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Tablas de Sarhua: ancestral art that resists time as a family legacy

Home / Travel Blog / Tablas de Sarhua: ancestral art that resists time as a family legacy
Tablas de Sarhua: ancestral art that resists time as a family legacy

The Andean community of Sarhua, in the department of Ayacucho, Peru, preserves the custom of decorating the main beam that supports the roof of the house.


These tables are gifts between compadres, painted by the families of both parties, the presence of these people commits them to collaborate in the construction. There may be more than one gift board for the same build as there may be multiple compadres.


Each beam or "quellca" has motifs and elaboration techniques that are as simple as they are rigorous.


In general, Andean man used images as a means of expression and communication. They were the qellcacamayoq, the historians of the Tawantinsuyo who graphically recorded history on tablets and who recounted by heart the events recorded on them at certain times of the year.


The origins of the tables would be in those that Pachacútec Inca Yupanqui (1438 ~ 1471) had painted to organize the memory of the empire that was beginning to build and that were stored, according to chronicles such as that of Pedro Sarmiento de Gamboa, in a unique library called Poquencancha in the city of Cuzco.


A later link is the canvases commissioned by Viceroy Francisco de Toledo (1569 ~1581) to paint Indian painters from Cusco, to show the Spanish kings the history of the Inca rulers.


Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala with his "New Chronicle and Good Government", between 1613 and 1614, recorded 398 illustrations, with the Quellca Inca tradition; the drawing records the fact and the written phrase a more concise reference to it.


From this evolution come the Sarhua Tables, their antiquity cannot be proven beyond the second half of the 19th century.


Currently, Sarhuino immigrants produce small boards in Lima artisan workshops, taking themes, images, motifs, colors and techniques that had already been tested in their town of origin, but whose artistic products, boards or beams, had never been used before. out to a market.


Remote and Historic

Sarhua is located in the south of Peru. Although it separates about 345 kilometers in a straight line from Lima, reaching Sarhua is neither easy nor fast.


En route it can take up to 10 hours. Therefore, it is convenient to get to Ayacucho by plane and from there about three hours by road to Sarhua.


The oldest news about the Spanish domination of these lands dates back to 1574, with the visit of Juan Palomares to establish limits between the towns that already belonged to several Spaniards, but in which there were already indigenous settlements.

And the most widespread theory about the origin of the name of Sarhua is that it comes from the Quechua word "sarwi", which means "devoured animal remains".


"There is a legend that indicates that before the foundation of the town, there was a lagoon surrounded by thick vegetation where wild animals lived, such as the puma, that devoured other animals and hence the name "Gabriela Germana tells BBC Mundo.

Sarhua was founded as an indigenous community in the middle of the Spanish colony, so the Catholic evangelization and the construction of its colonial church were mixed with pre-Columbian religious festivities, so the community is nourished by a marriage of celebrations.


The ceremony

The Sarhua Tables show precisely this synergy between the Spanish and the local religious culture, and they are a gift between compadres (or godparents) within a community.


"The tables are part of the Apaykuy Table ceremony that takes place when they build a new house. They build a roof and the compadres deliver a table from the owner of the house that is placed on one side of the gabled roof next to the beam", explains Venuca Evanán, artist of the Tablas de Sarhua.


The table will reflect the family that is receiving it as a gift, and the visual reading is from the bottom up.


That is to say, that in the lower part there is a text where the dedication of the godfather is. In the next painting appears a Catholic saint who is generally the Virgin of the Assumption, who is the patron saint of Sarhua.


And then come all the members of the family in order of importance. And in the last frame there is usually the Sun, which is an Andean deity, details Germana.


The boards represent between 7 and 8 scenes depending on the length of the trunk and the number of people who collaborate in the construction of the house.


And why give a Sarhua Table?

"To wish prosperity, blessings, good vibes for the home and it is delivered with songs, with more gifts, in the Apaykuy Table ceremony. And the family will receive it and will eat, drink, dance and celebrate around the house," says Venuca Evanán.


Origins in the colony

There is no conclusive proof of the origin of the Sarhua Tablets. The oldest table dates back to the end of the 19th century, art historian Gabriela Germaná told RPP Noticias. But she added that “many researchers have tried to link it to the time of the Incas”, since there are chronicles that narrate the appearance of “some painted tables” at that time.


However, such paintings did not necessarily tell stories. “There is other more recent research that indicates that these paintings were much more abstract and only some specialized people could interpret them, as was the case with the quipus and the quipucamayoc,” the specialist pointed out.


Of Spanish foundation, the district of Sarhua was formed by various pre-Hispanic populations that were scattered in the heights of the hills that surround the town. In this colonial context, with an indigenous community that kept ancestral knowledge before the arrival of the Spanish, the Sarhua Tables may have emerged, explained the historian.


What is certain is that Sarhuino art feeds on that European and indigenous cultural fusion: from the Virgin of the Assumption, representative of Catholic evangelization, to the sun at the end of the panel, an Andean divinity. "The style of representing people figuratively comes with the Spanish, as well as the material and technique [of making the tables]," said the expert.


Evolution over time

Although, initially, the Sarhua Tables symbolized the "social relationships established in the community," Germaná pointed out, the migration of the Sarhuinos to Lima at different times in the 20th century transformed the original meaning of this traditional art. “In Sarhua, the boards represent reciprocity; but in Lima, they are an object for decorative use”.


