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Subversive SpiritualitiesHow Rituals Enact the World$

Frederique Apffel-Marglin

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199793853

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199793853.001.0001

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The Spirit of the Gift in the Peruvian Andes

The Spirit of the Gift in the Peruvian Andes

Yarqa Aspiy in Quispillacta

(p.64) Chapter 5 The Spirit of the Gift in the Peruvian Andes
Subversive Spiritualities

Frédérique Apffel-Marglin

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

Chapter 5 introduces an indigenous Peruvian ritual. The first part of the chapter is in the voice of an indigenous woman from a Highland Andean community. In her story she recounts why she rejected the science of agronomy she was taught at the university and why she formed an organization to revive rituals in her community. The second part of the chapter is a description of the festival of the water, Yarqa Aspiy, in her community where the people ritualistically clean the irrigation canals. The offerings and exchange of gifts among humans and between humans and other-than-humans exemplify the gift economy. The last part of the chapter raises the issue of restoring certainty in seventeenth-century Europe by focusing on Robert Boyle's experimental scientific method for establishing certainty, one established on totally new bases. This new experimental method created an anthropocentric dualist cosmology.

Keywords:   Andes, agronomy, water festival, gift economy, certainty, Robert Boyle, scientific method

Drinking the water, I thought how earth and sky are generous with their gifts, and how good it is to receive them. Most of us are taught, somehow, about giving and accepting human gifts, but … not about standing in the rain ecstatic with what is offered.

—Linda Hogan, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World1


Water today is a natural resource, one that is becoming increasingly scarce. Many environmentalist pundits predict that the next big crisis will be that of water availability. Already, many in the world have to walk for hours to provision themselves with drinking water. Many of the rivers and streams of the world have been polluted and some have even died. The seas have not been unaffected either. The rain itself in many parts of the world is acid and kills the trees. The tragic fate of water is one that befell it after it became a natural resource.

The idea of water as a natural resource is now a worldwide phenomenon, diffused through modern education. The products of modernity have penetrated into the most remote corners of the world, but the adherents, the believers in the superiority of modernity, are overwhelmingly those who have received a modern education. Yet, some two-thirds of the world's population is comprised of indigenous, peasant, and other traditional peoples whose worldviews are not modern and for whom the phrase “natural resource” is alien.2

(p.65) This chapter endeavors to approach water from a standpoint that does not take the ontological assumptions about the world made by modernity for granted. Being an anthropologist does not ensure my ability to step outside the ontological framework of modernity. In order to do that, I needed to do the kind of reverse anthropologizing presented in the previous chapters. Having discussed how natural resources were invented in Europe during the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries, and having discussed the phenomenon of the “spirit of the gift” rather theoretically, in this chapter I present a concrete example of non-modern ritualized gift exchange with other-than-human beings. It is the example of the festival of Yarqa Aspiy, the festival celebrating the spirit of the water in the indigenous community of Quispillacta, to the south of the highland Peruvian city of Ayacucho.

My approach here is to begin by listening to the voice of an Andean woman from the indigenous Andean community of Quispillacta, Marcela Machaca.3 Her voice is highly unusual. She is the first person of her generation in her family and community to go to university. What is unusual here is that her long years of study failed to convert her to the modernist cosmology. This was not due to her inability to comprehend what was being taught to her, for she was at the top of her class.

Listening to her voice is intended to make us transition into the world of her community. Her life story will allow us to empathize and hopefully understand why she ultimately rejected what was taught to her. By the end of her story we may be ready to let her be our guide in the second part of the chapter. The second part is a description of the festival of the water in her community. This description is mostly based on Marcela Machaca's own published writings and in part on my own interviews and observation during a visit to Quispillacta in 2000. There we are plunged, as it were, in medias res, into the very non-modern world of the indigenous farmers of the high Andean community of Quispillacta. Here again, Marcela's words invite us not to stand on the sidelines as detached observers, but rather to vicariously enter into the world of Yarqa Aspiy, the festival of the water in Quispillacta, to feel its pulse and hear its songs.

In the third part of this chapter, I try to understand why the spirits disappeared, why they died, by once again engaging in reverse anthropologizing. Returning to the Europe of the Renaissance, I focus on the issue of certainty and how it was resolved then, underlining the consequences for the tripartite ontology that we have inherited, relegating the spirits to a “supernatural” or “metaphysical” realm and separating nature from culture. Remembering this history, it seems to me, is the first step we need to take toward realizing that the world bequeathed to us by the advent of the scientific revolution is not the world as it really is, but rather the world as it was invented and enacted for certain purposes and not for others. This (p.66) effort is undertaken in the hope that we will once again learn to nurture the spirits of the water, the soil, the minerals, the air, the plants, the animals, and everything that accompanies us in this world.

1. An Andean Woman's Travails with Modern Education

In 1975, when I was a little girl and had finished elementary school, my parents and all their children migrated to the city of Ayacucho … We were five related families of one ayllu [this is a local kin group that also comprises all the other local other-than-human beings] with 10 children entering high school in the city. This was a time when development had come to our community in a big way. Various development projects, originating from the Agrarian Faculty of the University of Ayacucho through its extension programs as well as from a Swiss development project (COTESU) reached Quispillacta in the 1960s and 1970s. They brought chemical fertilizers, pesticides, improved pasture land, etc. These professionals of agronomy trained many community members to become promoters of scientific agriculture in our community. My father became one of these promoters. My own chacra [cultivated field] was given by my father to be used as an experimental plot by the agronomists. I remember clearly as a child that I did not plant in it what we normally ate such as corn and beans and Andean root crops. Rather we used urea, a lot of agro-chemicals and we planted hybrid seeds in the chacra. In our pastures where we fertilized our native grass species with chemicals, the grass grew tremendously tall. Now, conversing with my father, we tell each other what a mad venture this all was.

What struck me then was the attitude of the professionals who came to teach these technologies and these practices, which were said to be of universal validity. These professionals possessed the solutions and these had to be adopted by the families of Quispillacta who were pressured to abandon their own ways of doing things. One of the professional agronomists in charge of a project later became the dean of the Agrarian Faculty where I studied and where I defended my thesis. All the professionals were arrogant and aloof; they knew it all and bossed the promoters around telling them what to do with the other farmers. These memories of my father as an agricultural promoter in projects of rural development have impacted me deeply and stayed with me.

In those years my father used to tell us children: “You have to study to become agronomists. You must go to the University and become professional agronomists.” But I think that what my father had in mind was not for us to acquire the arrogant attitude of professional agronomists. Rather, he wanted us to learn how to improve our potatoes, our crops. He wanted us to help our community, not become arrogant professionals, and not look down on the native people. Later, I understood better his motives for having his children become professional (p.67) agronomists. It was because one is the target of a great deal of scorn. There is a great deal of aggression aimed at native life, and for the migrants to the city, such as we were, the aggression is very strong and one way to not be aggressed was to become a professional agronomist.

