The Potosí Principle: Another View of Totality

Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui | universidad mayor de san andrés de la paz

A note for the present English translation.

As I was reviewing the translation of this piece for e-misférica, I realized that my article would become part of an issue devoted to the Decolonial Gesture. I want to state frankly that I do not agree with the term decolonial, nor with all the redundant literature that has stemmed from it, to the point that it has almost become a school of thought and theory, with more followers in the South than in the North. For me, it is a rather infelicitous galicism that hurts my ears, and since I mistrust all forms of branding, I have come to dislike the unintelligible, elitist, and utterly boring debate that it has provoked up to now. Above all, I find the term practically useless for action in the streets and for engaging with concrete indigenous struggles. It has, nevertheless, been cleverly adopted by new aspirants to internal colonialist power, in Bolivia and elsewhere, and this is an even more pressing reason for remaining outside its lure. When somebody asked me what alternative terms I would suggest, I frankly and impolitely said that along with many Bolivians, I prefer to speak about “demolition” instead of “deconstruction,” and “anticolonial” instead of “decolonial,” because I think it is more coherent to try to connect with the direct language of subalterns, rather than with the word-games of high-brow afrancesado intellectuals. Gesture is a nice word, and writing for this issue is a form of recognizing that most of the authors here go beyond the straight jacket of the decolonial towards the performative and the imaginary.

This text was originally published in Spanish in Principio Potosí Reverso, which served as an accompanying text to the Principio Potosí exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in 2010. 

If we propose to approach the Potosí Principle as a concrete historical totality located in the Southern hemisphere, we should first situate the colonial paintings selected for the exhibit in a macro-scale map of sorts, which can trace the routes that set an order to this space. We could start from an intermediate temporal horizon to the discovery in 1545 of a high-purity silver-mine in Potoxsi—a wak’a or sacred place visited by the mit’ayos of the Inka from the nearby Porco silver mine. In doing so, we have resorted to a textile-spatial metaphor, one marked by the ritual function of the kipus and their power to structure Andean space in its stately horizon. The structuring function of the kipus and the thakis survives the colonial invasion and re-articulates the territories/spaces of the Andes along new axes or nodes of power— the churches and the patron saints—in a complex and motley heterogeneous ritual frame. It is the lived experience of that rituality in the present that grants intuitive force to our desire for reconstitution. It is sensing the presence of the mountains, listening to the voices of the landscapes, and all the substrates of memories that speak to us from their summits, lakes, ponds, or from its multiple apachetas and roads. Thaki is a polysemic Aymara word that connotes the itineraries of ritual libations, dances, and chants in the routes that connect the wak’as with the centers of power in successive historical horizons of signification and territorialization. The Church and Money—the new colonial wak’as—inscribe themselves in a dense and laboriously constructed semantic fabric. This connects distant spaces in a pan-Andean frame that re-actualizes the gestures, motives, and semantic practices, which decipher and penetrate through the crevices of colonial violence, rearticulating that which is deranged, joining forces to repair the “pierced fishing net” that the cosmos became for the peoples of the Andes. The paintings and churches that set the itinerary of this overview inscribe themselves in this space. A new and modern centralization—that of the museum— functions as a powerful force of de-territorialization and loss of meaning.

The traces of their spatial inscription—pilgrimages, commemorations, and devotions—have been lost; the paintings hang on empty space, decontextualized. What paradoxically persists is the act of expropriation, the colonial emblem of financial accumulation; the circulation of the Andean baroque as a spectacle and as a commodity of high symbolic and monetary value. The capitalist circuits of art and the state’s appropriation of the communal patrimonies are nurtured by the fissures of the republican states. Their privatization rests in the hands of the encomenderos’ descendants, who have become the heirs of the principle and of the commodities of internal colonialism, which is thus internalized in the marrow of the entire structure of domination. We will deal with this patriarchal and totalizing dimension in the right side, the white and masculine face of this book.

Its left face—dark and feminine—internally traverses the lived space of the Andean geography in the cycle of festivities that mark turning points in time/space (pacha). This is where the paintings are re-inscribed in the context of the community of devotees who worship them and dance in their honor. They insert themselves in the networks of signification that connect them to their dead ancestors, with the cycles of water, with the apachetas and the celestial phenomena. They also provide a link with the cycles of money and the pulsations of the market, with the emblems and the new forms of property and power that arrived from Europe and that are today blended in the ch’enko of these insubordinate societies.

Devotions are not professed specifically towards paintings, but towards the deities they represent. The Virgins and the Saints dig their roots in the Andean cosmos and are associated with the contradictory energies of each place, in a palimpsest that uncovers various horizons of meaning throughout each annual cycle. Stemming from the materiality of the carved plaster or the oil painting, the holy image is at one time singular, many-faceted, and multiple. It is not an epiphenomenon of a unique and abstract deity. Virgins and saints encompass different and peculiar connections, meanings, entwined mythical accounts, which are constantly transformed and reread. The territorial fabric inscribes itself finally in the bodies, in the ways of drinking, dancing, and sharing food and love, in the ways in which each person feels the surrounding space in their flesh—the powerful force of the sacred.

Carabuco, Caquiaviri, Chuchulaya, and Guaqui in the surrounding region of Lake Titica in the high Andean plateau, as well as the Churches of San Pedro and Tata Gran Poder in two of the nodal cities of this space are the wak’as that articulate our itinerary. The symbolic travels of the images involve disputes, transferals, and re-foundations. The cities and the vast transnational Diasporas are routes that lead the urbandinos and quechumara cholos1 to expand their cults and enthrone their saints and virgins in the confines of the world-system.

