Chungui: Journey to the center of oblivion - PhMuseum

Chungui: Journey to the center of oblivion

Max Cabello Orcasitas

2010 - Ongoing

Chungui: Journey to the center of oblivion

In the district of Chungui, Ayacucho, Peru, there’s a foundational myth that strikes people’s imagination the most. From the countless versions that exist, this is one of them: when Dominican monks arrived to the district during the first part of the Spanish Conquest, there was a drunken and insolent local chief ‘a curaca’ who irrupted into the church and threw down the chalice and the world descended into darkness. The curaca transformed into a jaguar and started chasing and devouring people. Only when the saints resurrected, the jaguar was dominated with lashes and fire. When peace was restored, survivors resettled.

Thirty years ago this myth adjoined reality.

Chungui is a distant district located in the region of Ayacucho, which was ‘according to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’, one of the most affected Peruvian villages during the political violence and armed conflict time, between 1980 and 1995. Chungui’s territory, of around 1000 square kilometers, was the scenario of multiple slaughters caused by both subversive organization Shining Path and Peruvian Policing Agencies (Army and Police forces). Currently, that same area contains 320 mass graves with the remains of more than 1,384 victims, waiting to be acknowledged by their families, mostly orphans and survivors of such harsh time.

Today, most of Chungui’s population lives in extreme poverty, and also trying to recover from the trauma that meant so violent in years past decades.

The restoration of celebratory expressions and life-death rituals is interrupted by the still slow exhumation process of the victims and disappeared people of those brutal years. Along with this restoration, Chungui’s population is concerned with recovering their relatives’ bodies.

Many of Chungui’s small hamlets do not have electricity or water supply, not even highways or healthcare centers. Since there are not highways, people have to make long walks of around 6 to 12 hours to move their products to a sales point.

Nowadays, the scenario in these towns has a common background: the presence of poverty, as well as the restoration of celebratory expressions and rituals of life. This convalescence appears blocked by the still slow process of exhuming victims’ remains and by the people disappeared during those brutal years.

This current series aims to revisit these places in order to see the post-conflict every-day life, and to make visible the stories of this silent mourning.

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  • A girl lies on the grave of her relative during their funeral.

  • Toy in a house in Chungui.

  • Maximiliana Contreras ,Chungui village woman, attends to the cemetery to visit the grave of his family who passed away at the hands of members of Shining Path. Most of the citizens have Chungui deceased relatives during the domestic violence suffered Peru, especially Chungui during the years 1980 and 1995.

  • Chungui’s landscape.

  • Carnaval Chungui

  • Funeral of Victoria Contreras, Chungui’s villager. Although Mrs. Contreras died of natural causes, the passing of elderly people means the passing of witnesses of the armed conflict. They are also the beneficiaries of an economic compensation law affecting victims of the armed conflict and their children.

  • Remains of a Peruvian army barracks that has been abandoned in the jungle of Chungui near the Apurimac river. Part Chungui territory, also includes part of Amazon jungle, to be located in the Valley of the Apurimac River and Pampas (VRAEM), which is one of the areas of coca cultivation, most important of Peru.

  • Chungui’s landscape.

  • Bride during wedding celebrations at Chungui.

    The restoration of celebratory expressions and life-death rituals is interrupted by the still slow exhumation process of the victims and disappeared people of those brutal years. Along with this restoration, Chungui’s population is concerned with recovering their relatives’ bodies.

  • A tree decorated with streamers, toys and buckets swings, moved by the wind, in front of two children. This is a carnival scene in Chungui district. The restoration of celebratory expressions and life-death rituals is interrupted by the still slow exhumation process of the victims and disappeared people of those brutal years. Along with this restoration, Chungui’s population is concerned with recovering their relatives’ bodies.

  • Dannal Aramburu , Forensic Archaeologist exhaustion lies amid the jungle of Chungui. Just reunited with a group of forensic, after being lost for 3 hours. Chungui is also known as “Dog’s Ear”, and it’s located at 800 kilometers from southeast Lima. The citizens there work as guides for the forensic teams. In order to reach this area, they have had to walk for 17 hours departing from the nearest highway.

  • Dannal Aramburu, forensic anthropologist (in blue), along with a family from Chungui observe the remains of two victims found in a mass grave of moderate depth, situated near a mango tree. This place is called Chaupimayu, within the area known as “Dog’s Ear” in Chungui, and it’s located at 800 kilometers from southeast Lima. The population is in charge of guiding the forensic teams. In order to reach this area, they have had to walk for 17 hours departing from the nearest highway. Chungui’s people are concerned with finding their relatives, who died during violent times between 1980 and 1990.

    Between November and December of 2013, two forensic teams from the Public Prosecutor’s Office exhumed approximately 50 mass graves in the long-suffering Chungi district, in Ayacucho, Peru. Shining Path and Peruvian Armed Forces are believed to have buried at least 200 people in these pits. During four weeks of work, 99 corpses were found.

  • Chungui’s landscape. A villager rests in the hillside of Chungui.
    Between November and December of 2013, two forensic teams from the Public Prosecutor’s Office exhumed approximately 50 mass graves in the long-suffering Chungi district, in Ayacucho, Peru. Shining Path and Peruvian Armed Forces are believed to have buried at least 200 people in these mass graves. During four weeks of work, 99 corpses were found.

  • A girl hides in Chungui’s church and observes from there the celebration of Chungui’s anniversary. The restoration of celebratory expressions and life rituals is interrupted by the still slow exhumation process of the victims and disappeared people of those brutal years.

  • A member of the Self-defense Committee in the town of Churca, in Chungui. Members of the Self-defense Committees are armed villagers in charge of securing the area due to the absence of police enforcement. They also act as guides for the forensic experts during the exhumations since they know the paths to reach the mass graves where the armed conflict victims would have been buried.


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