Mountains as actors in the Bolivian Andes: The interrelationship between politics and ritual in the Kallawaya ayllus
Abstract: This essay will examine the way that a Bolivian Andean people, the Kallawayas, incorporate mountains—seen as beings with agency in their own right—into their structure of kinship and politics. The Kallawayas interpret mountains as inhabited by ancestral spirits, who are incorporated into the local political structure as authorities. This understanding of the mountains denies the Western separation of politics and nature. I follow de la Cadena (2014) in positing mountain spirits, known as machulas, and humans, known as runa, as mutually constituting one another within the socio-territorial space of the ayllu. In this space nature and politics are not divided but intertwined. However, the political organisation of the Kallawaya communities has undergone profound changes in recent decades that have affected the ritual relationship between the Kallawayas and the mountain spirits. The manner in which Kallawayas incorporate their ancestors as authorities therefore provides evidence for the propensity of ritual to reflect social structure.
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