanding the adaptation of poor populations to fragile or hostile environments and how it is influenced by market dynamics and cultural change can be useful in designing antipoverty interventions that aim to avoid further environmental degradation. This article looks at the adaptive strategies of goat herders who are members of an indigenous community (“comuneros”) in the northern Peruvian coast and explores the role played by traditional and modern knowledge and practices and how they are affected by market dynamics.

Field research conducted in 1982 and 1983 (Espinosa and Rojas 1985), and again in 2007 (Espinosa 2007) included 40 structured interviews conducted in the lowlands and 30 unstructured interviews in the towns of Salas, Jayanca, and Chiclayo. The initial focus was on the adaptation to dry landscapes. This broadened as gender, cultural change, and markets became crucial for explaining the resilience of some families and their ability to diversify their livelihoods and keep larger herds. Families studied belong to the Indigenous Community of Salas in the region of Lambayeque. The study focused on the lowlands that encompass 72% of comuneros and 67% of forests and pastures. With no access to irrigated land, families rely mainly on goat herding, wage labor, occasional sale of firewood and charcoal, and on activities related to witchcraft.

Research Questions and Theoretical Framework

The “new” environmental anthropology of the 1990s treats physical landscapes as socially constructed by historical processes that shape and redefine them (Haen and Wilk 2006). Political economy, with its focus on patterns of resource distribution, power, conflict and local/global links, and the feminist political ecology (Rocheleau et al. 1996), have shown the segmented nature of human interactions with the environment in terms of class, gender, race, and ethnicity. These approaches frame the process of adaptation within historical processes that shape the hierarchies, power structures, and discourses that construct and differentiate the relations people establish with nature. These approaches are important for addressing the structural limits of adaptive livelihoods and to remember the important impact of policies and market dynamics in shaping conditions that reproduce poverty and vulnerability at the local level.

These approaches help to connect the adaptive livelihoods of families in Salas to broader hierarchies that differentiate access to natural and economic resources. As members of an indigenous community, families have experienced a process of dispossession and subordination. Usurpation of communal territories and resources, creation of new political-administrative units, and expansion of markets have transformed Indians from self-sufficient producers to dependent wage laborers. In response, Indians employed different strategies for physical and cultural survival, combining market-oriented with subsistence activities, compressing consumption, and diversifying the use of family labor. In Latin American countries like Peru, being indigenous is a stigma that hinders socioeconomic mobility, while assimilation and “mestizaje” are the only paths toward citizenship and better livelihoods (Jelin and Hershberg 1996; Martinez-Echazabal 1998). To be identified as nonindigenous might be instrumental to survival and well-being. This calls for careful consideration of who defines what is to be indigenous and the complex process of negotiating indigenous identities (Martinez Novo 2006; Varesse 1996). This article explores the extent to which “traditional” or “modern” knowledge and practices are instrumental for adaptive strategies and how they relate to market dynamics and cultural change in a context of fluid ethnic identities.

Gender is an important dimension of cultural change and ethnic identities, since indigenous gender ideologies were quite different from patriarchal gender ideologies introduced by Spanish colonizers. Indigenous gender ideologies were connected to a spiritual view of the natural and social worlds that was organized following principles of sexual differentiation, reciprocity, interdependence, and complementarity (Rostorowski 1988; Silverplatt 1990).1 Gender also plays an important role enhancing the resiliency of adaptive livelihoods. Within this conceptual framework, I aim to connect the processes of adaptation and survival, cultural change and market dynamics to understand the limits of resilience and sustainability. I explore the extent to which cultural change is instrumental in enhancing adaptation and resilience. The notion of cultural change is used here to broadly refer to enhanced access to formal education, urban experience, and Mestizo-Western culture that might displace or redefine “traditional” values, knowledge, and practices.2

The Regional Milieu

Lambayeque experienced one of the earliest agricultural capitalist developments in Peru, based on large estates of mono crops like sugar cane, rice, and cotton that constituted the bulk of Peruvian agro-exports until the 1960s. These estates monopolized most water and land resources taken from indigenous communities in the Valleys of Chancay and La Leche, attracting migrant labor from adjacent Cajamarca and Amazonas regions, and from arid lands like Salas and Olmos. The Tinajones project altered regional watersheds to secure water for commercial crops and for the city of Chiclayo, increasing the vulnerability of nonirrigated lands to drought cycles. Chiclayo became the trade node for the Northwestern Peruvian region, receiving large flows of immigrants and hosting a dynamic informal economy (Matos Mar et al. 1980). By 1981, 77% of Lambayeque's population was urban and 97% was located along the coast (Forsberg and Francke 1987).

