Bolivia: Pachamama, Mother Earth

August is the time of Pachamama, Mother Earth (also Pacha Mama or Mama Pacha) for the Quechua and Aymara cultures in Bolivia. During the preceding months, the earth took a break in the agricultural cycle, it slept… it is dry and August is a time of transition, of passage from sterility to fertility, of rejuvenation.

The communities offer gifts of thanks and care to Mother Earth in the face of the new possibility of life, of prosperity … They awaken it little by little, opening the furrows, oxygenating it to prepare it before sowing in the new agricultural cycle.

The elders say that the Pachamama is open, she is hungry. For this it is necessary to feed it, in a ritual way, with sweet aromas of plants such as q’oa, minerals such as copal, and then honey, sugar, and blade fat … It must be treated with coca leaves and sprinkled ch’allar, a few drops of alcohol. Being open, it is vulnerable and needs more care and attention … “caress it while you work it, contemplate it …”.

Families and communities gather in their homes or fields to celebrate these rituals before the renewal of the possibility of life. And they celebrate even without knowing whether or not the harvest will be abundant at the end of the next agricultural cycle. It is a gesture of trust in the land that today they awaken and nourish with joy. Then it will take care of them with the production of the necessary food …

Reciprocity. The bond between human beings and the Pachamama is a bond of reciprocity, of co-care. It is not a bond of divinization of the earth. I have not heard any indigenous sage mention Pachamama as a goddess. Some scholars of indigenous peoples believe instead that this divinization of the earth exists, but I think it is a mistake to understand this link in this way.

Each indigenous people have elaborated, preserved and passed on its own myth of creation that tells how the earth was created, the bond it has with human beings and how, together, in reciprocity, they have the task of taking care of the future, co-taking care of the present.

August, therefore, is a reminder that this vital task implies the search for harmony and balance in relations in society and with the earth … justice. A search that I perceive is close to that expressed in Pope Francis’ apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium when he says: “The earth is our common home and we are all brothers and sisters”. Although “The just ordering of society and the state is the main task of politics”, the Church “cannot and must not remain on the side-lines apart from the struggle for justice”. All Christians, even Pastors, are called to occupy themselves with building a better world. This is what it is about because the social thought of the Church is primarily positive and proactive, it guides a transformative action”(183).

The time of Pachamama challenges us to live an integral ecology that transforms relations with the earth and with people … It challenges us to recognize ourselves as the earth!

(Tania Ávila Meneses – Bolivia)