The Andean Cosmovision

The Andean Cosmovision embodies the complementarity of opposites in a way that informs the Andean people’s relationship with Nature and the Cosmos, with each other, and with the various facets of their own being .


In the traditional, indigenous, Andean culture the differentiation of males and females is obvious. At community meetings the males gather with the males and the females gather with the females. When visiting friends males visit their male friends and females visit their female friends. The differentiation of female and male is in many ways mapped onto another important pair of complementary opposites in the the Andean Cosmovision, that of the horizontal and vertical dimensions (the metaphysical implications of the horizontal and vertical dimensions will be discussed in a future post). At the community meetings the females array themselves in the horizontal dimension, sitting on the ground. This also puts them in intimate physical contact with the Pachamama, the great mother who is the planet Earth. The men array themselves in a vertical orientation, sitting in chairs or standing, perhaps leaning against a wall. Stripes in the women’s clothing are usually horizontal, while those of the men’s are usually vertical.


And, while both sexes weave, women traditionally work the horizontal loom while men work the vertical loom. The horizontal/vertical orientation also appears in their relationships with others of their sex. Relationships among the women are more egalitarian (horizontal) while those among the men are more likely to incorporate the hierarchical (vertical) nature of their political roles within the community.

There are many other differentiations between the sexes as well. When planting it is the male’s task to break open the ground with a foot plow and the woman’s to plant the seed (if a woman does not plant the seed then it will not grow). While men have the title of ‘head of the household’, women have authority over most aspects of actually running the household (which is their domain). The men’s domain is that of the relationship between the household and the outside world. It is, for example, the male’s task to transport the crops from field to market and to travel to other villages when necessary. The men speak for the family at community meetings, but they express views that have been agreed to by both the husband and the wife.


In the Inca empire the emperor and the empress were of equal power, each being the leader of distinct, complementary, aspects of their culture. In the Inca capital city of Cusco the upper city was the domain of the emperor and the lower city was the domain of the empress. In addition to serving as respective leaders of complementary aspects of the culture they also served complementary roles in the culture’s relationship with the Cosmos, the emperor was the head of a male lineage that had the sun at its apex while the empress was the head of a female lineage that had the moon at its apex. In the Andes today men and women often play equal but parallel roles in sacred ceremonies, working side by side but in different domains.

While the traditional Andean culture draws a very clear boundary between what are female activities, and what are male activities this surprisingly does not lead to a corresponding rigidity in what people can do. Men are allowed to do female activities and women are allowed to do male activities. Working the horizontal loom, for example, is clearly defined as a woman’s activity but men can work the horizontal loom if they choose. The same holds for the vertical loom, it is a clearly a man’s device but women may use it as well.


During the Inca empire when the emperor left the city to go to war the empress would step in to fulfill his duties (and the Inca army contained some women warriors). A woman may take on a male’s role, and if she does she does it in a feminine sort of way. A man may take on a woman’s role, and if he does he does it in a masculine sort of way. There is room for a germ of male in the female and for a germ of female in the male.

The two complementary opposites of female and male are clearly defined in the Andes. As the masculine and feminine dance together through time something emerges that is greater than the sum of the two parts. A marriage in the Andes is known as a warmi-qhari which is literally translated as woman-man. It is a fusion of two complementary ways of being that creates a higher order of being. This does not mean that the complementary nature of the two disappears. In the traditional Andean culture when a wife and husband are feeling particularly affectionate towards each other they may trade little insults or toss small stones or sticks at each other. It is as if the Andean couple are reinforcing that they are a conjunction of complementary opposites, and celebrating what comes from their union.


“These sets of complementary contrasts—flexible and context-dependent run through every aspect of life in the Andean community; they provide the framework within which the Runakuna (the Andean people) think and act. It is difficult to translate them into English terminology without giving the impression of a set of absolute, static oppositions. The relativity characteristic of Andean thinking involves the continual enfolding of male and female principles that both contain and exclude each other. Each individual can provide the male or female element of another pairing to form another individual, a microcosm of a higher order. Thus, while each man or woman is a complete individual with both male and female qualities, the two unite to form another individual of a higher order: a warmi-qhari.”


The fusion or harmony of complementary opposites is known in the Andes as yanantin. As we will see in future posts it applies to more than just the union of female and male energy. The bringing together of similar energies, on the other hand, is known as masitin. Two males might be in a masitin relationship, or two females. Father sun (Inti) and mother earth (Pachamama) are in a yanantin relationship, while the moon and the ocean (Mamma Killa and Mamma Qocha) are in a masitin relationship. Ayni, the Andean principle of reciprocity, seems more aligned with a masitin relationship, establishing an equilibrium between two equal parties where they continually swap the roles of being the giver and the receiver. Loving relationships in my western culture seem to have a much stronger masitin flavor than those of the Andes for we continually exchange statements and actions of endearment and affection, both parties giving and receiving them, establishing as it were a sense of sameness in our identities as loving beings (or maybe that is just me). I wonder how that affects the synergy, the emergent properties, of our relationships compared to those that are more yanantin?