In each locality, imaginary lines emerge from the churches, reaching the mountain peaks and chapels in their environs. An ensemble of enfolding semantic layers unfolds from this central seed, clothing itself in overlapping materiality. In their columns and baroque arches one can see the vestiges of the ways indigenous carvers found to give shape to their cross-dressed deities. The four corners of the plaza are oriented according to a larger design, which the ritual cycle transcribes in the dancing bodies, in the cult images, the fraternities, and the ayllus articulated in the marka. We observe their east, their north, their west, and their south. We see the marks in the surrounding landscape: the major wak’as and achachilas that encircle it. The roads are lost in the pampa and connect the plaza with the places of worship and with mountains no one can see, but which every inhabitant is aware of, both metaphorically and experientially. In the plaza the dances succeed one other; the population groups and ayllus are interwoven in a game of oppositions and alliances that renews the contentious dynamics of local societies and that each dancing couple re-actualizes in the loving tinku (encounter) of dance. A labor of millennia has constructed these sacred territories that, since the sixteenth century, have been ravaged, fragmented, and drastically reorganized. The vertical articulating logic between plateau, valleys, yungas, and Pacific coast has been confined in successive colonial borders: within corregimientos, provinces, departments, and republics. The current routes of contraband, between the Andean territory of Bolivia and its neighbors, Peru, Chile, and Argentina, evoke, despite their multiple transformations, this successively woven and reconfigured fabric. A vital layer of the palimpsest continues, just as in the sixteenth century, to set an order to the territoriality and subjectivity of the Andean people: the internal market of Potosí and its substrate of material and symbolic meanings. The siqis, apachitas, thakis, achachilas, and wak’as that preceded it constitute the visual and imaginary trajectory of our circuit through the colonial paintings in the Principio Potosí exhibit. 

Chi’xi Baroque

Hundreds of dancers, grouped in eight different Morenada dance ensembles, arrived to the festivities of Santiago de Guaqui on July 29, 2009, from different confines of the altiplano and even from other countries. The principal patron of the festivities, Edgar Limachi, arrived with his wife from the Charrúa neighborhood in Buenos Aires, where he directs a successful textile workshop that provides contracts to many subsidiary workshops. His factory, together with the network of micro-enterprises that it articulates, gives jobs to hundreds of his countrymen from the province as piece-rate day laborers. He also provides work for many of his godchildren and retailers from other localities. It is said that the Limachi family spent fifty thousand dollars in the week of excesses, intense pilgrimages, and dancing circuits. People did not sleep that night, not just because of their ethylic enthusiasm, but because it was impossible to find lodging. The collective delirium lit up, together with the immense fireworks structures made of cane, which visually heated the exalted day, marked by an intense and penetrating cold. The day dawned as people huddled around bonfires, with a deadly hangover [ch’akhi]. As the first rays of the sun shined, they healed their bodies with a rehabilitating infusion of herbs sold by the women in the plaza. Soon enough, another round of beer libations began in preparation for the mass. At dawn, some families had set ablaze bundles with offerings made by the yatiris, the region’s ritual specialists who are devotees of the Lightning bolt deity [Santiago]. The audience, who had looked on respectfully under the sunlight at the spectacle of morenada dance ensembles, became also, during the night, a variegated, dancing mob. The multitude had unleashed amorous energies, brawls, and fistfights. It all prompted a change in the atmosphere: the devotional visage of the celebration came to light. The emotive tune of the night allowed for the amuyt’awi (reflexive thinking) to blossom; the whispers of conjugal, personal, and communal languages directed the activities, and determined what to ask for and what countergift reclaim from deities. The fights and bloody events of the festivities were perceived as further signs, messages from the earth, manifestations of its whims and demands. It is said that the blood that is spilled that day is an offering to the Tata Santiago, the Lightning-Wa’ka that descends from the heavens and sinks into the earth. It is said that under the Church there is a lake wak’a in which golden ducks swim. It is also said that there are two entwined serpents in its towers that undergird the Church and root it in the earth. These serpents are an enchantment of sorts. If someone could bring them back to life, the upside-down world would turn upon itself; the flipside of history would be brought back to the surface.

The patron of the second ensemble is also an entrepreneur of the textile sector, but he devotes himself to large-scale contraband of fabrics produced in one of the thousands of sweatshops in some industrial neighborhood of Beijing. The Central Morenada adopted as its emblem a matraca [large rattle] with the stereotypical figure of the “china-man,” as homage to his successful “oriental connection” which has allowed him to spend more than thirty thousand dollars to celebrate Tata Santiago. He hired a famous cumbia villera band, which has reaped considerable success in Buenos Aires with its lyrics that speak of the pain and suffering of migration, but also of the agency and success of hard working families.


We have contrasted the idea of the ch’ixi (mottled, stained) to the concept of hybridity, in the understanding that the scenario we describe manifests an active recombination of opposed worlds and contradictory meanings, which forms a fabric in the very frontier of these antagonistic poles. The vitality of this process of recombination broadens this frontier, rendering it into an intermediate interwoven fabric, a taypi—an arena of antagonisms and seductions. These are the borderland spaces in which the ch’ixi performativity of the fiesta blossoms. The notion of a Church/Wak’a is affirmed in this contentious and reverberating duality, which sometimes flows into an explosive moment of rebellion and always runs the risk of succumbing to the self-inflicted violence of re-colonization. 