So I began my university studies in a technical institute that trained professionals in agronomy and animal husbandry. I had set for myself the clear goal of finding ways of somehow supporting our community. I spent five years in this institute but when I graduated I had not found what I was looking for, namely a way of relating to our own way of life, the life of the chacra. What I learned were only technical questions, formulas such as how much fertilizer is needed, how many seeds, how many inputs, and the like. So I left the Institute disappointed. Then I was admitted to the Agrarian Faculty at the University in Ayacucho. My sister Magdalena and I entered the Faculty of Agronomy at the same time. We got our degrees after five years of study. I graduated first in my class and got a prize for being the best student. I mention this, so that my subsequent choices may not be viewed as stemming from a lack of ability in agronomy. In spite of this, I did not succeed in satisfying what I was looking for in the University. I was not able to find answers to the questions I had put to myself when I entered the University …

As a member of my community (comunera) I have my own experience of living in the community and the knowledge I lived with is for me extremely valid and important. For example, let us take the case of a sign [in Spanish, “seña”], a plant whose state tells me that in that year there will be a lot of rain and this knowledge will enable me to have good crops. One does not find reference to this type of sign in any course; nowhere in the University is it taught that such a sign-plant can teach you how to cultivate crops. Quite the contrary, they teach you to see things separately: the plants separately, the soil separately, etc …. not even the whole plant but parts of plants, segmented, very separate. In contrast, in my community, plants are sacred.

The first two years of University study I learned basic science, such as the carbon cycle, photosynthesis and the like. It was not possible to talk about what is done in the native communities, such as the signs. Nowhere was Andean agriculture or the native people mentioned; rather the talk was of a beautiful form of agriculture with tractors, pesticides, and about when a plant does not grow properly one has to put hormones, accelerators, inhibitors, all these things. Whenever one wants to, one can accelerate the harvest, just when one desires it, wills it …

Fortunately, I finished the University at a time when the experiments of development, the projects, the agricultural extension programs bringing the knowledge of the University to the communities failed utterly. I also experienced such a failure in an experiment I carried out as a requirement for graduation. I tried to do an experiment testing certain hormones that would produce more roots in certain (p.68) Andean root crops on the model of experiments that had been done on the potato. Working with Andean root crops such as the oca and the olluco, which are crops not promoted by the University, I felt that I could contribute something to native knowledge. After having done with my sister the experiments, we went back to our community to apply the findings. We found that it is not possible to apply them because there is no infrastructure, no hormones, and the natives have no time either to cut the plants or test the sandy soils and all that. Ashamed of what I did, I began instead to look for what exists there. And I found that in fact there was a practice almost identical to our experiment, which we ourselves used to do in our own chacra. This technology is called ixmi: one harvests early, then covers the plant plucking out its leaves and covers it again so that it produces again …

After graduating, the work of writing a thesis remained. What to do it on? My sister and I decided to reject all the research methodologies we were taught and to do it in our own way even including Quechua words. This would have nothing to do with the technical type of work required of an agronomist. When we presented our proposed thesis project, they wanted us to transfer into the department of anthropology and sociology. Our professors were very disappointed. Because we had been such good students, they expected us to become efficient agents of development. They used to point us out as examples for other students. After that they never again used us as examples to other students. However, due to the fact that we had been such exemplary students, our proposal was finally accepted. They in fact were curious to see how we would carry the project out.

One of the requirements to doing a thesis is to be able to document what you do in the literature. So we began looking for works on Andean agriculture and we found none. That is, none that could be used by us, writing specifically on agriculture. Yes, there were works of anthropology, of native economy that spoke of the native communities, but they did not write about how the life was lived; they were written from a perspective very different from that of lived experience. They did not help us at all to say what was in the community. So I desperately searched for books for our bibliographical references because with such a different approach we really needed bibliographic references. It was at that moment, miraculously it seems, that Professor Julio Valladolid gave a lecture in the Faculty of Agronomy speaking of Andean agriculture. There he spoke beautifully and for the first—and last—time (it was his farewell lecture) of the community of Jasanjay (in the province of Ayacucho). I had never heard him or any other professor speak in that way. Jasanjay is a community very similar to my own. He, or any other professor at the University, had never talked about Andean agriculture, as if the topic would dirty them. He did so just at the eve of his resignation, and then he vanished. Fortunately, I ran into him somewhat later and spoke of Andean agriculture and timidly said the following: “Professor, I have this problem; I am looking for references on Andean agriculture. Can you help me?” He said that there were others working on the topic and he would let me know. (p.69) He was referring to Eduardo Grillo (of PRATEC). A month later two books from PRATEC arrived for me. I read them avidly. They were very different from the perspective of anthropologists, sociologists, and economists. You could see reading them how life is lived in the communities; they were wonderful. I read those books several times and was able to finish the thesis. Those books were my only references.

For the thesis work, my sister and I went back to our community to collect knowledge, testimonials in Quechua as well as in Spanish. I did my work on the basis of native testimonials. The time for the thesis defense arrived. There was a great deal of anticipation; how would we defend an indefensible thing, without graphs, statistics, without a scientific method? But as I was going to defend something that existed, that was alive, I was not afraid. I defended with a great deal of cheek [frescura], in the Andean manner. The dean of the Faculty of Agronomy was there and so was Professor Valladolid. Fortunately, by the time I finished the thesis, several of the faculty had attended the PRATEC course on Andean Culture and Agriculture and the topic was being discussed. The Faculty was divided between a pro–Andean agriculture faction and a pro-science faction. At the end the dean asked me a question that marked me a lot. He asked why I distanced myself from my peers, from my professors who loved me so much and became something that was no longer an example for others at the University. He said: “You have shown the knowledge of your community; we know that you have been a brilliant student; of what use is this going to be to you?” What I understood him to be saying to me is the following: how will the knowledge imparted to you at the University serve you to carry out cultural affirmation? Since the necessity for cultural affirmation was the conclusion of my thesis. I answered him in what I thought was a diplomatic fashion, namely that the knowledge of the University would not be of use in my work of cultural affirmation. He took my answer as a total rejection. With this “no” my professors concluded that all that they had taught me was thrown overboard. One of my professors got very angry. He said that this type of student should no longer be admitted in the University and that we did not deserve the degree. This created great difficulties when our younger brother Gualberto wanted to start his studies there. We had to fight for him. This professor had done his studies in the United States and said, “How is it possible that at the end of the twentieth century you talk about native knowledge and about ritual?” He wanted to take away my degree. He said that I was ruining the reputation of the professional agronomists of Ayacucho, who were highly valued in the professional market and putting in jeopardy their market value. How could I throw away everything that was being taught in the Faculty of Agronomy? This is where I understood very clearly that the training at the University is to make us into efficient agents of development …

We had returned to our community after 1987, during the period of violence [due to Shining Path and the Army] and were carrying out work for our thesis. (p.70) From the development projects that started in the 1960s, nothing remained. Many irrigation channels, reservoirs, and other things are left as witnesses to these projects of development. My sister Magdalena and I also tried then to find out why there were so many development efforts and why they did not work. We began working with our own relatives. One of the first things we did was to document how these efforts at development in the community had deteriorated the soils, the seeds, and life in general as well as the whole of the culture. A central activity of ours became acting for the return of traditional seeds, the return to the community's own wisdom, and centrally, a return to the practice of rituals. Eventually we and other siblings of ours as well as some friends from Quispillacta created the non-governmental organization Asociacion Bartolome Aripaylla (ABA). All of us in ABA have done the PRATEC course. Magdalena and I were the first; the others followed. We carry out this work now within ABA.

