Qhapaq Ñan: The Inka Path of Wisdom

Javier Lajo, 2007


Those who cannot understand will die..

Those who can understand will live.

Manuscript from the Chilam Balam



José Mendívil Nina

Investigator of the Institute

of  Science and Technology



                      This is a book whose apparent focus on the past and past times should not confuse us. By speaking to us of Andean culture and thought, it situates these and their peoples in a time when there is no defeated, nor has been a conquered. Its aim is to turn our subjectivity upside down, liberating it from the influence of negative and positive valuations with which the Andean has been reduced to a ruined, decrepit place of the archaic, preferring the domination of the other and the foreign above what is its own and what is genuine.


                        It is quite difficult to find predecessors to this book that similarly subscribe in the sense of its reflections. Outside the Andean world, very few Peruvian writers have insinuated the importance of Andean culture in solving long-held structural problems of the nation and the identity of the Peruvian people. But in their sympathies, they do not leave out expressing their own prejudices and doubts about its affinity with the west. The Qhapaq Ñan does not doubt – it bursts with relevance in the now, taking the place of books like: Perú: Problema y Posibilidad by Jorge Basadre, Buscando un Inca: Identidad y Utopía en Los Andes by Alberto Flores Galindo, or El Nacimiento de una Utopía by Manuel Burga. And more still, it makes us feel the void left by J.C. Mariategui in his «Siete Ensayos» on what is the Indian? What is his culture? Is he just a problem?

Perú: Problema y Posibilidad served to help us realize the limits of indigenism, that vindicating the Indian does not lead to true liberation from the internal colonialism that oppresses him, and is not possible without a precise understanding of Andean culture.  Buscando un Inca and El Nacimiento de una Utopia propose to liberate us from the influence of indigenism, yet admit that they still cannot give us definitions of what are Andean and Andean culture, one just as important as Greek and Roman for its contributions to human civilization. Flores Galindo’s objective is not what his title suggests, given that he confirms it is not an Inka he seeks. Rather, he tries to open up the national imagination to a different order, one that motivates the rebirth of the Peruvian nation and its identity – beginning with a reappraisal of the Andean utopia. This order distinguishes itself from the western European and the North American, instead serving the realization of the Peruvian, its own utopia, and our own modernity set free from the negation of the Andean.


                      These are books of an ambiguous subjectivity that waver between loyalty to the western and sympathy for the Andean, but that relate Andean insurgencies from Juan Santos Atahualpa and Tupac Amaru to Jose María Arguedas. This surreptitiously aims to break us from false idols of criolism, especially those most decrepit that preach the integration, civilization, and ‘inclusion’ of the vindicated Indian. These books displace the ideal creole and Lima resident from the center of the national imagination in a republic with few to no Indians. And they succeed in putting the Andean at the center of nation and identity, asking all Peruvians: What is Andean? But they have no answers. They know that the answers are not found in history or anthropology. They know the answers will come only from what is genuinely Andean.


                      Qhapaq Ñan is a book with coherent and systematic answers to this question. It is a bridging book that extends outwards from the Andean world. And it does not do so by proposing we attain a common space of «encounter,» that of tinkuy andino, of mutual benefit between what we have of Andean and western, which until now has been preferred by essentialized spirits, divided, and ambiguous. It suggests we reconstruct our subjectivity to end the ambiguity that perverts it, and also to dispossess ourselves of the influence of that great lie that made us believe we, too, would be westerners and not Andean.


                      Qhapaq Nan develops a succinct and unexpected critique radically distinct from western philosophy – as much from the west’s manifested sense as from its cleverly-masked non-sense. It takes advantage of the uncertainty given to us by the modernity radicalized by Habermas, Ralws, or Sen, and the postmodern disenchantment of western society that guises itself with spells and fables on difference according to the ideas of Lyotard, Vattimu, or Zizek. The book teaches us the forms of Andean thought, like complementary parity or yanantin, proportional confrontation or tinkuy, interconnectedness or the tawa-chacana Andean cosmovision, and the support beam of existence or Pachatússan. Through these teachings – and what it baptizes balanced thought – it acts as if to con us into believing that by showing the forms of Andean thought returning to pure cultural forms, the Andean past would be reborn and the Andean present would cease to be.


                      Qhapaq Ñan bears the arms of the Qhapaq Kuna, the Andean School, of the pre-Inka lineage of the just and wise, of the upright, virtuous, and noble; and the resounding echoes reach us provoking the almost inexorable return of the will of the Andean man who has learned to endure and wait over time. These are arms of knowledge belonging to the amautas who knew the secret of life and of walking with uprightness along the line of truth – something so contrary to our governments today – achieving h’ampi balance and its conservation. This is the wisdom of the runas of Andean culture who knew how to tie down the angle of occurrence of the sun over the earth, how to fasten the solar star to the line that guards and powers life throughout the Earth.