Of Trinities and Dominions

We can picture the four suyus of the Inka Empire as the quadrants of a diagonal cross. But the relations between them were not framed by territories or maps, nor where they fenced in by borders: “…as the ancients in Spain divided her in provinces, so these Indians, in order to count the provinces in such a large land, understand it through its roads,” comments Cieza de León ([1550] 2005:240). This chronicler, a converted Jew who arrived with the first conquistadors, describes the chants of the Indian women as follows: “Tricked by the demon, they adored various gods, just as the gentiles did. They used a sort of romance or chanting, with which they were able to retain a memory of their happenings, never forgetting them despite their lack of writing.” (Cieza de León: 259) Song and road are paired heteronyms in quechumara: taki-thaki. They allude to a sonorous territoriality that displaces itself through space-time. The thakis of memory evoke imaginary lines called “ceques” (siqis), which were described by Bernabé Cobo. These peculiar visual formations were paths of libations and rites that started from each ceremonial center and led, through a series of radiating lines, to an array of wak’as—sites of remembrance of mythical ancestors. Sanctuaries erected by humans, the wak’as could also be natural formations on the earth, snow-capped summits, or sites touched by lightning, mountain ponds, and strangely shaped rocks. In the warrior society—the awqa pacha that anteceded the Inkas—the wak’as assumed a political and corporative face. It is through this qhipnayra vision on the density of language and space, that we want to understand the popular imagination of colonization as a self-fulfilled prophecy, in which the violence of the conquest was formulated in terms of a symbolic dispute. Both societies confronted the challenge of transmuting the geography into some intelligible form. Ones understood their task as one of domination and extirpation. While the others—the many—understood it as a gesture of restitution and reconstitution. Ones brought syncretistic cults long tied to the holy word and the scholastics of a patriarchal God. The many traversed the colonial and postcolonial centuries walking, dancing, and producing life over this semantic density inscribed in the landscape, in the cosmos, in the pacha [both masculine and feminine]. In the akapacha of the neoliberal present and in the midst of the “theology of the total market” (Hinkerlammert) it is still possible to uncover the meanings and traces of this primordial tinku and read the narrative of this intermediate space, contentious and stained, that emerged out of this encounter/combat. The songs and paths of the present reveal the threads of this palimpsest. Successive layers and patches of the States—colonial and postcolonial—are imprinted in the clothing of each dancing Diablo or Moreno. In the polychromatic and confusing space of the postcolonial city, the symbolic stem-cells—the combinatorial abstract logic that underlies our linguistic and corporal practices—have not been erased.

The masculine and feminine authorities in current Andean communities are called mallkus and t’allas. Their very bodies seem to replicate the sacred configuration of the landscape: mallku is the name of the venerated mountain peaks, t’alla that of the fertile pampas, givers of food. Their metonymy is the central plaza of the town: the major t’alla, the floor that supports the collective dance. The church steeple is the mallku, with its bells and all. Mallku is also the name of the condor, the holy bird of the mountain peaks. In the indigenous popular actions of the years 2000–2003, all the communal authorities from across the altiplano adopted it; it is the alias of their most famous leader, Felipe (Mallku) Quispe. This mobilization, as was the case with the Amaru-Katari movement in the eighteenth century, culminated in a siege of the centers of power, which nearly broke the territorial control of the Bolivian state. Thus the polychromatic indigenous polis reemerged and sought to convert itself into a decolonizing state order, although the ages-old combat between reason and sentient thinking ended up transforming that purpose into a mere enunciation.

With these experiences, lived and inscribed in our own flesh for more than twenty years, we began to draw the outlines of an intellectual thaki that would not succumb to the truculence and horror vacuum of the Spanish baroque, neither to the irresistible disorder of postmodern cultural plazas, which deterritorialize and inject emptiness into whatever they cannot understand. Our absence seeks to be a presence, which would enable us to think in reverse: from the jayamara (ancient times) to the qhipnayra (future-past) through the amuyt’awi (reflexive thinking).

The map shown in the catalog (page 7, Principio Potosi Reverso) represents the space of the Qullasuyu, where the south figures above and the north below. In the center, along the lower-left quadrant, is the major Titiqaqa wak’a and the sacred circuit of the lake. The mythical origin of the founding ancestors of the Inka state, this immense eye of the planet is the center around which the towns of Guaqui, Caquiaviri, Carabuco and Chuchulaya wak’as revolve. The aquatic axis forms an intermediate space, simultaneously a transcultural mark and a colonial taypi, which articulates the mercantile paths between Qusqu and Potosí through the roads/kipus that entwined coca with silver. The new language of monetary transactions enabled the reactivation of one of the most ancient associations in the mediation between humans and the sacred: the consumption of sacret entheogens and the mineral illa, which represent the back and forth movement to and from the colonial situation. 