This narrative illustrates that science—in this case the science of agronomy—and its various applications in the form of rural development schemes scorn Andean ritual agriculture for being backward, obsolete, and ineffective. As elaborated in the next chapter, Andean agriculture is not taught in any of the twenty-four Faculties of Agronomy in Peruvian universities. This is a remarkable fact since the Andes are one of a handful of world centers where agriculture first emerged and are recognized as one of the regions of the world with the highest level of biodiversity in cultivars.4 Marcela, her sister Magdalena, and her brother Gualberto's refusal to entertain the suggestion to shift into departments of social sciences such as anthropology or sociology is emphatic. They are agriculturalists and agriculture—along with animal husbandry and herding—is one of the principal activities of Andean farmers. Andean culture is an agro-centric one. Their hope in entering the university was not only to escape the scorn meted out by professionals and other university-educated folks toward the peasantry, but also to acquire a knowledge that could be used to make improvements in agriculture and animal husbandry in their communities. This latter goal could not be attained in departments of anthropology or sociology.

Why the insistence on the part of ABA on rituals? Much of the activity of ABA consists in revitalizing collective rituals in Quispillacta. Are we here dealing with a version of the well-known centuries-old tension, if not contradiction, between religion and science inaugurated by Galileo's trial? In the preceding pages, Marcela Machaca has spoken eloquently about the close connection between development efforts and science, of development as applied science. She has also repeatedly associated Andean farmers’ wisdom and knowledge with ritual activities. However, before (p.71) delving in greater depth into the specifics of the ritual to water in Quispillacta, it may be useful to situate such rituals vis-à-vis established religions in the Andean context. I can do no better than quote the words of Marcela's brother Gualberto Machaca Mendieta on the subject:

In Peru, since 1916 there has existed the freedom to practice different religions. But this law is really a dead letter. Although there are several official religions they all have the same intent: to de-legitimize Andean attitudes and practices. The spirituality of the native people is based on the protection of and great respect toward all the beings present in the Pacha [local time/place]. This spirituality is alive today in spite of having suffered constant aggression and in spite of the fact that officialdom tries to erase it. The Andean life forms are found at every step, including in urban areas, and are not only found petrified in museums, as the scholars of sociology and anthropology affirm.

In Peru, the official culture understands by “religion” a manner of honoring or worshipping God as the only omnipotent being. Nevertheless, in the Andes it is not appropriate to refer to the practices of Andean people by the term “Andean religion” because there does not exist an all-powerful God. Many try to make comparisons between the “native religion” and Christianity without understanding that the so-called “Andean religion” is simply a way in which the natural communities live together within an agricultural cycle.

Andean spirituality has been the object of tenacious persecution, first on the part of the Catholic religion during the colonial period, and in the last several decades on the part of evangelical sects which have intensified the persecution. By their exclusionist attitude, evangelical sects label Andean spirituality “mundane” and call the Andean deities “evil spirits” and the like.5

It would seem that in the past, various types of Christians persecuted Andean spirituality; some forms of Christianity continue to do so. In particular, many Christians consider the existence of spirits or deities that inhabit the world blasphemous. As one of my friends who is both an anthropologist and a Lutheran missionary said to me, “There are no spirits left. Jesus did away with all the spirits.” In what follows, I will discuss the origins and implications of the similar ways development professionals approach Andean ritual agriculture in terms of their reliance on science and on various forms of Christianity.

What characterizes Andean practices is that all the inhabitants of the pacha—including the rocks, the waters, the sun, the moon, and the stars, as well as the plants, the animals, and the people—are alive and communicate or converse with the human inhabitants through a multiplicity of signs. Marcela mentions a plant-sign, but signs can also be animals—their cry, the number of eggs or offspring in a given season—the brilliance or lack (p.72) thereof of the stars, the shape and color of the clouds, the quality of the winds, and so forth. Some of the inhabitants of the pacha are considered to possess more wisdom and greater ability to protect and guide human beings; these inhabitants include certain mountains, the earth, certain springs and mountain lakes, and certain animals such as the condor. These are generally referred to as huacas, wamani, or apus, all terms that could be glossed as “spirits.” These are the recipients of offerings and prayers, though during certain moments of the agricultural cycle, seeds, crops, flowers, the soil, irrigation canals, water sources, and the like are also the recipients of offerings.

One of the development schemes in Quispillacta had to do with “improving” irrigation in the lower altitude where every community has an irrigated chacra. Many of the ancient earthen canals were lined with cement, and as a result, water no longer reaches as far as it used to. In the words of Modesto Cisnero of Quispillacta:

Before, our grandparents had only earthen irrigation channels, but the water reached to the place called Puchquyaku, but now that these are lined with cement the water does not even reach the Soqa chapel, that is only half as far; it does not even reach far enough for the animals to drink; instead of more water, there is less.

Before it was a fiesta to bring the water, drinking lots of good chicha [fermented corn drink] at the spring and burying the offering there. Like that the water traveled happily and quickly. Now we are ashamed of doing these things. Pressured by the Evangelical religion, now instead of chicha they drink colored water and we clean the channels without enthusiasm; so with what strength will the water travel? Like that the water, too, will be lazy. And like that we have forgotten the Wamanis [sacred ones]; we no longer bring offerings to the water, neither to the frost nor the hail. Because of that they will have become wild just like when we do not take care of our animals they get emaciated and die; just like that the Wamanis are lost and forgotten, and the frost and the hail also.6

Besides lining the existing irrigation channels with cement, this development project also created a small reservoir and cement-lined channels leading to and from it in a certain location of the irrigated part of the community. I visited the community with Magdalena and Lorenzo Nuñez of ABA in 2000. The reservoir had only recently been cleared of an overgrowth of water plants in it. It had not yet been used by anyone, nor had anyone used the channels leading into and out of it. Instead, the farmers had dug earthen channels that by-passed the reservoir. The official (as opposed to the traditional) leadership of the community wanted to convince everyone to use the reservoir and the new canals. They feared that a rejection of this small project might close the door to further projects. The response on the part of ABA has been to support the enactment of the traditional festival (p.73) of Yarqa Aspiy, the annual cleaning of the irrigation channels. This festival has been enacted in full force in the last few years. It is a major communal event, mobilizing all 1200 families (some 5000 persons) in Quispillacta. Marcela and Magdalena told me that now everyone participates, including the official leadership as well as those belonging to evangelical sects. The only concession the adherents of evangelical sects make to their religious affiliation is that instead of drinking chicha they drink sodas.

In ABA's office in Ayacucho, I asked Marcela why ABA promoted rituals. This question generated a lengthy, shocking, and fascinating response, which I recorded in writing at the time. Her response dwelt on the role of the Maoist guerilla movement Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso in Spanish) in eradicating shamanism, as well as the role of the evangelical churches in the same endeavor. I reproduce my translation of her response here:

Everything that has to do with agriculture is related to the feelings of the people. The most important thing is those feelings. When agriculture deteriorates it is because this relationship of affinity with nature is being broken; with the soil, the trees, the water, a relationship of exploitation begins to emerge. This is beginning to happen in Quispillacta. It has its origin in modern agricultural practices, which separate productive activity from social activity. It begins in the 40s and 50s, but really comes in force in the 60s. What is most important is to recuperate those feelings. The evangelicals openly promote individualism. The festivals are communal and create solidarity and reciprocity. The evangelicals say that these are mundane festivals; any rituals that have to do with nature they call mundane. They call the Apus and other sacred beings demons and evil spirits. Evangelical religion is a more radical form of Catholicism; they are fundamentalists. Evangelism entered in Quispillacta between the 60s and 70s with members of the Swiss development project COTESU that in turn came in through the Peruvian government. And with them also came bilingual programs Spanish/Quechua as an evangelizing project. They captured the allegiance of some leaders. Those who promulgated evangelism and those who promulgated development were the same people. It created a great deal of conflict in the community and it has caused great damage to the communal rituals. It became worse in the 80s with the dirty war that began when Shining Path burnt the electoral urns in Chuschi the 18th of May 1980. [Chuschi is the district headquarter and on the other side of the stream from the town of Quispillacta. This event was the first act of violence in Peru on the part of Shining Path.] There was an enormous amount of violence on the part of Sendero and the military. Both sides used the community as a shield. Sendero gathered together all the shamans of the community, some eight of them, and shot them dead. Only one survived, pretending to be dead. This one is my uncle. Sendero went to get them in their houses and told them to come and bring along their ritual bundles. They gathered all the people in the main square in order to witness the shooting. Before shooting them, (p.74) they were told to throw their ritual bundles in the fire. My uncle's bundle did not burn. For everybody, the question of ritual is difficult to eliminate and a major danger. It poses a serious obstacle to their actions. The function of the shamans is to harmonize the health of the community with that of nature. It goes much further than simply the health of an individual.

