Accepted Paper:

Magic rocks and Andean lovers: marketing spirituality and romance in Peruvian tourism  


Karoline Guelke (University of Victoria)

Paper short abstract:

In Peru's Cusco area, a form of Andean New Age spirituality is marketed to tourists. Brokers are often local men seeking relationships with foreign women. While this commodification perpetuates historical power hierarchies, it also allows locals to challenge and renegotiate these inequalities.

Paper long abstract:

Tourism is defined by the movement of bodies, goods, and money, but intangible factors like belief systems and emotional responses are also mobilized. In Peru's Cusco region, a form of spirituality that combines pre-colonial and New Age beliefs is marketed to tourists. The brokers are often local men who seek relationships with Western tourists, resulting in an entanglement of spiritual practice with sex and romance. The objectification and commodification of beliefs and bodies for Western consumption perpetuates neocolonial power inequalities; these processes also further marginalize indigenous people whose culture is appropriated by urban mestizos who know how to market it successfully.

However, I argue that this does not simply constitute a selling out to foreign demands. By producing narratives about a glorified Inca past and presenting themselves as direct descendents of this heritage, local men can actively manage social memory and construct new and powerful identities. Positioning themselves like this also facilitates romantic relationships with foreign women that can result in significant material and emotional support.

This work is part of my doctoral research examining gender issues and tourism development in the Sacred Valley near Cusco. It included ten months of ethnographic research with local people, tourists, and foreign residents in the community of Ollantaytambo which is fast becoming a major tourist destination. My findings indicate that, while spirituality and romance are commodified to meet tourist demands, this can also serve as a strategy of resistance and allow local people to renegotiate unequal power relations.

Panel WIM-CHAT01
Cultural heritage in motion