As in all journeys, this spatial structure is also a form of representing time: its cycles and its alternations between one state and another. A calendar has indeed come to life as a form of representing the order and sequence of the spaces traversed, which are, at the same time, a temporal cycle of successive or simultaneous ritual actions. Since the sixteenth century, the colonial pachakuti inaugurated a new world; the world of the individuated and rootless subject. Andeans have deployed an immense labor—both productive and hermeneutical—in order to domesticate and allow the foreign gods to take root in a new landscape, along with their coins and symbols, in an endless process of self-fashioning [autopoiesis] of their own communal condition. Clandestinely, protected by night, in the privacy of their rural homes or suburban neighborhoods, along the Saint’s Days Calendar and in the Churches imposed by Catholicism, the silenced wak’as have returned to life. The social frameworks of memory, the polysemic quality of agglutinative languages and the inscription of the sacred in the materiality of the landscape are the building blocks or a transformational practice that has allowed us, century after century, to gaze back in dignity to our oppressors. The old silver currency coined in Potosí was called makukina when used for commerce and phasxima or phaxsimama (mother moon) when it was used as the central symbol in the fertility rites for money. Lightning represented, at the same time, the violence of the conquering sword, and the gifts of gold and silver generously donned by the deities of lightning bolt and hale to the hard toiling humans. The rituals, dances and songs in honor of Patron Saint festivities have founded a ch’ixi region, capable of expanding the borders of the middle, so that it becomes a civilizing pattern of textile artistry. Thus, the icon object of devotion incarnates a gesture of semiotic subversion against the totalizing principle of colonial domination. It is not a pure, uncontaminated icon, nor is it a luck charm: it is the broad waist belt woven by the palimpsest of a collective historical praxis.


The idea that human displacements are forced movements, unilaterally imposed on a population, which becomes a passive victim of their impulse, is probably related with the connotation that this phenomenon has acquired in the contemporary world. Thus, in Colombia, millions of people have lost their lands and homes finding themselves trapped in the crossfire of the army and the guerrilla, or in the hands of paramilitary groups, which, even if they spare their lives, turn them into de-facto “disposable persons.” Here the mark of hegemony is deep: it configures their subjectivities, inscribes its logic in their own bodies and places their humanity in a limbo of sorts. Slavery was also a form of brutally coercive displacement. Millions of human beings were captured or sold by their own internal enemies and transported across the Atlantic to populate the confines of the planet. In this sense, it is possible to affirm that the African contribution is constitutive; it has equal rights, together with the Indigenous roots, to the claim of being an “originary people,” one that is constitutive of the makeup of our continental being. Historically, the slave trade has nurtured the colonial principle par excellence: the creation of a localized subjectivity in the very limits of the human condition. Even if we consider the conflictive nature of this situation and the agency of those who resist it, we have to recognize the radical dislocating mark that this form of displacement carries with it: the irresistible force of deterritorialization.

In the Andean region, we can see a different configuration of collective subjectivity, which we have termed as a ch’ixi subjectivity, located in the middle zone or taypi of the colonial confrontation, and which is marked by a particular tension between the individual “I” and the collective “we.” We speak of a collective self-fashioning [autopoiesis] that lives out of its own contradictions: a dialectic that does not culminate in a synthesis but lives in permanent movement, articulating the autochthonous with the alien in subversive and mutually contaminating ways. 

The ch’ixi collective subject summons a form of subjectivity that is configured in and through displacement. Doubtlessly, the world of ritual pilgrimages and the work turns of the mit’a in the mines or the maize fields of the Inka were transformed into a painful procession to the new colonial wak’a—the Rich Mountain of Potosí. But the syntax and the interpretive code that emerged from this taypi became the tool that enabled the confrontation and translation of the other, his symbols, mores, and the manners in which he exchanges both messages and commodities. The itinerant mode through which the indigenous polis was constituted, then, persisted throughout the colonial displacements. An indigenous elite of caciques, merchants, and qullqi jaqi or rich Indians was formed around the main routes of the mit’a, based upon the strategic control of those key resources which allowed for the “production of circulation” (Glave). They used their ability to live simultaneously in both opposite worlds, and became mediators between them, using their strategic position as a source of social capital and competitive advantage. Our reading of the Potosí Principle is a way of understanding the reverse side of two important forms of displacement that stemmed from the colonial situation. The displacement of the ritual roads of the wak’as toward the churches and their patron saints (both male and female), and the displacement of labor tributes, marked in precolonial times by festive ceremonies and conspicuous ritual consumption, towards the commercial circuits stemming from the colonial wak’a, the silver-rich mountain which harbored in its entrails a New World and a new God: Money.

The Qhipnayra of Displacement

Upon arriving in Cajamarca in 1532, the Spaniards found a population in constant flux: travelers and chaskis transited the circulatory system of the Qhapaq Ñan from the coast to the high mountain passes of the Cordillera (Andean Mountain Range). Llama caravans circulated from the high punas to the valleys of the east (manqha yunka) and the west: alax yunka or the yungas of the seashores. Each family and each dual community, each ayllu, each moietie and each lordship, had access to diverse resources, sometimes located as far as two or three weeks traveling time from the centers in the highlands where the largest part of the population and ethnic authorities lived. They undertook seasonal or prolonged residential migrations—as mitmaq, artisans, or specialized farmers—in distant and diverse regions and climates, or as participants in various work rotations of the mit’a. These circulatory displacements of living energy, which were crystallized in goods for daily or sumptuary consumption, sustained public works for irrigation, the construction of temples, bridges, roads, and fortresses as well as military incursions into hostile territories. The feminine energy was devoted to the production of highly valued sumptuary or symbolic goods: textiles, beverages, entheogenic preparations, all of which were offered to the wak’as or to the mummies of local ancestors as well as to the lineages of ancient lords and Inka kings. The Inkas generously compensated the tributary population with food, drink, and coca as well as textiles and other sumptuary goods, which served to seal the pacts between them and the royal authorities or the local lordships they gradually conquered and incorporated into the empire. These surplus materials were stored in the qullqas, pirwas or state food and textile storehouses. The main wak’as of Pachaqamaq, Titiqaqa, and Qusqu articulated the macro scale of this system: the knots/nodes of power that interwove exchanges and movements of people into an unceasing circulation and interconnection. This is why the communities and their pilgrims-dancers of the high-altitude wak’as were able to don lynx-fur or parrot-feather chestguards, consume coca and hot peppers, and fertilize their lands with the wanu that the birds deposited in the islands of the Pacific.