Large and medium estates were expropriated and converted into cooperatives by the Land Reform of the 1970s and, after severe crisis, privatized. New agro-exports like asparagus and paprika emerged and others like mango, lime, and passion fruit expanded in the context of neoliberal policies implemented after 1980.3 New agro-export farms and processing plants increased demand for wage labor in areas where lack of access to irrigation prevents comuneros from cropping to make a living.

The Community of Salas

The community of San Francisco de Asís-Salas and Penachi is located 78 kilometers northeast of the city of Chiclayo. The chiefdom of Penachi had been part of the mitimae of the Cañaris4 before the arrival of the Spanish conquistadores and in the 18th century was formally recognized by the Spanish Crown as an Indigenous common (común de indios) or community. Its Quichua origin makes Salas a unique community in the Northern Coast, where indigenous communities were created based on coastal ethnic groups like Mochica, Tallan, Sechura, or Olmos (Torero 1987).

The community of Salas has a territory of 64,510 hectares: 55% are hills covered by shrub vegetation, 39% pastures and forest, while only 6% of lands suitable for agriculture. Salas lowlands represent 35% of communal territory and 50% of its land is suitable for agriculture, 67% are pastures and forests, and 10% hills and shrub areas. Forests host important wildlife in terms of birds, rodents, insects and predators like the mountain lion, bears, and foxes. Important tree, shrub, and pasture endemic species have been reported in the area (CESS 2000).

The natural environment of Salas is affected by cycles of drought and floods that constantly transform the landscape. Droughts can last up to five years, as in 1951 or 1983. The lowlands of Salas are part of coastal plains that rise between 90 and 200 meters above sea level, flanked by a chain of mountains that prevent high winds. Temperatures fluctuate between 19.5 °C (July–August) to 26.3 °C (February) with a relative humidity of 67%. Soils are plain and fertile with good potential for agriculture, but water is a scarce resource (CESS 2000).

Historical Processes Affecting the Social and Physical Landscapes of Salas

Privatization of communal resources: land, water, and forests

The Spanish Crown granted territorial rights to indigenous communities to keep communal lands for the exclusive use of their members. On September 29, 1702, final deed was given to the community of Penachí and Salas. However, Spanish priests imposed religious festivities that required cash the community did not have. Priests proposed leasing some communal lands to outsiders in order to finance these festivities. With time, leasers transformed their possession into private property. The indigenous community of Salas and Penachí was ratified by the Peruvian Republic on October 2, 1943. However, the privatization of communal land and loss of territorial integrity continued despite court decisions that ratified Indian territorial rights. Leasing contracts signed in 1827, 1831, 1840, 1843, and 1864 still recognized territorial communal rights over those lands. However, over the years, leasers became de facto owners of properties ranging from 10 to 100 hectares that supported cattle ranching and capital accumulation that later funded water pumps to irrigate commercial plantations (Segura et al. 1990).

Lands taken by haciendas were irrigated agricultural tracts that hosted water resources for the community. Important water channels, some built before the arrival of the Europeans, irrigated the lowlands of Salas until haciendas Canchachala, Chóchope, and Tongorrape destroyed them.5 Losing these important water sources and irrigated lands had a tremendous impact on the livelihoods of Saleños. Colonial documents from 1790 recognized that Indians of Penachí and Salas could not crop and sustain their families (Chiroque 1982; Tecmoche and Yepen 2003).

Even though not directly visible in the community, the Peruvian State has played an important role. While it recognizes de jure indigenous territorial rights it has de facto legitimized the dispossession of communal lands. For instance, lands taken by estates (haciendas) were not returned to indigenous communities during the Land Reform of 1969 despite communal claims. The new constitution of 1993 eliminated the special status of communal lands opening rural land markets in Peru to attract investments and foster more agro-exports. Even though this change did not result in significant land sales, it will allow the state to auction communal lands that will be irrigated by the Olmos Project under construction, as public lands.

A systematic overruling of indigenous by-laws and traditional authorities was consummated in 1969 when the government imposed a new formal structure of governance over indigenous communities and renamed them as Peasant Communities. Presented as a means to end racism and discrimination against Indians, this intervention was aimed at erasing indigenous identities and speeding the process of assimilation.

