The New Promised Land – Project Statement
A lengthy journey down the Amazon River leads to a remarkable discovery that harkens back to biblical times. Los Israelitas, an evangelical sect that blends early Christian beliefs with the pageantry of Hollywood cinema, live in small agricultural communities scattered along the banks of the river. The group, officially known as Asociación Evangélica de la Misión Israelita del Nuevo Pacto Universal (AEMINPU), was founded by Ezequiel Gamonal, a shoemaker from southern Peru who enjoyed the movies of Cecil B. DeMille. Gamonal converted from Catholic to Seventh-day Adventist in the 1950s. Several years later, he proclaimed that God had chosen him to inaugurate the new Israel. Many of his followers left their homes throughout Peru to begin a new way of life in the remote regions of the Amazon rain forest that Gamonal had declared to be The New Promised Land.
Los Israelitas worship Jesus, but they reject the Catholic doctrines and traditions established after the time of Constantine in the fourth century. They do not observe Christmas or Easter, and there are no crosses or representation of Jesus, Mary or Saints. Their bible contains both the Old and New Testaments and a large copy of the Ten Commandments is on display at the front of their sanctuary.
They observe the Sabbath every Saturday with elaborate celebrations. The men dress in flowing robes, women wear their finest garb, and young girls carry tambourines festooned with colorful ribbons. Their sanctuary, a long dirt-floor building with a corrugated metal roof, is divided by a central aisle with separate entrances and seating for men and women. A large copy of the Ten Commandments is on display at the front of the sanctuary, along with a small ark and an incense burner. Their services begin early in the morning with bible readings, sermons, and the singing of hymns accompanied by music from a brass or electric band. A hearty meal is served in the common dining room at midday, and the congregation then returns to the sanctuary for more prayers, hymns and readings.
In a building adjacent to the sanctuary, the priests prepare an animal sacrifice, which may be a few small doves, a lamb or even a full-grown bull. The sacrifice is carefully cleaned, rubbed with salt and anointed with olive oil. They also prepare special bread, fried in olive oil, to be added to the burnt offering. The priests then construct a large pyre on the altar outside of the sanctuary and place the offering on the flames, while the congregation – with men and the brass band on one side of the altar and women and young girls shaking tambourines on the other – gathers outside to look on, sing and pray.
Los Israelitas also hold week-long celebrations three times each year for the Old Testament holidays of Passover, Pentecost and the Feast of Tabernacles. These photos provide a glimpse into the celebrations of Los Israelitas, a community that has melded ancient religious beliefs with their daily lives deep in the Amazon rain forest.