                      The archaic images are meant to give us a fairer understanding of Andean culture and of balanced thought to differentiate it from western logos. The Andean iconography in the book captures our attention, altering our perceptions and in them our intimacy with the pre-Inka and Inka. They bring a subversive presence into our self-consciousness, a presence we believed dead, submissive, and inert – like museum relics that hint of a glorious past but have been cast away and are satisfactory only to another’s glance. The iconography incites recovery of a culture that has not exhausted its vitality to reassert itself within the nation from the origin its cultural differences.


                      These images alter our subjectivity from a place of wisdom and the tongues of the ancient Andean peoples: Puquinas, Quechuas, and Aymaras – master architects of the Qhapaq Ñan, name and mythological road with an allegorical significance that speaks to what is real and meaningful in the origins of our culture. This culture has not failed to be contemporary, and in its daily efforts, in touch with its origins, holds the power to pronounce a different present in which the Andean and western concur in the concert of a new Andean order.


                      Its name announces that the Amaru Runa, the myth of the anaconda men in the imagination of the Quichwa peoples of Putumayo, have come back to travel the path of Andean wisdom and gain understanding of the status of the world’s h’ampi balance; and, as indicated in the epigraph beside the book’s name, they intend to spread the distinction of a wise and just civilization, capable of offering an order distinct from the western civilization in which we live with anguish and uncertainty. Qhapaq Ñan holds the power of the ancient Andean symbology in the hopeful presence of the altiplano idol of Illawi, the same icon as the Pachacama of the coast, idols that represent the singularity of this culture and of its origins in a pair of entities, complementary beings that occur in the uniqueness of their reproductive parity, of human life, and nature, in the act of continually giving birth to life.


                      Qhapaq Ñan tells us that the Andean being is the human pair, that of existential parity, existing as a being neither divided nor inclined to let itself submit to the existential anguishes that belong to western modernity; parity that holds life fastened or tied down by mythological serpents that protectively envelop the existential pair submerged in the ecstasy of their union, that shelter the mythological pair in the creative moment of life and culture, in the act of creating life, giving and reproducing it. This is a couple that look with eyes turned toward us in the continuous act of the reproduction of life, from the absolute place of origins and of culture. Their eyes incite us to internalize their contemplation, to share the enjoyment of ecstasy complete in life, twisting our subjectivity accustomed to look with disdain on the Andean past, altering our perception of the Andean, as though the face that looks from the past depresses us without wanting to. Now that their eyes are our eyes, the eyes of a different outlook and introspection, it is as if in this inward glance there exists neither time nor space for negative spirits, for the pain, the death, and the grief; this new look comes solely from the place of union of the original pair, an origin common in all cultural myths.


                      This look radiates amazement for the act itself, which is pleasurable for the flight of the mythological couple who go creating life throughout the world – as serpents seem to come forth from the man’s head and the woman’s hair resembles the wings of the condor. She sits with her hands inside those of the man symbolizing the creative act of the culture from the same center of life and nature, in a place that chooses the Andean culture, and that has as its only limit the pleasant outlook of its origins, that of our outlook.


                      The balanced thought or qhapaq thought bursts forth overcoming the vulgar place imposed by anthropology and ethnography that in studying the Andean man in his habitat considered his cultural emblem to be the good use of natural resources. What is Andean balanced thought? And the answers return from our cultural origins surrounded with the textual colorfulness of terms like yanan-tinkuy, tawaphaqa, pachatussán, ch’ekkalluwa, Illawi and Pachakamac that come like phantoms to repossess us and occupy their rightful place, that insinuate an existential  superiority or of life before the Baconian subject, the modern subject divided between the res cogitans and the res extensa; a subject separated from the world that he has made spectral and that – to survive – knows he must return and view the earth through the look of the Andean man, of the mythological and the current to save himself and save his civilization from the foreseen climatic catastrophe, that will knock at our door when death takes the instrumental man before he wants, is able to, or manages to abandon the lordly honors and prestige of old and tired mathematical reason and paralyzed modern rationality.  Postmodern ideas seem useless in the ephemeral nature of differing opinions crushed under the dominance of the one, now arrogant in the most developed of economy, culture, and technology. This is an occurrence infinitely certain and that in a certain way are the other face of the literary and cinemagraphic dystopias that range from the spectral vision of science personified in Mary Shelley’s monster to the cybernetic nightmare of The Matrix, which represents the loss of the human body in the implacable network of technology.


