Pachamama

pachamama1
Image source: Dauro Veras

This morning when I remembered it was Earth Day, I started thinking about the concept of “Mother Earth” or “Madre Tierra” – and this in turn reminded me of a word I have always loved – Pachamama. Since it’s Earth Day, this is actually an excellent day to learn, “What or Who, exactly, is Pachamama?”

First, what does “Pachamama” mean, and where does the word come from? Pachamama is an Aymara and Quechua word commonly translated to “Mother Earth” but there isn’t really an exact equivalent in English or Spanish. While “mama” means mother, in Aymara and Quechua, the word “pacha” means far more than “earth” – the word also encompasses the cosmos, universe, time, and space. (On a personal note: I find it interesting that the word “pacha” in Salvadoran slang, which typically comes from Pipil/Nahuat, means “baby bottle” – So it’s another sort of mothering/nurturing word. I wonder if they’re related?)

Pachamama is a goddess of the Inca people and is adored in various areas of Latin America – primarily in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru, but also in parts of Chile and Argentina.

pachamama2
Image source: ImagenesDeOcasion

Here are a few quotes about Pachamama that I found interesting:

“It is often difficult for an outsider to understand the devotion of the indigenous people for Pachamama…the principal deity of Andean religion. Pachamama is earth itself, sustainer of all life. In the words of one of the villagers, ‘Pachamama gives us life, she nourishes us throughout our existence on this earth and when we die, we go back to our Pachamama from where we will rise again.’ Pachamama is powerful. She sustains life for animals and plants alike, but she can also kill with devasting earthquakes and allow lightening to strike. Pachamama and the god of thunder and lightening are considered compadres.” – Inge Bolin, Rituals of Respect: The Secret Survival in the High Peruvian Andes

shaman
Description: “Q’eros shaman, called a Paqo, in his ultra-bright traditional poncho and chullo (hat) calling the Apu mountain spirits to bless a mesa, a cloth-wrapped package of special found and collected power objects (like rocks and crystals from places you’ve done ceremony) that a person on the shamanic path carries for ceremonies.” // Image source: McKay Savage

“It is very common for the Pachamama to receive the first serving of beer at social gatherings since believers pour a few drops on the ground before they take their first sip. This is a way to thank and feed the Pachamama.” – Caserita.com

car-pachamama Description: “Decorated Landcruiser – All decorated in honor of Pachamama over the Carnival period. People were doing this all over the Andean countries today.” // Image source: Andy Hares

“According to Mario Rabey and Rodolfo Merlino, Argentine anthropologists who studied the Andean culture from the 1970s to the 1990s, ‘The most important ritual is the challaco. Challaco is a deformation of the Quechua words ‘ch’allay’ and ‘ch’allakuy’, that refer to the action to insistently sprinkle. In the current language of the campesinos of the southern Central Andes, the word challar is used in the sense of ‘to feed and to give drink to the land’. The challaco covers a complex series of ritual steps that begin in the family dwellings the night before. They cook a special food, the tijtincha. The ceremony culminates at a pond or stream, where the people offer a series of tributes to Pachamama, including ‘food, beverage, leaves of coca and cigars.'” – Wikipedia/Pachamama

pachamama-dance Description: “La juventud es parte fundamental del espiritú que aquí se vive, en conjunto. Yo junto a mi novia nos contagiamos del ritmo y la energía de un pueblo que le agradece a su tierra por lo entregado, un verdadero carnaval, donde no hay personas arrastrandose por demostrar su fe, al contrario hay gente saltando y bailando felices de saber que son ellos los hijos del Inti.” // Image source: Pablo Embry

In this quote, the person seems to be referring to the tradition of some Latin American Catholics to crawl on their knees to show their devotion and to thank God and or the Virgin for answered prayer, when he says “…no hay personas arrastrandose por demostrar su fe, al contrario hay gente saltando y bailando felices…” [Translation: “…there are no people crawling to prove their faith, on the contrary, there are people jumping and dancing happily…”] This quote draws a contrast between the two faiths and the way in which they worship, yet there are some who mix their beliefs.

“When the Spanish invaded the Americas, they brought with them their Catholic religion, forcing it upon the indigenous people. But the people, devout to their own gods, resisted these advances…So the Spaniards had to adopt a different plan of attack. As Dr. Cajias says, ‘They then decided to mix Catholic beliefs and figures with native beliefs and figures.’ At the center of this syncretism are Pachamama and the Virgin Mary. Pachamama is an Aymara and Quechuan word loosely meaning ‘Mother Earth.’ The Andean people saw Pachamama as a mother who gave them food, water, and all of nature. She was considered a fertile mother because of the fertile land. And the Catholic figure most resembling a caring mother? The Virgin Mary.” – Source: Patrick Dowling, BolivianExpress

cruz-pachamama Description: “Ofrenda a Pachamama.” // Image source: Thiago Biá

Regardless of your religious beliefs, all of us living on the earth have a responsibility to care for it, and that’s what I take away from the belief in Pachamama. I find it difficult to live in harmony with nature in the modern world, balancing the wants and daily “needs” of American culture with a deeper and truer need to be in balance with everything outside my climate-controlled home which is filled with technology and other conveniences, but I try – and I want to try harder.

Happy Earth Day, Pachamama.

4 thoughts on “Pachamama

  1. I am from western Bolivia, from el Altiplano, where you can still see all this rituals alive. In my early years, my parents were Catholic so I was somehow active in all this rituals, pagano religiosos. It amazes me the ability that the Catholic church has to blend believes. As you say in you article people, specially country people, do the ch’alla practice. In Bolivia every first Friday of each month, honoring la Pachamama and they do a big challa on Fat Tuesday. Sadly all this celebrations end up with a lot of drinking. After my parents became Evangelical Christians I was able to see all these rituals from another perspective, and study them from the outside. People from the Andes, somehow honor more the earth because of their way of living, they eat what they produce, they race their own animals, they enjoy life for what represents. Life in high planes is not easy, is a matter of faith. They are less materialistic societies, and less affected by technology. Somehow, I see this changing because a lot of country people are migrating to the city and modernizing.

    • Thanks so much for sharing your first hand experience on the topic, Cecy. I can definitely imagine that migration and adaption to modern conveniences/ways could lead to traditions being lost to future generations – so I hope that people are able to balance “modernizing” with holding on to their roots.

  2. I was introduced to the Pachamama concept during my visit to Peru in 2009, and as a mother of two young boys I was really impressed by the village mothers who I thought of as a “Pachamama” in their own right. It was as though the children were a part of their mother literally like a third limb as they carried they toddlers around on their back. The bonding between the child and mother I witness was spectacular, I wanted that same closeness and security with own boys. A practice that might seem ridiculous to this society was extremely special and gratifying to them, I could feel the love expressed by mom and baby. There was a certain calmness in the way they interacted with each other, an unspoken communication. I returned to Houston with a renewed sense of self as a mother, I knew that I had to absolutely trust my instincts and not give one damn what the perception was to the outside. Today I still follow that philosophy and I think about them all the time, especially when I’m doubtful.

    • What a beautiful comment, Alicia! I have two boys and am close with them both, but you really made me long for the closeness of when they were toddlers. They’re 12 and 15 now – it puts a smile on my face to remember how they curled into my lap to hear a story, or fit perfectly against my side while watching TV :) Thanks for sparking a happy memory.

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