The region of Lambayeque had large tracts of undisturbed dry coastal forests before agricultural development expanded in the 20th century. Large tracts of forests still remained within the communities of Motupe, Salas, and Olmos where agricultural development was limited by water scarcity and the high cost of water pumps. However, deforestation of communal forests through private logging accelerated since 1955 with the development of Peruvian economy that demanded particular woods.6 Regional urban demand for charcoal and firewood was also significant since firewood and charcoal stoves predominated until propane gas and kerosene stoves replaced them as part of the modernization facilitated by the Land Reform of the 1970s. The demand for broiled chicken at small restaurants during this period created increased demand for charcoal made out of “algarrobo” [Prosopis juliflora] and “faique” [Acacia discolor]. Communities like Salas lost control of their communal forests to the State during this period. The Ministry of Agriculture that controls forest resources treated them in Salas and elsewhere as public lands, ignoring communal territorial rights.

Creation of political-administrative units that disregard communal organization

The territorial integrity of the Indigenous Community of Salas was also disrupted by the creation of Chóchope and Mesones Muro as distinct districts from the district of Salas. As local branches of the national State Municipalities, they manage public funds to implement projects and provide certain services, displacing, and weakening community organizations. Without resources to operate, poor communities like Salas have no capacity to protect their territory and maintain communal organization, facing a process of political and social disintegration.

The Process of Adaptation and Resistance: Goat Herding, Wage Labor and Livelihoods

The loss of water resources changed Salas landscapes and the relation between comunero families and their natural environment. Unable to crop in dry years, they resorted to other ways of making a living, like goat herding and wage labor. Wage labor was reported as the main activity for households in the lowlands, reflecting their lack of access to irrigated lands (Segura et al. 1990, CESS 2000). Livelihoods in Salas became more vulnerable to natural oscillations and could not support the population growth. High emigration toward Chiclayo, Jaén, and Lima and high child mortality explain the slow demographic growth shown by the district of Salas between 1961 (7,475 people), 1972 (10,622 people), 1981 (11,030 people), and 2002 (15,703 people). Male comuneros migrated in search of employment, leaving their wives and children at home, usually returning with the rains, unless they had started a family outside Salas. Child mortality and morbidity in Salas are still high because families have limited access to public health services like vaccination programs, a better diet, sanitary conditions, and information (Salas Health Post 1981; Tecmoche and Yepen 2003).

Blamed for deforesting the dry forests of “algarrobos” [Prosopis juliflora], for spreading animal diseases and genetic erosion, goat herding is usually portrayed as an activity that is practiced based on ignorance and without consideration for the natural environment.7 In fact, goat herders have developed considerable knowledge about goats and strategies to cope with the irregular cycles of drought and floods, as well dealing with the isolation, subordination, and poverty that challenges their livelihoods. Nevertheless, prolonged draught cycles threaten their livelihoods in several ways: the size of goat herds is drastically reduced, rain fed cropping is not possible, and finding work is extremely difficult because of the reduced regional demand for wage labor. At this point, male emigration is the only alternative poor families have to survive.

Cycles of droughts and floods change landscapes and livelihoods. Large natural pastures grow after the rains, allowing comuneros to expand their own herds, as well as to receive animals for shared husbandry (al partir) from outside the community to graze in these pastures; this modality “al partir” increases local demand for labor and provides an opportunity for young spouses who are not comuneros to start their own herd. Families plant maize and other food crops for their own consumption and raise chickens, pigs, turkeys, and some cattle. Private farms with commercial crops also increase their demand for labor, especially for weeding. These expanded activities are reversed with droughts, when landscapes are transformed from green exuberant pastures into arid plains. The gap between those who have water to irrigate crops and those who do not becomes more dramatic.8 Those few with irrigation keep their cotton, mangoes, lemon, and maize during droughts, while those without irrigation cannot crop, have to reduce the size of herds, and cannot find employment in the area; they are trapped in a desperate situation. What strategies have comuneros developed to survive?

