NURTURING THE SEED IN THE PERUVIAN ANDES

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Author: Tirso Gonzales, Nestor Chambi and Marcela Machaca
Date: 15 June 1998
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Tirso Gonzales, Nestor Chambi and Marcela Machaca | 15 June 1998 | Seedling - June 1998

June1998

NURTURING THE SEED IN THE PERUVIAN ANDES

Tirso Gonzales, Nestor Chambi, Marcela Machaca*

Most literature, policies and practises related to agricultural development are embedded in a Western worldview and ignore alternative cosmovisions, particularly those held by indigenous peoples. The relevance and importance of Andean cosmology to both rural development and the conservation of agricultural biodiversity is highlighted in this article, which explores the agri-culture of the Aymaran and Quechuan peoples of the Peruvian Andes. Here the seed is treated with the utmost dignity and respect and is considered an integral part of the whole community.

 

Just as there is not just one way of doing agriculture, the seed does not mean the same in every language, worldview or cosmovision. In the same way that capitalist agriculture, commercial seeds and scientific knowledge have no place in indigenous agri-cultures, the seed has a different role in Western societies than it does in indigenous agricultural societies. This article is an invitation to approach both worlds on their own terms. This means approaching the seed from two differing perspectives, reflecting different ways of being, ways of knowing, and ways of being related to the world.

First, it is necessary to acknowledge that terms like "traditional farmers," "modern farmers," and "conservation of plant genetic resources," are not neutral, nor are they universal. They are part of a set of Western concepts related to theories of modernization, development and conservation. These terms are coherent with contemporary Western ways of being, ways of knowing, and ways of being related to the world, and not those of non-Western "indigenous peoples." Failure to recognise this crucial difference highlights the problems that have arisen from encouraging or forcing Western blueprints of development upon "indigenous peoples" lives, territories and environments.

Pueblos Originarios (Originating Peoples) such as the Quechuas and Aymaras in the Andes share a rich and unique cosmovision far removed from the contemporary Western one. Consequently, their approaches to agriculture are also very different. Yet most of the current literature concerned with genetic resources concentrates thought and effort on how to conserve genetic resources "rationally" and "scientifically" according to the Western worldview. No serious attempt has yet been made on the part of major international development agencies and their Southern counterparts to understand alternative approaches to biodiversity conservation. A wealth of alternatives exist amongst indigenous peoples around the world. Indeed, to a large extent these groups have been responsible for creating and nurturing the agrobiodiversity that exists on the planet today, suggesting that they are in the best position to determine resource management strategies. The principles of "sustainable agriculture" are found, at least in part, in the agricultures of the Pueblos Originarios.

In the case of the Andes, agricultural practices date back ten thousand years. This region is one of the centres of domestication of plants and animals in the world. The technologies developed to do this are founded in a coherent system inspired by the Andean cosmovision, which places the phenomenon of labour in its own cultural and religious context. In Peru, there are at least 57 indigenous ethnic groups, comprising more than 9 million people. Despite destructive colonial policies and contemporary development policies applied by the nation-state, these indigenous communities possess their own institutions, rituals, religions, languages, cultures and laws, as well as their own ways of being, knowing, and being related to the world. These instruments have been critical to the development of the system of agriculture practised successfully by Andean people.

THE LANGUAGE OF CRIANZA

Aymara – indigenous people from the Puno region of Peru
Quechua
– indigenous people from the Ayacucho region of Peru
Pacha
– earth, local landscape
Pachamama
– mother earth
Runa - human (Quechua)
Jaque – human (Aymara)
Sallqa – nature
Waca – deity
Chacra – plot of land (1-2ha) for cultivation; place of communion for ayllu members
Crianza – the cultivation of animals and plants; the culture of nurturing
Ayllu – kinship group comprising the communities: sallqa, runas or jaques, and wacas
Ayni – reciprocal work arrangement between ayllu members
Minka – collective work paid in cash or kind for labour realised

 

Cosmovision and crianza

In the Andes, Quechuas and Aymaras have always talked about nurturing life. In our world everything is alive and has its place. We are all related and Pachamama (mother earth) is sacred and alive. That is why Quechuan and Aymaran peoples talk about "the living Andean world." Life in the Andes is a culture of the nurturing of harmony. Harmony is not given; it has to be procured. Contrary to what is happening in the Western contemporary world, the agri-cultures in the Andes are important for the flow and continuance of all life.

The living world that is the Andes presents itself in three different modes: the community of the sallqa, (nature), the community of runas or jaques, (humans), and the community of wacas, (deities). These three groups make up the kinship group known as the ayllu. The chacra (a plot of land for Andean cultivation) is the place where life is nurtured most intensely by the efforts of the ayllu. This is possible because in the Andes the members of the sallqa, the runas or the jaques, and the wacas are all considered to be "persons" of equal standing who are intimately related and treat each other with respect and dignity. The communities do not live independently: they depend upon and nurture one another.

