First Visit to the Museum

On Monday, the museum we were to work at, the National Museum of Anthropology, Archaeology, and History, had a special occasion: they were celebrating the deathdate of Julio C. Tello, the first Peruvian archaeologist who conducted scientific investigations. We piled into a taxi and went to the museum to meet Bob. While usually security is extremely tight at the museum, we were ushered in by Vidal, the hostess of the ceremony. We were led to some folding chairs placed in rows facing a concrete walkway. It turned out that the walkway was the tomb of Tello himself, in the middle of the museum grounds! Extremely well-dressed Peruvian researchers and professors started to fill the seats. Bob had to sit with other professors in the front row so Mercedes Delgado, a Peruvian archaeologist sat with us.

The ceremony was very diverse. After some opening words by the hostess, wreaths were brought out to the tomb. She then had numerous people stand up to be recognized, including the students and I! Vidal told the crowd that we were students from America led by Bob who will soon be working at the museum. We stood up and smiled for a picture before nervously sitting back down. Different professors started to give short speeches, supposedly on Tello’s contribution and personal stories. One professor started a very impassioned speech. It basically said that foreign students studying in Peru was what is exactly wrong with Peruvian archaeology and against what Tello stood for: homebrewed researchers. Awkward! The next speaker went on a similar rant about how the Peruvian government is not doing enough to recover artifacts that have been absconded to the United States and Europe, sometimes falling into the hands of what would otherwise be legitimate museums. That speech irked a speaker, the director of the museum, who requested to get back to the podium. She defended the Peruvian government’s efforts, citing that any funds are sucked up fighting the tricky American lawyers. We were by now quite uncomfortable. The hostess knew this tangent was making the crowd (especially us) feel weird so she gave a neutral speech about how cultural patrimony is everyone’s responsibility and moved on.

The next section was an ethnic dance by a group from a local small town. I’m not sure what happened but there was some communication problem between the dancers and the band and the performance was rather lackluster.

Flickr Link: Andean dancers
{Andean dancers perform at the ceremony.}

They did get more into it as they danced so it ended ok. Some closing remarks and the ceremony was over. Wine and snacks were passed around. They had alfajores, which are powdered cookies sandwiching a condensed milk and caramel spread. Everyone got up to mingle and take pictures with the tomb. After lunch at a local restaurant we left for the hostel to reflect on what an overwhelming ceremony we just saw.

Flickr Link: Posing at Tello's tomb
{Standing at Tello’s tomb after the ceremony.}

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