Blackness And Cultural Exchanges In Peru
by Lotoya Jackson
Last year I had the opportunity tofollow in the path of an ancient people, the Inca of Peru, and crisscross the country by bus, train, and horse for two weeks. It was an unforgettable experience in a country steeped in rich traditions and outdoor adventure where I ate cuy, or guinea pig, sandboarded down sand dunes and hiked 43 km on the Inca Trail.
After backpacking solo to 30 countries as a young, black woman, I’m used to various reactions from locals and other travellers to my skin and hair – curiosity, disbelief, kindness, and everything in-between. Luckily, I’ve had more positive experiences than negative ones during my travels and Peru is one of those places where I felt conscious of my blackness but rarely in a negative way. With few black people in Peru, naturally, I did get long looks, group stares, and the occasional giggle but many of the interactions I had with locals felt like cultural exchanges rather than anything malicious.
In Puno, the owner of my hostel was fascinated with my dreadlocks. When I first arrived she touched them and squealed loudly before checking me in. Later she called her young daughter over to have a look while telling her “see you don’t have to straighten your hair every day”. My guide on the Inca trail wanted to know just how I created my deadlocks, so around the campsite at night, I showed her. In return, I learned about the cultural significance of braids to the women of the Quechua indigenous groups. Like many places in the world, being black in Peru means being conscious that you stand out but knowing that it’s an opportunity to share and learn and to change attitudes.