Eyewitness account of cultures in Peru among student Quest talks

Jonathan RotwellThe way of life for the indigenous Shipibo-Conibo people of eastern Peru has been changing as the Hispanic presence grows, and a witness to the changes in recent years has been SUNY Oswego student Jonathan Rothwell of Fayetteville.

The senior Spanish major will give a Quest presentation, “Peruvian Rainforest Regional Study: Shipibo-Hispanic Relations,” at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday, April 22, in Room 208 of the Campus Center. Quest is SUNY Oswego’s annual daylong symposium dedicated to the scholarly and creative activities of students, faculty and staff.

After high school and before enrolling at Oswego, Rothwell spent time on his own in the Ucayali River region of Peru as an aide and volunteer working with medical and religious organizations. The Ucayali River is one of two that join to form the headwaters of the Amazon River, which then flows eastward across most of the South American continent.

Rothwell contributed his skills as a translator and learned about the cultures of the region, an area that was slower than some to succumb to Western development because it lies far from the Pacific coast, in the Amazon rainforest east of the Andes mountain range.

He encountered the Shipibo-Conibo people and their various stages of assimilation to more urban life. “I’ve lived in a few of their villages,” he said. “This ethnic group has held a long and complex relationship with mainstream Hispanic populations.”

He returned to the region over winter break as part of an independent study project. He did some of his research at the Amazon Center of Anthropology and Practical Application in Peru.

“The goal is to analyze social, political and cultural changes in the indigenous groups due to an ever-increasing Hispanic presence,” he said. His presentation “will be based on my personal knowledge and other studies that have information around the issue,” he said.

Some of the pressures on the indigenous people and sources of increased Western contacts include the explorations of foreign oil companies, the global demand for lumber from the rainforest and New Age tourism.

Rothwell said he plans to pursue a teaching career in Spanish and cultural studies. He has taught English to migrant farm workers in Oswego County, and his immediate plans after graduation include the possibility of returning to Peru to teach English there.

For more information on Quest, visit www.oswego.edu/quest.

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PHOTO CAPTION: Hands-on experience—Jonathan Rothwell of Fayetteville, now a senior Spanish major at SUNY Oswego, worked as a medical aide serving the indigenous Shipibo-Conibo people in the Ucayali River region of eastern Peru before he enrolled at Oswego. He returned there over the college’s winter break and will give a presentation April 22 on Shipibo-Hispanic relations at Quest, SUNY Oswego’s symposium of student and faculty scholarly and creative activities.

(Posted: Apr 13, 2009)

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