Commentary, Customs

Clothed in Reciprocity, Meditation on Saludos Part II

Throwing Confetti like Reciprocity, Ayni (Photo: Wayra)

“My family sends you their saludos.” This phrase, or some variant of it, seems omnipresent in the greetings Cuzqueños make when they see you or talk with you after not seeing you for a while. As we saw in Part 1, it has lots of meaning beyond what can be generated in any English equivalent. As a result, it is an opening into a different world, the world of Andean peoples.

When I as an Anglo, an English speaker, approach other people, it is expected I present myself as an individual, formed and unique. My family, my friends, my culture, none of that matters. It is only reflected through who I am.

Identifiers beyond first names are seldom used in the world of English I know. We almost never use last names, nor other concerns that would move outward from the person or that would locate him or her in some collective reality beyond their self.

That English word, “self”, that itself is untranslatable, suggests so much about us Anglos. We are supposed to have one and it is who we really are. Our youth seems a quest to find that self, to discover our real self, and then to live true to it.

That self is who we are expected to present in interaction with other people. This makes interactions either dyadic–between two selves–or one to many. But the self is the irreducible, the minimal, the basic that we expect when we talk with someone else, or other people. The self is the basis of interaction.

Sharing Drinks and Sharing Society (Photo: Wayra)
Sharing Drinks and Sharing Society (Photo: Wayra)

Against this idea we can propose a very different one that seems to have resonance in the Andean idea of “saludos”. Cuzqueños carry their friends and family with them always. And those friends and families are part of interaction the person makes with others who may not be part of their world. A person is not alone or separable, it seems. They cannot be just that self before the world. Their others are always there.

Somehow I want to open a big parenthesis here because many people in Cuzco, men especially, have double lives. They have a family that is legitimate and public and then other realities that would be embarrassing if known in that public family domain.

Two things occur to me when I mention this.

First: a notion in Quechua,” iskay uya“, two faces. This can be said in a protective way. To keep predators and others at bay you control your face and reality so they do not know much about you. They do not have access to that private, inside world where you have family and friends. Saludos here are a mere formality at best.

Iskay uya is also a negative word to describe someone who is not trustworthy. They are not moral, good beings because they have two realities, while appearing to only have one.

I think of the dangerous rainbow, the kuychi. It is a band of colors, a whole in seven parts, that has two heads–one at either end–as if it were a two headed snake. I also think of the two headed toad found in the Huarochiri tales. The two heads can speak of a being that transcends the ordinary and can see to the present and the past, the front and the back, at the same time they can refer to something untrustworthy and unstable.

Dancer without a Face (Photo: Wayra)
Dancer without a Face (Photo: Wayra)

As result, iskay uya seems to me to speak to a drama in which, by definition, people and relationships are dangerous and untrustworthy. They must be made trustworthy by involving them in ayni, relationships of mutual assistance with other people. They must be clothed with relationships.

The performance of dressing them through relatedness is a key part of the saludo. It is showing people that you are not isaky uya in that relationship, that you are offering them access to your being as someone in relationships. You are showing you are a moral being and hence trustworthy.

However, the importance of this is demonstrated strongly by another idea. Catherine Allen in her book Foxboy narrates a story of an un-human condenado, someone who is not clothed with good relationships and ayni, Before he was destroyed, he insisted that a promise made by his former wife be fulfilled. After this story was told, the narrator said “you should never make eternal promises.”

Andeans resist an absolute, it seems, because of the moral implication of changing circumstances and relationships. Who you love and interact with today may become a condenado tomorrow and be able to charge you pieces of yourself because of your commitments and promises. You should make sure they are real and full human beings first, persons with relationships of ayni.

In the story, the condenado became such because he was killed while trying to rob his parents. This is a complete destruction of what should be a relationship of ayni, but he could not die because of his selfishness, his breaking of his obligations to his parents, and so became a condenado.

You should make sure the people you interact with are still beings who keep ayni. Otherwise they are not trustworthy. It is the present ayni, not the past relationships, that matter. As a result, the offering of saludos carries great weight as guarantees and as making current interactions possible.

Second, because people change–they might become condenados for example, even if they look like normal humans (a condenado is someone who devours other people, he or she exploits them and does not give in return) or they might have secret lives, there is power given to gossip and back channel talk. Women especially know this when their friends and loved ones tell them they saw their husbands with another woman or doing something that was not appropriate for their public self.

The Rainbow, Symbol of Cuzco (Photo: Wayra)
The Rainbow, Symbol of Cuzco (Photo: Wayra)

The parentheses in two parts now closed, let us look at one other idea. In English we think of the individual, the self, as the minimal being, the atom from which all else is made. Andeans tend to hold a different view.

Just as Tawantinsuyo, the name for the Inca Empire, means “the unity of four parts” Cuzqueños give emphasis to the creating of something greater out of parts, something like a relationship, a marriage, a friendship, a community, a business, and more.

But those unities are always problematic and always requiring lots of ritual and social work–ayni–to keep them together.

This is picked up in the Huarochiri stories. In one of the first, the deity Paria Caca is said to be made of five parts. He was born from five eggs. Though initially born as five falcons, he became five persons. People, though outsiders initially, become human through ayni. Part of that ayni is becoming unified into something greater, Paria Caca, even if that unity is only tenuous and of the moment.

Saludos, as a result, emphasize a different kind of being than that of the English world. It is a being who is part of something beyond him, composed of relationships, of ayni.

This is not the Anglo idea of the group. There is no absolute group, but only relationships of reciprocity that must constantly be renewed and remade through ritual and day to day performance of trust and reciprocity.

A Girl Looks to the Sky and Fells Her Family Around Her (Wayra)
A Girl Looks to the Sky and Feels Her Family Around Her (Wayra)

The people of Cuzco, when they give you saludos from their friends and family, are drawing you into this domain of ayni, at the same time they demonstrate their own existence as one of something greater.

In this something, they do not run the risk as we Anglos might of losing their individuality, their self. Instead they clothe themselves as moral beings by creating day in and day out a whole that is impermanent and tenuous. In its impermanence and tenuousness it must be constantly maintained and recreated and hence is more real and vibrant than Anglo notions of selves groups.

* The ways that the “self” are often translated into Spanish all raise problems which I shall not go into right now. They are “el ego” ,“el ser”, or “el yo“. These all have different meanings than the self and go into fields where that term does not go. They also are not immediately intelligible to an ordinary population, i.e. a non-graduate school educated one, in the same way the term self is in English.

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