Clever Hybrids with GabyV

S4E11: Learn Indigenous Wisdom Through Stories | Carmen Pachas Pielago | Carmincha Te Cuenta - Peruvian Storyteller

Episode Summary

Carmen Pachas Pielago has been transforming boring history books into entertaining educational stories for over twenty years. Learn how making indigenous knowledge more accessible can, is, and will make a huge impact.

Episode Notes

Carmen Pachas Pielago has been transforming boring history books into entertaining educational stories for over twenty years. Learn how making indigenous knowledge more accessible can, is, and will make a huge impact. 


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Check Her Website (in Spanish)


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Episode Transcription

GabyV: Hello, Carmen. It's so nice to finally see you. And this is going to be great. As we can see from your background, you are a very prolific author, so I can't wait to hear some of your stories.

Carmen Pachas Pielago: Thanks Gaby. I'm very pleased to be on your program. Thank you.

GabyV: Yeah. I'm excited. This is something that I feel like people should talk more about the pre-columbian cultures. So it's to be very interesting.

Now, Carmen, I wanted to ask you, first of all, you've done a lot of research. How has being bilingual helped you with your research and other things you've done?

Carmen Pachas Pielago: I studied in a bilingual school. And I didn't only learn English, but I also learned to teach English at school. So that helped me a lot because when I started studying to be an accountant at the Pacific University, my father retired from his job, 33 years of working in a very important bank here in Lima.

He didn't have the money to pay the fees. With what I learned from school, I started teaching English. I studied some other procedures also and I started paying my fees with the classes I gave to adults and to children. For me, it was very important. 

My first stories were in English because my aunts taught in my school in English. And my father told me stories. He created his own stories about unknown planets and at bedtime, we were eager to wait for what was dad going to tell us [tonight], no?

English for me, it's a very important issue. I love languages. I love English and it helped me also in my investigations because most scholars they write in English. So to investigate you should at least use English as well as French and also German, no? I am [halfway there] to finish my French and I just started my first class in German. Language is a very important media to communicate to other people. I am also studying Quechua, which is one of our 48 languages live languages right now in Peru.

We are Peruvians. We Peruvians are very rich in culture and very rich also in diversity. Language is... it's very important to communicate to other people and to know about other people that we are all different, but we are human. (laughs) We are human period, and we live in only one home.

It's our planet earth. So we must keep it, love it and preserve it. 

GabyV: That's amazing. So your dad was a storyteller too. That's where you get it from.

Carmen Pachas Pielago: I was an artist. So when I was little classical music was heard in my house and books about art. I could read not only read words, but read the images, no? And that's also a very important to read not only words but images because from our cultures, we learn, we read them from their images in the pottery, in the textiles, in the architecture. So there are lots of ways of reading not only words, but also within the nature, no? 

For instance, I am raising my quinoa plant and this yellow leaf tells me that it is time to be [harvested]. This is another grain that is called the kiwicha. It's one of the seeds that I talk about in one of my books. We have to read everything we have to learn to read nature because nature is so wise that you know what... the pandemic is still in the world because we have not learned the lesson yet.

GabyV: I sure hope we learn the lesson soon. As you said that the world is becoming more urban and look at plants, 'What type of plant is that? I don't know.'

We just... (laughs) we use a lot of different resources without thinking about the consequences. So hopefully we'll learn our lesson soon.

Carmen Pachas Pielago: Exactly. Yes.

GabyV: Now you held up a pot before. 

Carmen Pachas Pielago: Yes. 

GabyV: Which tribe is that pot from?

Carmen Pachas Pielago: This is from the Moche culture in the Northern part of Peru in west. 

This is Peru, and this is the north part of Peru, now it's called Trujillo and Chiclayo those places, and here you see the pottery. They are called the pottery with the face of a man. And this is the Moche culture that developed in the Northern part of Peru, but on the coast.