Adaptive strategies, goat herding, and livelihoods

Goat herding in Salas relies entirely on natural vegetation, no fodder is bought for goats because of the poverty of herders, limited cropping within the community, and the low economic return of goat herding. Goats have an extraordinary capacity to adapt to different vegetation, extreme temperatures and humidity levels, and can travel long distances to graze. Herders always keep more female than male goats, although the ratios are quite variable. Changing the herd size and composition (in terms of age and sex) is a strategy used by families in Salas to adapt to the severe changes in vegetation. When a drought cycle starts, comuneros first sell “redundant” males.9 The number of male goats to be sold or kept depends on the estimated length and severity of the drought cycle. Keeping as many female goats as possible is a strategy that allows a herd to be quickly repopulated after a drought. Female goats not in peak reproduction are sold early in the drought cycle, as are baby goats that have little chance of survival. Herders use traditional indicators to estimate how long the drought might last, including the appearance and behavior of wildlife, insects, and vegetation, cloud formations along the mountains, and the halo around the moon at certain times.

Herders try to keep as many animals as possible during the rainy years in order to face droughts with a herd large enough to survive. In order to expand herds, families try to increase their access to natural vegetation. They rely on open communal lands for grazing and reserve the enclosed family plots for dry years. In addition, families avoid consuming goat meat and instead use the cash obtained from selling goats to buy cheaper staples like beans, rice, dry fish, and occasionally some meat for Sundays.

Goat herding is conducted without monetary investments, despite the region of Lambayeque being highly integrated into a market economy. Comuneros do not buy animals to start or expand their herd and do not exchange male goats for reproduction. Parents assign a couple of animals to each new male child and keep track of the animals belonging to different children. Once male children become adults and marry, they have a small herd of their own to support them. Men who come to Salas as spouses and have no herd rely on shared husbandry to start one.

During the rainy years, women make cheese (quesillo or cuajadas) using traditional technologies and animal products. Cheese is sold at home to traders who pick up these products every three days. Goats are also sold at home to local traders to avoid the trip to distant markets. Goats have a sustained demand in regional markets due to cultural preferences in urban populations. Goat production has not expanded in the last few decades in response to urban demands because transaction costs are high due to the isolation of producers, long distance to markets and restricted means of transportation. These conditions mean that expansion for regional markets is subordinate to local conditions. As a result, goat producers sell their products at low prices while they have to pay rising prices for the goods they must purchase. This explains the poverty of goat herders and their economic behavior in terms of minimizing investments and expenses and using traditional knowledge and technologies.

Use of traditional knowledge and practices is not restricted to herding but extends to all aspects of daily life; for instance, houses are self-built with forest materials and mud, materials are transported on donkey-pulled wagons, and herbs and other local materials are used for healing people and animals. Compression of consumption to avoid spending demands labor intensive practices like walking to distant houses of relatives or neighbors to borrow items. Spending extra time repairing household items or mending clothes and living in precarious conditions are some of the social costs of compressing consumption.

Not all goat herds are the same size. Most families (80%) have herds smaller than 40 goats and only a few (10%) have larger herds that range between 300 and 700 goats. Larger goat herds are mostly related to the capacity of comuneros to diversify their livelihoods. Diversification of livelihoods includes some agriculture, small-scale trade of animals, or any other activity to generate income, for instance having a small home shop (tambo) or a chicken farm. By taking their neighbor's animals to sell in Chiclayo and bringing back goods to sell at the home shop, some families can reduce transaction costs and make some money. However, trading requires knowledge of regional markets and the ability to negotiate well the so-called “urban/modern–rural/traditional” worlds. There are synergies between herding and trading: by providing income these activities reduce the pressure to sell animals while the herd can provide cash for other activities. Having alternative sources of income also reduces deforestation of the enclosed plots, which in turn can support larger herds during droughts.

Diversified livelihoods are associated with better access to formal education, knowledge of markets and businesses, the capacity to develop networks outside the community, and available skilled family labor. The persistence of “traditional” practices results from the relative price structure of the market, which does not make investments in goat herding profitable and keeps families in poverty. Families try to take advantage of outside opportunities to diversify their livelihoods and improve their herding while resorting to traditional knowledge and practices to reduce the operational costs of herding. It is the market dynamics that keep traditional ways instrumental to goat herding, which reinforces the persistence of “traditional” cultural elements in daily life. This mixed or hybrid cultural framework that combines the “traditional” with the “modern” is not restricted to Salas, but is rather part of a broader phenomena, as shown in the discussion on hybrid cultures and modernity (Escobar, 1995; Garcia Canclini, 1995 and Hedrick, 2003).

