Wider lessons and cautionary points

Ecuador has experienced many changes since I first went there as a graduate student in 1976 and many very recently, sharing the rapid change consequent on accelerating global dynamics. It is now a middle income country by OECD standards and not ‘developing’ as it once was. I have seen and experienced first-hand many of the social changes discussed by different authors cited in this study, which treat with key social and economic factors and dynamics related to ethnicity and the politicisation of the Indigenous movement largely taking place during the second half of the 20th century.

I have employed a Jungian theoretical perspective drawn from the schools of analytical and depth psychology, which looks for how the collective psyche of a people expresses experience and responses to it in the production of myth. I understand that this is controversial and that many in the academic community and from the modern medical establishment may be sceptical or contest this, but I stand by my conviction that it offers the best way of and certainly a valid alternative approach to studying these key events and processes to ‘independently verify them’, or offer alternative interpretations of key dynamics involved.

I have from the outset of this project met with widespread puzzlement and outright scepticism from those in the worlds of anthropology, ethnology, archaeology, health and social sciences, as well as those involved in addressing the modern crisis in population displacements globally, as to how such a study of an Amerindian population’s historical experience of and adaptation to similar dynamics and impacts to its integrity through conquest and colonization, can offer any real view on how to address the contemporary needs of refugees and asylum seekers.

My response is that there are always important lessons to be learned from the past, in the way that people have responded to the kinds of impacts, events and crises that may have and in many ways sought to destroy them and the kinds of adaptive responses employed by them. The human experience of change, and how to manage change in a way that promotes ‘meaningful survival’ is a timeless one, wherever and whenever in the world it occurs, therefore lessons can be drawn from any group of people who have perforce had to engage with it.

The survey conducted for MEDICINE has demonstrated that Andean Indigenous cosmology with its unique way of understanding the world and responding to it has survived across five hundred years, albeit clearly changed in several key respects, highlighted at different points in this report. Twenty years ago when Rachel Corr produced her study of the Salasaka people and their beliefs, myths and rituals, it seems that many of the distinctive Indigenous Andean beliefs still strongly survived as a generality. The remorseless advance of modern global processes have seen a clear and rapid erosion of these beliefs and practices, as the survey of communities also demonstrates.

Indigenous Andeans were able to negotiate the immense and potentially annihilating impact of the alien ontologies and socio-political systems imposed upon them by Spain, and worked some of these beliefs into their own existing ones. In this I would like to see the symbolic influence of Santiago-Illapa, combining both Spanish and Andean influences in his changed form from a ‘Slayer of Indians’ into a protector of them. The way that some of the indigenous communities in Ecuador, such as the Salasakas, are steadily claiming Catholic Christian festivities and transforming them into their own, is, I believe, a good example of this.

Santiago Guerrero

However, a clear cautionary note is struck by the continued belief in some parts of the Andes in the parasitical predator – the ñaqaq/kharisiri – and perhaps we should all take heed and fear it. With the global processes of ‘modernization’ we are in danger of witnessing a wholescale abandonment of such distinctive systems of belief. Many ‘modern-minded’ people might hail this as a 'good thing', but, as the 2003 UNESCO Convention on the Preservation of Intangible Heritage highlights, it is surely of the utmost importance that plurality, diversity and the many ways of ‘seeing and knowing’ are protected. We are all the beneficiaries of this. Life is diverse, that is its wonder and enduring strength, and loss of bio diversity is becoming a clarion call of the utmost urgency in our times. We are in the greatest danger of being consumed by the neoliberal global monoculture we are creating.

Salasaka Yachak


About this blog entry

This blog entry was posted on Saturday 9th November 2019.
elizabeth.currie@york.ac.uk's picture
Dr Elizabeth Currie

Dr Elizabeth Currie is a Marie Sklodowska-Curie Experienced Researcher and Global Fellow at the Department of Archaeology, and Senior Visiting Research Fellow at the Department of Health Sciences, University of York.

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