Since ancient times, every single Andean culture and their peoples have relied on the only ingredient that can transcend commodity exchange, money or wealth as the means to get things done. It is a practice that In the Andean peoples’ dualist world outlook is understood as a form of giving back what one receives from others as a moral obligation toward the community. Andean people have called this practice AYNI, it has survived the Inca empire, the invasion of the Spaniards, the onslaught of capitalism and the merciless passing of time.
It still exists in the genetic memory of the Andean peoples of South American, mainly in Peru and Bolivia amongst Quechua speaking people. Ayni finds expression in the work one performs for others in the countryside, in the returning of goods, tools or other forms that we understand as favors. Ayni cannot be paid in money but in its original reciprocal way. Ayni loses its meaning when it doesn’t come from the heart.
Material goods are not something everyone aspires to, what matters to the Indigenous Andean people is to focus on the quality of life that the calmness of the countryside provides them, the nurture of their families and friends. Having a lot means something different to them, a lot of laughter, a lot of peace of mind, lots of timely rains and good health.
Their bling is a well-watered plot of land, a robust and healthy animal of their cattle, a llama or an alpaca, a coca plant of thick long leaves, a hot cup of freshly brewed coffee, a night sky with billions of stars from where to count shooting stars. Something material wealth cannot provide.
Everyone will grow older, everyone has a responsibility to learn and to teach. The elders are not something they store in hospices when we think they become a burden; Andean people believe that they are a treasure to cherish, a fountain from where priceless stories and lessons flow, and with whom one needs to connect before living independently. Indigenous and mestizo families share the same household sometimes.
One can see three or four generations in one house at times. Every meal means a large gathering of people; there is no particular time to celebrate, the time is always right for the family. Lots of happiness and plenty of laughter and banter. Children learn to respect and listen to the elders, adults try to follow their elders’ advice, and that’s how the cycle of family life runs unbreakable.
Andean people believe that everything is intrinsically connected. Time is circular, not linear. The memories of the ancestors live in the hearts and minds of the living ones. The place where ancestors lived once has a special meaning, the connection to those places is of utmost importance. The dead have a time of its own, a place to be remembered and a duty that the living ones need to fulfill. A time when children learn from the ones who preceded their parents and grandparents, an opportunity to learn about their ancestors and what they ought to do in the future when they take the responsibility to continue with the tradition. It is a celebration with which some westerners are familiar. It happens on the “Day of the dead.” People gather in cemeteries; the mood is the one of a party, a time to bring the dead back to life, an opportunity to celebrate their past existence and their legacy, a time when the living and the dead drink, eat, cry and sing together again.
The indigenous view of Pachamama is overarching. She is the only one that we can rely upon. Her love is present in every image the day and night bring to our lives. Her kindness is shown in every breath we take, the food we eat and the beauty of plants and animals that she protects. Without her, there is nothing; happiness is impossible, fear reigns and life is hopeless. Andean people feel this gratitude and live it on a daily basis. They understand that Pachamama can be lethal at times, and her wrath is triggered by the way humans break the balance of nature. Ancient Andean civilizations knew this, and the archeological sites that one sees while visiting Peru are a reminder of what happens when we neglect and abuse her.
Connecting with her while hiking in the countryside, admiring the massive mountains and protecting the beautiful lakes and streams are a constant reminder of how we ought to maintain that balance with her. The Incan people went as far as integrating natural formations and outcrops to their belief system, their architecture and their lives, which is something called “Sacred Geography“. Perhaps that is one of the most advanced and down to earth forms of spiritual expression that anyone can have. Something everyone on our planets needs to emulate. Maybe not pouring corn beer but safeguarding and struggling with others to protect our only home.
Remaining generous and open-hearted with everyone is a by-product of being alive and present. Welcoming foreigners is how they show their level of “development.” One can witness these things while traveling in Peru, the detachment toward material things and the selfless generosity of their people. Anyone who has hiked in the Andean mountains of Peru will agree with this if they have crashed at an Andean people’s house. A plate of food is always available, a llama or sheep blanket is never an issue, a kind smile and the keen to want to help unconditionally are things that characterized Andean people which is something that perhaps a lot of westerners could find valuable in times of bigotry, hate, and rampant nationalism.