It is during that time that the majority of communities became evangelists, as a protection. The idea of the communities was as follows: “I am neither a senderista nor pro-military; I practice the Bible, believe in God, and am impartial.” The Machaca Ayllu had a meeting and swore to never become evangelicals. During the violence about 80% of the community became evangelicals. Now only 40 to 50% still are. Since the 1990s, due to the activities of ABA there is a very marked return to the situation before the violence. We do not discuss religion with the evangelicals. We simply promote communal rituals where communal labor is required from everyone and everyone participates. The festival of Yarqa Aspiy was never totally interrupted. Now it is done with more enthusiasm and the participation of everybody. We only speak of mutual respect, not only between persons but also between all that exists. We do not engage in theological debates. We say that we respect you and we ask you that you respect us. And that helps a lot. It circumvents their attitude of rejecting everything because they are the possessors of the sole truth. We do not speak of truth; we only say that there are different ways of doing things. We saw that at the communal level it was possible to recuperate the rituals, although at times the evangelicals have treated those of us in ABA as demons. It became worse when another development project allied itself with the evangelicals and said that those of ABA were promoting underdevelopment. For the evangelicals the liberation of the soul signifies to be modern, to be an individual. They do not want communal events. At one point things got very bad for us and we were obliged to leave the communal organization. This displeased the other ayllus; they said that everything had become fragmented. When there was a change of leadership, we conversed with the new leaders and now things are well again. We work with rituals a lot because they have always been the target of attack. The latest in a long history are the evangelicals and the developmentalists. What we say is that when there is no ayni [reciprocal, mutual action] between persons and nature, everything deteriorates.

As Gualberto Machaca points out, Andean spirituality has been the object of persecution on the part of both the Catholic Church and the evangelical protestant sects. From Marcela's two narratives, it becomes clear that to this list must be added developmentalists, both local and foreign, as well as the Maoist Shining Path. For all of them, Andean spirituality is seen as a danger, an obstacle to their actions. The state, although legally committed to the freedom of religious expression, ends up joining most of these in its official support of the developmentalists, particularly the local ones in the state universities, as the quote from Gualberto Machaca makes clear.

(p.75) From these narratives, it is clear that Andean spirituality means essentially ritual agriculture, ritual animal husbandry, and the activities on the part of the shamans of healing through harmonizing humans with the non-human world via the other-than-human beings. The world is alive and populated with sacred beings such as plants, water in its many forms (rivers, lakes, springs, rain, frost, hail, etc.), the earth, the stars and other heavenly bodies, the mountains, and so on. Among these are also found the Christian God, Jesus Christ, Mary, and many saints. But as a shaman explained to me during a ritual I participated in, after he had recited a very Catholic-sounding prayer, God is the sun, Mary is Pachamama (the earth), and Jesus is the moon. Although such exegeses diverge greatly among shamans and others, what they all share is that these Christian figures are not located in a “supernatural” realm beyond the pacha.

Andean ritual activity could be characterized as the mutuality between the human collectivity and the other-than-human collectivity; very specifically, the doing of ayni between and among these collectivities. The other-than-human world is sacred and it nurtures humans; in reciprocity, humans nurture all the beings of the pacha as well as know how to let themselves be nurtured by these beings. This is a process that requires humans to act collectively, in solidarity and in mutuality among themselves, for only thus can the nurturing of the human collectivity by the beings of the pacha be received and reciprocated. In other words, Yarqa Aspiy shows us that the precise orchestration of human action can only be understood in terms of efficacious reciprocating action toward, in this case, the water, whose saint's day it is.

The language of nurturance (crianza in Spanish) captures what Marcela underlines as being the most important thing, namely the feelings humans have for the beings of the pacha. The state's and developmentalists’ language of “the management of natural resources” is eminently inappropriate in such a context. Such language reflects an ontological rift between the human collectivity and the non-human and other-than-human one, and also captures the hierarchical and non-reciprocal nature of relations between these collectivities.

2. Quispillactinos Converse with the Spirit of the Water

Yarqa Aspiy takes place on September 7, inaugurating the planting season.7 All the families of the territory of Quispillacta gather in the town the day before. Very early on the morning of the 7th, around 5AM, all the traditional authorities—husband-wife pairs—as well as the elected official authorities gather in the municipal building where they talk about the water, how the (p.76) water nurtures all the people, and how the people in return must nurture the water. This mutual nurturance between the people and the water is enacted on a grand scale during the festival. Cleaning the irrigation channels is nurturing (in Spanish, criar) to the water by enabling it to travel. When the water is able to travel, it is then able to reach all of the community's fields and thus make the crops grow, which in turn nurtures the community. It is the men who do the arduous work of cleaning the channels, and it is the women who prepare the food that enables the men to work. At one point, some of the women even become the running water and run fast and freely. At the end, all the young men and women dance together in pairs along the channels, spiraling like water eddies. Women sing the “passion of the water,” becoming its voice. Some folks are in charge of making everyone happy, the water as well as the runas (people), by performing funny skits. Without laughter, the water and the people would become sad and tired, the water would not reach the fields, and nurturance would not happen. And of course, after the cleaning is done, everyone feasts.

Yarqa Aspiy

During the month of September irrigation water becomes the most beloved, pampered being as well as the central deity … For certain anthropologists, the festival of Yarqa Aspiy is … “a cultural presence that has not yet vanished but is in a slow process of disappearance” (Condori, 1987). However, this is not true. Yarqa Aspiy is more than a festive communal activity; it is all of Andean life in a dense form, making visible the relationships between all the members of the Andean world. Humans, water, seeds, stars, etc. all participate in the festival in order to fully re-initiate life and make it bloom after a period of rest.8

June to August, the three months prior to Yarqa Aspiy, are the cold winter months in the High Andes, and are a period of almost no agricultural activities. The cattle have been brought down from the high puna region to the lower quechua region, and people dedicate themselves to bartering products from one ecological level to another, to building and fixing their houses, and to weddings. Yarqa Aspiy marks the beginning of the season's large-scale agricultural activity.

