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In this article, I illustrate how two Andean songs serve as lessons for ethical behaviour. This ethics does not constitute an abstraction away from daily concerns; rather, its rationale is pragmatic, based on the kind of behavior that is most conducive to individual and social survival. The ethical vision portrayed in the songs is therefore profoundly ecological. It is grounded on the notion of “reciprocity,” where reciprocity can be broadly defined as a “mutually open predisposition for engagement.” I collected the songs during doctoral fieldwork in Indigenous communities in Pomabamba province, Ancash department, Peru, in 2011. The first song is in the Indigenous language Central Peruvian Quechua, while the second is in Spanish. Both Quechua and Spanish are used interchangeably in the region, to the extent that Spanish can nowadays also be considered a Native language. Indeed, each song displays influences from both languages. The Wayta Muruy stanzas present a positive enactment of reciprocal cooperation, whereas those of the Negritos have a more sinister edge, foretelling the negative consequences of discrimination but with the hope of transformation.

The theoretical framework that I deploy in this article derives from Andean philosophical tendencies. Thus, by deploying this framework, I illustrate that Indigenous worldviews (or lifeways) can be just as intellectually robust as theories that derive from academic scholarship in an institutional setting. This framework has been termed ecosofia by Josef Estermann (Ecosofia) and Sumaq Kawsay in its politicized variant (having formed part of the Ecuadorian and Bolivian constitutions). Estermann has coined the term ecosofia in order to convey the sense that “Andean philosophy” is “not a philosophy that is centered on the substantiality of entities and of the universe, rather on relationality as an [End Page 81] irreducible fact of the all- encompassing structure of the cosmos” (Ecosofia). Thus, Andean lifeways stress the mutual constitution of entities, so that relation, not the “entity,” is the ontological prime.

Sumaq Kawsay is a Southern Quechua word, reflecting its currency in Bolivia and Ecuador (Ecuadorian Quechua is closely related to Southern Quechua). However, translated into Central Peruvian Quechua as Shumaq Kaway, it provides a congruent theoretical framework for understanding the philosophical orientations of the songs in this article. It is generally translated into Spanish as El Buen Vivir (“the good life”). This translation, however, reduces much of its philosophical meaning (Estermann, Ecosofia). First, as with most Quechua words, kaway is both noun and verb. This conflation of the “nominal” and “verbal” conveys the relationality and dynamism that is implicit in any kind of entity. As a consequence shumaq is both adjective and adverb, so that the translation could equally be “to live well.” A second difference is that shumaq is not only ethical and aesthetic, but also affective. This fact anticipates the songs where ethical, aesthetic, and affective domains are fused. Third, the concept of kaway is not reducible to “life” in a purely biological sense but also includes those entities that, in Western understandings, are classed as inanimate. Thus, relationality is extended to all domains of the cosmos. As a whole the concept of Shumaq Kaway communicates how “humans realize their potential (or should do so) as part of a community; with and in function of other human beings, without claiming to dominate Nature” (Acosta 38).

The notion of Sumaq Kawsay (Shumaq Kaway) became part of the Ecuadorian constitution in 2008 and the Bolivian in 2009 (Gudynas 3). The concept is thus deployed in a primarily political context, and is not in wide circulation among Indigenous communities as a means of defining Andean Philosophy (Gudynas 8). It is not my intention in this article to reify “Andean Philosophy” as a homogeneous block that can be unproblematically labeled Shumaq Kaway, given that there is considerable diversity among Andean communities. Instead I deploy the concept as a means of identifying general philosophical tendencies across the Andes that inform the messages of the two songs that I examine. Another caveat is that I do not aim to generalize about daily life in the Andes on the basis of just two songs. Envy and individualism exist just as much in the Andes as they do elsewhere, and denying this because it contradicts Shumaq Kaway is just as fallacious as arguing that [End Page 82] all churchgoers automatically follow every tenet of the Bible. Indeed, the very fact that songs serve to remind people of the value of Shumaq Kaway shows that adherence to this principle is not a foregone conclusion. The Incas, while generally accepting cultural diversity within their empire, were imperialists nonetheless and, like all imperialists, defined themselves as the pinnacle of a rigid hierarchy that had little to do with Shumaq Kaway (Bauer).

Neither is it my intention in this article to engage in the political debate about the contexts in which, and extent to which, Shumaq Kaway should be applied to spheres of life beyond the Andes. I do not aim to use Shumaq Kaway as a tool of critique against Western lifeways, nor do I exclude the possibility that it can contribute in important ways. To engage productively in these debates really requires extensive training in politics and economics, and the focus of this article is, instead, literary, linguistic, and anthropological. The objectives of this article having been introduced, together with the Indigenous theoretical framework that informs them, it is now time to engage in detailed exegesis of the texts themselves.

Wayta Muruy

Wayta Muruy, literally “sowing of flowers,” is a genre where people “dance out” certain agricultural activities. It is performed in festivals between April and June across the province. This version was sung to me by Doña Catalina Salvador Salinas, from the village of Pajash. The main performance is the spreading of cut flowers by the dancers (hence the genre’s name). The flowers constitute a gift to a religious figure (in this case, Christ), and also symbolize the sowing of seeds. Thus, already we see the intertwining of the religious/ethical with a pragmatic preoccupation with survival. The whole festival takes place in front of the church, in the main square of Pajash. The principal dancers are warmi willka (granddaughter); ollqu willka (grandson); chakwas (old woman); awkis (old man). A fifth character is the capitán yunka, who helps the other four characters in the sowing of the flowers. The stanzas are as follows:

Tayta Cristi AsunciónIma shumaqmi shuyaamunCaña dulce mallkintsikta entregashunmi

Caña dulce plantantsikta entregashunmiNaranjada plantata entregadanaaqmi

Tsaqullay, tsaqullay, awkin runa, tsatsa runaTayta Cristu AsunciónWarmi willka, ollqu willka, awkis, chakwasAlli shumaq tsaquyamunkiNaranjada mallkintsikmi

Sindi waqra tuuruntsikAbrillakunqamanMana shumaq troncutaHipimuptiyki

Alli shumaqlla sindiylla sindiyCapitán yunka, awkis, chakwasAlli shumaq sindimunkiMana pantarMana cricinqatsu

Ayway toruntsikta ashimunkiYapyaykunapaqWawra kachita aparkurMikutsiparAyway rogapar, shoqaparApamunki, achkumunki, laasumunki

Señorllay capitán yunkaQarapaay yachanqanpita, Allimunki.Envernadushqa tsay toruntsik, yunka señorllayWaqrashuptiyki tsay chukaru toruqaKachita uchutsinkiKachiwan rogapankiShoqapanki

Kurpata mashashunKurpantsikta wiruyaamuyAlli shumaq, alli shumaq wiruyallaamunkiCaña dulcintsikta plantaCaña dulcintsikta planta malograykanman

Awkin runa, tsatsay runaAlli shumaq parqulla, parqullaAlli yaku parqullayPlantanta mama sequiaqa parqunampaq

Naranjada plantantsikta suwayanqaCaña dulcintsikta, caña dulcintsiktaMishi makin apanqa plantantsiktaAlli shumaq cirkuykamunki