So the materials were different from the ones that there were in Cusco. So people learned to use the materials they can have handy, no? So this [pot] talks about the Lima bean men. The Moche grew this [kind]. And that's what my... one of my stories talk about. This is Aia Paec and this is the god of the Moche people. And this is the pottery with the Lima bean men. We call them pallar and this is the story. This is the result of eight years of investigation. 

You have the pictures of drawings that you can find in the pottery. Every single drawing you can find it in the poetry that is in the museums. And when I tell the story the children look at this image and with the other part of the book, (laughs) I am telling the story. Or the people that have my book, they can tell the story in Spanish and English, no? 

On each page, I have this one character that connects with children. And in this case the character is a small fish. He's saying, 

'I think you cannot find real pottery in this image.'

So the children start looking at it and then, 

'Oh yes, I see. Yes. Yes here it is. Here it is. It is the real one. This isn't... this is not a drawing. This is a real one.'

And now what? Because the child is excited and he wants to know more. She wants to know more. So in this part, it's a link to the museum catalog. So the parents, they can enter to the website of this museum and [see] this pottery in the front, in the back and the two sides and some information about it. So this is how I transmit what I have investigated through the stories.

And the kids, they love it, their parents also, because it's a new way to learn history.

in some cases, you'll see, [pointing at picture]

'Oh, what a disaster it's too... the plants are in disorder.'

It's not disorder. It's just because that plants are associated plants, one plant helps the other. So they have to grow together. This is not disorder. This is life. This is life. And it prevents plagues. So insects instead of coming in and eating the leaves they will come and take some juice [nectar] from the flowers. Because they are yellow and they attract the insects. So in one image you can have one month of classes, of lessons, of ecology and how to raise a plant and what are the difference between plants? 

That was the first of my books, Aia Paec and the pallar men, because pallar is Lima bean in Spanish. So I translated that book. So it was my first book in Spanish and I, myself translated it to English. I got a friend that corrected me but it was my own translation, no?

In the case of Tika, that we were talking about before my friend she made the translation and I made the corrections. And this is a very nice story. Also look here. She is Tika it's like a little brick. Okay. But the difference is this is adobe. It's not a brick, it's an adobe. It doesn't have to go into an oven to be cooked. You [dry] it on the sun and then it works. It just works. In one of our five types of Quecha, tika [means] adobe. She tells this story about the pyramids, how her family, helped to build this pyramid and it's now an icon of the Lima culture. (laughs)

Some professors tell me that my books are like veiled history lessons, because children [don't] know that they are learning a lot. Every word here has been reviewed by scholars that were part of my assessors. They assess me to bring this book [to life]. 

So I thank a lot to all the scholars that along 20 years or so they have helped me to produce my stories, and some of them are already converted to books, no? Every year I create one more book, one more story.

I don't like it much when people ask me, 

'For what ages is your book meant to be?'

I tell them that we, people love to listen to stories why only children are allowed to listen to stories because, we, the adults, we need to listen to stories also nice stories and to look at the beautiful pictures. 

GabyV: The illustrators have definitely done a wonderful job. It's beautiful pictures.

Carmen Pachas Pielago: Yes. Yes. And the graphic designer is also very important how to present the words, the text and the images that work together. My mission in this world is to tell the stories. To do that, I have to investigate, to go to museums, to go to archeological sites, to talk to different scholars, also artists, also architects, also engineers because the techniques of the past survive until today. Lots of people [from] other parts of the world, they come to Peru to know about those techniques. So those techniques to be told to the people to know. 

So things that the ancient people they used to have those things in their... how do you say it? We say in Spanish ADN, but it's the... DNA, right? Perhaps they didn't know about the development or sustainable, because that was part of their living. They used only what they needed to, and they used all the nature to help to have a nice living. That's what we have to learn. We have to be grateful to mother nature which nurtures us in many ways. 

GabyV: Yeah, it's been interesting to see a new emphasis on indigenous cultures in the past few years. It's interesting to see how we're having to relearn things to try and save the planet. It's amazing.