Humans do ayni with the water: humans prepare the path of the water and the water makes it possible to plant. The water is both a living being and one who gives life (Grillo, 1991), and because of that it requires care and love; one aspect of this mode of caring or nurturing is to prepare the path so that it may travel without complaints and help to plant the corn. Don Julian Nuñez, from the barrio of Puncupata, says the following about the festival: “Yarqa Aspiy is work, getting tired in the cleaning of the channels and (p.77) above all it is joy …” We can then define Yarqa Aspiy as the festival of work and joy; joy being the abundance of food served by the Alvaceres/Alvaceras, Hatun Alcalde/Alcaldeza and the Regidores/Regidoras.

Yarqa Aspiy is first of all the cleaning of the irrigation channels, the ones that are very old and have always been there; they are from the grandparents of our grandparents, as Don Alfonso Galindo of the barrio of Pampamarca told us. These canals continue today to be maintained by the communities through communal work done by the communities of all the 12 barrios of the community. The cleaning begins early in the morning and lasts until about 3 in the afternoon; each work party cleans about two kilometers of canal. All the communities arrive early in the morning and gather in the plaza of the town of Quispillacta. From there they go in many work groups to the assigned segment of canal that belongs to their barrio, carrying their hoes and shovels and most of all with great enthusiasm and joy so as to make the work seem lesser and lighter. One comes to the communal work with one's best clothes or with new clothes. All decorate their hats with the wild matawayta flowers brought from the high mountains by the Sallqa Alcalde … All participate in the cleaning: youths, children, adults and even elders … In this world-view, water is nurtured just like another person and like a person it also has its saint's day on the 7th of September of each agricultural year, which marks the beginning of the corn planting in the quechua zone.9

Yarqa in the Quechua language means canal and aspiy means cleaning and/or making a furrow. The authorities in charge of  Yarqa Aspiy are the ones chosen on the first of January for the duration of the year. They are the ones who are in charge of all the rituals of the community as well as of various communal tasks for any given year. The authorities are always husband-wife pairs. Bachelors are ineligible as are widows and widowers or divorced or separated persons. To be chosen as an authority is spoken of as pasar un cargo, which can be translated as “taking on a responsibility for a (year's) time.” These cargos rotate, and everyone in the community is expected to fill this responsibility at least once in a lifetime. The highest authorities are those who have already “passed” all the other cargos and who are exemplary members of the community, good agriculturalists, of good moral character, and living in harmony with their families. These people are referred to as the traditional authorities, for they are chosen by the community according to an ancient pattern.

In addition to the traditional authorities, there are also the “official, elected authorities.” These are individuals—as opposed to the husband-wife pairs—and are typically male. Their election fulfills a requirement of the state, which does not recognize the traditional authorities. They are primarily in charge of the relationship between the community and the exterior, including various institutions of the state, public health and development projects, the university's extension program, as well as foreign projects.

(p.78) Authorities and Their Responsibilities

The traditional authorities are collectively referred to as the varayoqs and they are as follows:

The Hatun Alcalde and the Mama Alcaldeza

Those two, the husband-wife pair, have passed through all the other cargos and are called father and mother by all. They are in charge of both feeding and teaching the seven Alvaceres/Alvaceras couples that work for them during the whole year. The feeding is not daily, but takes place during festival times. They teach them how to be good chacareros (nurturers of the chacra). The Mama Alcaldeza also teaches the Alvaceras how to be good cooks, how to wash clothes, spin, and take care of the children. The Alvaceras/Alvaceres are supposed to present themselves in the house of the Hatun Alcalde/Alcaldesa around 4AM when there is work to do. If they fail in this or in any other duties, they receive the lash (five for the men, three for the women). This way they learn how to become responsible, moral communities. During their year of tenure, the Alvaceres/Alvaceras thus learn also how to become elder authorities, how “to shepherd” the community, as it is said.

Two Pairs of Regidores and Regidoras

These are two couples that already have several children and have passed one or preferably two other cargos. They work with the Hatun Alcalde/Alcaldeza. They also have the responsibility of feeding and teaching the seven Alvaceres/Alvaceras couples that work for them for the whole year of the cargo.

The Campo Alcalde and Alcaldeza

This is a mature couple in charge of looking after the chacras from planting until harvesting. They are responsible for seeing that no animals enter the fields while crops are in them.

The Sallqa Alcalde and Mama Sallqa Alcaldeza

Their responsibility is the herds of the community. They must count the animals twice a year, are in charge of the festival of branding the cattle, monitor the health of the cattle and take care of their illnesses, and appoint (p.79) the shepherds. They also are in charge of visiting all the households in the community and seeing to their cleanliness and orderliness. When this is found wanting, they give out five lashes to men and three to women in punishment.

Fourteen Couples of Alvaceres and Alvaceras

These are recently married couples that generally do not yet have children. Seven of these couples work for the Hatun Alcalde and Alcaldeza and seven for the two couples of Regidores/Regidoras. They chose whom they will work with: the Hatun Alcalde/Alcaldeza or the two Regidores/Regidoras couples.

Six Couples of Ministros/Ministras

These six couples work for the Campo Alcalde/Alcaldeza, and they are recently married couples.

Offerings and Asking Permission

It falls to the Sallqa Alcalde and his wife to gather a species of wildflower from the puna zone, above 4800 meters altitude. It is an arduous task, taking two days by horse just to reach the place where these sacred flowers are found. They must gather flowers to adorn the hats of each and every comunero (some 5000 persons) during the festival. The task takes one whole week to accomplish, but these flowers are extremely important; without them, the festival would be sad. According to Lorenzo Nuñez, these flowers are the spirits of the water, and they sacralize the whole ritual.

The night before the festival, the Campo Alcalde and Alcaldeza prepare the pago (the offering) for the water, gathering sacred coca leaves, fruits, white and red carnations, liquor, and many other things. They meet with their Ministros and the two waqrapukus, who blow on curled horn trumpets around 10PM and, after having set out the various items in the offering on a mesa (altar), they hold a vigil. In this vigil, they ask permission of the water to start the communal work. Then, just before the light of dawn, the Campo Alcalde and whoever wants to accompany him walk in darkness upstream to where the river water feeds the irrigation channels. There they offer the pago or offering to the source of water, and then bury it nearby under a rock.

(p.80) Meanwhile, in the predawn, all the authorities go to the church to ask permission of God and the saints carrying three crosses, which they then bring to the municipal building. There the senior authorities kneel in front of the elected official authorities and ask them permission to carry out the cleaning of the irrigation channels. They all converse about how the water nurtures the community and how the community must nurture the water in return, in mutuality, in ayni. The conversation also bears on how everyone must behave during the festival, how not to become excessively drunk. A little drunkenness is a good thing, though—a sign of joy at the heart of the festival.

By the time this conversation is happening, all the communities have arrived and crowd the plaza, with the men carrying their hoes and shovels for the work of cleaning the canals. At that moment, all the authorities, traditional and elected, place their hats on the table in the municipal building and the Alvaceres/Alvaceras of the Sallqa Alcalde/Alcaldeza place the sacred matawayta flowers brought from the puna in the high mountains on all the hats in the form of a cross. The remaining flowers are distributed to the people outside who place them on their own hats. The moment is extremely sacred.

