The Perilous Journey of María Rosa Palacios (en Español)

El presidente Eloy Alfaro planificó el ferrocarril a fines del siglo XIX con la ayuda de un equipo de ingenieros estadunidenses, los hermanos Harman y con el esfuerzo de miles de trabajadores indígenas y otros procedentes de Jamaica. El ferrocarril ya estaba en marcha cuando en 1905 Rosa María Palacios, a la edad de 15 años, salió del Chota en mula rumbo a Guayaquil a trabajar para una familia rica. Este recorrido, yo su bisnieta, lo haré, usando las mismos caminos que ella tomó para llegar a Guayaquil. Me iré en burro, caminando por las rutas del Inca y los caudillos y en tren—porque el tren de Alausi a Duran estaba terminada en el año 1902.

Este relato es el preámbulo a una película corta en la cual emplearé métodos históricos como el 16mm y contemporáneos como el video digital—mezclando los dos para crear una tensión entre lo histórico, lo moderno, el performance y lo etnográfico.

La figura de mi bisabuela como mujer Afro-Ecuatoriana, migrante, ha sido fundamental para mi producción. Ella encarna aquellas preguntas sobre las cuales he venido trabajando, que parten desde los intentos de hacer una genealogía de mis raíces a explorar como se enlazan las memorias personales con temas más amplios de la historia y la memoria colectiva.

Hoy, este hallazgo pretende ser el inicio de una serie de proyectos alrededor de la figura de Rosa María, que a la vez me permiten ahondar sobre las trasformaciones culturales de la época, las implicaciones de la Revolución Liberal, la llegada de la modernidad, los nuevos modos de relación que esta propone, en contraste a todas las aspiraciones y frustraciones que se entretejen en el mundo privado.

Me pregunto por el viaje, sus pormenores y lo lejano que resulta pensar en un viaje en mula de la sierra a la costa, curiosamente en plena llegada del ferrocarril. No dejo de pensar en los sentimientos y pensamientos de esta mujer desde los apuntes que he heredado. Me interesa encarnar esa experiencia de algún modo a través del recorrido de aquel camino-asumiendo el paso de tiempo, los cambios de paisaje, etc.- y la historia que representa ese viaje.

Para esta ocasión, la película de 25 minutos que se ve rodar asume un espacio de conexión entre la memoria y la ficción, el ser y el parecer, un medio para acceder a lo inasible. Tratando de aproximarme a la figura de Rosa María, sus miedos, angustias y aquellos sentimientos que la mantuvieron en pie, trataré de seguir su caminata en busca de reconstruir desde el presente su viaje. La película se propone entonces como un laboratorio de experimentación que busca indagar en ese laberinto que obliga a alguien a salir, caminar a apostar por algo distinto en el momento preciso en que la historia del país estaba a punto de cambiar.

Evitando caer en una visión romantizada – al estilo hallmark –de la “aventura” de aquel personaje que ha marcado mi historia, pretendo sobre todo destacar preguntas sobre la trama de relaciones que ha sido visibilizadas por la Historia oficial. A través de la película en 16mm y el video digital pretendo crear un mini espacio expositivo extraído de archivos familiares, personales e históricos.

The Perilous Journey of María Rosa Palacios

Pilar braids Maria's hair.

Pilar braids Maria’s hair.

In 1905, the railway was in the process of being constructed when my great grandmother, María Rosa Palacios, at the young age of 15 left her home in Chota in the highlands. She made her way on mule and by walking on her long way to coastal Guayaquil to work for a wealthy family. The trip could have taken anywhere from 3 weeks to 3 months depending on the weather.

This historical information provides the context for a video I will make mixing panoramic sweeping shots with documentary footage—integrating both film techniques to create a tension between the historic, the contemporary, the performative and the ethnographic.

My great grandmother, as an Afro-Ecuadorian migrant worker, has been fundamental to my artistic production. She represents many ideas I have been asking that reference my racial genealogy and explore how personal memories intersect with history and collective memory.

Her journey allows me to create a video and a series of works on paper that not only intersect with her as a character but also allow me to research and think about the cultural transformations that occurred in Ecuador at the turn of the century as a result of the industrial revolution. The dialogue that ensues between the hardships and aspirations of one woman’s journey with the official narrative about travel before the railway was completed in 1908 is one of the main topics that “The Perilous Journey of María Rosa Palacios” will consider.

What was María Rosa’s journey like? How did she really do it? What did she think about? She was only a girl from a small town. By playing her I may be able to empathize with her in ways that I cannot predict. In re-enacting her journey I can show how 19th century ways of life persist in 21st century Ecuador. More importantly, I will delve into issues of representation, the outsider (touristic) and the insider (local) gaze and how film-making can reveal these different points of view.