Mishi maki, lluta sikiTsay waytata apaskinTsay waytata ushaskin

Misalla blanca, mesallaAwkin runa, tsatsay runaHamaykuy, mikuyay, almorzay

Father Christ of the AscensionHow beautifully he awaits usWe will give him our plant of sugar cane [End Page 83]

We will give him our crop of sugar caneI am about to give you the orange plant

Cut, cut, old man, elder manFather Christ of the AscensionGranddaughter, grandson, old man, old womanClear the vegetation wellOur orange plant

Our horned bull that plowsMight open upIf you do not remove the trunkCarefully

Sow, sow wellCaptain yunka, old man, old womanSow wellErring notIt will not grow

Go and look for our bullIn order to plowBringing shining saltFeeding itGo and beg it, comforting itBring it here, escort it, transport it

Honorable capitán yunkaTreat it in the way to which it is accustomed, persuade it.It has been hibernating, this, our, bull, honorable yunkaIf this stubborn bull should butt you

Give it salt to suckBeg it with saltComfort it [End Page 84]

We will heat the balls of earth in the sunMake our balls of earth grow stalksMake them grow stalks wellOur plant of sweet caneOur plant of sweet cane could get damaged

Old man, elder manIrrigate, irrigate wellWith good water, irrigate wellSo that mother stream can irrigate her plant

They will steal our orange plantOur sweet cane, our sweet caneThieving hands will carry of our plantEnclose it well

Thieving hands, useless bottomAre carrying of this plantAre destroying this plant

White table, tableOld man, elder manRest, eat, have lunch

The first stanza relates to Christ, Cristi. The word Cristi is an affectionate term that indicates that Christ is not presented as a remote figure, but rather as a close friend or relative; tayta, literally “father” but a term of affection and respect for any male, can also be interpreted in this way. In the second line, Ima shumaqmi shuyaamun (“How beautifully he awaits us”), the beauty originates from the relation, namely Christ’s openness to receiving the devotees (the aesthetic dimension in shumaq [“beautiful”] is emphasized by the evidential suffix -mi, which serves an emphatic function). For Henry Stobart, affective language in Quechua communities serves “as a means to appeal to the generative power or spirit (animu) of the object, being or place, and to set it into ‘communicative [End Page 85] mode,’” where “well being and (re)productive potential are largely understood in terms of the quality of relations with the various personified places, objects or beings” (9). In our song the intertwining of affective, aesthetic, and cognitive dimensions likewise serves to strengthen a relationship with Christ that will be conducive to survival. The importance of relation is also conveyed by the directional -mu (in shuyaamu-n, “waits for us”), which normally indicates movement toward the speaker. In this case, however, it is the speaker who is moving toward Christ. Thus, the suffix can be interpreted metaphorically to indicate an emotional, relational approximation, whereby Christ disposes himself to receiving the devotees. The reciprocal basis of this relation is suggested by the fact that, with this suffix, “there is the suggestion of a circular movement, as the effects of the action referred to are expected somehow to revert to the speaker” (Adelaar 141–42). As Ramiro Condori et al. note, “The festival is, for the Andean, a sacred space where one enters into communion with one’s gods and one’s ancestors; the relation that is generated requires reciprocity with beings of other spheres” (52).

The next two lines exemplify this reciprocity: Caña dulce mallkintsikta entregashunmi / Caña dulce plantantsikta entregashunmi (“We will give him our plant of sugar cane / We will give him our crop of sugar cane”). According to Doña Catalina, by receiving the fruits of harvest, Christ will ensure a bountiful harvest next year. Thus, the more valuable the product that is given (and little is more valuable than food for survival), the more auspicious the result will be. Pragmatism does not contradict, but is reinforced by, reciprocal ethics. The parallelism of the lines, with Quechua mallki (“plant”) followed by its Spanish cognate planta, arguably heightens the sense of reciprocity, while the evidential -mi grounds this relation on an epistemic basis of certainty. The group possessive -ntsik (“our”) conveys the sense of group unity by defining the plant as “belonging to everyone.” Quechua has two different categories for “we”: an inclusive (noqantsik), whereby the addressee is included in the group (“all of us including you”), and an exclusive (noqakuna), whereby the addressee is excluded (“all of us but not you”). Here the inclusive category is deployed, conveying the fact that the group can be considered a single unit for the purposes of agriculture. By handing the plant over to Christ, moreover, the community incorporates Christ into the same web of relations. But the motivation for this inclusion is because Christ is not like everyone else—he has certain powers over the [End Page 86] natural world that the community does not have, and this is the reason for relating to him in the first place. Thus, community is built as much through difference as through similarity. The final line confirms the inclusion of Christ as part of the group, with the object changing from third person (grammatically unmarked category) (“he”) to second person -q (“you”), coinciding with the suffix -naa, which indicates imminent action (“about to”). Thus, Christ becomes a direct interlocutor. The naranjada “orange” refers to the color of sugar cane; it is also tempting to see an allusion to the sun, a fundamental element of Andean religion and mythology.

The second stanza refers to the four characters, representing two genders and two generations, who act out fundamental agricultural processes. The elder man is induced to tsaqu-, or “fell shrubs to create fields for sowing.” There is semantic parallelism with awkin and tsatsa, both denoting an “elderly man.” The second line shows that the action is performed with a view to Christ (here Cristu, from Spanish Cristo [“Christ”]). The third line lists all of the performers in turn: the young girl, the young boy, the old man, the old woman. As well as illustrating the productive synthesis of complementary opposites (two genders uniting to create two generations, and thereby temporal progression), the foursome also symbolizes the whole community and arguably reinforces the fact that everyone has their own role and is expected to cooperate for everyone’s benefit. In the line Alli shumaq tsaquyamunki (“Clear the vegetation well”), we see again the intertwining of the aesthetic and pragmatic, where a job well done is alli shumaq (“very beautiful”) (recall that shumaq is at once affective, ethical, and aesthetic). Here, the directional -mu serves to soften the imperative, which thereby acts more as a suggestion than a command; thus, the implication is that unity is built through cooperation rather than coercion. In the fifth line the group possessive -ntsik reinforces the creation of unity through common relation to the plant and thereby the role of agriculture in perpetuating the survival of the community. Indeed, agriculture is both the cause and effect of communal cooperation: a successful harvest allows the community to survive, while the success of agriculture depends on cooperation within that community. Already, then, we can see how the formation of relations, on the basis of emotional and aesthetic engagement, is oriented toward survival and how, in these stanzas, an ecological ethics emanates from entirely practical concerns. [End Page 87]

The third stanza explains the importance of the actions described in the previous stanza. The first line describes a tuuru (“bull”), again appropriated by -ntsik. In the festival the bull is enacted by three men. This does not mean that the bull is, from an emic (local) point of view, “unreal”: “In certain feasts one observes runas that wear the skin of a bear or the flower of a plant . . . It is not . . . that they represent this or that plant or animal, but that in those circumstances they are that plant or animal” (Vásquez 114). Reference is made to the bull’s waqru (“horn”), conveying the animal’s strength and vitality. The word sindi probably originates from Spanish sendero (“path”); here it refers to the furrows plowed by the bull and into which seeds are placed. The subsequent lines state that the bull abrillakunqaman (“might open up”), Mana shumaq troncuta / Hipimuptiyki (“If you do not remove the trunk / Carefully”). Any broken trunks left in the field might pierce the bull’s skin (cause it to “open”). The affective -lla conveys empathy, showing that the welfare of the bull is not simply a practical necessity but also a moral obligation. As Edmundo Bendezú states of Andean poetry generally: “The meaning of the poem depends to a great extent on the function of certain morphemes with emotional connotations. . . . The morpheme lla indicates a softened affirmation, not categorical” (111).

