Developing People and Plants: Life-Cycle and Agricultural Festivals in the Andes

By Bourque, L. Nicole | Ethnology, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

Developing People and Plants: Life-Cycle and Agricultural Festivals in the Andes


Bourque, L. Nicole, Ethnology


In the Andes, there is a close link between people and plants. The production, consumption, and distribution of crops dominates daily life and defines social boundaries. The association of people and plants also occurs at a symbolic level. This is demonstrated by investigating the parallels between life-cycle and agricultural festivals in Sucre, an Ecuadorian Indian community, where fieldwork was carried out from 1989 to 1990. Sucre people believe that if plants and people are to mature and reach their full potential, they must be assisted by festivals. Life-cycle festivals involve the development of individuals and their households. Annual festivals are concerned with the maturation and fertility of crops. These festivals mark stages of development. They also demonstrate that progression from one stage of development to the next requires both human and supernatural support. The link between the development of people and crops is manifested in the use of plant imagery to explain human growth and reproduction. It is also emphasized in festivals such as Finados and Easter, which are important during both the life-cycle of people and the development cycle of crops.

LIFE-CYCLE FESTIVALS

Sucre has two main categories of life-cycle festivals: (1) childhood festivals (e.g., baptism and confirmation); and (2) adulthood festivals (e.g., marriage). Life-cycle festivals promote the social, physical, and spiritual development of an individual. They divide a person's life into a series of stages, each associated with a different social status. Every stage is a prerequisite for the stages that follow; for example, a man who has not been baptized may not marry. Without a wife, affines, children, and compadres (coparents), he will lack the social network to become a fully respected adult member of the community. Life-cycle festivals expand, redefine, and reaffirm the kin network of all the participants. Kin networks play an important role in agricultural work exchange networks.

Baptism and Confirmation

Baptism is the first major life-cycle festival. In local belief, if a person dies without being baptized, the soul does not go to heaven. Van Gennep (1960:63,93) notes that baptism first "separates" the child from the devil. A name and God's blessing are then given which "incorporate" the child into society (Van Gennep 1960:54,62). In the Andes, this belief is reflected in the practice of referring to nonbaptized children as aucas (Stutzman 1981:82; Christinat 1989:63). This term refers to inhabitants of the jungle and means savage or uncivilized. Its contrast is cristiano (Christian), which is used in Sucre and in other parts of Ecuador to refer to adult Andean Indians who have been baptized. Cristianos, in comparison to aucas, are said to be "civilized" and able to distinguish "right from wrong" (Stutzman 1981:82). The ability of a children to distinguish between right and wrong (a characteristic of being civilized) increases as they grow (Ackerman 1985:53). Therefore, life-cycle rituals indicate stages in the process of becoming civilized. During baptism children are separated from the aucas and during confirmation they are incorporated into the Christian community. Marriage continues this process.

Padrinos (godparents) play an important role in the child's spiritual, social, and physical development. They aid the child's spiritual growth by ensuring he attends catechism and maintains the Christian faith. They assist the social development of their godchildren by providing animals and an extended kin network. The significance of padrinos in the physical development of their godchildren is evident during the baptismal feast. They must eat and drink to excess, else the child will not learn to walk or talk, In Colombia, the power of baptism to promote growth is illustrated by the beliefs surrounding el bautizo del billete (the baptism of the bill) (Taussig 1980:126). If the padrino secretly holds a peso bill during a baptism ceremony, it will be baptized instead of the child. …

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