Peruvian Finger Puppets for Peace

By Martha Llanos
Peace X Peace

“The role of finger puppets is unique because they are placed on your own hands, so you literally have your world and your life on your fingers and you can start making stories. They can also help build intercultural understanding.”

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I founded the Peace Ambassadors Programme because I believe that the arts are a strong vehicle for peacebuilding. I work hard to advocate play and arts as ways to develop creativity in children and adults, to encourage self and collective expression, and to strengthen people’s identities and through this contribute to peace.

Martha Llanos uses finger puppets in teaching peace building.

Puppets are a unique innovation within Peace Ambassadors Programmes. The finger puppet is so simple to make that it has probably been made for several hundreds or thousands of years. Additionally, it’s something that any mother, nanny, teacher, or nurse might have made for her children. Many people have tried to research the history, but limited information is available.

My country, Peru, has an abundance of artists and handmade crafts. Its rich history and colorful present are perfect for capturing children’s attention. The oral history of this goes back years: today’s grandmothers recalling their grandmothers weaving scraps of material into characters. With the dance of tiny fingers these puppets breathed life into their mythologies on dark winter nights spent by the fire.

Crafts can teach children about other cultures in addition to being fun and boosting creativity and visualization skills. They can be helpful additions to lesson plans about other countries or fun educational activities at home.

Peruvian puppets are handmade by a number of women’s collectives from the altiplano or “high planes” of Peru (4000m above sea level). The artisans’ work helps the Andean women bring extra income into the family. This means they split their time between agricultural activities in community farms and weaving for children. To knit and to weave is a traditional ancestral activity. Women worldwide know that knitting is a precious activity that engages the creativity of many women, proving that creativity is in all of us. Most of the knitters are illiterate but their creativity and love for art is alive.

Finger puppets for peace in action
Peruvian finger puppets are famous worldwide; as a worldwide traveller and child rights advocate I have the possibility to share them with children and adults from every continent. They are very special and come in shapes of animals, people, objects, trees, flowers, and more.

Historically puppetry has played an important role in disseminating knowledge in most parts of the world. Puppetry includes all art forms such as literature, painting, sculpture, music, dance, and drama, and enables people to develop their creative abilities.

This ancient art is a dynamic form that appeals to all age groups; this medium of communication has been selected to serve as an aid for imparting education and may be used in a variety of formal and non-formal teaching situations.

One advantage of puppetry is that it can facilitate discussion on issues that are normally considered difficult, or embarrassing. It is nonpartisan, and gives people a chance to look at themselves and their behaviours in an abstract way. It is also entertaining, and can attract the attention of diverse audience. Puppetry can be used around the world for community education.

Puppetry can be a powerful medium for aiding therapy, easing rehabilitation, and promoting social change. This is primarily due to the puppets’ universal appeal to all: they can show a world of peace and harmonious coexistence, helping children and adults to envision a better world.

I was invited to offer a Peace Ambassador workshop in Guwati India, where I found that puppets of animals could represent oppression. It was amazing to hear the stories of the pride of a giraffe, the voracious attachment to possessions of an octopus, the gluttony of a pig, and other characters that helped adults analyze their lives in a very creative way.

In Bulgaria, during the Arts for Social Change training, I facilitated the use of finger puppets to experience how participants express feelings and the interaction with nature and themselves. The individual and collective stories they created reaffirmed “power that is in your hands.” This is the deep awareness that a finger puppet can bring.

The role of finger puppets is unique because they are placed on your own hands, so you literally have your world and your life on your fingers and you can start making stories. They can also build intercultural understanding. I went to Nepal with my program Peace Ambassadors, and the Nepalese children were given typical animal and people puppets from my country Peru. Through small finger puppets children were able to learn about other cultures.

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*Dr. Llanos, Psychologist, Educator and Peace Activist and Artist from Peru, created this program in workshops using play, drama, meditation, music, and movement for a joyful parents and children intergenerational interaction.

Currently Dr. Llanos is in DC. She will be happy to share the Peace Ambassadors Programme and the uses of puppetry for peacebuilding with your institutions. (Contact mllanospeaceambassadors@gmail.com.)

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