The Political Dimension of Indigenous Spirituality

Ollantay Itzamná Arce and David Choquehuanca. Act of ritual in Tiwanaku.

On November 6 (on the eve of the official swearing-in of the new government), the Aymara and Quechua communities organized and celebrated, in spite of the limitations in times of pandemic, a ceremony of purification and spiritual legitimization for the elected President of Bolivia, Luis Arce, and the Vice President, David Choquehuanca, in the magnificent sacred site of Tiwanaku. The mestizo Arce and Aymara Choquehuanca were symbolically empowered as rulers in Tiwanaku.

In the struggles of the indigenous and peasant movements of Bolivia, the practice of spiritual ceremonies is a constant that constitutes the central element of the mystique of resistance and individual and collective perseverance in the struggles.

During the government of Evo Morales, indigenous spiritual rites (integrated with Christian elements) took on a central role in the protocol of government actions, to the extent that for conservative sectors this was interpreted as the “expulsion of the Bible and the crucifixes” from the Government Palace.

This ritual epiphany in the political spaces, specifically promoted by socio-political subjects of the Movement Towards Socialism (MAS), is harshly criticized by conservative Catholics and evangelicals, even by the supposed Indianists.

Conservative Christians qualify such practices as paganism, witchcraft, etc. The antimasist indianists disqualify them as pachamamismo, folklorism… One of these, in their social networks, even insulted their Aymara brothers as “ignorant” for performing and celebrating a ritual ceremony with Arce and Choquehuanca in Tiwanaku.

Apparently, anti-Muslim Indianists and fundamentalist Christians, share the condition of being inhabited by blind dogmatism, eagerness for protagonism. “If the Indians do not live or practice the truths that we teach, they are ignorant pagans”, seems to be the consensus between conservatives and Indiananists.

Unlike a religion, spirituality is freedom and creativity without limits. Therefore, cultural essentialism has no place in spiritual practice. There are no pure or impure rites, neither by their origin, nor by their method, nor by their elements. Spirituality, and its rituality, unlike religion, is creativity, transgression, innovation in the face of established doctrines or dogmas.

In spirituality, rituals are constantly created and recreated. Therefore, it is not appropriate to disqualify the indigenous ritual praxis for precisely what it is intended to be: to reinvent itself in order to breathe life into the peoples’ struggles for freedom, in accordance with the times.

In this sense, spirituality is and should be a constitutive element of the actions and aspirations of emancipation of peoples. Spirituality is the core of emancipatory mysticism of subaltern peoples.

There is always the possibility that spirituality, whether indigenous or not, is distorted into spiritualism (ritual practice uprooted from reality and from the emancipatory struggles of peoples, manipulated by those in power). But this is not what can be seen in the case of the plural spirituality of the indigenous and peasant movements in Bolivia.

Translation by Internationalist 360°