In the Andes nurturing is a reciprocal practice between ayllu members, and is known as ayni. One must know how to nurture to be deserving of the nurturing of others. Those who nurture, (mountains, water, clouds, runas, jaques, plants) are themselves nurtured. The ability of the different ayllu members to nurture each other effectively is rooted in their interrelatedness. As Eduardo Grillo points out, "Any given person, (whether they be man, tree, or rock) does not belong to a given form of presencing, but rather may belong to any of these when it may be so convenient, without losing their own personality. In this way, each one of these forms nurtures the other two, and is nurtured by them in turn. This is so because the Andean World is not a world of things, of objects, of institutions, of cause and effect relationships, but rather we are in the presence of a world of renderings, recreations, renovations."

Conversation takes place in reciprocal manner among the members of the three communities which compose and nurture the local pacha (earth). "Conversation" is not a metaphor, but a reality made possible because all beings are able to understand and communicate with one another. The term "conversation" includes every form of expression. It is not necessarily conveyed in speech, but may be expressed in feelings, emotions or other manifestations. The three communities of the Pacha represent life in its entirety and are regenerating themselves in every instance. The pacha is characterized by being animate, sacred, variable, harmonious, diverse, immanent, and consubstantial.

In Andean Communities, the cosmovision is heavily influenced by the fact that time is cyclical rather than linear. Time is intimately linked to the pulse of life: the rhythms and cycles of the moon, the sun, the climate, and the agri-cultural cycle. Agricultural activities, such as the different crianzas (nurturings), rituals and festivities are not determined by a calendar, but are carried out according to the rhythm of the cycles of nature. It is noteworthy also that for the Quechua and the Aymara, the "present," the "past," and the "future" do not mean the same as they do in the Western world. As Grillo suggests, "In the Andes there is no categorical or cancelling distinction between ‘past’ and ‘future’ because the ‘present’ contains them both .... There exists the notion of sequence, the notion of before and after, but these do not oppose one another as past and future do in the modern West, but rather these find themselves gathered in the ‘present,’ in ‘the ever always,’ always being renewed, always re-created."

The Andean cosmovision is also intimately linked to the nature of the agri-cultural environment - the nature of the terrain, crops, animals, and so on. As Quechuan Marcela Machaca points out "..... our customs differentiate us from other realities and cultures. Our custom is born from nature, from the soil, from the mountains, from the rivers, that is to say from the sallqa, and from the Pachamama. The runa is part of nature and lives harmoniously with each one of the components in a reciprocal and equitable relationshi."

The chacra and the seed

The chacra is not simply a plot of land for cultivation. Pachamama (mother earth) gives birth to life, nourishing and regenerating the sallqa, wacas, and runas and jaques. The members of these three communities make their own chacras. To make chacra is a ritual and a festivity. All festivities, be they at a communal or familial level, are directed at thanking the deities for the fruits obtained through agri-culture. To make chacra for the runa or jaque is to contribute to enriching and regenerating the local Pacha. In this way, the runa and the jaque can be considered cultivators of life, or shepherds who care for the animals of the deities.

Life in the Andes does not revolve around humans. The runa or the jaque knows that s/he is only one member of a larger collective. The contribution humans make to the regeneration and the festivity of life is participating and intimately experiencing the rituals: making chacra. To make chacra implies nurturing the diversity of persons. Every chacra, like every seed, is unique, with its own way of being and in its own personality. This requires a great sensibility on behalf of the members of the ayllu in order to attune its needs.

The seed is a living being. As such, it is part of the ayllu and a member of the sallqa. Like every other person from each of the three communities of the pacha, the seed is sensitive and has its own culture. In many Quechua and Aymara Communities, culture is not a particular and exclusive attribute of humans, "because all [beings] are persons and know how to live in their own way." Marcela Machaca puts it this way, "The seed, in this sense, has its own culture; it lives with you and nurtures you, but it also leaves when it is not appreciated or is mistreated … Understanding and practicing the culture of the chacra has constituted and constitutes the central activity [to ensure] enduring health to nature and human communities. To nurture seeds means above all to nurture the chacra, to strengthen the processes of circulation or the ambling of seeds throughout different paths. As a result, the recuperation of diversity is not only a question of seeds, but above all it is an understanding of Andean culture in its real magnitude."

Aymaras and Quechuas converse constantly, in a very fine-tuned conversation, with the elements of the natural collective. The chacra is the place where each being remembers and commits itself to nurturing new plants, soil, waters, and so on, for the benefit of each one of them. The chacra is the setting for a greater relationship among the living communities, in which the living beings interact, converse, reciprocate, and develop a mutual caring.. In Conima, in order to nurture the chacra, community dwellers (comuneros) observe and analyse some 80-100 signs or lomasas (indicators) of agricultural activity on a daily basis throughout the season.

