August 1st is known throughout the Andes of South America as the Dia De La Pachamama, marking the beginning of a month-long celebration of and appeal to Mother Earth, known as Pachamama. The agrarian societies of the Andes, throughout countries such as Peru and Bolivia, make sacrifices in the form of food and gifts to the Earth Goddess in exchange for her goodwill in seeing them through the rest of the harsh mountain winter. The relationship with pachamama is imbued at every level with one guiding spiritual principle: reciprocity.
Reciprocity, called anyi in the indigenous language of Quechua, is the idea that to receive, one should give something in return. It is fundamental to the Andean worldview, which presents a spiritual and physical world that is distinctly different from Western conceptions. The lifestyle of the Andes is centered around mutual support for mutual benefit; for example, entire communities work together to till individual family’s fields, with the knowledge that each field will eventually be cultivated.
Anyi is a practice inherent to living in the Andes, and their understanding of pachamama as the spiritual nature of Earth itself requires the daily practice of reciprocity. This can be as simple as pouring part of one’s drink onto the Earth before drinking with the exclamation “Salud a la Pachamama”, or take the more elaborate form of a Shamanic ceremony at which gifts of coca leaves, alcohol, and trinkets are burned as an offering to pachamama . This latter example, known as a challa, is undertaken more frequently for special occasions, such as the Dia de la Pachamama.
So while Mother Earth is continually uplifted through acts of service in exchange for her goodwill, the month of August is a time to turn anyi into a celebration and a concentrated meditation. At the beginning of the month, the Dia de la Pachamama, families and communities gather to provide food and prayers to the Earth. Prepared dishes are buried in chakras (agricultural fields, which are conceived of as the daughter of pachamama) to nourish Mother Earth, with the understanding that she will see the people through the rest of the harsh mountain winter and provide a bountiful harvest when the season changes.
In this way, the Earth is not viewed as something to be tamed and benefitted from, but rather an active partner in the process of survival. The principle of reciprocity also includes the idea that risk is not concentrated unfairly on any one party. The Earth cannot be expected to take on the risk of being productive (i.e., providing sustenance for humanity) without being given proper time and assistance to be replenished. Dia de la Pachamama is a time to pause and make sure that the Earth’s rest is successful.
This lifestyle, and the spiritual beliefs that lead to it, can seem unorthodox or folksy to sensibilities that lean more towards utilitarianism in viewing any part of the natural world that isn’t human, because they are considered to be distinctly separate. In contrast, Andean peoples are led by the knowledge that while different elements of the universe, from stones and rivers to cats and humans, have their own distinct existence, they are all tied together on a spiritual level and are all equal. From this belief stems the practice of anyi - cooperation and servitude grounded in the understanding that one will in turn be helped in the future.
Reciprocity is not simply an ideal or an expectation, but a practice that is essential to survival in the Andes. Sustainable prosperity must include shared benefits and risks, for people, animals, and the Earth. The month of August is a time to make sure that reciprocity is a salient guiding practice in individual communities, as well as a time to thank pachamama for all that she does.
This is Part One of a two part blog series. Tune in Wednesday, August 8th to learn how the principle of reciprocity and the commitment to honoring pachamama was instrumental in the founding of Pachamama Coffee Cooperative.