Don Manuel Quispe
VCF was created to honor the traditions and teachings of
In my personal journey to find a tradition where I felt connected, a place where it was believed that all in our universe are the same, I was introduced to Don Manuel Quispe. He and I connected immediately at a heart and soul level, although at the time, I did not recognize the immense responsibility ahead of me.
I met Don Manuel in the early 1990s. He quickly became my teacher, my mentor, my friend, my protector, my brother and my true father. He embraced all of me unconditionally.
He was a very difficult man although he was beginning to be restricted by his age. As a teacher he expected perfection yet always reminded me to not take myself so seriously. He always walked at my side, never pushing or pulling, having patience with me as I was not fluent in his language of Quechua. He spoke only a very little Spanish.
He taught me with firmness yet always from his heart. The Mountains became our classroom. On our walks, he would talk of his family and his community. He always had a great joy about him but also too a sense of sadness since he had not spent much time with his family having been called to travel and teach his sacred traditions.
After hearing Don Manuel’s stories of his people, their beauty and their basic needs, I decided in 1994, with the help of my husband Paul, to create a non-profit organization to assist the Q’ero nation of Peru in preserving their cultural and spiritual traditions as well supporting their economic development. Paul and I spent many hours working to finally create the Vanishing Cultures Foundation, Inc., a registered 501(c)3 in Massachusetts the next year.
In 1995, VCF financed its first Mountain Medical Team consisting of one doctor, one nurse, and a mountain guide. They made the arduous climb to help the evaluate the Q’ero nation especially its medical and veterinary needs.
In 1996, VCF financed its second Mountain Medical Team. This time I led three doctors, one dentist, two nurses, three translators, cooks and herdsmen with all necessary supplies to offer medical, dental and veterinary treatment to the entire Q’ero nation. We attended to over 400 people. We treated over 3,000 alpaca and llama for internal and external parasites. We began the first census of the Q’ero nation.
After our Mountain Medical Team journey in 2004, having assisted the high Q’ero villages for 10 years, VCF had successfully completed its assistance programs in that area. Today, many of the young Q’ero people are traveling between the high villages and the lower villages for work. The Q’ero nation still has over 3,000 alpaca and llama in its herds. As of 2007, there are still six large, fully functioning, healthy Q’ero villages. I have personally visited the high villages 13 times and have led each Mountain Medical Team.
Demand for VCF assistance is high. The villages VCF have worked with have experienced enormous success. Check out our full website to see our accomplishments as well as our new projects.
My last journey to the high Q’ero villages was in December of 2004. I spent two weeks with Don Manuel Quispe, sharing stories and clearing up the many misconceptions of his medicine and his people. I sat with him as he slipped into his last moments of consciousness. He shared his last and most powerful rite of passage with his son and me. He shared his last conscious breath with us, asking us to carry on and share his traditions and his memory with the world.
Don Manuel Quispe died December 11, 2004 at sunset, around 7:30 pm. He leaves behind his 2 sons, 1 daughter, and 12 grandchildren. He died at home in Chua Chua surrounded by his family and community. He was buried in ceremony by his family and many from the Q’ero community.
I had the gift of being with Don Manuel and his family when Don Manuel slipped into unconsciousness, speaking his final words, and closing his eyes for the final time to the world and a worldwide community he would leave behind.
I had been trying to return to the Q’ero many times over the past year. For so many reasons, I just could not seem to get there. His son would send messages through our office in Cuzco, to let me know that Don Manuel was calling out for me to visit him. In August I received a message from a friend in Cuzco, that Don Manuel was asking for me rather strongly. Finally in December, I made the journey.
Jimmy “Starman” Doyle, myself, and our friend Berto began our journey. We were ready for any weather, since December is the rainy season. We had 7 ponies packed with supplies, including a 6 months supply of food to make sure Don Manuel would be all set for the rainy season. We also brought him new warm clothing and many gifts from our american ayllu. Vanishing Cultures has continued support of Don Manuel and his family since its onset in 1995.