NURTURING DIVERSITY : A SEED FAIR IN QUISPILLACTA, AYACUCHO

The essence of the seed fair is to strengthen the breeding of seeds and culture, and to rekindle intra-ethnic (intra-ayllus) and inter-ethnic relations. In earlier years such relations had been more fluid and stronger. For example, in the past the goal of exchanging seeds had brought together the Quispillacta people with the nearby communities of Ocros (Andahuaylas) and Acocro (Ayacucho).

The goals of the Quispillacta Fair were to show the potential of the native seeds bred (criadas), exchange seeds and wisdom, emphasise the role of Quispillactans who nurtured greater genetic variability, give incentive to and expand the nurturing (crianza) of Andean seeds diversity, and to show the nutritional richness and the diversity of dishes based on Andean crops. Participation took place at two levels: individual (family, ayllu) and collective (barrio). At the individual level, 67 out of 574 active comuneros participated in the exposition of their respective crianzas (breedings). Pastor Galindo Callocunto, one of the winners, had bred 64 ecotypes of potatoes.

The concept of crianza, in this particular context, refers to the cultivation of plants and the nurturing of animals, soils, seeds, mountains, etc. This concept also defines Andean agriculture as the culture of nurturing. It is worthy of mention that raising animals is a complement to the activity of nurturing. Moreover, no distinction is made between wild and domesticated plants: all are nurtured.

Courting the seed in Quispillacta

In the Quechuan region of Quispillacta, the incorporation of the seed follows a number of processes: visible and invisible rites. Through rituals, the seed is incorporated into the family as a new member. Both the comunero (community dweller) and seed will become a part of a "trial" or a "more intimate knowing." The object of incorporating a new variety of seed into the family chacra is to diversify the crops, at the request of the climate, the soils and the waters. The incorporation of a new variety is a slow process, taking several growing seasons, and brings with it no guarantee that the new seed will stay. The process of crianza with respect to the seed is complex and intimate, and resembles the process of human courtship. The runa must move carefully and often invisibly to court the seed, hiding his or her real intentions in order to attract and captivate the seed, and inspire its affection. Courting the seed in this way increases the probability that the seed will remain in the chacra.

Approaching and bringing in the seed in Quispillacta is a two-step process: acquiring the new seed, and seeing through the trial. The process takes place during the agricultural cycle, during and after harvest time, through various modalities. Almost always, agricultural work is undertaken in collective groups of runas using mutual support in the form of ayni or minka (collective labour paid in cash or in kind). Harvest time presents a singular opportunity for the runa to approach the seed and appreciate its way of being: its color, the number of tubers produced, culinary quality, and so on. The collective work also permits the recognition of the peculiarities of the chacra, its location and performance, just as it permits the recognition of which ayllus are the best nurturers of plants and animals.

Table 1: Ecotypes presented at the Second Andean Seed Fair in Qusipillacta

Sector Num. of
farmers
Potato Olluco Oca Maswa Quinoa Corn Bean Tarwi
1.Llaqta

2.Yuraq Cruz

3.Llaqtahurán

4.Huertahuasi

5.Pirhuamarca

6.Socobamba

7.Tuco

8.Unión Potrero

9.Puncupata

10.Catalinayocc

11.Pampamarca

12.Cuchoquesera

10

2

13

1

9

5

5

1

8

2

7

4

47

41

298

15

145

104

45

13

119

26

40

67

20

9

54

-

30

16

11

6

23

3

12

24

12

-

80

-

44

18

16

7

12

5

-

14

20

-

97

-

57

23

38

-

39

3

14

24

-

-

11

-

5

2

3

-

3

2

-

5

128

-

231

-

116

51

93

18

68

25

100

177

32

-

149

-

57

5

14

-

11

6

11

36

-

-

23

-

4

1

1

-

2

3

-

15

TOTAL

67

960

208

208

315

33

1,007

321

49

Once the Quispillactan has brought in a seed, the next step is the trial. This consists of planting in special or designated chacras, for example in family plots near the family dwelling, with the sole purpose of living fully with the seed, which in technical terms corresponds roughly with evaluating the phenotypical characteristics of the new plant. The plots are "research centers," and are as concerned with the adaptation to the soil, climate, and other elements of Andean agriculture, as they are with the process of accommodating the seed, known as ratay.

Nothing guarantees that the new seed will necessarily stay to coexist and incorporate itself into the new family chacra. If it does stay, its slow incorporation takes about five growing seasons. Even if the seed makes it to the end of this time, nothing guarantees that it will stay for ever. If the plant-person retires after several cycles, the comunero/a will evaluate carefully what s/he did or did not do with the new seed, so that s/he will not motivate another seed to leave on a subsequent occasion.