Once sacralized by the matawayta flowers, everyone walks to a small chapel higher up, close to the irrigated fields. One of the crosses brought from the church is left there, and all the official elected authorities kneel in front of the traditional elder authorities (varayoqs) asking them permission for the festival, just as the traditional authorities had asked their permission earlier. The voices of the Mama Alcaldeza and the two Regidoras can be heard singing the “passion of the water” to the sound of the waqrapukus’ horns. Here is a brief excerpt to give a sense of the songs10:

  • Crystalline water, dark water
  • Don’t carry me away
  • Don’t push me.
  • Muddy river, blood-red river
  • Where will you reach?
  • Where do you have to reach?
  • You have to reach all the way.
  • Do what you have to do.
  • Where you are going,
  • There I go too.
  • Where the muddy river goes
  • There goes the crystalline river,
  • There I go with you

At the moment when some of the men are carrying the remaining two crosses to some of the barrios, the Mama Alcaldeza steals away, running toward her house. When the Alvaceras realize that she has left, they all run (p.81) after her: they are the water flowing, running in the channels. The energy with which they run is the energy of the water running when it is released in the cleansed channels. Meanwhile, the compadres of the elder authorities offer bowls of chicha to all the authorities.

The moment has arrived: fortified, all the men go to the irrigation channels to clean them. The women go to prepare the food that has been brought from the chacras of the parents and relatives of the Alvaceras. These parents and their relatives are the parents-in-law of the Alvaceres (husbands of the Alvaceras) and are their awras (in-laws).

When the work of cleaning the channel is done in the mid-afternoon, everyone gathers in a cleared field near the irrigated lands to feast.

The Antics of the Invisiones

While the men work cleaning the channels, a group of men impersonating various characters and accompanied by musicians walk from work-group to work-group, entertaining people at work as well as while they feast after the work is done. I was fortunate to see a video that Magdalena made of Yarqa Aspiy, and I confess that I laughed so hard at the antics of one of these groups that tears were running down my face. The topics of those skits refer to historical events that have deeply affected the community.

In the video that I saw, a pair of men impersonated a Catholic priest and his sacristan, parodying the mass and performing mock weddings and baptisms. The priest, holding an upside-down comic strip, chanted in mock solemn tones a hilarious imitation of Latin while liberally sprinkling people with a bunch of twigs he kept dipping in a pot containing urine (as I was told) in mock benediction, shoving people to make them kneel. Meanwhile, the sacristan wildly swung an incense holder with burning dung, smoking everyone out. I found their exaggerated gestures, tones of voice, clownish frocks and other antics hilarious. I simply assumed that this parody was the Quispillactinos’ revenge for the sordid and brutal history of “extirpation of idolatry.” However, to my surprise, when I voiced this opinion everyone present seemed bemused by my interpretation and insisted that there was no animosity whatsoever against the Catholic religion in this, and that it was simply meant to make people laugh. I was told that people insisted on having the priest marry them and baptize their children, and that the whole community came out devoutly and in force to celebrate the community's saint's day, officiated by a Catholic priest.

Another skit was acted by a group of men dressed up as people from the lowlands (the Amazonian region), wearing feather headdresses and beads. These people were called the chunchos. With them was another group of (p.82) men whose faces were painted black and who held wooden machetes. They mock fought with each other, and the black faces pretended to try to disembowel and slice the throats of the chunchos. Those with the black faces were after the chunchos’ fat because it was said that the Catholic priests needed this fat to smear on church bells so that they would sound better.

After all the food has been eaten, and the entertaining skits, called invisiones have finished, the younger men and women hold hands and run along the cleared channels where the water is running fast, singing. At intervals, they pause and form muyunas (eddies) echoing the movements of the water. Everyone returns to their barrios, the men playing guitars and the women singing along with the laughing, rippling water.

In perusing a volume such as John Grim's Indigenous Traditions and Ecology, in which many of the contributors are indigenous intellectuals and activists from around the world, the ubiquity of the notion of gift exchange between the other-than-human collectivities and the human collectivity is particularly striking.11 If we add peasant societies where such gift exchanges between humans and other-than-humans are also the rule, these seem to characterize all but the map of modernity, and cover some two-thirds of the world population.12 The earth, forests, oceans, rivers, and sky give humans sustenance and humans reciprocate not only with gratitude, but also with material gifts or offerings.

3. A New Non-Religious Certainty

In this final section of the chapter, I return to the genesis of our modern worldview in sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Western Europe, focusing on the issue of certainty and how it was resolved during these turbulent centuries. I once more discuss René Descartes and Robert Boyle, but this time concentrate on the problem of certainty and how Boyle resolved it with his experimental method.

In his book Cosmopolis, Stephen Toulmin gives us the context of Descartes’ life.13 Toulmin focuses mostly on the conflict between Protestants and Catholics, and in particular on Henry IV's assassination and the Thirty Years’ War, both of which touched Descartes’ life directly. It is, however, also vital to include in this context the attack on occult Renaissance philosophy and popular magic, and their successful erasure through the witch-hunts. Descartes’ dualistic and mechanical philosophy was the antithesis of that of the hylozoists, and it was clear by his time that the non-dualistic hylozoism was doomed.

Descartes built his philosophy on the epistemological terrain that the two warring Protestant and Catholic factions had in common. This common (p.83) terrain was the realm of natural causes that could be explained by the use of reason, a terrain brought into Europe by the Arabic and Jewish translations of Aristotle in the thirteenth century. This terrain was separate from the world of signs for both Catholics and Protestants, albeit in different ways. For the Catholics, the world of signs was one in which the power of the saints resided in certain objects or places, that is, in the world itself. For the Protestants, the world of signs referred only to human linguistic metaphors, products of the mind.

The success of the new mechanistic dualistic philosophy was in great part due to the fact that this philosophy did not challenge either Protestant or Catholic doctrines. According to the Finnish philosopher Georg von Wright (who succeeded to Wittgenstein's chair at Cambridge University), with this move “[t]he new science [became] a welcome ally in fighting heresies and exorcising the inferior ghosts, leaving the one superghost, the Christian Trinitarian God, sovereign ruler of the universe.”14

In the maelstrom of the early seventeenth century, escaping the wrath of the inquisition and escaping from the deadlock between the two warring factions of Christianity were not only epistemological moves, but also survival tactics. These moves were eminently political, and as argued by Toulmin, consciously undertaken to restore the fractured certainty and unity without which Europe could not imagine itself.

It remained for Robert Boyle to render operational and institutionalize this philosophy. To do so, Boyle had to clearly and decisively distance himself from his alchemical past, which he did through several moves. First, he made the laboratory a public space; for occult philosophers, it had been a secret, private space. In this public space, Boyle devised the method of public witnessing, inspired by courtroom procedures, so as to establish through consensus what had happened in the experiment. This was the foundation upon which he would build his method: the matter of fact (what later became known as the scientific fact).

Both the suspicion of occultism and the skepticism of reliance on the fallible senses were addressed by having several reliable people witness the experiments; Boyle's “modest witness” had to be a gentleman of good reputation, which meant that he could not be suspected of occult leanings.15 The modesty of the witness referred to his self-effacing manner and his restraint. In the laboratory, talk of religion and politics was strictly out of bounds as were ad hominem, or personal criticisms. The aim was to eliminate human bias, whether due to politics, religion, or the senses. The modest witness could not be a woman since her modesty was of the body rather than of the mind.16 David Noble points out that in addition to women being associated with a derided “enthusiasm,” their associations with heresy dated back to earlier links with the Cathars, whom the church exterminated in (p.84) the thirteenth century. Such an association had resurfaced with the witches and the enthusiast movements in which women were highly visible. Thus, the flight from heresy by the men of science was also a flight from women.17 The first woman to gain entrance into the Royal Society, founded in London in 1660 as its first scientific institution, did so only in 1945.