Carmen Pachas Pielago: Exactly. Exactly. First, you have to put [aside] some things you learned when you were little and there were not enough investigation and now things have changed. And now in the Northern part of Peru in a place called Cajamarca, that is here, one archeologist has found a temple. The temple is underground. The top part of the temple is like spiral and the twin temple has been found in Ecuador not so far from that place. And in Ecuador, the age of that place is about 5,000 years from today. The cacao plant that makes the chocolate. The cacao was said to be [from] Mexico, but in Mexico it only has about 3000 years old, the most ancient plant there. In our place [Peru], there have been found some seeds of cacao. The ancientness of those seeds is about 5,000 years. 

And as long as governments invest more in exploration and investigation and less in things that makes us fight between us the knowledge would be discovered and shared with the rest of the people, no? Because we have to be united, we are human beings. We are brothers and sisters living [on] one planet that is called the Earth. And we have to remember that before anything before what I have studied, where do I work. No. Before anything, we are human beings. 

GabyV: Yes, that's very important.

of different foods that are from Peru or around that area that we call them super foods because they're so healthy. Could you give us some more examples?

Carmen Pachas Pielago: Right. Yes. We have three sacred grains, kiwicha, the quinoa, and the kaniwa. The kiwicha, that grew in my garden in the year 2014, it has calcium. Food with calcium, if you don't have vitamin D, the calcium does not enter into your [body]. This marvelous plant has about 20 amino acids. One of those amino acids fixes the calcium into your organism. 

The astronauts when they travel when they used to travel to the space one of the foods they ate during their travelings was kiwicha. But you don't know this grain with that name. You know it [as Amaranth] because the scientific name is amaranthus caudatus. That is the one that grew in my garden and it has also some other minerals and it's high in protein. Where people cannot, get meat or milk, both of them have protein, you can replace them with kiwicha. It's fabulous. 

And not only that, because the three sacred grains, they don't have gluten. Those are only little things about these marvelous grains and the rest they are told in my story. (laughs)

GabyV: Wow. That's amazing. Carmen, you have been instrumental in making these books, but you're not a trained archeologist. How did you go from studying finance to doing this?

Carmen Pachas Pielago: It has to be... I have to go back to about 20 years ago. I was a member of an organization , it's called Organization of Women in International Trade and I was the president of the social responsibility committee. We did lots of things and one of the things we helped to do is to [create] libraries in special places.

It was very funny because when we went to the mothers of the children and we told them we were going to raise a library. They told us, 

'But why? We have two libraries over here. What we need is you to tell us stories.'

And I was an accountant, we didn't know how to tell stories. My husband and I, we decided not to have children and we had never told stories. So, when you are meant to do something, help comes. 

Next day I was, 'Oh, what I'm going to do?'

We were in the garden with my husband and we were reading the newspaper and my husband told me, 

'Hey here's a girl that she tells stories. Perhaps she can help you.'

And there was email because at that time there were no smartphones. So I entered my house and sent her a message. And she answered me and she told me,

'Yes, I can help you because I know how to tell stories. I can teach you how.'

She was Peruvian and she lived in Brazil and she told me that she was coming to Peru because she was organizing a symposium from Peru and Brazil. 


GabyV: No way. 

Carmen Pachas Pielago: Yeah, She introduced me to illustrators, to editors, to writers from Brazil. And she taught me how to tell stories. She taught me how to prepare my materials to tell stories. Now, these materials, I don't prepare, for example this pelican has been made [by] an artistan that is a friend of mine. He works with wood and he makes this kind of thing. I buy from artisans, all these things, because I don't have any time to learn the techniques and to make it. Because I learned the techniques, but to teach to the children but not to have this as a way of living, right? When I tell my stories, I use materials made from different artists of different parts of Peru. 

Jose Maria Arguedas is... was one of our [Peru's] writers and he changed our way of writing indigenous literature. So through his words, through his writings, through his stories, I started to look into my country with his eyes. So from having received education, an Occidental [Western] education, I started my own education about my world, the world of my ancestors. 

