Saturday, November 20, 2010

A trip to Sutatenza

For the past few weeks my wife and I have made several trips to the Tenza valley for a series of special annual festivals. Over the coming days I'll be posting photos and commentary from our recent trips.

On the way to a festival in Guayata we stopped in Sutatenza. This is probably my favorite town in the Tenza valley. The town is built on a steep hillside, and most of the town is sharply sloped.

It has a steep-sloped main plaza with two regal ceiba trees (which I stupidly haven't taken photos of), and a lovely sandstone church on another plaza.

The food and lodging in Sutatenza is nothing special, the old architecture is pretty but not as impressive in other towns of the valley, and the weather is about standard for the Tenza valley.

There is an important basketmaking tradition in Sutatenza.

A new project running in the Tenza valley is working with Sutatenza basketweavers to diversify their products and suit them to urban consumer wants, so there is now a selection of lovely lamps,

little things to serve bread in while keeping away the flies, dolls,

and light fixtures!

My wife and I even special-ordered a crib for our new baby. Notice the four handles for hanging it from the ceiling beams so it can rock gently.

But none of these things are what draw me to the town. No, what I love about Sutatenza is its progressive agrarian history. It was the home of Accion Cultural Popular, a Catholic social movement aiming to improve life for Colombia's peasants.

ACP's most well-known program was Radio Sutatenza. This radio channel transmitted all over Colombia, giving distance-learning courses in things like hygiene, agricultural methods, finances, and theology. Hence a radio station from a tiny town in a forgotten corner of the country influenced the culture and development of all Colombia during decades. There is still a radio station in town, but it's no longer the Radio Sutatenza of old.

I would love to know more about the history of Accion Cultural Popular and Radio Sutatenza. I am especially interested to see if ACP fit into the tradition of leftist progressivism in the Church, or limited its aspirations to a more conservative line of self-improvement.

Judging from the prominent monument to the peasantry in the middle of Sutatenza, styled on Socialist Realism aesthetics, I would assume that ACO was a pretty radical social movement (which would explain its extinction today).

The monument is dedicated to San Isidro, the patron saint of farmers and rural laborers, and is printed with the motto of "Liberty and Responsibility".

This inscription says, "Homage to the Latin American peasant. His work and his bravery are the hope for our progress." There are other inscriptions with quotes from different popes about justice and dignity.

I believe I've even seen somewhere among Sutatenza's various commemorative plaques an homage to East Germany's role in ACP's development, but I haven't been able to find it again.

Anyway, one of the millions of projects I'd love to undertake would be to write an agrarian history of the Accion Cultural Popular and Radio Sutatenza social movements.

Today there doesn't seem to be any active remnants of these movements, though their history is clearly remembered throughout the town. However, there is an organization called the Escuela Campesina del Valle de Tenza based in Sutatenza, and they are trying to revive an organic farmer market in the center of town.

I got a delicious chirimoya from the farmer market.

I plan on getting in touch with the Escuela Campesina. Maybe someday I can become part of Sutatenza's strong agrarian traditions. I'm inspired by the very idea!


  1. Greg,
    Intriguing. When did (you use past tense) ACP operate? Some of the artwork looks like WPA art but I have a feeling the movement in Colombia was later.

  2. Gregg, gracias por invitarme a conocer el país del que hago parte.
    ¿Sabes que las prácticas de radio en mi carreta y universidad, se hacían en Radio Sutatenza?
    Me encanta la idea de una organización de campesinos, por la reivindicación de sus labores, todavía me gusta más, una reinvención del mercado para la distribución de productos limpios y orgánicos.
    Algunas veces, cuando te he escuchado hablar y cuando te he leído, me he preguntado si conoces el texto "Nacimiento de la Biopolítca" de Foucault (sí, era francés, ¡lo siento!), allí hace un análisis de la importancia histórica del mercado, por haber sido el lugar en el que la sociedad pasó del control jurídico al control desde la verdad, quizá con leer sus dos primeras clases bastaría para hacerse a una idea.
    Me encantan las fotos, me encanta la iniciativa.

    ¡Gracias de nuevo!

    Liliana Torres

    Nota: no encuentro la opción para hacerme seguidora de tu blog ¿la has habilitado?