The fourth stanza conveys the same ethical/pragmatic obligation for the seeds. The first three lines induce the yunka, old man, and old woman to Alli shumaqlla sindiylla sindiy (“Sow, sow well”). The affective -lla, use of shumaq (“beautiful, good”), and cooperative -mu again convey a caring, advisory tone, where the actors are encouraged, rather than coerced, to perform the activity. The fourth and fifth lines illustrate the importance of sowing “beautifully”: Mana pantar / Mana cricinqatsu (“Erring not / It will not grow”). Only if the seeds are treated with care will the plant grow and reciprocate by producing the food necessary for survival. The parallel repetition of the negative mana (“not”) reinforces the warning and also the two- way exchange: if negativity exists at one side, it will be reproduced at the other. This is conveyed by the Quechua concept of ayni, as described by Catherine Allen (“When”):

At the most abstract level, ayni is the basic give- and- take that governs the universal circulation of vitality. It can be positive . . . or . . . negative . . . This circulation . . . is driven by a system of continuous reciprocal interchanges, a kind of dialectical pumping mechanism. Every category of being, at every level, participates in [End Page 88] this cosmic circulation. Humans maintain interactive reciprocity relationships, not only with each other but also with their animals, their houses, their potato fields, the earth, and the sacred places in their landscape.


We are reminded of Estermann’s insight that ecosofia in the Andes entails conceptualization of life that is not hierarchically ordered (progressing from “inanimate” through “vegetable” and “animal” to “human”) but rather locates each being within an egalitarian system of mutual dependence (Ecosofia).

The fifth stanza begins by persuading the actors to fetch the bull, so that the field may be plowed: Ayway toruntsikta ashimunki / Yapyaykunapaq (“Go and look for our bull / In order to plow”). The third to fifth lines again stress cooperation over coercion: Rawra kachita aparkur / Mikutsipar / Ayway rogapar, shoqapar (“Bringing it shining salt / Feeding it / Go and beg it, comforting it”). By enticing the bull with salt, the actors are entering into reciprocal relations with the bull, recalling Inge Bolin’s comment on treatment of camelids in southern Peru: “Alpacas and llamas are not to be dominated and looked upon as mere resources. They must be respected in their own right, and the relationship is built on perfect reciprocity” (66). Likewise, Rodrigo Montoya et al. argue that in the Andes, “[a]nimals are treated like humans (with love, rage, insults)” (29). Here, we see this in the verbs roga- (“beg”) and shoqa- (“console”). The suffix -pa denotes a short period of time; here, its diminutive role is probably affective. The treatment of Christ, the plants, and the bull all reinforce the pragmatic basis of ethics as conveyed in the stanzas, where survival depends on productive reciprocal agreements.

The sixth stanza also describes the treatment of the bull: Señorllay capitán yunka / Qarapaay yachanqanpita, Allimunki (“Honorable capitán yunka / Treat it in the way to which it is accustomed, persuade it”). The yunka is addressed respectfully as Señorllay, shown by the Spanish honorific Señor (“Sir”), affective -lla, and affective/semi- possessive -y. Qarapay contains the verbal root qara- (“gift, bestow”), again demonstrating the cooperative, rather than coercive, relation toward the bull. The intertwining of reason and emotion throughout the stanzas, as part of a strategy of ecological ethics, recalls the close interdependence of the nervous (cognitive) and endocrine (emotional) systems. To quote Maurice Trask: [End Page 89]

The hypothalamus, which is the switchboard of the brain, receives both nerve and chemical messages. It sends out messages in two ways, by impulses through the nerve networks and by hormones to the pituitary gland. These hormones travel along the inside of the nerve axons, so that there is a close association between the two systems. When information enters the brain as nerve impulses and the response is hormone secretion the cycle is a neuroendocrine reflex.


The phrase yachanqanpita comprises yacha- (“know, become accustomed to”); nominalizer -nqa; third person present -n; -pita (“from”). The phrase can therefore be translated as “in the way to which it is accustomed.” This implies that auspicious relationships are gradually built up over time, through repeated reciprocal actions. What is stressed, then, is an abidingness in the relationship between bull and yunka, which does not mean that the relationship is always empirically in force, rather that every new agreement is projected from a history of past agreements (this projection is conveyed by the directionality of -pita [“from”]). The cumulative result is a latent mutual understanding that facilitates the process of making new cooperative endeavors in the future. At the emotional level, this could be tantamount to “trust.” The verb Allimunki comprises adjective alli (“good”); directional -mu (“toward”); second person -nki. It therefore reads roughly as “you make good,” though here its most plausible interpretation is “you persuade,” since the aim is to tame the bull so that it wishes to cooperate. The wide semantic orbit of alli (“good”), together with -mu (toward the speaker), indicates the grounding of ethics on self- interest, which is also communal interest. The remaining lines tell the yunka what to do if the bull is aggressive: Waqrashuptiyki tsay chukaru toruqa / Kachita uchutsinki / Kachiwan rogapanki / Shoqapanki (“If this stubborn bull should butt you / Give it salt to suck / Beg it with salt / Comfort it”). The yunka is encouraged to entice, rather than force, the bull to cooperate, not because of disinterested altruism, but because this is the most productive strategy: the bull will work better if it does so willingly, and aggression is a waste of energy, particularly in the high Andes where the air is thin, the temperature low, and the soils poor. Empathy is therefore a particularly useful means of securing what one requires in order to survive.

The seventh stanza refers to the kurpa, or balls of earth, which are [End Page 90] made around the seeds to maximize their chances of survival: Kurpata mashashun / Kurpantsikta wiruyaamuy / Alli shumaq, alli shumaq wiruyallaamunki (“We will heat the balls of earth in the sun / Make our balls of earth grow stalks / Make them grow stalks well”). The group possessive -ntsik is not strictly necessary here: it is already obvious that the kurpa belong to the group. Arguably, therefore, the use of this suffix is enactive rather than descriptive, encouraging people to work together as a community through reinforcing their latent potential to do so. If reciprocal unity is maintained, the kurpa will wiruu (“grow stalks”). Denise Y. Arnold and Juan de Dios Yapita note a similar tendency to engage personally with nature among the Bolivian Aymara: “it is believed that it is precisely the general intimacy of this personal communication between the human mamalas [mothers] and their spiritual counterparts, the mamalas of food- products, which results in the success of future harvests” (Río 164). Thus, as in Wayta Muruy, nature is related to on a profoundly empathetic basis whose premise is the ultimate unity of all things.

