Where Our Ancestors Once Tread

Mapping the Historical-Cultural Space of the Yanesha People

A four-part film series

This series is part of a pioneering project developed by the Instituto del Bien Comun (Peru) in collaboration with the Yanesha people of the Central Peruvian Amazon in order to help preserve their history and its relation with their territory as sacred landscape. Yanesha oral history, anthropological research and GIS technology were combined to reclaim their collective memory, reconstruct the histories of their ancestors, and map their historical-cultural space. The project incorporated members from many Yanesha communities and organizations over a period of six years of field research, data processing and analysis, and the production of documents, books, maps and the film series. (continues below)


Yompor’ Partsesha



The Yanesha, an indigenous people located in the eastern slope of the Peruvian Central Andes (see map below), have for millennia maintained a vital relationship with their ancestors and the natural landscape. Since 1635, however, the Spanish Franciscans established several missions in Yanesha territory and began their campaign to "extirpate idolatries." Over a century later, the Yanesha joined a regional anti-colonial guerrilla movement led by Juan Santos Atahualpa, drove out the Spanish and remained independent for over 120 years. Beginning in the late 19th century, however, the area became a magnet for large scale settlement by Peruvians and Europeans and the Yanesha were devastated by diseases and eventually forced out of much of their territory.

Also known as Amuesha, the Yanesha have been able to endure a long history of displacement and oppression thanks in part to their rich oral history, which includes over 200 mythical-historical ancestor figures--each of them associated with places within their original territory. This tradition is nonetheless rapidly fading with passing generations as the youth increasingly migrate to urban centers.

The project was conducted from 2000 to 2006 in collaboration with Yanesha elders who visited sacred places to trace down their oral history and the links with their ancestors. It was led by Yanesha researcher Espiritu Bautista and anthropologist Richard Chase Smith of the Instituto del Bien Comun. Funding was provided by the Ford Foundation.

The video material for the series was recorded in the Central Andean Amazon of Peru, in 2005-06.

This film series is recommended for teaching about subjects including:

oral history

myth and religion

indigenous knowledge

applied anthropology

Yanesha cultural identity

Andean Amazonian cultures

Latin American studies


  1. Steward, Julian H. (1948) Tribes of the Montaña: An Introduction. Handbook of South American Indians. J. H. Steward, ed. V.3: 507-534. Washington, D.C.: Government

  2.     Printing Office.

  3. Smith, Richard Chase (2006) Where Our Ancestors Once Tread: Amuesha Territoriality and Sacred Landscape in the Andean Amazon of Central Peru. In Étre Indien dans

  4.     les Amériques Spoliations et résistance - Mobilisations ethiques et politiques du multiculturalisme. Christian Gros and Marie Claude Stigler, eds. pp. 69-84. Paris:    

  5.     Institut des Ameriques and l’IHEAL-CREDAL l'Université Paris III.

  6. Smith, Richard Chase (1983) Hierarchy and Equality in the Peruvian Lowlands: Some Aspects of the Social and Religious Organization of the Amueshas. Unpl. Ms 77 pp.

  7.     Cambridge: Harvard University.

The complete video series featured here is available as a two-DVD package (Yanesha and Spanish version only)

For more information and to purchase copies, please contact Instituto del Bien Comun