The journey was beautiful and very peaceful. The weather was warm, a bit cloudy with an occasional sprinkle. The mountain carried us up at an amazing speed. As I reached the last peak, seeing the village in the ravine beneath me, an amazing joy spread over me. I felt as if I was floating, leaving the others far behind.
Passing through the 3 foot high door into Don Manuel’s rock cave house, I felt at home and an overwhelming sense of warmth came over me. I walked over to Don Manuel and embraced him. He was wiping his eyes in disbelief that I was truly there, and promptly yelled at me for taking so long. Then we cried and laughed as we hugged each other. I was very much reminded of the strong medicine man whom I had met with a beautiful toothless smile many years before. A while later, Jimmy and Berto entered. Don Manuel just smiled, again wiping his eyes in disbelief. Don Manuel remembered that Berto was the man who carried the 2 windows up and installed them in this 500 plus year old home, and Starman from their many meetings and travels in both Peru and the U.S. He was happy to see them both.
As I said in my previous note, installing the windows in Don Manuel’s home made it the central meeting place for his family and the village. There was never a moment when Don Manuel was left alone. He had constant company, even folks just sitting with him in silence while he slept. He was involved in the family plans and also updated with the news and events of the Q’ero.
We took Don Manuel outside to sit and enjoy the warmth of the sun. We delivered the many gifts the ayllu had sent with us. We cleaned his house, changed his bed with fresh new blankets, changed his clothes, and filled his belly with good food and lots of laughter.
Don Manuel was in great spirits. He was truly happy and content with his life in the Q’ero. He was so proud of his family, especially his grandchildren. He would watch them and just laugh! We spent days listening to his stories, his journey’s, his life as a young man and his wives. His children sang to us and shared more stories about Don Manuel’s life, from their perspective. Sometimes he would get cranky with their version of the stories, and we all laughed. We enjoyed great food, great company and laughed until our sides hurt.
Don Manuel asked me why his students did not visit him. I explained about the difficulties getting to the Q’ero villages, especially the altitude. He made me promise to bring a group to see him after the rainy season. He said he could not remember many names, but knew all the faces in the photo’s I had given him. We decided to plan a trip in May, to visit and work with him in Chua Chua. I told him he had to take care of himself, and that we would be back in May. I knew in my heart this would be the last time I would see him. Don Manuel, his son, and I made a plan of what we could do and how it would work. He reminded me he was not young and needed his rest also. I just laughed.
Don Manuel returned in spirit to his beloved Mountain right after I left. On Saturday morning I rose early to prepare for our return to Cuzco. I went in to talk with Don Manuel and hugged him. We spoke, and we cried. I put my hand on his heart, and he put his hand on my heart. He gave me a powerful life karpay. We talked a bit more about our families, he spent many weeks at my home and knew my family well. Then he gently drifted off to sleep. When our ponies were ready and the time came to leave, I placed his hand on back his heart and kissed him gently on the forehead. Later his son, Nasario, told us that Don Manuel never woke from his sleep. Don Manuel died the following Sunday as the sun set.
Don Manuel embraced me into his family and his tradition the first time I met him years ago. He was my father, my friend, my teacher, my protector. Don Manuel touched me in the deepest part of my soul. He was continuously pushing me to continue with this work. He has taught us all many things in many different ways. Even his death was in elegance. I will miss him forever.
VCF continues to support the family of Don Manuel Quispe. On her last visit to Don Manuel in Chua Chua, at the time of his death in December 2004, Denise Kinch was asked to share the teachings Don Manuel shared with her with his son Nasario. Don Manuel also asked Denise to take Nasario with her on her travels throughout Peru. She kept her promise to Don Manuel and continues to share his teachings with his son, Nasario Quispe. Nasario now travels throughout Peru with Denise Kinch and her groups to the sacred lands of the Inca. Nasario has already visited many sacred sites and mountains Don Manuel was unable to travel to because of his poor health. Denise and her students are grateful to have Nasario join her on her journeys and to share the teachings from his father.
VCF has been the only group which provided direct support to Don Manuel Quispe and his family, while he was living, in order for him to carry on his teachings by:
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