The fifth line of this stanza is a warning of what will happen if reciprocity is not respected: Caña dulcintsikta planta malograykanman (“Our plant of sweet cane could get damaged”). The group possessive -ntsik reinforces that the welfare of the plant is the welfare of the group. The eighth stanza induces the elder man to parqu- (“irrigate”) the seeds with alli yaku (“good water”). This is Plantanta mama sequiaqa parqunampaq (“So that mother stream can irrigate her plant”), whereby a physical process is also described in terms of reciprocity, just as a mother gives milk to her child. This recalls a stanza recorded in southern Peru by Francisco Carrillo: “Dilated stream with a smooth surface, Step on it! / It will carry its waters to our seeds, Step on it! / Step on it with strength, Step on it! / Step on it again with strength, step on it! / Thanks to you, our plants have their flower, Step on it! / Their beautiful fruits their propagation, Step on it!” (79). In both this stanza and the Wayta Muruy the stream is addressed as an animate being. In Wayta Muruy the stream is an agent, since the elderly man only provides the necessary conditions under which the stream can follow her natural tendency of nurture and, in the extract from Carrillo, because the stream is given thanks and addressed in the second person. This reflects Andean philosophical tendencies whereby “the land is an animated being and, consequently, the relation which is established between the runa (‘human [End Page 91] being’) and the land is not that which obtains between a subject and object, but an interaction between animated entities which are ultimately mutually dependent” (Godenzzi 53). Water is particularly important because of its role as a basis of Andean communality. Gary Urton, for example, notes how, in his southern Peruvian field site, “reservoirs and irrigation canals—and probably water in general—are crucial to the definition of social versus non-social space” (53). The importance of water for defining social relations can be traced to pre-Hispanic times, when “[d]ifferent peoples or ayllus [communities] could link themselves to others on the ideological basis of the connections between bodies of water and thus form local regions” (Sherbondy 57). Ultimately the role of water as an agent and principle of socialization is probably bound up with its biological function as sustaining life, particularly if we see communities as formed on a pragmatic basis of survival. The circulation of water is also a physical manifestation of the principle of reciprocal circulation of resources (ayni): “Rivers and streams provide a tangible manifestation of the samis’ [spirits’] flow and they are conceptualized in terms of a vast circulatory system that distributes water throughout the cosmos” (Allen, Hold 36). Thus, the presentation of mama sequia serves to reinforce ayni both at a practical and conceptual level.

The ninth stanza shifts to what happens when proper relations are not observed: Naranjada plantantsikta suwayanqa / Caña dulcintsikta, caña dulcintsikta (“They will steal our orange plant / Our sweet cane, our sweet cane”). This refers to the performance of the Turks, who arrive on the scene in mock Turkish costumes after the five cultivators have left, and destroy the newly sown plants. The phrase mishi makin (“thieving hands,” literally “cat hands”) refers to the fact that cats are opportunistic scavengers that often steal the fruits of people’s labor. The cultivators are therefore urged to circuykamuy (“circle around”) the crops to protect them. This stanza illustrates the destruction caused when reciprocity is not observed, and when adequate care is not taken to protect that which is important to one’s welfare. Thus, it serves as a lesson to take care of the relationships that one cultivates. The reference to the Turks is an allusion to medieval dramatizations that circulated widely in Spain and were subsequently introduced to Latin America during the colonial period (Millones 26). They depicted the victories of Christians over Muslims at the time of the Crusades. In Wayta Muruy, however, [End Page 92] the Turks are devoid of any ethnic association and are simply a symbol of the non- adherence to ayni (“reciprocity”). The tenth stanza marks a change of tense, from future to present, illustrating the fulfillment of the warning: Mishi maki, lluta siki / Tsay waytata apaskin / Tsay waytata ushaskin (“Thieving hands, useless bottom / Are carrying off this plant / Are destroying this plant”). The Turks are again described as “thieving hands,” and this time also as lluta siki (“useless bottom”)! The suffix-ski (in apa-ski-n) (“take, carry off ”) and usha-ski-n (“finish, destroy”) denotes sudden and resisted action (Julca-Guerrero 408), thus emphasizing the rapidity of the destruction in a moment of carelessness.

The final stanza conveys reciprocity in a different context. Here, the mayordomo (organizer of the festival) invites the grandfather to have lunch (Doña Catalina told me that all five dancers are in fact invited): Misalla blanca, mesalla / Awkin runa, tsatsay runa / Hamaykuy, mikuyay, almorzay (“White table, table / Old man, elder man / Rest, eat, have lunch”). The participants are thus rewarded for their efforts by being offered food. This sharing of food serves to confirm the message of “reciprocity” that the song is designed to convey: “Because Andean relationships of reciprocity are initiated, sacralized, and sustained through the ritual sharing of food . . . , food is essential not only to sustain each physical life, but also to sustain the human and spiritual relationships that allow life to go on” (Paulson 251–52). The Turks then return in order to rob the food. According to Doña Catalina, the Turks rob because tienen envidia (“they are jealous”). Jealousy, more than egoism, can be seen as the opposite of reciprocity. While reciprocity is beneficial both for Self and Other, jealousy is the complete denial of the Other, the severing of any meaningful social ties, and while it may lead to short-term benefit, it is ultimately self-destructive as it removes the communal support-basis on which life depends. As Estermann states for the Andes in general, “an isolated person, with no relations, is a dead entity” (Filosofia 98). Thus, “[r]eciprocal rituals (despatch, pay) are an essential condition for the Pachamama [nature] to continue to be generous and for life to be maintained” (235). Transgressions of “this system of communal ‘justice’ are severely punished, because they risk the economic process of cultivating land and the coexistence of the population” (237).

The above exegesis of Wayta Muruy has shown how the stanzas do not represent literary abstractions from daily life but serve a function [End Page 93] of enhancing survival by presenting a blueprint of proper relations with the social and natural environment. Just as empathy unites the cognitive and affective and serves as the basis of reciprocity, so the ethical and the pragmatic are two sides of the same coin. We saw this in the following examples: the affective and reciprocal treatment of Christ in order to secure a good harvest; the fourfold nature of the participants, where the complementary unity of two genders results in the production of two generations and thus allows life to continue; the sense that the participation of both genders and all ages represents the whole ayllu (“community”), the members of which must take an equal share of the work, and all of whom are rewarded for their efforts with food; the treatment of the bull, who must be safeguarded from split tree trunks because this is both a practical necessity and a moral requirement that is felt empathetically; likewise the sense that nature should be related to as a person, in the encouragement of the seedlings to sprout, in the gifting of salt to the bull in exchange for its plowing, and in the engagement with the stream as a mama (“mother”) who nurtures her offspring, the seedlings; finally, the mention of the Turks who are the alter that serve to reinforce the practical validity of reciprocity.

All of these examples dialogue with the concept of Shumaq Kaway, which communicates the sense that “everything has to do with everything else (holistic principle), [so that] life . . . is . . . a characteristic of every entity” (Estermann, Ecosofia). The Turks, in contrast to the participants, illustrate how an “economy of unmeasured exploitation of natural resources . . . does not correspond with the logic of cosmic justice and significantly harms the balance of life” (Estermann, Ecosofia). The “logic of cosmic justice” can be defined as ayni, the principle of reciprocity. In the next song, we witness the presentation of another alter that seems reluctant to follow the principle of ayni. Unlike Wayta Muruy, however, the voice of the following song does not simply reject this alter but aims to bring her back into the fold of reciprocity, of Shumaq Kaway.


