By Alejandrino Quispe
BEFORE 1532 AND SINCE
Every town, every culture has a concept of reality which accords with their life experience. The Aztecs, Mayan and Incas, peoples indigenous to Central and South America, created their own cosmovisións, a way of conceiving the universe.
In the Andes, where nature is close and diverse, the climate varies greatly, and the landscape is rugged. Here people developed a great culture known on a global scale as the Inca or Tawantinsuyu culture (the builders of Machu Picchu), who were not the Incan Empire. For us, the Tawantinsuyu culture, the Andinos, the world is alive and everything is a part of that life. We cannot conceive of one part as separate from the whole. This world is just as alive as any animal reacting ferociously when assaulted.
This totality is the natural community known as Pacha. For us, those in our community, each one of us is equivalent to any other. All have the same value, none is worth more than another, everyone is important, and weeach deserve respect and consideration. Within our cosmovisión this is expressed by the recognition that everything is sacred. Pacha Mama (Mother Earth) is sacred. The Apus – the mountains, the stars, the sun, moon, lightning, air, rivers, lakes, springs, rocks, our ancestors, human beings, animals and plants, all the cosmos is sacred. We are in dialogue with all that exists in our environment. We are in dialogue because everything is alive. Our conversation is not only with other humans but with plants, animals, rocks, rivers, mountains, and everything else. For we all have life. Nothing is inert. We all participate in the big party that is life: we all eat, sleep, dance, and sing. We all live to the fullest.
As humans we are not all powerful or self-sufficient. Throughout the cosmos, we need to live with each other in harmony. All beings are equivalent, everyone – humans, trees, stones, rivers, air have an essential being with specific responsibility for the maintenance of the harmony of the universe, including how we relate to each other.
For us time is not linear, nor irreversible. The present is a re-creation, time renewed, and includes both the past and the future. Through the participation of the members of the natural collective in the cosmic, telluric conversation of our living world, our time is circular.
In our world, what happens to any one of us necessarily affects the whole. It is a world community which protects the individual, in which there is no exclusion. We are holistic, and the holism is a collectivist world.
Our worldview is immanent: everything occurs within our cosmos, nothing acts upon us from the outside; that is to say, for us there is no supernatural or ‘more beyond’ nor the transcendent. The immanent world is the world of sensitivity. Nothing escapes perception.
When Spain Invaded America
In 1532, the western world, represented by Spain, invaded America. Among the weapons of ‘conquest’ they brought the cross and the sword to subdue an entire people with independent development, either with reason (the cross) or by force (the sword). Today, when they talk about the meeting of two cultures, they deny the invasion and abuse. The misnamed ‘conquest’ destroyed much of the material world of Tawantinsuyu, but not our worldview.
Today, though, we are losing our language. Mine is the last generation living in the city with the ability to speak Quechua comfortably as a first language. The people in the country are still speaking the language, but as the younger generation migrates to the cities for work, this may not last much longer.
Generally the people living in the country still practice their spirituality, but they do not share this practice with the church. It’s easier to say to the priest, “Of course I’m Christian,” but to continue their rites quietly. They will attend the church out of respect but do not follow Christian teachings. Still, we are losing the small ceremonies that should be practiced for the cycles of growing and planting ofcrops and the small ceremonies of the home. More and more people are practicing these small rituals without understanding their deeper meaning. Today we are losing our ability to live in a sacred way. We are losing wise elders, and we are losing ourselves.
My brother-in-law is an Evangelical Christian. We went one day to clean out a canal that brings water to the crops, as it was choked with new growth. We came to a natural spring that had been dug into a well. There were many young snakes living there. I cautioned my brother-in-law to be careful, as this was a very sacred place: I knew this because the snakes were protectors. “Oh,” he replied, “Silly notions, of the old people. Don’t be so superstitious!” The next day he was sick with a fever. I told him to get the Quechua healer but he refused. The next day he was worse, and finally my sister sent for the healer anyway. The healer and elder said that he should go back to the well and make offerings if he wanted to be well again. He did that the very same day, and as sick as he had been, he was well the next day.
My nephew cut down a plant sacred to men’s mysteries without knowing not to. By the time he got home he was sick, and his testicles had gone away. My mother quickly planted two more plants where he had cut down the first and made offerings. Soon he was well and whole again. This is the way we live in harmony.
But we are slowly losing the ability to live in a sacred way in connection with our cosmovisión … to live in harmony. People don’t know any longer what the sacred way of living is. That’s why my brother in law and my nephew made those mistakes.
Christianity as the religion of the invaders had its own principles of subjective, individualistic ideals, which work to divide us from the harmony of the whole. It was created and systematized according to the Church of Spain’s interests. Religions of a subjective nature have spiritual purposes, are preoccupied with the kingdom of heaven, and constitute a personal discipline. They have a source and an end of the world, bringing conflict between believers as well as agnostics and atheists. Theological as well as social scientific discussions of polytheistic versus monotheistic cultures have dismissed us and become another powerful tool for politicizing religion.
This concept of monotheism’s superiority, invented by the Occidental invaders, could not be understood by our older brothers and sisters. It wiped them out. What was a way of life for the invaders bore no relationship to what we understand the cosmos to be. According to those invaders, faith has a cost, and it is translated for the common people by specialists that require academic preparation.
It is also the origin and justification of the social division of our society. Currently, the domes of the monotheistic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, are guiding us, without having any solutions to our social, economic, and political problems, deepening them, instead.