I started going to lots of these sites, archeological sites. I started to go into conferences to reunions. She introduced me to a lots of scholars and scholars shared with me their investigations. And they provided me [with] all the information to make my sixty stories, no? That is how I started investigating. And then I started going to classes of how to write, how to tell stories, no? I started to know how to do these new things. And we started our project in this museum in Arturo Jimenez Borja in March of 2005 and since that day I have not stopped creating stories and telling them to others. (laughs)

GabyV: Yeah, that's great. Now you mentioned, Occidental education, Western education is very different in what they focus on. They mostly focused on after the conquistadors got there. What happened then? But in the last 50 years, especially in the last 20 years, we've been focusing more on the pre-Colombian cultures, on African cultures, before the colonial people got there. How do you feel that people's attitudes toward those cultures have changed? Do they feel proud now?

Carmen Pachas Pielago: It's so important, what you say because we have a project in one public school, it has lasted three years, but in the [pandemic] it continues [virtually], and the children lived in front of a magical place a Mateo Salado [Archeological Complex] site and they did not know the richness and the connection with the ancestors through that place. So we started with one of the teachers that knew me for seven years before, and that's another story.

And she got in touch with me. Whenever I told stories [at] that site, she came with her students and she participated in my storytelling. And the children began to have some interest, a different interests in the place, because they started to know it by my stories, by different characters and different things and making replicas of the things found there.

When the kids started the project, they looked like this [looking down] and they were like not accepting people that came from other countries and they did not know how to express themselves and they didn't know what talents they had inside themselves.

So after three years of the project, the kids are like this [looking up]. They love to read. They read a book and then they make poetry from this book. Or they make comics from this book or they illustrate from this book. Or they like, if they were in a theater, they dramatize this book. It's changed their lives. So if the knowledge of ancient cultures can change the people, the students of one school, can you imagine telling the people, how were the inhabitants of the place you live now [through] stories? They would be so proud of themselves.

Right now, we have more than 50 nations here in Peru. There are more than the 48 languages because the 48 languages, official languages here, they have an alphabet, but they are more languages that they don't have their official alphabet yet. It's... you cannot imagine. And everyday scientists discover new species. So there's lots of of investigation to do.

And when you teach, you don't have to teach the children how to investigate, they are curious by nature. So the only thing you have to do is give them their tools to investigate by the right way. You have to give the children what has been validated, not only by the academia but from the campo [countryside] also because the [farmers] they know how to read, how to raise the seeds in the way their parents did long time ago. That's why we have from quinoa we have, I think it's like more than 1000 varieties, more than 5000 varieties of potato, we have more than 3000 varieties of corn. They didn't have access [to] the technology we have today. So imagine that!

What I'm trying to do is that all the things that I tell in my stories, I have experienced them before.

I am not telling lies. I use imagination, but not fantasy. It's different. Yes. That's what I do. And that's how I became the storyteller that I am today.

GabyV: Yeah, you have 20 years of experience telling great stories. Where can people get in touch with you and also buy your books to find out more?

Carmen Pachas Pielago: Yeah, I have my website. It's my complete name. So you can enter that. You can write to me to my gmail, which is In November [2021], I'm going to the Guadalajara International Book Fair and I think it's an open door for the rest of the world. You can find me there also. 

GabyV: We had a wonderful time with Carmen Pachas Pielago, carmincha, the storyteller.

Carmen Pachas Pielago: Yeah. Yeah. I was... I am so glad to have met you before and I really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you very much. To your listeners my love and remember ask yourself: 

Why are we here? What for? 

Is what I am doing the right thing to do? 

What are my dreams?

What am [I] doing to make my dreams come true?

When you find the answers to these questions, perhaps you will change your life as well as I did, because two years ago I quit from my job. I'm no longer working in accounting. I am now totally dedicated to the publication of my books and to storytelling in schools, in cultural sites and museums, et cetera.

You know where to find me then.

GabyV: Thank you Carmen. Hopefully we can have you again soon.

Carmen Pachas Pielago: I hope so. Thank you, Gaby. It's been very nice talking to you. Thank you.