The dance of Negritos is widespread in Pomabamba province and is performed by a small group of men who depict slaves of African descent (the negritos) working under a capitán, literally “captain.” The songs specific to the Negritos were in Spanish but were interspersed with more [End Page 94] well-known folksongs in either language. The dance is often burlesque and has sexual connotations. This song is one of the sixteen sung by the negritos in the village of Huanchacbamba. It was recited to me by Don Marianito, a local singer and folklorist who has performed the songs. The song describes the negritos’ encounter with the Antis, a group of female performers who enact the dance of the same name. In Pomabamba rumor has it that this dance originated from the rainforest, also suggested by the following: “Anti (pluralized by the Spanish to Antis), the word from which Andes is derived, originally meant not the mountains, but people: the forest dwellers at the eastern margin of the Inca empire” (Gade 31). Don Marianito explained that the negritos and Antis would exchange stanzas, in a “call- and- response” manner. The Antis’ text seems to have been lost (in memory as well as in writing), but the overall theme of the exchange, and its importance for our discussion of a pragmatic ethics based on ayni (reciprocity), are clear from just the negritos’ half:

Acércate bella noble guiadoraVenir pues guiadora valiente¿Por qué eres tan orgullosaContra negretos africanos?

Te deré lo que pretendo decerteY luego comunicaré de corazónAl fin te pido bella guiadoraQue serás bien recibida

No procures afligerteA voz de cajón y clarenesPorque ese van deciendoQue hemos de tener mal fin

Flor de rima rimaRegadita de aguas puras¿Por qué quieres despreciarme?Conf ado en los blancosSiempre guidar marchitada

Brindemos cristal de licoresCon estos dulces majorsDesfrutar todas las prencesasMatezado con altura

El amor que te tengoEn mi corazón se quedaViene un fuerte remolinoMi bella prensesa se la lleva

Qué hermosura eres prensesaCon tres plumajes de coloresQué bella te veo con tus velosY tus collares de oro y plata

Por estas bellas prensesasEl negreto se encuentra rendidoMi corazón lleno de alegríaDesfrutemos nuestra danza

Come closer, noble guiadoraCome, then, brave guiadora Whyare you so proudAgainst black Africans?

I’ll tell you what I hope to tell youAnd then I’ll say it with my heartUltimately, beautiful guiadora,I ask that you be well received

Do not try to be disdainfulWith the voice of drums and buglesBecause these only tell usThat we will finish badly

Flower of rima rimaShowered with pure watersWhy do you wish to despise me?Trusting in the white peopleAlways to lead withered

Let us drink crystals of liquorWith these sweet majorsSo that every princess may be joyousAdorned with elegance [End Page 95]

The love that I have for youRemains in my heartIf a strong eddy should comeMy beautiful princess will be carried off

What beauty you are, princessWith three colorful feathersHow beautiful I see you with your veilsAnd your necklaces of gold and silver

Because of these beautiful princessesThe black man finds himself overcomeMy heart filled with happinessLet us enjoy our dance

The first stanza introduces the negrito’s desire to reduce the (physical and emotional/cognitive) distance between the antis and himself: Acércate bella noble guiadora / Venir pues guiadora valiente (“Come closer, noble guiadora / Come, then, brave guiadora”). The guiadora is the leader or “spokesperson” of the antis. She is described as bella (“beautiful”) and noble (“noble”). This, while stressing the attraction of the singer to the guiadora, also emphasizes the gulf between them, for the term noble conveys a sense of hierarchy that, combined with bella (“beautiful”), suggests that she is removed in the way that a goddess is haughty and distanced from the more mundane world of her worshippers. The placing of noble (“noble”) before the noun is an honorific style in Spanish where (apart from a handful of adjectives such as bella) the noun otherwise precedes the adjective. The word valiente (“brave”) conveys a sense of fierce independence, for this is a term strongly associated with warfare. The distance of the guiadora from the singer is explicitly mentioned in the third and fourth lines: ¿Por qué eres tan orgullosa / Contra negretos africanos? (“Why are you so proud / Against black Africans?”). The term orgullosa (“proud”) generally has negative connotations in the Andes, suggesting egoism, hierarchy, and the denial of reciprocity. These lines allude to the long history of racial discrimination in Peru, against both Indigenous Andeans and Africans on the coast. Both groups were severely exploited by the Hispanic- descended elite in plantations and ranches. Racial discrimination still exists today, as indicated by many of my informants who spoke of discrimination against use of [End Page 96] Quechua, Andean style of dress, and other cultural traits. Indeed, this line of the song contains one linguistic element that commonly incites discrimination, namely the conflation of [i] with [e], on the one hand, and of [u] with [o], on the other hand, in negreto (as opposed to the standard Spanish negrito). This results from the fact that in Quechua, unlike Spanish, these sounds are not separate phonemes (i.e., they do not carry different meanings). The communicative gap between negrito and anti is highlighted by the word contra (“against”), which has no direct translation in Quechua. While the Wayta Muruy stanzas reinforce differences between groups, the rationale for these differences is the potential for productive complementarity; by contrast, the term contra in this stanza suggests an egoistic aim of self-gratification at the expense of the Other. The use of the interrogative form encourages the opening of dialogue, in that a response is clearly expected. It also prompts listeners to reflect on their situation, as to why discrimination occurs. This may be a way of creating unity out of a common sense of injustice, and of encouraging people to consider how the discrimination can be reduced.

The first two lines of the second stanza are notable in their emphasis on dialogue: Te deré lo que pretendo decerte / Y luego comunicaré de corazón (“I’ll tell you what I hope to tell you / And then I’ll say it with my heart”). The lines comprise four verbs all relating to communication: deré, from diré (first-person future tense “say”); pretendo (first- person present tense “claim, hope”); decer (from decir, infinitive “say”); comunicaré (first- person future “communicate”). This implies that, through dialogue, the gap between the negrito and the guiadora can become narrower, for a communicative field will have been set up between them, with mutual understandings. Given the obvious reproductive connotations of the song (in that the opposing pairs are male and female), we can see this discussion of communication as a kind of copulation, where understanding is the fruit of symbiosis between the two interlocutors. Once this communicative copulation has been achieved at one level, it can progress to a more fundamental level where, from being purely linguistic (evident in the two uses of the verb deci- [“say”]), it becomes de corazón (“with the heart”). Thus, these two lines imply the beginnings of the historical process that originates in the first communicative encounter, where layers of meaning build on layers of meaning, just as trust and affect grow with time. We also saw this in Wayta Muruy, where the bull is treated yachanqanpita (“in the way to which it is accustomed”). The [End Page 97] “heart” in Andean communities has a wider meaning than in European cultures. The seventeenth- century chronicler Holguín defines the Quechua near-cognate, shonqu, as “heart and entrails, the stomach and consciousness, judgment and reason, memory, the core of wood, willfulness and understanding” (Holguín, qtd. in Husson 111). Bruce Mannheim suggests that “essence” might be a better translation (51n14). For Montes, chuyma, the cognate of shonqu in Aymara (another major Andean language), denotes “heart and everything that pertains to the inner state of the soul, emotion, sensibility, effort, judgment, understanding, knowledge, intelligence, memory, wisdom, disposition and attitude” (Montes, paraphrased by Condori et al. 40). The Andean notion of the “heart,” then, combines the emotional and the rational, incorporating the pragmatic and affective nature of community whose basis is physical and psychological security. This dialogues with the ethos of the Negritos stanzas, which aim to build a solid reciprocal relation (ayni), grounded on reason and affect, that is conducive to survival and reproduction for both interlocutors. The fact that there is a distinction between what is said through words and what is said by the heart implies a mistrust of the use of language, recalling the widespread linguistic discrimination of Quechua speakers. The verb pretendo (first person “claim, hope”) is also ambiguous in implying uncertainty about how genuine the communication is. Quechua grammatically distinguishes between degrees of certainty in the use of three “evidential” suffixes: -mi indexes certainty (we saw this suffix in Wayta Muruy); -chi is dubitative; -shi indicates reported speech. It is possible that this evidential system is maintained in the Spanish stanzas of the Negritos, so that the verb pretend- would correspond here to the Quechua dubitative -chi.

