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Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World

Today’s guest blog post is by AAA member, Hillary Webb. Hillary S. Webb, PhD, is the Managing Editor of Anthropology of Consciousness, the peer-reviewed journal of the Society for the Anthropology of Consciousness. In addition to Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World, she is the author of Traveling Between the Worlds: Conversations with Contemporary Shamans and Exploring Shamanism.

One of the most well-known and defining characteristics of indigenous Andean thought is its adherence to a philosophical model based on yanantin or “complementary opposites” in which the polarities of existence (i.e.: male/female, dark/light, inner/outer) are seen as interdependent parts of a harmonious whole. Because existence is believed to be dependent upon the tension and balanced interchange between these contrasting pairs, there is a very definite ideological and practical commitment within indigenous Andean life to bringing them into harmony with one another.

It was my dismay over what I considered to be the Western world’s view of the polarities as antagonistic that prompted me to devote my doctoral research to understanding the concept of yanantin or “complementary opposites” in indigenous Andean thought. The resulting research has become a book, entitled, Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World: Complementary Dualism in Modern Peru (University of New Mexico Press, 2012).

From Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World, Chapter 4: Self and Other:

[T]he Andean model of reality is by no means a Utopian vision in which these oppositions are always easily and/or peacefully brought into a harmonious yanantin relationship with one another. On the contrary, the ‘paring’ of opposing forces can be violent as well as peaceful, depending on the context. In certain areas of the Andes, yearly tinkuy battles take place in which two groups (often groups of men but sometimes groups of women) meet and engage in physical combat with one another. … These violent tinkuy battles have been described as the physical, ritualized enactment of the collision of opposing forces taking place within the cosmos. While bloody and even sometimes deadly, they are said to promote fertility, moral equilibrium, and the resolution of boundary disputes (Allen, 1988, 2002; Bastien, 1992; Harrison, 1989). Bastien (1989) described the tinkuy battles as ‘a way of uniting opposite sides in a dialectic that clearly defines and recognizes the other as well as establishes their interdependence’ (p. 76). Thus, while violent, the battles are seen as a means by which points of tension are released and harmony can be achieved, for as Allen (2002) suggested, ‘Rivals in battle, like lovers, are yanantin (a matched pair; helpmates). . . . Any release of energy—whether constructive or destructive—calls for collaboration’ (p. 160).  …
When I asked Juan Luis about the tinkuy battles, he had a similar perspective, regarding them as an opportunity for community healing.

‘This is the time in the year when all of them can solve their problems and their anger and all of it can come out in a fight,’ he told me. ‘They don’t just say, “Okay, there is a way of resolving this that can be peaceful so don’t worry, just swallow your anger.” They prepare a whole year ahead of time for the moment that they will be able to bring all this anger out. It’s one way of moving the hucha out of the system, out of the community’…

In Andean thought, the relationship between entities or energies is considered an ever-changing condition, one that is constantly shifting, creating, and recreating itself with each encounter. Because of this, the achievement of ‘balance’ is never a static condition but is always context-dependent and requires continual maintenance according to each circumstance. Self-Other encounters are therefore never taken for granted but reassessed with every situation. There is an acknowledgement that Self and Other are never and can never be separated, for each depends on the other for mutual recognition and reciprocity…

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