The 25-minute film I am in the process of making will juxtapose performative video with ethnographic filming techniques recreating and then complicating an anthropological gaze. My performance underscores the impossibility of me passing as a “Choteña” after three generations, over 5000 miles of travel and the influence of other cultures and possibilities. That said, within the film, there will be moments of suspension of disbelief and glimpses into Ecuadorian realities.

In an effort to tell the “whole story” about the railway and its historic and cultural implications, I am making a series of works on paper, “Los obreros del ferrocarril/ The railway workers”.

This series is grounded in the official photographic record of the railway construction made at the same time my great grandmother was making her epic journey. The story of the railway in Ecuador begins with the vision of President Eloy Alfaro who wanted to unite the geologically diverse country that is Ecuador. Before the railway was completed, communication between the Andes and the coast was near impossible and travel was insanely dangerous. At the end of the 19th century Alfaro hired the Harmon Brothers, two US Engineers who used their American know-how to solve the challenges of building a railway along what is called the South American Rockies. They were successful because of the manual labor of thousands of indigenous workers from Ecuador and migrant workers from Jamaica.

“Los obreros del ferrocarril/ The railway workers” acts as a nexus between the official record—represented by archival photographs and newspapers—and landscape photographs taken recently. The workers are literally and figuratively embedded within the landscape. In working on this project I have found that while all the conveniences of 21st century life exist in Ecuador, 19th century (and earlier) modes of living persist.

 

Video Stills from “The perilous journey of María Rosa Palacios” (part 2 : In and around Chimborazo)

Here I am posting more production stills from my video. I am very excited that I was just awarded a Jerome Grant to help fund  the post-production of my film. Thank you Jerome Foundation!

Passing Chimborazo...

Chimborazo in the distance

stills_016

Maria and her Burro

stills_015

El rîo Chanchan

stills_011

Por Machachi

comiendo_mandarina0

leavingtrain40

Train tracks near el nariz del diablo

conversacion_indigena20

Asking for directions

Looking for lodging

Looking for lodging

pelando_papas0

Peeling potatoes

sleeping

Video Stills from “The Perilous Journey of María Rosa Palacios” (Part 1: Chota)

I have been debating about whether to post stills from my film. Will it confuse viewers to this blog? Will it confuse the editing process in which I currently find myself? Or, more positively, will it help the editing process by creating a flow–a storyboard of sorts of the post-production…

Maria goes to get herhair  braided before leaving Chota.

Maria goes to get her hair braided before her trip.

Pilar braids Maria's hair.

Pilar braids Maria’s hair.

La despedida (goodbye) party in Chota.

La despedida (goodbye) party in Chota.

Leaving Chota...

Leaving Chota…

Saying goodbye to el rio Yaguarcocha, Ibarra.

Saying goodbye to el rio Yaguarcocha, Ibarra.

“Making Of”

Being a visual artist that makes video I had never heard of this phrase. Well, it turns out that in the film business it means the photographs of the behind the scene camerawork used to make each shot. Here are some “making of” photographs by Thomas Torres.

Chota, Ecuador

Chota, Ecuador

Chaquiñan (path) Valle del Chota The old road..

Chaquiñan (path)
Valle del Chota
The old road..

Pilar, Rio Chota

Pilar, Rio Chota

The Laguna de Yahuarcocha, Ibarra in the background

The Laguna de Yahuarcocha, Ibarra in the background

Our fantastic van driven by Carlitos.

Our fantastic van driven by Carlitos.

Jose spinning cotton to make thread with his weekend home behind him.

Jose spinning cotton to make thread with his weekend home behind him.

The train leaving Alausi.

The train leaving Alausi.

Setting up for the arrival of the train in Sibambe.

Setting up for the arrival of the train in Sibambe.

Cleaning fish in Duran

Cleaning fish in Duran

Achupallas- a town that has been frozen in the past.

Achupallas- a town that has been frozen in the past.

Steadicam with Chimborazo in the background.

Steadicam with Chimborazo in the background.

El Comercio (Quito’s Newspaper) 1906

Today I went to do research in the archive at the Ministerio de cultura y patrimonio in Quito, Ecuador. I found the whole year of newspapers during 1906 in Ecuador and was able to download most of them. These will help provide context  and provide a time line to Maria Rosa’s journey. In 1906 Eloy Alfaro became president after deposing Lizardo Garcia. Alfaro was known as a liberal president who supported the separation of church and state, public education and enacted legislation to protect freedom of speech and the legalization of civil marriage and divorce. He is probably best known for overseeing the construction of the railroad. It was under his watch that the Railway connecting Quito and Guayaquil was completed in 1908.