Francis Bacon, an alchemist and natural philosopher, had already advocated the use of instruments to question nature. By taking these instruments for questioning nature out of the study of the alchemist and into the public laboratory, Boyle effectively removed the experimenter from the equation. No longer was the manipulation of matter also a refinement of the philosopher's soul. The divide between the human observer and questioner of nature and the non-human world was thereby operationalized. Broadly, then, Boyle employed three “technologies”: first a material one, namely the use of a machine, the air-pump, to produce facts; second, a social one, namely the kinds of people the modest witnesses could or could not be; and third, a literary one that made known the findings to non-witnesses, or the style of writing which today we call the “objective” style.18 The goal of all three technologies was to establish a method that would be a perfect “mirror of nature,” bypassing men's unreliable and trouble-making opinions and senses. Through this method, certain knowledge could be established in a manner that totally separated it from the religious and political sphere where conflicts raged.

Boyle not only separated his science from religion and politics, but also from philosophy. Here again he operationalized the extreme dualism and materialism of Descartes. This method was exceptionally fruitful and was much later imitated by those who inquired into human affairs; they eventually called themselves the “social sciences,” highlighting their template. The arts and humanities remained separate since the three technologies did not apply to them. The fields of knowledge were thus fragmented in the pursuit of knowledge for knowledge's sake, a new method that gave birth to the sundering of life and knowledge.

The defeat of occult philosophy, popular magic, and other Renaissance movements—in short, the defeat of the hylozoist worldview—by both the Catholics and the Protestants severely constrained the parameters within which science was to finally establish itself. In other words, the non-dualist hylozoism of Renaissance movements, as well as their pluralism, became non-options for what David Noble has called the Scientific Restoration.19

When the church encountered the native societies of the Americas, it declared all their spirits to be “demons” or “devils.” This appellation recognized the agency of these beings of the non-human world, but declared it to be an evil one. To this day, when the Kichwa-Lamistas of the Peruvian High Amazon refer to their spirits in Spanish, they call them diablos or (p.85) demonios, devils or demons, their consecrated appellation in the Spanish language.20 The church, however, seems to have implicitly recognized the potency and agency of most of the native sacred places by erecting churches or installing crosses in or on them. For the church, only the specific nature of that agency and its church authorization was relevant. From the church's point of view, it transformed the malevolent local spirits into beneficent Catholic ones.

For the Protestants, however, meaning no longer disclosed itself directly from the world to humans. The non-human world became voiceless and without agency, whether good or bad, foreclosing the possibility of reciprocity between the non-human world and the human world. Intentionality, consciousness, and agency became the exclusive attributes of humans. By the time of Boyle in the second half of the seventeenth century, the crumbling of the manorial system was all but accomplished, and the economic transformations, due to the processes discussed inchapter3, had been going on for approximately some four centuries. As is well known, Protestantism found an echo with traders, merchants, and artisans, in addition to capturing a portion of the aristocratic and in some instances the royal elites as well.

I would argue that there is a kinship between the way economic value replaced the concrete processes of exchanging and making things, discussed inchapters2 and3, and the disappearance of the spirit of the gift, signaling a growing notion that things have no agency, volition, or consciousness. Value is akin to the new meaning of the symbol given by Protestants, namely something that is entirely the product of a human thought process. Placing an economic value on merchandise or a transaction, or placing meaning on an act or object, are actions that are undertaken exclusively by humans’ mental activity.

Today in Quispillacta, Marcela refers to the orientation of those communities who do continue to perform the rituals as “catholics.” Indeed, as the description of Yarqa Aspiy makes clear, the festival is done in a Catholic idiom. The evangelical sects—varieties of Protestantism—which have swamped the Andes in the last several decades are, in contrast, totally opposed to the performance of such rituals and strictly forbid them to its adherents, threatening them with hell and damnation.

The new scientific language did not infringe on the domain of religion, a domain that especially since the advent of modernity has been concerned with the “supernatural,” or what is beyond the visible world as well as in individuals’ personal and private relations with that invisible world. In other words, the language of science is a secular one. From a Eurocentric perspective, Andean practices and languages confound fundamental ontological separations such as that between the natural and the supernatural, between (p.86) the natural and the cultural, between ritual/spirituality and technology/science, between the divine and the human, between the secular and the sacred, between the public and the private, and probably many more. Such violations of boundaries—boundaries erected at the price of many bloody civil and international wars in Europe—cannot but be perceived as a threat to the power that such boundaries yield to those who wield them: power over the non-human and over those humans seen as being closer to “nature.”

These ontological separations in Western Europe were associated with the ideology of progress. Francis Bacon in the late sixteenth century confidently wrote of the new knowledge bringing us mastery over the natural world, which in turn would free humans from the bonds of necessity, a theme that has echoed down the centuries to our own day. That new knowledge has indeed produced awesome powers; but at the dawn of the third millennium and at the close of one of its most violent and destructive centuries, the growing questioning of the assumptions undergirding modernity is pregnant with new possibilities, new ways of seeing, and the opening of other choices.

The view that the universal truth of science should progressively enlighten the whole world, reaching into its furthermost corners, was forcefully articulated by one of Marcela's university professors who in anger exclaimed: “How is it possible that at the end of the twentieth century you talk about native knowledge and ritual?” The underlying assumption here concerns an evolutionary-like inevitability to the spread of Western (classical Cartesian/Newtonian) science and technology, and to modernization in general. Marcela told me how often she and the others in ABA have been called “backwardists,” accused of wanting “to go backward.” Thus history is conceived of as an inclined plane, a rectilinear process, and all those resisting the inevitability of it are simply unrealistic dreamers and romantics, doomed to the dustbin of history.

End Notes: Nurturing the Spirits Back to Life

We are now in a better position to understand the collusion of opinions concerning indigenous spirituality or ritual performances among a variety of scientifically committed developmentalists—liberal, conservative, or radical, local or foreign—and a variety of Christian denominations. Indigenous ritual performances violate the separation between matter and spirit, between the utilitarian and the spiritual, boundaries that in the last instance guarantee as well as legitimate modern arrangements in the political, religious, and epistemological spheres.

(p.87) It is in fact difficult to find appropriate words in modern English that adequately capture these practices. Both the words “spirituality” and “ritual” in their current connotations somehow imply that such practices belong to a non-utilitarian, non-materially-efficacious domain. It is precisely such connotations that lead to the conviction that indigenous ritual performances are inefficacious in the material world. Such a view is born out of the assumption that indigenous and other traditional people practice their kind of ritual agriculture and other utilitarian activities out of an irrational attachment to their customs and their traditions, since these are intertwined with what is perceived as “religious” or “spiritual” (in the accepted sense of the word) “beliefs.”

With the advent of secularization—both political and epistemological—in Europe, whatever contravened scientific understanding of reality became increasingly relegated to a private domain of religious or metaphysical beliefs. This has led to a division between perception and knowledge on the one hand, and belief bearing on a supernatural or metaphysical reality on the other. The response to communal rituals such as Yarqa Aspiy are in the last instance based on the threat they pose, if taken seriously, to the legitimacy of the separation between religion, the state, and science. These rituals challenge as well the denied but implicit collusion between the state and science. And for these purposes it does not matter whether the state is liberal, conservative, dictatorial, or socialist/communist.