The final two lines, Al fin te pido bella guiadora / Que serás bien recibida (“Ultimately, beautiful guiadora / I ask that you be well received”), at first appear somewhat ambiguous. The informal second- person singular object te (“you”) makes it clear that the request is directed toward the guiadora herself. But how is it possible to request of an individual that she be well received? Surely this depends on the people who receive her, not on the person who is received. In the reciprocal cosmology of the Andes, however, this request makes perfect sense. Being well received depends on how willing the guiadora is to engage with the negrito (communicatively, cognitively, and emotionally). The fact that this is conveyed in implicit, rather than explicit, form suggests caution, [End Page 98] where the speaker is hedging his bets, testing the water, so that he does not give too much if the guiadora is unwilling to give in turn. This recalls the ambivalence around the verb pretend- (“claim”), where the communication cannot be entirely genuine if it is not based on the trust that develops after several encounters. The phrase al fin (“in the end, ultimately”) conveys precisely this sense of bonds being made through time. If, as the negrito hopes, the guiadora is well received, then the fin (“ending”) is also a new beginning. The expression al fin is also used in a colloquial sense to introduce the conclusion of one’s previous utterances; thus, the ambiguity again allows the speaker to hedge his bets, in that the guiadora can interpret a variety of possible messages but will grasp the intended one if she is willing to attune herself to the same wavelength. The word bella (“beautiful”) conveys distance as much as attraction, being deployed in an honorific rather than affective sense. All in all, the ambiguity of the words allows the speaker to convey willingness to open relations with the opposite party, while also being a getout strategy that allows him to state that the meaning has been misinterpreted should the guiadora not be willing to accept. Thus, the negrito avoids the risk of giving more than he receives. This can be understood in terms of the Quechua concept of tinku:

through tinkuy, social unity is created dialectically and expressed in terms of complementary opposition. Although tinkuy refers to ritual dance-battles, the word has wider applications. . . . When streams converge in foaming eddies to produce a single, larger stream they are said to tinkuy, and their convergence is called tinku (or tingu). Tinkus are powerful, dangerous places full of liberated and uncontrollable forces.

Likewise, there is a danger inherent in the negrito’s encounter with the guiadora, where there is no history of prior actions to enhance the probability of an auspicious result for both, and where the inherent “beauty and violence” (Stobart 144) of tinku—the approximation and the antagonism—have not yet been harnessed toward productive ends. In Wayta Muruy, by contrast, difference is oriented strategically so that complementarity, rather than destruction, results. In the Negritos song, the tinku is still in flux, negotiation, so ambiguity and ambivalence are necessary if the negrito is not to lose control completely.

The first two lines of the third stanza, No procures afligerte / A voz de [End Page 99] cajón y clarenes (“Do not try to be disdainful / With the voice of drums and bugles”), are a warning not to stand aloof and maintain distance. The verb afligerse (afligirse) literally means “to get upset,” but according to Don Marianito, the line means no te pongas sobrada (“do not become disdainful, haughty”). This suggests that the guiadora is only feigning to be upset, perhaps to avoid her interlocutor because of his low social status. The fact that this melodrama would be A voz de cajón y clarenes (“With the voice of drums and bugles”) (instruments that are commonly played in Andean festivals) probably alludes to the volume of the guiadora’s voice as she complains! The third and fourth lines return to the theme of communication: Porque ese van deciendo / Que hemos de tener mal fin (“Because these only tell us / That we will finish badly”). The use of the continuous aspect in the form deciendo (from diciendo [“saying”]) conveys an underlying and preoccupying uncertainty. The notion of mal fin (“bad ending”) is ambiguous from a non- Andean perspective. Is the ending bad for each as individuals, or for the possibility of them joining together? In an Andean worldview of mutual attunement, both interpretations are correct given the predication of individual survival on communal cooperation.

Indeed, several scholars have cited the specific importance of gender complementarity in Andean cosmology. Irene Silverblatt notes how, in Incan society, “male and female occupations—defined as interdependent and complementary activities—were conceptualized as forming the basic unit of labor required for the reproduction of Andean society” (154). Further, “[a] dialectical view of oppositions, often phrased in terms of sexual parallelism, was a fundamental cosmological principle shared by Andean peoples,” whereby the principal deity, Wiraqocha, combined “both male and female sexual elements” and thereby contained “all the forces that these elements symbolize: ‘the sun, the moon, day, night, winter, summer’” (Pachacuti Yamqui, qtd. in Silverblatt 159). Silverblatt concludes: “These forces stemming from the interplay between the model’s male and female constituent parts were conceptualized as creating the driving energies of the universe. Thus, a fundamental cosmological structure which conditioned the Andean conception of the universe was in large part based on a dialectical view of the relations between the sexes” (159). This complementary dualism can be understood in terms of tinku, the productive orientation of which is ayni. Olivia Harris notes how this practical philosophy continues to [End Page 100] the present day: “It is the fruitful cooperation between woman and man as a unity, which produces culture, and which is opposed to the single person as a-cultural; culture is based on duality” (25). The dependence of each individual on gender complementarity is also emphasized by Allen: “While each man and woman is a complete individual with both male and female qualities, the two unite to form another individual of a higher order: a warmi-qari, the nucleus of the household” (Hold 85). What all of these quotations suggest is that the mal fin (“bad ending”) is much more profound than the end of a possible relationship. It is the denial of the possibility of survival, the unbalancing of the natural order where incompleteness means isolation and extreme vulnerability. The phrase mal fin links with al fin in the previous stanza, stressing the notion of an “ending.” This serves to highlight the nature of the encounter as a progression from one state to another, unknown state, demonstrating how interaction perpetuates the historical dynamic. Either the ending could be productive unity (bien recibida) or alienation and destruction (mal fin).