This cultural hybridity is reflected in the expansion of witchcraft in Salas after 1980, mainly for a regional clientele, revealing the ways comuneros use “tradicional” culture to enhance their livelihoods. The practice of witchcraft in Salas reveals some cultural continuity in terms of rituals—as compared to practices documented for 18th Century, but also important shifts in gender roles; witchcraft has to be understood as part of the processes of cultural and economic adaptation, as explored in another manuscript (Espinosa, forthcoming).

Livelihoods, gender roles, and asymmetries

Goat herding relies on family labor and its demand sharply changes between dry or rainy years. Women play an important role in goat herding, being in charge of reproduction (deliveries and newborn care) milking and cheese production, all activities that demand more labor during rainy years. The daily routine of goat herding involves women, men, or children taking herds to graze. Upon their return, women separate the baby goats that need to be with their mothers, check for any female that is close to delivery, and any babies that need special support with feeding. Despite these efforts, mortality associated with deliveries is high during dry years.

Animals drink water before grazing and after they return home in the afternoon. Men play a key role in providing water for the herd. Pulling water from the water wheels (noria) for large herds of 300 goats can take up to two hours twice a day. Sons might replace fathers in this task when they have to go away to earn wages. Families who have small herds spend less time pulling water, for instance 30 goats require two to three buckets of water twice a day, a task done by children and/or by women when men are not around. Children attending school provide some help with the herd after school during weekdays and more during the weekends. During rainy years, children might miss a school day to help the father with agriculture or the mother with milking.

Women assume mainly a domestic role while men deal with the outside world, trading goats, controlling cash and purchasing basic goods for the household. During rainy years women can generate income by making and selling cheese and raising some domestic animals for sale; women control the income they generate.

Wage labor represents 46% of total activities reported by families in the Salas lowlands, as opposed to agriculture that represents only 28% (CESS 2000). During droughts men might migrate to distant places like Cajamarca, Trujillo, or Amazonas, leaving their wives, children, and herds in Salas. While male migration is a coping strategy that makes livelihoods resilient in extreme environments, it comes with significant social and cultural costs. Wives are left in a difficult situation since remittances sent by husbands are irregular and limited by their low wages. Extended families play an important role in providing some support to wives of absent husbands. However, since resources are limited this arrangement exacerbates competition and conflicts. Women in this position are subordinated to senior women and to males in the extended family group. Mistreatment and abuse have been widely reported by women. Male migrants usually return to Salas with the rains unless they started a new family in their new destinations. In this case the family they formed in Salas is broken and wives are left with the heavy burden of raising children without proper resources. In this desperate situation most women remarry in a position of extreme subordination. All this conflict, instability, and subordination affects wives and children as shown by recurrent testimonies of orphanage, destitution, suffering, and abuse from relatives during childhood reported by comuneros living in or out of Salas (Espinosa 1987, 2007). Compared with other regions of Peru, indicators of gender subordination were stronger for Lambayeque in terms of female access to land ownership, formal education, higher fertility rates, and higher rates of teen pregnancy (Forsberg and Francke 1987).

Male emigration also affects kinship by deteriorating the links of reciprocity, mutual dependence and solidarity that are essential for survival and for social and cultural reproduction. Male emigration might also contribute to class and demographic changes at the regional level. For example, the prolonged droughts of 1951 generated a mass of itinerant wage workers that spread through and outside Lambayeque; some of them became part of the new proletariat of the sugar cane states in Lambayeque (Espinosa 1987; Matos Mar et al. 1981). Since regional demand for male labor in agriculture decreases during droughts, a prevalent strategy has been to send daughters out to work as domestic servants in Chiclayo or other towns using networks of relatives or school teachers. This common strategy, to reduce the cost of family survival, allowed girls to advance or continue their education in difficult times and even generate income. However, the increased availability of high school education for girls and boys in the rural sectors of Salas has tended to restrict this practice to the poorest families.

There have been changes in gender roles, access to education and employment across generations in Salas. Since 1998 the establishment of Los Gandules, a nearby agro-export processing plant, has increased the demand for local high school graduates to work as wage laborers. Three shifts per day sustain demand for educated male and female workers. There were approximately 100 comuneros from Salas lowlands employed in February of 2007 with a salary of S/.18 ($ 5.70), which is high for the area and by national standards. However, workers are often hired as informal laborers for less than 90 days to avoid granting them benefits. Even though this plant provides short-term employment with competitive salaries, it does not provide long-term employment for young comuneros who are constantly looking for jobs outside Salas. This plant has provided opportunities for educated young women who are hired on the same terms as young men, but not for older comuneros without a high school diploma. Even though this employment is unstable for both genders, it has encouraged young women to travel to the urban and peri-urban settlements of Jayanca, Chiclayo, and Lambayeque since Salas does not offer opportunities for educated women to generate their own income.

