Friends Reclaiming Aymara Culture

Guido at Friends Meeting

Ninety five percent of the 30,000 Quakers in Bolivia are Aymara. Aymara Indians have inhabited the Altiplano from Peru down to Chile long before the Incas invaded to control the Andean commerce. The ruins at Tiwanaku (60 k from LaPaz) reveal a thriving highly developed culture which rivals the art, irrigation, and architecture of ancient Egypt. The Aymaras may have arrived in the Andes as early as 1400 BC and the Incas arrived in the Altiplano about 1440.
Ruben Hilare and Minga Claggett-Borne, had a conversation over the impact of Aymara on the current generation of Friends. Ruben is a young Quaker about 30 years old, studying at the LaPaz University in linguistics. This young people, many who are involved in the BQE program, are on the brink of taking the helm in the ever-changing face of Bolivian leadership. University students have their feet in two worlds. Their maternal language is Aymara and their studies are in Castellano. In Bolivia Castellano is used more than the generic Spanish, a word that refers back to the early 1530s when the conquistadores claimed South America for the Castellean royalty. How does Aymara roots affect how the Friends think? Does it change how they pray or see God at work in their lives?
Nayr qhip rñtasaw sarnaqaña is an Aymara saying which means We walk always watching the past and the future. In the Aymara cosmology our future is our past. Time is not linear. Another Aymara teacher explained that European Americans see the future before us and the past behind us. Not so with the Aymaras. The past is as much in front of them as the future. The past is known and therefore we can walk toward it, the future is unknown and unseen (behind us).
The quaker missionaries from the US brought the good news that the spirit of Jesus heals and that God is love in the early 1900s. 500 years before the Spanish also converted the Aymara Indians to follow Christ. The Spanish wanted the native tribes to follow Jesus, and they adopted the Virgin Mary. The Catholics allowed for many practices of the indigenous religion. Bolivians today speculate that adoring the Virgin became associated with Pachamama, the bountiful and ubiquitous earth mother. Bolivian Quakers don’t pay much attention to the various patrons and saints like la Virgen de Carmel, Virgen de Pomana, Virgen del Rosario, Virgen de Merced.
Ruben’s passion for talking about the presence of Pachamama, echoes much of the desire for US Friends to honor the earth such as Earth Care Witness and Testimonies of Sacred Earth. The first Friends in Bolivia saw Pachamama as Christ’s rival. Pachamama for Aymaras gives us food, provides us with all. We all drink of her milk everyday like suckling children. Humans in this cosmology don’t have dominion over the earth. Aymaras know that if they hurt the earth it’s like punching your own mother who gave birth to you. The earth or Pachamama can cry and can reciprocate in hurting the sons and daughters of man. Young Quaker Aymaras are reconsidering our connection to the earth which has been there before the missionaries rejected Pachamama.
In England Friends spoke powerfully of the Inward Christ with fresh words to testify to God as a physical earthly presence. The first Publishers of the Truth felt divine love pouring out to them from God’s very womb. The Inward Light was also called ‘blood’, ‘milk’, or ‘spring of life’. Were early Friends cognizant of God as Earth Mother? The Aymara cosmology resonates of God as a physical earthly presence feeding. Early Friends spoke of this spirit as much as an ethereal Father in heaven. Consider John Perrot’s words written in the 1660s. “Wisdom is my mother and Counsel are her breasts. I am a child and desire ever to be found a sucker of the substance thereof.”