Colonial Developments and Outcome: The Changing Concept of Pachamama

Pachamama, kay derechosniykitan qanman haywarimushayki, kay wata lloqsisqanchis agostopi. Chaskiykukuy uywaqniy kay despachota. Tuta p’unchaw, ñuñuqniy unkaqniy. Sumaqllataña chaskiyukuy, tukuymanta defendiway, onqoytapas karunchachay, ama ima llakikunapas qhawasunchu, hasta watakama sumaqllaña kawsakusun.
Pachamama, this is your due I serve you as our new year has dawned in August. You, the one who nurtures me, receive this offering. Day and night, you [are] the one who feeds me as a mother giving me the breast, as a bird that feeds its young. Receive this kindly, and from all things defend me, cause all illness to be removed far from me, and may I be free from all trouble, may I live happily for another year.

Prayer from the highlands of Southern Peru, 1966 (Hoggarth 2004 Cuzco Quechua Grammar, p. 163, transl. SDS)

In the academic literature on the Andean republics, formerly Spanish colonies, the ‘deity’ Pachamama and the Virgin Mary, both belong to what one could call supernatural beings. They have been closely related, explicitly or implicitly supposing a kind of ‘syncretism’, a ‘fusion’, ‘blending’ or even ‘substitution’ of European and Amerindian religious phenomena.

Evidence indicates that there are many features both the Virgin and Pachamama have in common, probably due to their similar functions. These can be noticed especially on the popular level where they must have had and still have much contact. Moreover, some colonial priests seem to have used traits of the Virgin (especially her fertility and the idea of her as the mother) as connecting points between both deities. The indigenous people may have taken these up and/or made associations themselves.

Therefore coincidences and an eventual convergence of important traits are more probable than ‘wrapping up’ the Andean in the European (which essentially translates as syncretism).

Thus, what happened in Andean society was not the hoped-for conversion, but the result is a religious tradition and practice mostly rooted in some European theological aspects as well as a number of Spanish folk and Andean traditions, which all developed in a cultural space and climate in which both could live and prosper together and even blend into each other and thus converge.

The (super-)natural forces which make individual and social life easier or possible at all, apparently have their unconscious basis in similar ecologies and traditional economies, which would have been the reason why similar ideas and concepts could sprout.

(For my article on this topic see Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz 2013 Pachamama;  also Dedenbach-Salazar Sáenz 2011 Pacha Tierra.)