In the public ceremonies of all the great centers of power, we can imagine the variegated presence of jatunrunas, orejones, aqllas, mallkus, and kuraqas that traveled there, as well as common people from all the corners of the Inka territory. In those bodies wrapped in intricately woven cloths, it was possible to read in silent languages the demarcations of ethnic frontiers and the symbols of power and prestige of their local wak’as. All of this was marked in the body. The wak’a also names the woven belt of tokapus that every person from every ayllu, marka and diarchy wore: a language of self-identification that was placed in the middle (taypi) of the body and divided the upper entrails (chuyma) from the lower ones (puraka) identifying those who wore them with the ascendant and parallel lines of their ancestors and the local wak’as. The wak’a, then, was not only a sign in the landscape, a marker on the road or an apacheta that integrated the routes of a ritual pilgrimage in the manner of a knot in the string of a kipu. It also meant the embodying of the sacred in every human being: an internal wak’a, which was the result of productive labor and the fulfillment of ritual obligations—the basis for gaining recognition from the community. The physical markings in the waist transformed their carriers into persons (jaqi), that is, into a distinctive part of a human community, recognized at the same time by his/her homology and by his/her difference, as one among the myriad of cells that conformed the vaster indigenous polis of the ayllu, the moitie, the lordship or local kingdom and ultimately of the Inka empire. 

The Triumph of the Christ-Sun

The participants of the tinku in Macha see themselves as warriors of the Sun.2 Their myth of origin narrates the triumph of the Christ-Sun over the Chullpas of the older Aymara lordships. But at the same time, the Macha see the nexus of these two spheres as the roots of a sacred tree: a kind of natural usnu through which the earth is fertilized as the roots of the tree reach and nurture the seeds that will be sown, mediated by human invocations and libations as well as the blood of animal sacrifices. As a transposition of the agricultural rites of fertility, the drops of silver portrayed in the Virgen del Cerro painting3  seem to evoke the activation of the ancestral tree’sveins in a metaphoric conjunction with the divine milk.

In Santa Bárbara of K’ulta the battle between the Christ-Sun and the Chullpas severed the link with the latter: the K’ulta could no longer consider them as their ancestors (Abercrombie). This conception of the world derived in the cult of Santa Barbara—a mediator between antagonistic forces, a feminine patron saint of the lightning-bolt. Pastora Osco, a resident of a community close to Guaqui confirmed this to me: Santa Barbara is Santa Warawara (Saint Star), who handles the feminine lightning bolts of the alaxpacha. The civilizing vision of these myths and images displays a process of sweetening and seduction (Platt), a game of language that seeks to balance opposing forces. In integrating previous beliefs into a common system of meanings and sacred hierarchies, the people of the Andes attempted to establish a domesticating gesture as a way of summoning the possibility of the imposed gods being real and sacred. But the Inka form of incorporating—seducing and appropriating the wak’as of others—was transformed into colonial terror, into devastation and destruction. An interpellating ethos was formed in order to face this new logic, founded in the tight bond between ritual pilgrimages and commercial circuits. Thus, the thaki became the great metaphor of subaltern colonial subjectivity, in the way in which it subverted and re-signified the icons and forms of the imposed economic forms.

The network of pilgrimage and commercial routes constituted a geographical display of trajectories and physical displacements, at the same time sacred and profane, stemming from this conceptual basis. Its meticulous order and detailed register was the basis of the state-form that had emerged in pre-colonial times, attaining its most sophisticated form with the Inka State. We can imagine this net as a macro-scale spatial kipu, taking inventory and organizing all the circuits by recounting the various ways of offering tribute and labor.

The coercive connotations attributed to displacement stand in contrast with this proactive and dense image of subjects that move around and adapt while resisting the forced mit’a draft, using symbolic and linguistic codes that date back to an immemorial past. Therefore, the notion of displacement can no longer be conceived as a unilateral product of oppression and violence. The colonial invasion implied a radical shift in itineraries, but it also opened up unprecedented ways for the reconstitution of routes and ceremonial travels.