The fourth stanza begins by comparing the guiadora to a flower: Flor de rima rima / Regadita de aguas puras (“Flower of rima rima / Showered with pure waters”). This kind of comparison is very common in Andean songs and reflects the association between reproduction, agriculture, and survival. The name of the flower, rima rima (Krapfia weberauerii), continues the theme of communication: rima- is the original Quechua verb for “speak.” In the modern Quechua of central Peru, however, it now usually denotes negative gossip (the Old Spanish loan parla– is now the commonest verb for “speak”). Thus, we see a contrast between the negrito, who, in the second stanza, states that he will communicate first with words and then with his heart, and the guiadora, who communicates only with words, but negatively; this again reflects a mistrust of language. The second line Regadita de aguas puras (“Showered with pure waters”) probably refers to the privileges that the guiadora enjoys, particularly on analysis of the fourth line (discussed below). The third line, ¿Por qué quieres despreciarme? (“Why do you wish to despise me?”), alludes once more to life- denying discrimination, while the fourth and fifth lines, Confiado en los blancos / Siempre guidar marchitada (“Trusting in the white people / Always to lead withered”), depict the racial inequalities that have existed in Peruvian society for centuries. The absence of gender agreement in confiado (which would [End Page 101] normally take the feminine ending -a) is characteristic of Andean Spanish. Here, the text implies that the guiadora has received privileges, has been regadita de aguas puras (“showered with pure waters”), as a result of her association with the exploiters. However, this is not conducive to a healthy existence because it rests on a state of inequality: the elite are always her superiors, and she likewise exploits those in a less favorable position. This is why, if she follows this path and continues to despise the negrito, she is destined to Siempre guidar marchitada (“Always to lead withered”). She may indeed lead, but this won’t lead to flourishing and fulfillment because it is a denial of reciprocity. This dialogues with Estermann’s concept of ecosofia, which stresses relationality: “For Andean philosophy, the individual as such isn’t just ‘nothing’ (a ‘nonentity’); it is something completely lost if it isn’t located in a network of multiple relations. If a person doesn’t belong to the local community (ayllu), because he or she has been expelled or because he or she has excluded himself or herself through his or her own actions, it’s as if he or she didn’t exist anymore” (Estermann, Filosofia 97–98). Therefore, “To disconnect oneself from natural and cosmic links . . . would, for the runa [people] of the Andes, mean signing one’s own death warrant” (98). In this song, then, ayni (“reciprocity”) is not just advised but inevitable: positive reciprocity results in a fruitful outcome for all concerned; negative reciprocity is the process whereby ill effects boomerang back on those who conduct negative actions. Again we see how, in these songs, ethics has a practical rationale in the social ecosystem.

With the fifth stanza comes a change of tone: Brindemos cristal de licores / Con estos dulces majores (“Let us drink crystals of liquor / With these sweet majores”). From the previous stanzas, which discuss the possibility of the guiadora entering into a relation with the negrito, comes an inducement to imbibe food and drink, the sharing of which would indicate a greater unity (recall the reciprocal sharing of food at the end of Wayta Muruy). The phrase cristal de licores (“crystals of liquor”) refers to a brand of beer, Cristal, ubiquitous at Andean festivals. The second line, Con estos dulces majores (“With these sweet majores”), refers to an Andean sweet dish. However, cristal (“crystal”) and dulce (“sweet”) also seem to refer to the guiadora, particularly with the mention of aguas puras (“pure waters”) in stanza four, and the fact that dulce is often used in amorous contexts; again, this possible play on words reflects the ambivalence and thereby the hedging. The third line, Desfrutar [End Page 102] todas las prencesas (“So that every princess may be joyous”), is also ambiguous, due to the use of the infinitive, which renders the verb disfrutar (“enjoy”) devoid of a subject. One possible meaning is that it is the prencesas (“princesses”) (i.e., the antis) who enjoy themselves. This is the interpretation I have chosen in my translation (“So that every princess may be joyous”). Another possibility is that the phrase refers to the negritos, who “enjoy the princesses” in a sexual sense (the preposition de, which follows disfrutar and precedes its object in standard Spanish, is usually absent in Andean Spanish). This is an equally plausible interpretation, given the sexual overtones of the song. The negrito allows the guiadora to interpret the true meaning if she wishes to attune herself, but doesn’t give too much away in case she remains aloof. The word prencesa (from Spanish princesa) is a term of endearment for young women, but here it also links with the theme of hierarchy and exploitation. Thus, the use of this term is also ambivalent: it could convey either a strong attachment or an opposite sense of remoteness. I have translated the last line, Matezado con altura, as “Adorned with elegance,” as this is more natural in English. However, altura means “height” and therefore conveys a sense of remoteness and aloofness as well as being on the surface a term of praise and respect. Thus, this line, too, is ambivalent.

The sixth stanza begins with a frank declaration of love: El amor que te tengo (“The love that I have for you”). The ambiguity returns, however, in the second line, which states that the love En mi corazón se queda (“Remains in my heart”). One possible interpretation is that the love exists in the person’s heart (the verb quedarse can sometimes just denote physical location). Another interpretation, however, is that the love will go nowhere outside of his heart, will not touch the heart of the guiadora (quedarse can also mean “to remain”). This second meaning is congruent with the rest of the stanza: Viene un fuerte remolino / Mi bella prensesa se la lleva (“If a strong eddy should come / My beautiful princess will be carried off”). The notion of the “eddy” relates to the theme of aguas puras (“pure waters”) and cristal de licores (“crystals of liquor”) and endows the natural elements with agency, as we saw with the discussion of the “stream” in Wayta Muruy. In the Andes, rivers are both a source of life and an agent of destruction, particularly in the rainy season where floods and strong currents frequently cause loss of life. In this stanza the “eddy” may be anything—the allure of wealth, another man, or even just its literal meaning. Nonetheless, the obvious [End Page 103] association with raging torrents foregrounds the vulnerability of life in the Andes, which requires strong reciprocal bonds in order to survive; thus, the lines are as much a warning against individualism as a regret at the possibility of losing the guiadora’s affection. There is an interesting deictic transformation within this stanza. In the first line the guiadora is directly addressed as te (“you”), whereas in the last line she is addressed in the third person, “my beautiful princess.” While this may be honorific use of the third person, it also suggests distancing in that—grammatically, at least—she is no longer a direct interlocutor.

The seventh stanza describes the beauty of the guiadora: Qué hermosura eres prensesa / Con tres plumajes de colores / Qué bella te veo con tus velos / Y tus collares de oro y plata (“What beauty you are, princess / With three colorful feathers / How beautiful I see you with your veils / And your necklaces of gold and silver”). Again, the word prencesa (“princess”) can be interpreted affectively or critically. The remaining lines describe the guiadora’s beauty in terms of her dress, specifically her tres plumajes de colores (“three colorful feathers”), her velos (“veils”), and her collares de oro y plata (“necklaces of gold and silver”). This mention of wealth can be interpreted as a veiled criticism of the material success of those who exploit others by being confiado en los blancos (“trusting in the white people”) (i.e., in the elite), negating reciprocity and thereby isolating themselves in the long term. The eighth stanza concludes the song with characteristic ambiguity: Por estas bellas prensesas / El negreto se encuentra rendido (“Because of these beautiful princesses / The black man finds himself overcome”). The most obvious reading is that the negrito is overcome by his attraction toward the guiadora. However, a more sinister interpretation is that the negrito has been “defeated” in the same way that Africans and Indigenous Andeans have been exploited by the European- descended elite. This interpretation is highly plausible given the superior wealth of the guiadora, her association with the exploitative group, and the indications of her unwillingness to relate to the negrito. Moreover, Huanchacbamba, where this text was performed, is on the site of a former hacienda, where residents were exploited by the landowners. The ambivalence dissipates for the concluding two lines: Mi corazón lleno de alegría / Desfrutemos nuestra danza (“My heart filled with happiness / Let us enjoy our dance”). The tone is that of carpe diem, despite the underlying uncertainty. The alegría (“happiness”) is nonetheless noncommittal, since it could result more from the [End Page 104] music than love for the guiadora. Overall, then, this song illustrates a desire to form a unit through communicative reciprocity, but part of this reciprocity is in meeting the guiadora only halfway, not giving her too much of oneself should she reject the negrito’s advances. There is also a strong but tacit criticism of the adverse effects of socially negating pride. A link is formed through the very act of communication, but it depends on the guiadora whether to convert it into a productive unity through mutual attunement. This dialogues with Stobart’s findings in Bolivia: “For young women, singing takis [songs] is a powerful expression of independence, freedom and sexuality whilst at the same time a critical force in shaping and defining their identity, as well as potentially securing a marriage partner” (129).