El Comercio, June 21, 1906

El Comercio, June 21, 1906

On the front page of El COMERCIO there is an AD taking up most of the space. It says “E.V. Harman Comisionistas”. I had to look up the word to understand what it meant in this context. It means that the Harman company who provided the engineers to build the Transandino Railway were looking to exchange goods for services. In other words they exchanged products from the United States for services. It doesn’t say exactly what kinds of services they were looking for but they had offices in Quito and Guayaquil where individuals could barter with them.

Nora Victoria Palacios

I don’t know that much about my Great Grandmother’s life-just some anecdotes, many that have been recounted by her niece, Nora Victoria, who at 88 is in great health. Over the last few years I have been visiting Nora Victoria in Chalguayaco which is in the Valle del Chota. Valle means valley. There are many towns in Valle del Chota which was once the home of missionaries and their slaves. Today, most of the valley is populated by descendents of slaves and is thus considered one of the largest Afro-Ecuadorian regions. Nora Victoria is a fascinating woman. She is fiercely independent, chain smokes and once or twice a month goes to Pimampiru to do what is called a “cambeo”, where she exchanges fruits and vegetables she grows in her garden for grains to make soups. When I visited her on Monday (March 10) she was preparing to do a cambeo to make fanesca, a delicious soup, full of many grains that is made during Easter. As I prepare to shoot this film that recreates my Great Grandmother’s journey I asked Nora Victoria a lot of questions about daily life in Ecuador in the 1940s when she was a little girl. She remembers walking and leading a mule up small trails while making the trek from Chota to Ibarra, the closest city to her. The trip took about 5 hours and she said that she was so poor she sometimes didn’t have shoes. In Ibarra she would sell her wares, fruits and vegetables from her garden, and then return by nightfall back to her home. A few years ago I interviewed Nora Victoria. Here is the link on vimeo. Interview with Nora Victoria Palacios.

Nora Victoria Palacios

Nora Victoria Palacios

If just getting to Ibarra was 5 hours you can imagine how harrowing the journey was all the way to Guayaquil. I have been doing quite a bit of research about the journey. It could take from 2 weeks to 3 months depending on the season. During the rainy season there was flooding, bugs, deadly diseases, and rising rivers making it very dangerous to cross them. Travelers stayed in Tambos which are adobe houses with thatched roofs. In the 18th century the Tambos were run by indigenous locals who lived along the path called “El Camino del Inca”. Later the indigenous “inn keepers” were replaced by Spanish criollos who were hired by the state government. The roads/trails became more dangerous and the Tambos fell into disrepair. Since Maria Rosa made the trip in the early 20th century she probably found a path in disrepair especially since the construction of the railroad was underway.

A typical house in Chota circa 1950

A typical house in Chota circa 1950

  A Tambo near the base of Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador.

A Tambo near the base of Chimborazo, the tallest mountain in Ecuador.

Abdullah Al Saadi and Jawshing Arthur Liou (exhibiting at the Sharjah Biennial 12)

My good friend and interlocutor, Rodolfo Kronfle Chambers (see his Blog Río Revuelto) has been following my research and the making of The Journey of Maria Rosa Palacios for quite some time. He suggested I look at the work of Liou and Saadi.

Liou is showing Kora at the Sharjah Biennial 12 http://www.arthurliou.com/. “Kora is both a type of pilgrimage and a type of meditation in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. Kora is performed by making a walking circumambulation around a temple, stupa, or other sacred site. Kora many be performed while spinning prayer wheels, chanting mantra, counting mala, or repeatedly prostrating oneself. ” The video is meditative and eerie at the same time. I enjoyed how the low-angle of the camera captures the landscape and how the walkers along the route appear as apparitions. The work does suggest the altitude of the place and probably more importantly an other worldliness that is perhaps mystical or ascendent.

Saadi is showing “Al Zannoba Journey” at he Sharjah Biennial 12 Zannoba Journey.  This series of works documents the artist’s journey on foot through mountain areas and villages in the east of United Arab Emirates. The rocks have been hand painted and appear as archeological artifacts that have been neatly organized as an anthropologist might. Saadi’s work focuses on cataloging and archiving. In this case I am presuming they are found rocks that he  then added his own painting to. I like this impulse to collect found rocks on a performative journey and then alter the collection. The work sits in a gray area between actual collection through the simple act of walking and intervention. The paintings reference hieroglyphs and cave painting suggesting the impulse of humans to leave their mark.