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A day in the life of a Peruvian shaman - Gabriel Prieto


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The year is 1400 BCE. At the temple of the fisherman, the morning is unusually still and this is just the latest in a series of troubling signs for Quexo, the village shaman. The villagers live off the sea, but this year the winds have died and the fish have dwindled. He’s seen this before— his only hope to fix it is a special ritual. Gabriel Prieto outlines a day in the life of a Peruvian shaman.

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Climate change and environmental calamities had shaped the way humans see and understand the world. Ancient shamans invoked supernatural forces to explain natural phenomena to common people, developing mysterious rituals that mitigated the adverse effects. Exotic products, like cinnabar, played a major role in ancient civilizations as not only commodities that had the power to link people, but also to have a positive effect in their daily lives.

Gramalote, where the fictitious character “Quexo” lived, was a 3500 years old maritime community which based its economy in an extended household system, in which surplus is only produced when it is needed to fill social obligations with other households or to profit during regional fairs or market places organized around the inland ceremonial centers. Men were brave fishermen who mostly hunted blue sharks for their daily consumption. In addition, the women of the community could have made frequent trips around the valley to exchange their marine products for other food products and objects needed for daily life. These people did not have an “institutionalized” or imposed religion or political force at Gramalote. In extended religious systems like the Catholic church or the Islam, specific rules and rituals need to be followed during official celebrations, funerary services or even in household rituals. 

There is no evidence of a differentiation in social scale within the community. It seems that all the inhabitants, though specialized in the exploitation or manufacture of specific products, had plentiful access to daily objects and even “exotic” products such as cinnabar pigment. On the other hand, the presence of multiple ritual caches within their houses suggests that there was a sort of libertatem exercere for domestic rituals among the Gramalote residents. These ritual caches comprise shark, fish, shellfish and sometimes plants, indicating that Gramalote inhabitants used the most economically important food resources as offerings in their cult. Thus, it is possible that domestic rituals were performed to guarantee food resources critical to the village’s economy.

Gramalote was a dynamic, free and constantly changing domestic settlement. Instead of consisting only of specialized fishermen, Gramalote can be seen as having a marine-oriented subsistence economy with a high degree of sub-specialization within the community. The inhabitants were also engaged in specialized domestic industries. Both marine products and non-subsistence products such as gourds, basketry, shell beads and red pigment suggest an extensive interaction between this community and others located in different parts of the valley. 

Today, we do not know much about the economy of the so-called “farming” communities in the valley, but they most likely manufactured a wide range of non-subsistence products such as ceramic vessels, stone bowls and tools, anthracite mirrors, and fine textiles. This surplus of food and manufactured products created at the household level in various domestic settlements were the source of frequent economic interchange and social interaction between different kinds of residential sites.

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Gabriel Prieto
  • Director Hernando Bahamon
  • Narrator Addison Anderson
  • Storyboard Artist Hernando Bahamon
  • Animator Rony Torres, Laura Carranza
  • Compositor LaPajarapinta
  • Art Director Ivan Barrera
  • Music Manuel Borda
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Associate Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Fact-Checker Eden Girma

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