The Negritos song continues the theme of Wayta Muruy in conveying the life-enhancing nature of productive ayni (“reciprocity”) in contrast to the self- denial that results from egoism. The negrito aims to overcome the guiadora’s individualism by projecting his own positive disposition in the hope that she will in turn look more favorably on his advances. He thus recognizes a latent potentiality in the guiadora that can only be actualized through careful attunement on the part of the negrito (though whether the guiadora ultimately accepts the negrito is not known). The care that this process necessitates is demonstrated by the hedging, which can be viewed both as a means of self- preservation (should the guiadora use the negrito’s openness as a means to harm him) and as a mode of attunement to the guiadora’s reserve (finding a productive “middle ground” from which the relation can build). The hedging was revealed in examples such as the following: the numerous honorific phrases that suggest both respect and veiled criticism; the progression from merely “saying” to “saying with the heart”; the request that the guiadora be well received, which conveys both hospitality (on the part of the negrito) and responsibility to reciprocate (on the part of the guiadora); the likening of the guiadora to the rima rima flower, which conveys both beauty and negative gossip; the suggestion that the love will “remain in his heart,” which can be interpreted both positively (the love exists) and negatively (it is not reciprocated). In sum, this song can be interpreted within the frameworks of ecosofia and Shumaq Kaway, insofar as the individual is presented as a profoundly relational entity whose survival ultimately depends on forging productive reciprocal relations with other social beings. [End Page 105]


In this article I have shown how both Wayta Muruy and Negritos can be interpreted under the Indigenous philosophical framework of ecosofia and its practical manifestation as Shumaq Kaway. This is not a disinterested ethics that advocates the preferential treatment of Other over the Self, but a life- affirming one for all involved, since both disinterested altruism and egoism deny the sociality of any individual. In each there is a sense of intrinsic incompatibility between the interests of Self and Other. The difference between the “ethical” and the “unethical” is, in this worldview, only a question of who suffers. In the philosophical orientation of Shumaq Kaway, by contrast, the ethics is both altruistic and self-interested. This is because the individual is not seen as a discrete and atomized entity, but as a form that emerges and transforms in relation with the environment. In this worldview the “ethical” and the “pragmatic” are not diametrically opposed but are mutually reinforcing, and attunement toward the Other enhances one’s own existential possibilities. Thus, Andean communities share a tendency to “reproduce themselves . . . by appropriating the strength of the Other, and then in revivifying the Other, but now as a part of the Self” (Arnold and Yapita, Metamorphosis 161–62).

This means that according to Shumaq Kaway “social advancement—its development?—is a category in permanent construction and reproduction. Life depends on it” (Acosta 35). This practical, pragmatic orientation of Andean ethics undermines many of the traditional dualisms of Western scholarship, such as “spiritual versus material,” “personal versus social,” “nature versus culture,” “mind versus body,” and even “Self versus Other.” The dualisms do not simply dissolve, however, since this would imply absolute negation that is contrary to the life- enhancing orientation of ecosofia. Instead, they are reoriented, to be conceived, not as an ontological basis of reality, but instead as contrasts that may be relevant in some situations and irrelevant in others. It may sometimes be useful to distinguish between “humans” as opposed to “nonhumans,” but this is not to imply that the circumstantial validity of such a distinction can be generalized as a fundamental ontological separation. Likewise, the categories of “Self” and “Other” may at times constitute points of reference for our engagement with the world, but this is not to negate the fact that ultimately everything is reducible to everything else. Categories [End Page 106] are acknowledged as contingently valid in relation to particular purposes and orientations, but no category has validity in and of itself. In this respect Andean philosophical orientations are redolent of Derrida’s notion of the “trace,” whereby “meaning” (including any “concept” or “entity”) is constructed through a pre- ontological condition of discourse. However, rather than this contingency being a reason for skepticism, in Shumaq Kawsay it is a reason for proactive optimism, an acknowledgment that our relational nature opens us to new existential potentialities in each dialectic encounter.

This was revealed in the notions of ayni (“reciprocity”) and tinku (“mutual constitution through engagement”), where the strategic attunement between Self and Other—itself an acknowledgment of our fundamental sameness and reactivity—results in the attainment of optimum conditions for survival. Moreover, this “relationality manifests itself through the principles of correspondence, complementarity, reciprocity and cyclicity, at cosmic, anthropological, economic, political and religious levels” (Estermann, Ecosofia). The cyclical, temporal nature of ayni and tinku stresses the emergence of entities through ever- deepening mutual attunement, as we saw in the annual rotation of Wayta Muruy, the treatment of the bull yachanqanpita (“in the way to which it is accustomed”), and in Negritos in the progression from mere communication to communication de corazón (“from the heart”).

In this view of ecosofia, difference is not a gap to be overcome but a possibility to be harnessed: “the zones of transition between one level and another, between one period and another, between one entity and another, are of vital importance for the genesis, the fostering and conservation of life. These zones of transition . . . [are] indispensable for the balance and harmony of the entire universe” (Estermann, Ecosofia). Such relationality, moreover, is only possible given the multiple, contingent nature of the Self, since this multiplicity allows the individual to be “like” other dimensions of its environment, paving the way for mutual adaptation in the instant of congruence. The concept of ch’ixi—from the southern Andean Aymara language—expresses this notion well: “it refers to a color that results from the juxtaposition of two opposite colors, whereby something is and is not at the same time” (Gudynas 12). It is possible to “be” and “not be” something because the idea expressed by ch’ixi goes beyond the bona fide entity, rendering “either/or” categorizations ontologically meaningless. In some situations it will be useful [End Page 107] to group “orange” with “red,” and in other situations “orange” with “yellow.” What makes “orange” different from both “red” and “yellow” is not a lack of something but an ability to relate in ways that neither of its progenitors can, a dynamism that cannot be reduced to any single property. This is the relational cosmology of ecosofia, which manifests in the practical rubric of life that is Shumaq Kaway. And by examining the literary, linguistic, and anthropological dimensions of Wayta Muruy and Negritos, we have seen how these notions, while not explicitly defined under such labels, continue to play a functional role in the communities whence the songs emanate.

Charles Pigott

Charles Pigott recently completed a PhD (2013) at the School of Oriental & African Studies, London, on Quechua oral literature and has begun a postdoctoral project at the Universidad Autónoma de Yucatán, Mexico, studying oral and written literature in Yucatec Maya. His research focuses on how Indigenous epistemologies are communicated through verse and how they dialogue with European philosophical precepts. He has published and presented in several interdisciplinary forums, particularly anthropology, comparative literature, folkloristics, Hispanic studies, and linguistics.


This research was generously supported by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, United Kingdom.


All translations into English are the author’s unless otherwise noted.

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