Ernesto Benavides

2010 - 2013

Still used in Peru’s Coast and Andes to fertilize fields that are often far from the ocean or earth where it mounts, guano is a marvelous organic product that comprises excrement from three types of seabirds. It is extracted by laborers throughout 22 islands and 11 capes located in, or in front, the Peruvian Coast’s 3079.5 kilometers. Collecting guano is extenuating: it involves sweat, rising before dawn under the thick fog, and even some tears. When guano first arrived to England in 1841, it became a vital resource for Peruvian State formation. The income provided by this natural resource, at that time bountiful, fostered the establishment of this new country’s basic tenets, to the point that Peru was called “The Guano Republic” between 1841 and 1879. Throughout the early years of this period, vast seams of Guanay Cormorant (Leucocarbo bougainvillii), Peruvian Pelican (Pelecanus thagus), and Peruvian Booby (Sula variegata) stool were collected without control and prevision because such extraction methods translated into extremely profitable business. A rotation system for guano, which gave some rest to birds and islands, was only decreed in the early 1900s. Before that, toward the end of the 19th century, saltpeter, another natural fertilizer, led to the waning importance of guano. Nevertheless, guano kept being extracted, until now, through human force and long stays in the places where it accumulates thanks to generous bird populations. Although today’s laborers suffer less than their predecessors, profound traces of history and the aura of those centuries and decades of guano extraction still subsist in the sweat of those toiling work shifts.

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