This does not imply that I conceal the dark side of the colonial process: the fragmentation and disarticulation of the ancient diarchies that controlled the multiple ecological levels of the Andean landscape, their distribution into encomiendas (assigning population to doctrinas and reducciones), the disputes over the control of tributaries, the physical and symbolic violence, and the banishment of their gods. But it does imply showing that the two faces are part of an articulating strategy, a mutual need for intelligibility. The solar deities, as much as the fish goddesses, and the chthonic forces of the earth, were hurled unto the manqhapacha: the space-time of the ancestors that the early ecclesiastic interpreters mistranslated into “hell.” The consequence was even more problematic than the diagnosis. The devil was incorporated into the autochthonous pantheon and is today a fundamental sacred force –at the same time generous and risky – in Andean religiosity. A space-territory was imposed over the networked geography that articulated the Inka polis, fenced in by administrative and ecclesiastical borders. European colonization formed a new map of fracturing powers: multiple obstacles and onerous fiscal burdens were imposed on displacements. A new, unprecedented map of hierarchies and privileges emerged. However, the proliferation of an uprooted indigenous population, which abandoned its places of origin and was received as forasteros in faraway communities, resulted in concerted strategies of fiscal evasion, which were nurtured by the commercial opportunities of the Potosí circuit. Abercrombie studied a notable case of these combined strategies in the route between Oruro and Potosí. Towards the end of the sixteenth century, in the Church of San Bernardo in the Villa Imperial, the cacique and mit’a captain Juan Colque Guarachi still exercised control over the vast diarchy of the Killakas-Asanaqis. His power was legitimate and lasting, perhaps because he invited the mit’ayos to generous libations, undertook the ritual akhulliku of coca leaves, and sponsored the distribution of staple and prestige foodstuffs. He was a great storyteller in the drinking binges and revelries that linked the pilgrimages of the mit’ayos to the rich mountain and to the cycle of their patronal festivities. Through his kipus, Colque Guarachi took account of the material aspects of the communal contribution to the colonial mining enterprise. But the kipus could have also served for organizing sacrificial cycles of drinking and ritual offerings to bring good fortune and avoid the dangers that this mass displacement of people entailed. Like the mallku Fernández Guarachi of Caquiaviri, with whom he was related, Juan Colque Guarachi contributed to the construction of a monumental Church, along with the Siñani cacique family of Carabuco and many others. These caciques were important merchants of various goods in the Potosí circuit. The captaincies of the mit’a and the whole system of colonial transferals and relocations were experienced as an overlapping space of negotiation and resistance, which took place in and through the market. There, the circulation of money intersected with the flows of prestige and legitimacy; the cult of the devils who owned the minerals intersected with the construction of Churches and the painting of devotional canvases and murals. These complex actions signal an identity process and a spiritual gesture capable of casting the ancient ethos of the thaki and labor-ritual transhumance in the new framework of colonial iconography. The undoubtedly sincere adoption of Catholicism and its main symbols and sacred narratives coexists, then, in a ch’ixi and variegated form, with a parallel continuity of practices of libation and memory that hark back to the earliest chroniclers’ descriptions of the indigenous cults before the arrival of the invaders. They both mutually counterbalance and generate metaphors of each other. There are paradoxical aspects of Catholicism both in Christian cults and in the libation rites and the ch’alla cycles in the communities. There are also paradoxical icons of animals and indigenous deities carved in the portals of Churches, or embroidered in the mantas and costumes of the dancers of the diablada, ch’uta, or morenada. In this entire trajectory, a new space of contestation and symbolic resistance has been reconstituted: a heterodox form that is inscribed in the language, in the bodies, and in the commercial circuits, which we have named takiy-thaki.

Heterodoxies and Heteronyms

Paired heteronyms, so characteristic of Andean languages, help us to think through these historical forms of indigenous resistance in an oblique and skewed fashion. The distinctive mark of Andean philosophical thought is “relationality” (Estermann, 1998): a gesture of continuous contextualization, integration, and re-signification of all the elements of lived or imagined experience. When these conceptual pairings are formed, new disjunctions come to light: alternative and bifurcating roads. A woven fabric of ethical valuations that combines parody, irony and corporal-aesthetic sensuousness. Hence, our idea of the ch’ixi forms a part of an associated and disjointing pair: ch’ixi-chhixi. The former is a condition of being “stained,” a dialectic without synthesis between two antagonizing agencies: the ch’ixi pole. The latter is a hybrid mix, insubstantial and perishable, which stems from a process of fusion and softening of limits: the chhixi pole. Only a slight semantic twist, a mere accent, differentiates them. But in their opposition we can see alternatives and potentialities: on the one hand, the decolonizing taypi, the possibility of a conscious miscegenation of Indian and Castilian (or Jewish, Arab or Flemish) stains with a syntax inscribed in language and with the experience of a lived contradiction. On the other hand we can see the model for a simulacrum of miscegenation: the “third republic,” hypocritical and mediocre, which has made of the mutual softening and seduction a pã chuyma tongue, a permanent process of duplicity, forgetting, and self-pity.

In the case of displacement, the thaki-taki pairing has given us a guideline to understand the transformations of Andean religiosity: the substitution of pre-Hispanic wak’as by Churches, saints and other sacred icons. The pilgrimage or ritual journey derives then in a taypi: a synthesis stained in both of its dimensions. The dancing procession is at once a thaki and a takiy, catholic and pagan, deployed in both devotion and transgression. It is the ch’ixi form,corporal and pragmatic, of the symbolic transactions that stemmed from the colonial tinku.

A last example of paired heteronyms can make our own dissidence with the official exhibit Principio Potosi more comprehensible. We regret that the only recognition Europeans have of our culture seems to be expressed either in terms of folklore or misery. This issue can be dealt through the opposition between khiyki and kirki. The former can be translated as the act of complaining, and has been incorporated into our Castimillano or urbandino dialect, the broken, obtuse Castilian—as the reflexive verbal form khaykhear: to publicly explode in cries or lamentations about one’s own woes and sufferings in the midst of a bout of drinking. Kirkiña, on the other hand, means to sing melodies, to express the sorrow of the soul in the rhythm and cadence of dance or ritual. Well-intentioned solidarity can be dangerous and paralyzing because it feeds an attitude of lamentation, and activates the perverse relation between Western guilt and Indian resentment. In contrast, the song cries out and untangles the knots of suffering, the bitterness of oppression, just as it exalts one’s own body in a liberating delirium. It does so from a solid subject position, from the standpoint of an autonomous consciousness.