It was between the 1960s and 1980s that generations of sarhuinos settled in the capital in search of a better future, and among the first wave migrants was Primitivo Evanán, who learned this ancestral art in the late 1960s in Lima. Together with Víctor Yucra, another sarhuino installed in the metropolis, they inaugurated the first art exhibition of Sarhua in the Huamanqaqa gallery, in August 1975.


"The arts are related to the context where their producers live," said the art historian. Hence, the migrants from Sarhua portrayed traditional themes, but no longer on boards, but in "new rectangular formats and pictures", as Venuca Evanán specified, to which "they add background landscapes, texts that tell the Lima public the myths and sarhuina traditions; that was in the 1970s and 1980s,” Germaná said.


Among the first generations of sarhuian painters, it was precisely Julián Ramos who, at the end of the 1970s, began to draw scenes from his town. “We as painters, from the oldest to the current, continue to develop the tradition, but mixing. Now a little we expand on popular art, but always tradition and life in Sarhua: everyday life, cultural activities, festivities (...) I always tell the stories, the legends that our grandparents tell, "he told RPP Noticias.


At the end of the eighties, however, the Sarhua Tables showed new realities by narrating a series of problems such as violence and migration. "After that, they no longer only make individual tables, but long series where they tell those stories with greater development," said the researcher.


For Primitivo Evanán, the making of these series is due to "the need to represent the violence that the community experienced" between 1980 and 1982, as a result of the actions of the Shining Path terrorist group against the Peruvian State.


In Sarhua, the tables continue to maintain their original meaning, being delivered in the Apaykuy Table ceremony, attended by the family and those who collaborated in the construction of the house, according to Germaná. “A kind of comparsa is performed where the compadre carries the table, while the women sing a harawi and others carry jars with drinks, ichu, fruits and food. When they arrive at the house, they give the board to the owner and with that the roofing is finished,” she described.

The oldest Sarhua tables that are preserved to date are from the end of the 19th century, but due to the natural materials with which they are made, which are wood and colored earth and that hang from the thatched roof in an area with a lot of rain, it is difficult for these boards to last long.


A Rigorous Job

Making a Sarhua Table is an arduous process that requires a lot of patience and physical work. "The materials are brought from the community of Sarhua or from here (Lima)", assured Mr. Primitivo, who before sitting down to work on a new creation first thinks of "an issue related" to his town.


According to Venuca, there are two techniques to create: one that is typical of Sarhua, in which the raw material offered by nature is used —“from wild trunks to land with natural colors”—, and another that began to used in Lima, with industrial products. In the Ayacucho community, for example, "the land is mixed with the collagen extracted from the leg of the cow" to obtain the paint, while in the capital acrylics mixed with water are used.


But before drawing and painting, the wood of the board must be dry enough to sand it or brush it if it is very rough. "There in Sarhua it is filled with white earth, but here we use plaster, white paint and synthetic glue, three to four layers," explained Venuca. Once he lists the surface, they begin to outline with an object that is preserved in both techniques: the quill pen. "That has been maintained until now, with that each figure and the details of the clothing are delineated," added the artist.


Campanayuq Waterfall: get to know the majestic tourist attraction of Sarhua.

If this weekend you are looking to get out of the routine and enjoy the wonders of nature, the Campañayuq waterfalls are the best option.


This tourist destination is located southwest of Sarhua, a district of Fajardo, known as the cradle of handicrafts and a bastion of Andean culture resistance, which, despite the passage of time, continues to maintain its cultural identity, traditions and customs.


The District Municipality of Sarhua, led by its mayor Juan Pablo Quichua Baldeón, through the area of ​​Culture, Tourism and Crafts, announced the reopening of this wonderful destination after the reaffirmation of the carriageway carried out during these months in order to provide greater security in access to visitors.


The locals comment that the name of Campanayuq comes from a sound emitted by a rock formation. It is said that inside a cave in the area there is a rectangular stone that, when crushed with another stone, sounds like a bell.


On the way to the majestic destination, visitors will be able to appreciate the green mantle that covers the road to this valley and, upon arrival, they will be able to observe natural formations of pools and waterfalls after waterfalls that form along the way.


In addition, from the top, you can have a panoramic view of the color of the waters, the geological formations in the form of aquatic platforms surrounded by forests.


You can also visit Other Tourist Attractions


In the place, visitors can also find other attractions such as: the forest of native plants of Qinwa, in the place called Qinwa Wayqu and the cave painting of Capillayuq.


Likewise, they will be able to enjoy a hot water outlet known as the Muncha hot springs, which, later, joins with cold water and forms the Campanayuq waterfalls.


Sarhua Receive Visitors all year round

To visit Campanayuq, citizens must carry a compulsory vaccination card and DNI to register the statistical control of tourists. Likewise, it is mandatory to request the service of a local Sarhua guide or counselor.



Visitors to this paradisiacal place should bring warm clothes, a poncho to cover themselves from the rain, sunscreen, repellent, a hat, sunglasses, walking shoes with cocada, additional clothing for any unforeseen event, a camera, water and food.


Likewise, attendees are recommended to return the waste generated during the walk to protect our environment.


It should be noted that the district of Sarhua receives visitors throughout the year. In addition to these tourist destinations, you can enjoy a variety of cultural events that continue to endure over time. Its music, tradition, history, crafts, gastronomy and others will surprise you.


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