                      What dispute is this between the one and the pair that returns with Qhapaq Ñan? It is an old philosophical problem begun by the Greeks that has taxed modernity as much in politics as in culture and philosophy.  It transcends the parmenidian problem of the one and the multiple; transcends Platonism and Neoplatonism prisoners of universal permanents; and, transcends Aristotelian thought from the natural differences that distinguish privileged citizens from the barbaric.  The idea of complementary and proportional parity, of yanan-tinkuy marked over the territory of Qhapaq Ñan and its millenary temples in almost all of the southern hemisphere, offers us a distinct possibility to think and to take action. But no longer in essentialities or substances of being or metaphysics, that lead to hopeless contradictions of rationality in western philosophy regarding existence and its differences, the future of society, and utility of humanism. These contradictions ramble and find no exit in communicative rationality, in intercultural philosophy, or in the dissolute, demasked aesthetic of the differences freed of the panoptic and sanatoriums for the «not-normalized,» the demented, iconoclasts, and liberated spirits that appear to be the uncertain path of the implacable self-critics of the one and of absolute reason who find in Nietzsche the fountain of muddy water to drink. Qhapaq Ñan, as an Andean school, questions in this way the same bases of Greek and western philosophy offering us an alternative that is pleasingly ours.


                      The ideas of the I and its other appear subverted in the idea that the human functions, and ensures satisfaction in its parity, represented by the idol of Illawi. This idol symbolizes the absolute pair functional only within itself, and tells us that everything functions in its complementality – and not in relations of distinction of the one – which is identified with reason and truth, with logos and eidos and simulation and the other, which equates with the mythic and the cosmic vision of the world and life.  Illawi is a cultural manifestation open in its totality, whereas the male figure in Leonardo da Vinci’s Canon of Proportions, achieves the center of life and its occurrence in the Renaissance, leaving out woman who appears to be denied behind man the master of everything – including her, who can only try to appear hidden in his flowing mane or in his uplifted arms and open legs with which he means to occupy all the plain of existence. This image expresses the Judeo-Christian influence that places the complementary pair in doubt, having expelled Adam from heaven – at the fault of Eve.


                      While modernity seeks to get around its impasse, recognizing values in other and accusing the voluntary forgetfulness of reason that denies what it does not understand, the Qhapaq Ñan tells us of the interconnectedness in the juncture of mutual obligations of the yanapakuy Quechua, of reciprocal cooperation, of the helping and working at the service of the other.  The interconnectedness of the Tawa-Chacana is not an idea, it pre-exists all human relation, it is the obligatory form of existence and co-existence of humans with nature.


                      The proportionality that creates congruence and balance in the pairs or Pachatussan of life also preexists good and reality, because it implies a coexistence-with and an always optimal use of nature. This proportionality denies, rejecting natures domination and enslavement. We exist as subsidiaries to the world order, to set right climatic imbalances caused by our same human culture. We must correct what we do and prevent the world from suffering a total inversion of its equilibrium when the time of pachakuti arrives, so that life is not destroyed and stung suddenly by the inexorable fatality now threatening us; in the event that the west does not halt the pollution, global warming, and the excesses of its consumption society.


                      In the idea of proportion or Tinkuy between a thing and its pair, between the one and the other, and in its plurality or multiplicity, there exists no opposition or contradiction, it pre-exists the proportionality that permits the balance of parts in its multiplicity and of the one and the plural with the world and life.


                      So we are astutely placed before the brilliant occurrence of our cultural origins, in the absence of which we believed that we could be westerners in full, avoiding the anguish we felt in denying our Andean side. Unsatisfied with what we have done and who we are, we reclaimed a return to our roots to become something more defined and less uncertain, and without finding answers we asked: What is Andean culture? What is Andean? All the while wanting to put an end to our cultural deficiencies to imagine ourselves as Peruvians. And now that the explanations have resulted useless, the Qhapaq Ñan appears giving answers to questions we did not know how or could not answer.


                      We are thus confronted with the astuteness of the Andean Foxes that happily return crossing by the Pacha-Chaka of the Deep Rivers conquering the death of our native culture, they return to speak to us of their existential forms of understanding life and the cosmos.  They bring back from the Beyond, from the Anti, from the Andean world answers to the questions we have asked without knowing how to respond to them.  We are then before the magic of the foxes from above, those of the mountain, the Foxes of the Anti.



Lima, 25 january, 2007