Ch’ixiDisplacements in the Global Market

The main Fiesta of Guaqui, in honor of Saint James (Santiago) is a spectacular stage for the symbolic self-representation of transnational Aymaras, those powerful entrepreneurs capable of the substantial investments that we described in the beginning. Speaking to one of the dancers of the Morenada, I asked her why the sponsors (pasantes) had chosen the image of the “China-man” as the carved representation on the matraca (large hand rattle) that would be the emblem for the whole comparsa (dance troupe). She answered in Aymara: “that’s because those little Chinese are so intelligent… they know how to do everything, they produce everything.” China’s manufacturing power seems to have incarnated in the rattles that these dancers uniformly swirled in the air as they approached the Church, as if they were handling lucky and fertilizing illas of sorts. And this is not just a metaphor. Some of the organizers of Andean festivities intervene directly in the commercial circuits of the textile industry in Chinese cities. The women from the winning dance troupe of the Tata Gran Poder Fiesta of 2009 donned an outfit designed by the visual artist Mamani Mamani. In the lower fold of their skirts one could see a design of pumas in the Tiwanaku style, and an embroidered and stylized yellow-orange sun in their shawls (mantas). The sumptuous dress, worn by almost one thousand dancers, could be understood as a logo for these new aesthetic and productive forms. The pasantes import the fabrics all the way from China and take them through hidden contraband routes via Iquique or Arica to the Bolivian cities where the dances will be performed. In the process, they have activated dozens of transnational relations and affective bonds. As they reach La Paz or El Alto, it’s the turn of the pollereras (hand sewn pollera seamstresses) and macramé weavers of the long fringes of the shawls. The minutiae of these personalized processes allow these producers to satisfy a multitude of clients, according to their size, waistline and habits. Thus the finished garments have turned into an emblem, a prodigious product of the “globalization from below,” which is marked by informality and illegality, but nevertheless carries a powerful symbolic and material force, capable of obstructing or even diverting the very sense of direction of transnational capital’s domination. This is rational, from one standpoint, but it becomes irrational from the opposite one. Thus, what the euro centered mind names as progress and defines as the product of an organized development of scientific procedures and accounting practices, happens to be incomprehensible from the opposite standpoint. For the cosmopolitan Indian couple who has sponsored the fiesta, how insipid life must be for those who enjoy their riches in solitude. Similarly, for the rational man it is surely absurd to believe in the miracles of Tata Santiago, which according to the pasante’s family, will enable him a rapid recovery of the moneys squandered in his honor. But the community members ask themselves: What punishment will the angry saint inflict upon the non believers and the greedy? 

One could even ask a common sense question: why would the huge expenditure in the sponsoring of a collective explosion of excesses, dances and revelries would be more irrational or savage than the speculative transactions in the stock exchanges of New York or London, stimulated by a couple of jales [lines of cocaine]? To what extent are dance and enjoyment, the overindulgence and binge drinking, opposed to the ethic of capitalism? The most intimate conviction of the participants points towards the long term social and collective value of these acts, their exclusion from the rational order of capital. This is because, in lieu of a savings account these entrepreneurs foster ritual redistribution, a gesture that is capable to create communal bonds that will be used and redirected towards the success of their transnational enterprises. One of the revelers in the festivity of Santiago told me joyfully: “Money is worthless, what is worth is affection.” But at the same time he affirms that what the pasante spends today, even at the risk of falling into debt, Tata Santiago will return augmented throughout the year. Thus, the festivity recreates a community of loyalties, and at the same time feeds into the flow of labor displacements. A fabric is thus formed from threads of opposite colors, a transnational neo-community who’s contradictory and ch’ixi identity allows for the permanently tense coexistence of the logics of accumulation and ritual consumption, of individual prestige and collective affirmation.

The transnational communities of migrant Aymaras transit, then, within a postcolonial thaki, constituted by cyclical ebbs and flows. In their displacements, they articulate fashion fads with recovered traditions; they invent genealogies and reinterpret myths, staining the fabrics of a global industry with their pumas and their suns, transforming their high-tonnage trucks into altars for saints and demons. The scenario of the Aymara labor diaspora contains then something more than oppression and suffering: it is a space for the reconstitution of subjectivity and agency, as is surely the case with all the scenarios of domination—including the most brutal— if we dare to look beyond the figure of the sacrificial victim. The reverse action of the contemporary takis-thakis alters the rhythm of the neocolonial capitalist machine, creates intermediary spaces, and re-appropriates the methods and practices of the global market, just as it affirms its autochthonous circuits, its repertoire of special knowledges, and the advantages and artifices that allow these communities and enterprises to self-confidently face this unequal scenario and its many forms of violence.

