Learning to Love Nature the Andean Way

by Jan 25, 2019Explorer Blog, Notes From the Field0 comments

We must discover our kin, the other animals and plants
with whom we share this planet.
We are related to them with our DNA and evolution.
To know our kin is to come to love and cherish them.
~E.O. Wilson

In many traditional societies throughout time, nature is respected and even loved as a member of the family. The Inka king and his principal wife and sister, for example, believed that they were the children of the Sun and the Moon.

While living in the Andes and carrying out fieldwork for my dissertation, I learnt first hand how to build and deepen meaningful connections with nature. I have always loved being in nature; I grew up alongside of the rainforest on the East Coast of Australia and spent much time observing and marveling at gum trees and cicadas, but while living in Peru, I was shown ways to deepen my relationship. Importantly, I learned that that loving nature is not just about feeling the emotion and connection but also showing it through our actions.

There are many ways to demonstrate love and care for nature and the practice you select is determined by a number of elements. For example, your intention will influence whether the ritual or ceremony is simple or elaborate. Another is to whom you are making the gesture. While all aspects of the landscape are alive, they are not equal; some ancestors and deities are considered to be greater intermediaries and sources of power and their influence can wax and wan over time.

While in the field, living in a semi-remote community south of Huaraz, the capital of Ancash, I was taught simple and beautiful practices to demonstrate my respect to the ancestors. Notably, my teachers were not practicing shamans or other ritual specialists, but community elders. Despite what many foreigners have come to believe due to the increased interest in plant medicine and shamanism, in many parts of the Andes, local ceremonial traditions have been broken or disrupted. In my principal field area, for example, principal shamanic lineages ended in tragedy in the 17th century during campaigns to extirpate idolatry; however, the community adapted and kept their traditions alive through individual and communal celebrations and ceremonies as well as storytelling.

The first time I performed ‘una ofrenda’, an offering, was while climbing a mountain just outside of the main town, home to an ancient oracle I was studying, a place where a young girl was sacrificed hundreds of years ago. Before leaving Lima, I had been warned to be to ready for ceremonies, and with a list given to me by a colleague, I purchased the essential ingredients.

As we reached the halfway point of our ascent, my informant and community elder stopped abruptly and announced that it was time: ‘aqui hacemos una ofrenda’ (‘here, we make an offering’). This ofrenda was intended for Pachamama, Mother Earth, and the ancestors who were the mountain and we were requesting their blessing and protection while visiting this place. This heartfelt ofrenda required us to feed them. So, from our packs, we retrieved our ingredients including a bottle of rum, cigarettes and coca leaves. Just like many of us, Pachamama has, in fact, a sweet tooth and her favourite treats are sugary drinks and snacks, and so we too carried fruit lollies to place in our offering.

We gently dug a superficial and small hole in the earth with a brick mason’s trowel, a tool usually reserved for archaeological excavation, and unwrapped and placed lollies and coca leaves one by one into the hole. Meanwhile, my informant and teacher lit the cigarette and placed it alongside of the hole so that the mother could ‘fumar’ (smoke). Into the hole, we poured libations of rum and watched as the dry earth quickly consumed the browny-black liquid.

With the blessing of the ancestors, I can tell you that we successfully ascended the mountain more than once, and I was granted knowledge and insight that not only changed the message of my research, but also changed me personally.

In reflection, what this community taught me is that everyone can build and deepen their relationship with nature. To echo the words of E.O Wilson, learning to cherish nature is vital to our humanity. To build our relationship, we need to remember to deeply listen and re-learn how to speak nature’s language. The conversation between people and places is still alive not only in Peru, but also in many parts of world.

How to sit and be in nature is now the pathway of learning I am following now as both a researcher and as a person.

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