(By Wolfy Becker)
Oxapampa and Pozuzo are two towns located on the eastern side of the Pasco region, in the central part of Peru. Oxapampa (1,800 meters above sea level) and Pozuzo (800 masl) belong to the natural region known as Selva Alta or high jungle. They are connected through a dirt road that goes along the interesting Yanachaga-Chemillén National Park.
But apart from nature, the most interesting thing in both towns is their origin. Pozuzo, the oldest one, was founded in 1859 when a group of colonists came from the European areas of Tyrol and Prussia, after a hard and painful 3 year journey. In 1853, conditions in Central Europe grew challenging due to wars and famine.
Tyrol in 1857
At the time, Tyrolean inheritance laws led to a massive property partitioning because every child received a part of their parental home, business or farm. The result was the fragmentation of estates within a small number of generations. If your own soil wasn't enough to feed a family then by law you were not allowed to marry.
In most cases however, the agricultural property went to the oldest or youngest son in order to secure the continuance of the farm. The other siblings either remained at the estate working as menials or maids or they left in search of a better life someplace else.
In addition, dry and unfertile land in the Alpine valleys and mountains often allowed only a rather humble cultivation. Catastrophes like landslides, floods, wildfires, plant diseases, et cetera, also threatened their existence. For some poor and impoverished peasants emigration was the only way out of their miserable situation.
Then, baron Damian Freinbern Schuetz-Holzhausen, a German explorer and globetrotter, made a deal with the Peruvian government to send 10,000 colonists within 6 years to the virgin area of Alto Huallaga. In order to attract as many people at home as fast as possible, he started an ad campaign in the at the time reputable local Tyrolean "Volks- und Schützenzeitung“ newspaper. He was specifically looking for German and Tyrolean workaholics (útiles), catholics, well behaved with good moralities (buenas costumbres), strong (robustos) who were willing to make the far away country of Peru their new home.
They travelled to Callao port in Lima, Peru (for about 4 months) in the ship "Norton", which by the way, was the "church" for some couples who couldn't get married in Austria.
About 180 Tyroleans followed the initial call and left their previous lives behind. They were accompanied by a 37 year old courageous priest named Josef Egg, a chaplain from Wald (Pitz Valley) born in St. Nikolaus (Innsbruck). Approximately half of the people came from the upper Inn valley, from towns such as Silz, Haiming and Zams. The others originated from various other Alpine regions. on March 16th, 1857, they said their goodbyes after a common mass was held on the main square in Silz and then embarked on a long journey to the alleged promised land.
After arriving in Antwerp, Belgium, the number of emigrants had increased to 300 people, mostly Germans from the Mosel valley. On March 30th, 1857, the sailing vessel "Norton" hoisted anchor. The ship also became a wedding chapel for some couples who couldn't get married in Austria.
Arrival in Peru and march across the Andes
After a 4-month cruise many emigrants suffered a bitter disappointment. They landed at the port of Huacho, north of Lima, and despite a contractual obligation, it was only there when they were told that the mule track leading from Cerro de Pasco in the high Andes towards their new colony in Pozuzo hadn't been build yet. For that reason, many unmarried craftsmen abandoned the others and tried to find work somewhere else in Peru.
The families however had to remain together and began the long and exhausting march across the coastal desert, high Andean peaks and valleys, and then the jungle. They decided to build the mule track to Pozuzo themselves. It was an activity of unimaginable strain. Only the untiring efforts of priest Josef "Jose" Egg prevented the whole group from falling apart. He spearheaded construction works, starved with them, and still found the right words of encouragement for his peasants. However, while on their way more left their dream behind and chose to work for the haciendas.
Arrival and Life in Pozuzo
After spending the first rain season in Acobamba they moved their camp to Santa Cruz (Pampa Hermosa). From here they finally advanced into the allocated settlement area at the Huancamba river in May 1958. After partitioning the land, they started with the deforestation and the building of simple huts.
In the early summer of 1859, after two years of grueling ordeals, a decimated group of 165 people settled at the banks of the Rio Huancabamba und ultimately founded the "Pozuzo colony". However, despite reaching their final destination they were standing in the middle of jungle, far away from the settlements in the Andean Sierras, and the few natives living in the area weren't able to spare anything.
In the year 1868 a second group of about 300 Tyroleans and 30 Bavarians followed to settle at the Rio Mairo, 20 miles east of Pozuzo. Since the promised path from Pozuzo to Mairo also had not been built, many of the new arrivals stayed in Pozuzo and surrounding area.
Within the first 15 years Pozuzo received a different face. The jungle was widely deforested, the fertile land gave peasants enough to eat. In 1875, the colonists constructed a little church and an adjacent farm for their priest Josef Egg and pledged that the 25th of July will always be celebrated as "Colony Day".
In 1891 a group of colonists from Pozuzo founded the city of Oxapampa (now the capital of the province of same name) and then the town of Villa Rica (both S of Pozuzo). Pozuzo became an important cattle raising place.
Far away from the rest of the world because of their geographic location and the settlement fell almost into oblivion at home in Tyrol. Only a few remembered their companions in the Peruvian jungle. The promised road was finished by Peruvian authorities in 1976 (!) but during the rain season sometimes it is still impassable, even today.
Not a lot has changed in Pozuzo. The elder people of Pozuzo still communicate in their traditional Austrian, upper Inn valley dialect and today's population lives under "third world" conditions comparable to a Europe of about 80 years ago, without electricity and sufficient medical supplies. Although no one has to starve, poverty is daunting.
With the donations of a recently founded Tyrolean relief operation called "Health for Pozuzo“ a small hospital was built and inaugurated in July 2004. A retired couple with a medical education decided to spend their sunset years as volunteers in Pozuzo's hospital instead of sitting in a wheelchair at home. A Tyrolean German teacher was sent to the colony since 1996. They all contributed to the continuance of Tyrolean traditions in the colony.
Besides their dialect, residents also maintained peasant traditions. Tyrolean farmhouses are standing in the middle of the Peruvian jungle. Every year on Juli 25th, Austrian flags are hoisted and a parade in traditional costumes is organized. A small delegation is sent to Lima's annual "Oktoberfest del Peru" to perform a folk dance on stage.
And for the occasion of a special ceremonial act on March 16th, the 25oth anniversary of their ancestors departure, a delegation of 26 Pozuzos is expected to arrive in Haiming, Austria. At least the ties to their homeland have strengthened.