The beings of the pacha, such as the human beings, the water in its many forms, the earth, the plants, the animals, the stars, the sun, and the moon, all share the same world. Some among them, on the model of the human authorities who take turns with communal responsibilities, the cargos, have greater authority. These beings are concrete, tangible, and can be experienced just like the water is experienced during Yarqa Aspiy. When new beings are introduced into the pacha, such as the Christian God, Jesus Christ, Mary, and saints, these also become identified with tangible beings, losing their supernatural status. The deities or spirits are not “believed in,” people experience, converse and reciprocate with them. The people do ayni with them, nurture them just as they are nurtured by them, as is shown in the case of Yarqa Aspiy. As the French anthropologist Pouillon remarks about the Dangaleat of Chad, the world for them, like for native Andeans, is not divided between a this-worldly reality and an other-worldly reality. The spirits are experienced rather than believed in, and this experience is above all a local one. Such spirits do not necessarily exist in the very same way everywhere. He concludes that “[w]hile the encounter with otherness relativizes Christian belief in an otherwordly absolute, it confirms the Dangaleat experience of the world, which is relative from the beginning and so cannot be disturbed by diversity.”21 Diversity, as we have seen, has been Europe's nemesis.

(p.88) The secularization of the new knowledge transposed other-worldly absolutism into a this-worldly or material absolutism or certainty, so much so that Newton's true opinions concerning the spiritual nature of gravity could not be revealed without endangering his reputation and even his life, and thus remained secret until 1930.22 This accounts for the attitudes of the agronomists who came with development projects in Quispillacta, and for Marcela's professors’ reactions. In this case, there is absolutely no doubt in the minds of agronomists that native Andean agricultural practices are backward because they are not scientific and, furthermore, because they are encumbered by rituals which do nothing to improve the technical efficacy of their agriculture.

The cement-lined irrigation channels in Quispillacta can be taken as cases in point. As Gualberto reported, the water in the cement-lined channels reaches only half as far as the water in the earthen channels. It no longer reaches the place where the cattle drink, and it does not reach many chacras. I asked Marcela and Magdalena how they understood this. They told me that it is due to the fact that the engineers who designed these lined channels did not know how to nurture the water. They did not know how to do ayni with the water, and they did not respect the water by asking permission of it and making offerings to it. They added that they did not tell this to the engineers because it would have been a waste of time: they would not have understood or taken it seriously. What they did tell them is that due to the drastic reduction in vegetation that can grow on the borders of the cement-lined channels, the water surface is more exposed to the sun, causing a much higher degree of evaporation than in the shaded unlined channels.

Respecting and nurturing the water means that its ways of traveling are intimately known. At the place where the water is diverted to enter the irrigation channels, the stream is surrounded by lush vegetation; in fact, the whole stream is thus surrounded. These plants are the water's companions, its familiars. The water and the plants have an affinity for each other, and the ancient earthen channels are made lovingly, respectfully, so that the water will not feel abandoned by its companion plants and will travel happily. The villagers’ actions are ever mindful of the respect due to the beings of the pacha. The earth, the water, the sun, the seeds, and all that is needed to provide the sustenance for life is respected.

Offerings made to the water in the night before Yarqa Aspiy, and asking the water's permission to undertake cleaning the channels, are ways that the Quispillactinos recognize their own need for irrigation water for their own sustenance, while at the same time recognizing that their needs and desires, their will, cannot be imposed unilaterally on the world. The water has its (p.89) own needs and requirements, has an integrity which must be respected. All the other beings of the pacha have their own needs and requirements; all depend mutually on each other, and this includes the humans. To ignore this is to go against the very requirements of life.

The next chapter inquires into how agronomists like Marcela's professors are trained in Peru's premier Faculty of Agronomy, reproducing the attitudes reported by her in this chapter.


(1.) Linda Hogan, Dwellings: A Spiritual History of the Living World (New York, W. W. Norton, 1995), 43.

(2.) For a definition of tradition not as indicating antiquity but rather as a certain manner of sharing and learning knowledge, a knowledge that as often as not is new, see n. 24 inchapter3.

(3.) Marcela Machaca spoke at the following conferences: “Decolonizing Knowledge: Indigenous Voices of the Americas,” organized by Frédérique Apffel-Marglin and John Mohawk at Smith College, Mass., May 5–7, 1995; “Mutual Learning in Theory and Practice,” organized by Frédérique Apffel-Marglin and Kathryn Pyne Addelson, Shutesbury, Mass., October 13–15, 1998; and the symposium on “Mutual Learning: Decolonizing Communities,” organized by Frédérique Apffel-Marglin and Kathryn Pyne Addelson, Smith College, Mass., October 16, 1998. Her presentations were recorded and her words reproduced below are based on the recording of the 1995 conference. Marcela also read a Spanish translation of this essay and made the corrections she saw necessary. Translation from the original Spanish by the author.

(4.) Jack Kloppenburg, Jr., First the Seed: The Political Economy of Plant Biotechnology, 1492–2000 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

(5.) Marcela Machaca, Magdalena Machaca, Gualberto Machaca, and Juan Vilca Nuñez, Kancha chacra sunqulla: La cultura agrocéntrica en el ayllu Quispillacta (Lima, Peru: PRATEC, 1998), 75. Translated by the author.

(6.) Quoted inMachaca et al., Kancha chacra sunqulla, 86. Translated by the author.

(7.) This description is based mostly on Marcela Machaca's published account of Yarqa Aspiy inMachaca et al., Kancha chacra sunqulla, 1–69. I also visited Quispillacta in 2000 and gathered further information.

(8.) Machaca et al., Kancha chacra sunqulla, 61.

(9.) Machaca et al., Kancha chacra sunqulla, 60–63.

(10.) I had asked Marcela in ABA's office to sing me some of these songs of the passion of the water. She found it very difficult to do so, out of the context of Yarqa Aspiy. She sang a few lines in Quechua and translated for me into Spanish, all the while emphasizing how impossible they were to translate, since every Quechua word has a wealth of meaning and evokes many more moods and images than the Spanish could. I translated her Spanish translation into English.

(11.) John Grim, ed., Indigenous Traditions and Ecology: The Interbeing of Community and Cosmology (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001).

(12.) On this point, seeDarrell Addison Posey, ed., Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity (London: UNEP/Intermediate Technology Publications, 1999), 3–16.

(13.) Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: The Hidden Agenda of Modernity (New York: Free Press, 1990).

(14.) Georg H. von Wright, “Images of Science and Forms of Rationality,” in Images of Science: Scientific Practice and the Public, ed. S. J. Doorman, (Aldershot, Hants, England: Gower, 1989), 17.

(15.) On Boyle's method, seeSteven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1985).

(16.) On this, see especiallyDonna Haraway, Modest_Witness@Second_Millennium.FemaleMan_Meets_OncoMouse: Feminism and Technoscience (New York: Routledge, 1997), 23–45.

(17.) SeeDavid Noble, A World Without Women: The Christian Clerical Culture of Western Science (New York: A. A. Knopf, 1992), 206, 211.

(18.) The terminology is Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer's. Seechapter2 of Leviathan and the Air-Pump.

(19.) Noble, World Without Women.

(20.) See AsociacionChoba-Choba, PRATEC, Crianza del Monte en los Quechua-Lamas (Lima: 2001), 13, 101–102.

(21.) Jean Pouillon, “Remarks on the Verb ‘To Believe,’ ” in Between Belief and Transgression: Structuralist Essays in Religion, History, and Myth, ed. Michel Izard and Pierre Smith (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1982), 8.

(22.) Morris Berman, The Re-enchantment of the World (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1981).