The enhanced mobility of young educated comuneras is a significant departure from their mothers who depend on their husbands and are tied to the herds. Despite these changes families still usually have one daughter and/or son who remains at home to help parents with the herd. This practice shows that even though high school education has provided opportunities for young women and is expanding gender roles, the traditional role of taking care of elder parents has persisted.

Better access to education and employment might have also favored cultural change by increasing familiarity with urban culture and modernity (urban music language and clothing, focus on individual success). However, persistence of traditional values like the importance of family and siblings' responsibilities toward the parents, were also observed among young high school graduates in Salas. The prevalence of the corte de pelo10 ritual reflects the persistence of indigenous culture despite cultural change.

Living conditions in Salas have improved in the last few years in terms of urban electrification, sanitation, and drinking water for town dwellers and for some rural families close to town. Despite these modest displays of progress and modernity, it seems that most comuneros have seen their livelihoods eroded. Relative prices have hurt herders, since goat prices have not increased to compensate for the rising cost of living. For unskilled labor, wages have remained low and wage labor scarce. Family survival still depends on curtailing consumption and expenditures.

It does not seem that cultural change has allowed all comuneros to negotiate better terms of engagement with the larger society, since access to education and urban networks is restricted for older comuneros. Cultural change has allowed some families to be slightly better off through economic diversification and by keeping larger goat herds. Most families have small to medium herds since they have not been able to diversify their livelihoods, precariously relying on wage labor and goat herding. While higher levels of education and cultural change have resulted in better wages for younger generations, it has not been enough to pull them out of the unstable wage labor market. In this regard, goat herding remains an important element of survival for young and old, uneducated and educated comuneros.

The fact that families cannot consume goat meat from their own herds affects not only the quality of their diet (lowering protein intake) but also the reproduction of their culture. Traditional ceremonies are no longer celebrated the way they used to be. Such ceremonies were traditionally well-attended by relatives who returned to the community; lasted at least three days with local musicians; adults and children dancing tondero, marinera, and huayno [traditional dances from the coast and highlands of Peru] on the dirt; eating seco de cabrito with beans, roasted pork and lamb, maize pancakes, boiled maize and manioc; and drinking “chicha.”11 Now families have no money to host such celebrations or time to attend them. These restrictions affect the reproduction of culture, the transmission of knowledge and collective memories, the intergenerational and interfamily exchanges, all elements that shape their sense of identity, culture, and belonging. However, the fact that rituals like the corte the pelo are still prevalent and more important than the Christian baptism, or first communion, might reflect the resilience of these families to secure their survival and to negotiate cultural change in ways that prevent their cultural disappearance.


This article has shown how the adaptation of families in Salas to arid “natural” landscapes is actually the adaptation to a situation of historical dispossession and subordination that eroded indigenous territorial rights and privatized communal lands, water, and forests. It also examined the role markets have in shaping families' adaptive strategies. The process of adaptation to hostile environments relies on important knowledge about goats and the environment, as well as on strategies that negotiate the limits and opportunities provided by markets and modernity. Specific effective strategies to manage herds during cyclical droughts include adapting the herd size and composition, carrying on a market-oriented activity with no monetary investments, minimizing expenditures, and diversifying livelihoods to maintain larger herds. On the one hand, these practices require “traditional” knowledge to avoid investments and reduce the operational costs of herding. On the other hand, better access to education and familiarity with urban contexts and networks enhances economic diversification that reduces vulnerability and risk. Families can benefit by negotiating their relations with markets and at the same time utilize strategies based on traditional knowledge. This has the consequence of facilitating the persistence of “traditional” culture in daily life, as evidenced by the prevalence of indigenous rituals like the corte de pelo.