Silvia Rivera Cusicanqui is a Bolivian sociologist and activist. She is Professor Emeritus at the public university in La Paz. Since the 1970s, she has worked with the Aymara movement, both in the Altiplano and in the Yunga coca leaf production region. She is the author of various books, including Oprimidos pero no vencidos. Luchas del campesinado aymara y quichwa de Bolivia, 1900-1980 (La Paz, 1984) and Las fronteras de la coca (La Paz, 2003). She has also made films and videos, both fiction and non fiction—Sueno en el cuarto rojo and Viaje a la frontera del sur, among others. In 1983, along with other Aymara intellectuals, she contributed to the creation of the Andean Oral History Workshop. In 2009, she formed the group of cultural activists, Colectivo Ch’ixi. With members from this group she presented the dissident Catalog, Principio Potosí Reverso at the Museo Reina Sofía de Madrid. She has been visiting professor at various universities in the United States, at the École Practique des Hautes Études de Paris and at the Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO) in Quito. In 1990, she received the Guggenheim Fellowship.
  1. William Camacho has coined the wordurbandinoto allude to the Indian andcholo[mestizo] face of Bolivian cities.Quechumarais another neologism, proposed by the linguist Rodolfo Cerrón Palomino to affirm the nexus between the main Andean languages: Qichwa and Aymara.
  2. Throughout this text I have alluded to the work of Teresa Gisbert, Wamán Puma de Ayala, John Murra, Olivia Harris, Therese Bouse, Enrique Tandeter, Verónica Cereceda, Denise Arnold, Juan de Dios Yapita, Luis Glave, Roland Barthes, Maurice Hallbwachs, Gabriel Martínez, Carlos Sempat Assadourian, and further on to that of Tristan Platt (1996) and Thomas Abercrombie (2005). See Works Cited.
  3. Anonymous, eighteenth century. Museo Casa de la Moneda, Potosi. InPrincipio Potosi Reverso,p. 29
Works Cited

Abercrombie, Thomas. 2005. Caminos de la memoria y del poder. Etnografía e historia en una comunidad andina. La paz: IFEA-IEB-ASDI

Arnold, Denise; Yapita, Juan de Dios and Elvira Espejo. 2007. Hilos sueltos: los Andes desde el textil. La Paz: Plural and ILCA

Arnold, Denise and Juan de Dios Yapita. 1998. Río de vellón, río de canto. Cantar a los animales, una poética andina de la creación. La Paz: HISBOL.

Arnold, Denise; Jímenez Arequipa, Domingo and Juan de Dios Yapita. 1992. Hacia un orden andino de las cosas. La Paz: HISBOL and ILCA.

Assadourian, Carlos Sempat. 1979. “La producción del mercancia dinero en la formación del mercado interno colonial. El caso del espacio peruano, siglo XVI.” in Ensayos sobre desarrollo económico de México y América Latina. México: FCE

Barthes, Roland. 1995. Lo obvio y lo obtuso. Imágenes, gestos, voces. Barcelona: Paidós.

Bouysse-Casagne, Thérése. 1987. La identidad aymara: una aproximación histórica. La Paz: CERES-IFEA

----- 1988. Lluvias y cenizas. Dos Pachacuti en la Historia. La Paz: HISBOL

Cereceda, Verónica. 1987. “Aproximaciones a una estética andina: de la belleza al tinku” in Tres reflexiones sobre el pensamiento andino. Bouysse-Casagne, et al. La Paz: HISBOL.

Gisbert, Teresa. 2007. La fiesta en el tiempo. La Paz: Unión Latina

----- 2004. “El cielo y el infierno en el mundo virreinal del sur andino” in Memoria del II encuentro Internacional. Barroco y fuentes de la diversidad cultural. Norma Campos Vera, ed. La Paz: Viceministerio de cultura, Unión Latina and UNESCO.

----- 1999. El Paraíso de los Pájaros Parlantes. La imagen del otro en la cultura andina. La Paz: Plural and UNSLP

----- 1984. Iconografía y mitos indígenas en el arte. La Paz.

----- 1984a. “El ídolo de Copacabana. La Vírgen María y el mundo mítico de los aimaras.” Yachay. Revista de cultura, filosofía y teología. Vol. 1, No. 1

Glave, Luis Miguel. 1989. Trajinantes. Caminos indígenasen la sociedad colonial. Lima: Instituto de Apoyo Agrario. 

Guamán Poma de Ayala, Felipe (Waman Puma). [1615] 1980. El primer Nueva Corónica y buen gobierno. John Murra and Rolena Adorno (ed.). México: Siglo XXI

Hallbwachs, Maurice. 2004. Los marcos sociales de la memoria. Madrid: Anthropos

----- 1997. “La memoria colectiva y el espacio” [1950] in Mimeógrafo. Silvia Rivera, trad. La Paz: Aruyiwiri

Harris, Olivia. 1987. “Phaxsima y qullqi. Los poderes y significados del dinero en el norte del Potosí.” in La participación indígena en los mercados surandinos: Estrategias y reproducción social, siglos XVI a XX. O. Harris, B. Larson and E. Tandeter (eds.). La Paz: CERES 

----- 1978. “De la symmetrie au triangle: Transformations symboliques au nord de Potosí.” Annales. Paris: E.S.C 33, pp. 5–6

Martínez, Gabriel. 1989. Espacio y pensamiento I. Andes meridionales. La Paz: HISBOL

Murra, John V. 1975. Formaciones económicas y políticas del mundo andino. Lima: IEP

Platt, Tristan. 1996. Los guerreros de Cristo. Cofradías, misa solar y guerra regenerativa en una parroquia andina. La Paz: ASUR and Plural

Tandeter, Enrique. 1997. Coacción y mercado. La minería de la plata en el Potosí colonial 1692-1826. Buenos Aires: Sudamericana.