Eventually the seed, like all living beings, tires and takes a well-deserved rest after having made its contribution to the crianza. This does not mean the death or disappearance of the person of the seed, but rather a step from one form of being to another. The Aymara festival of Ispallanakan Phistapa is a celebration of the chacra in which the Ispallas (deities of the producers) are remembered. Chambi and Chambi describe the handing over of duties from one generation of Ispallas to the next in the following way, "Not only are the new Ispallas found, but they must meet with the Ispallas’ mothers or grandmothers, so that they may embrace, as if [the grandmother Ispalla were] showing them that she would be entrusting the new Ispalla … [to] nurture persons … When the grandmother Ispalla is giving this blessing, it is said that she leaves them with the following charge: ‘just as we have nurtured these people, now it is time for them to nurture.’"

Conclusion

The "oneness of the modern world," as anthropologist Paul Richards has described it, is reflected in the literature, policies and practices relating to Western contemporary agricultural development and the conservation and use of agricultural genetic resources. The invisibility of alternative cosmovisions, and ways of being and acting, makes clear the absence of recognition of ndigenous peoples’ contributions towards nurturing cultural and biological diversity, and ensuring ecological equilibrium and a healthy environment.

Any contemporary Western effort aiming to protect and/or enhance the "biodiversity" located within indigenous peoples’ territories should be clear in its policies and practices that biodiversity is inextricably linked to indigenous cultural diversity. Despite 500 years of policies and practices prejudicial to the environment and indigenous communities, agricultural biodiversity is largely the outcome of non-Western indigenous practices based on cosmological principles which guide the nurturing and regeneration of life. Contemporary mainstream institutions must recognise this reality and embrace the paradigms embedded in the cosmovisions of non-Western peoples.

In the short term, this should lead to wiser and more appropriate decisions regarding the allocation of research and development resources. It should also lead to greater and more decisive participation of indigenous peoples in the ongoing debates, according to their agendas and communal decisions. In the longer term, this should increase pressure on countries all over the world to address the critical issue of indigenous peoples’ rights; that is, their struggle for self-determination and control over their territories, livelihoods and resources.

 

*Tirso Gonzales (Peruvian Aymara) is Program Coordinator of the Indigenous Knowledge Program, a global initiative of the Indigenous Peoples’ Biodiversity Network. Nestor Chambi (Peruvian Aymara) is an agronomist and Executive Director of the Asociación Chuyma de Apoyo Rural Chuyma Aru, Puno. Marcela Machaca (Peruvian Quechua) is an agronomist and co-founder of the NGO Asociación Bartolomé Aripaylla, Community of Quispillacta, Ayacucho. The authors can be contacted by e-mail at: tagonzalez@ucdavis.edu. A different version of this paper is shortly to be published in the UNEP publication Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, edited by Dr Darrell A Posey.

 

Main sources:

* Néstor Chambi and Walter Chambi (1995), Ayllu y Papas. Cosmovisión, religiosidad y agricultura en Conima, Puno. Asociación Chuyma de Apoyo Rural "Chuyma Aru."

* Marcus Colchester (1994) Salvaging Nature: Indigenous Peoples, Protected Areas and Biodiversity Conservation. United Nations Research Institute for Social Development, DP 55.

* Tirso Gonzales (1996), Political Ecology of Peasantry, the Seed, and NGOs in Latin America: A Study of Mexico and Perú, 1940-1995. Doctoral dissertation, Department of Sociology, University of Wisconsin, Madison.

* Tirso Gonzales (1996), "¿Arriando la Bandera de la Soberania? Campesinado, Semillas Nativas, Derechos de Propiedad Intelectual y ONGs en Latinoamerica: El Caso de Peru, 1940-2000."

* In Stefano Varese (ed), Pueblos indios, soberania y globalismo. Editorial Abya Ayala, Quito, Ecuador.

* Eduardo Grillo (1994), Cultural Affirmation: digestion of imperialism in the Andes.

* Marcela.Machaca (1996), "La Crianza de la Biodiversidad y la Cultura Andina." In: PRATEC (ed), La Cultura Andina de la Biodiversidad. 101-122. PRATEC. Lima, Perú.

* Anon (1992), El Agua y los Quispillactinos. (Manuscript). Documento presentado en el Curso de Formación en Agricultura Andina-PRATEC, Asociación Bartolomé Aripaylla, Ayacucho.

* Marcela Machaca and Magdalena Machaca (1994), Crianza Andina de la Chacra en Quispillacta. Semillas - Plagas y Enfermedades. Asociación Bartolomé Aripaylla:Ayacucho.

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