Access to formal education, migration, military draft or training has given some comuneros an advantage to better negotiate the markets and use the resources they have. Those without larger herds have to resort to long-distance travel when wage labor is not available in their area. Male emigration during droughts burdens women and erodes kinship structures and the process of social and cultural reproduction. Young male and female comuneros who have completed high school can obtain unstable but better paid wage labor in the agro-export processing plant nearby Salas. Even though better education has not secured stable employment, it has increased income and enhanced the mobility of young comuneros and comuneras, and deepened the process of cultural change in terms of external markers like dress, language, and cultural preferences. However, it has not displaced “traditional” values associated with family and community responsibilities.

It seems that cultural change facilitated by better access to formal education can improve the resilience of families through economic diversification only to a certain point, since the subordinated integration into markets (where the structure of relative prices makes activities related to agriculture unprofitable) allows modest profits only if operational costs are reduced through the use of traditional knowledge and practices. The access to high school education has improved wages for young comuneros, but as unstable workers, keeps them mobile in search of a job. Young women with high school diplomas can make better wages and have enhanced mobility compared to their mothers. However, in both cases goat herding remains a backup family strategy.


  1. 1. For instance Illapa represented the masculine forces of domination, penetration, conquest, thunder, and lighting while Pachamama represented the feminine principle of fertility, receptivity, and the generative forces of the earth. They complemented each other, for instance when Illapa brought rains to fertilize Pachamama. Kinship was based on parallel gender chains of succession that secured access to natural resources to men and women through their own gender lineage. Men and women were separated but in equal terms based on their interdependence and complementarity. Women lead their own lineage and their spiritual veneration of feminine deities and their ancestors. Men lead their own lineage and the spiritual veneration of masculine deities and their ancestors (Silverplatt 1990).

  2. 2. I used “traditional” and “modern” to shortly refer to the persistence of indigenous cultural frameworks and to the influence of outside cultural influences (which are indeed hybrid); I use the “” to address that these categories are not dichotomist or part of lineal processes.

  3. 3. In 2001, Lambayeque contributed 22% of national lime production, 17% of maize, 6.6% of mango, and 41.5% of sorghum in grain. The region provided 5.3% of cattle and 8.4% of goats. Goats and certain agro-exports were concentrated in the communities of Motupe, Salas, and Olmos (Ministerio de Agricultura 2002).

  4. 4. The Incas used the mitimae as a strategy to secure long-term domination of newly conquered nations or ethnic groups who were relocated away from their land. The mitimae of the Cañaris was relocated from Ecuador into the area of Salas and Penachí.

  5. 5. For instance the water channel that carried water from La Leche River; the Canchachalá water channel brought water from the Andamarca River to the Quebrada de Canchachala, and the water channel that brought water from the Chóchope River and Nocse.

  6. 6. For instance “faique” [Acacia discolor] was used to construct special fishing boats [bolicheras] for the booming export fishing industry of the 1950s and 1960s; “punho” was used to prepare the crates for the expanding mango and lemon plantations; “hualtaco” [Loxpterigium huarango] and “huayacán” were cut almost to the point of extinction, to feed the hardwood flooring industry established in Lima and Trujillo for the blooming middle class housing construction.

  7. 7. Ministerio de Agricultura, Agencia de Jayanca. Interview 1983; see also the report from the VI Meeting of the Peruvian Association of Animal Production, Chiclayo, October of 1983, which brought together researchers and extension agencies focused on the role of livestock in rural sustainable development.

  8. 8. By 2007 there were no more than ten private owners of water pumps in the lowlands of Salas, three more than in 1983.

  9. 9. A male goat can serve many female goats, making additional male goats “redundant” from the point of view of reproduction management. Comuneros keep “redundant” males when enough vegetation is available in order to have more animals to sell when they need cash or vegetation decreases.

  10. 10. A boy's hair remains uncut until puberty when a special ceremony marks the transition from childhood; “corte de pelo” (Rutuchikuy or ruto chico in Quichua) is a traditional rite of passage that goes back before the Incas (Silverplatt 1990) and in contemporary rural Lambayeque it had more importance than the ceremony of baptism. The boy's parents carefully choose a godfather and a godmother for this ceremony, who are strong figures throughout the boy's life. During my short fieldwork in 2007 I found several boys in Salas and Jayanca with their long hair uncut in preparation for this ceremony, but none in Chiclayo.

  11. 11. I attended throughout Lambayeque in the 1970s several “corte de pelo,” weddings and baptism celebrations that started on Sunday and extended until Tuesday, were well attended by local and distant relatives, and served abundant food, “chicha” [traditional brew made from maize and other grains or fruits that dates to pre-Columbian origins], and beer.