Ayllu - Embracing our relationship with Life

This is my fourth visit, over seven years to the Andean part of Bolivia. Each time I stay for many weeks, this time for six months. It was on my first visit that I encountered the concept of ‘ayllu’, which is pronounced ‘eye-you’. The dictionary might tell you that ayllu means ‘family’, but it means far more than what is considered family in English. The word occurs in both Quechua and Aymara - the two most generally spoken of many Andean languages. It’s widely used, because it encompasses everything.

Your ayllu is all the humans you encounter on a regular basis - family and friends and acquaintances; it’s also all the other species you encounter on a regular basis - your cat, the dog next door, the sparrow on the fence post and so on. Andean culture is always inclusive of previous generations and individuals frequently call on the wisdom of ancestors to help with problems. So allyu also encompasses all the spirits you encounter on a regular basis. In the West we usually exclude all mention of these, certainly excluding them from all practical matters.

So ayllu is obviously to do with relationships on a very broad basis, but alongside the concept of ayllu is the concept of Pachamama. Freely translated as Mother Earth, Pachamama is a far more active component of Life than our loosely used term implies and has led to a whole nation - Bolivia - considering, at governmental level, the impact of artificial fertilizers, mining, other modern farming practices, transportation and water distribution to see how adverse effects can be minimised, if not eliminated altogether - to protect Pachamama.

When I first came to Bolivia, seven years ago and encountered ayullu, it resonated with me like nothing else ever had, because it was something I had been applying in my own life, but for which I had no name. In a hierarchical society, like any in Europe and most of the rest of the world, it’s very hard to get ‘equivilancy’ accepted as a concept, let alone a practice. ‘Equivilancy’ is an abstract idea, but I applied it by calling all other living creatures - my ecokin. ‘Eco’, because it’s an acceptable prefix, widely understood to refer to flora and fauna of all types and ‘kin’, because that’s what we are!

There’s a parable about a sparrow falling and Jesus claiming that even that was under God’s constant eye. Few of us give God’s eye much thought these days, but the idea of sparrows and people both being appropriate to God’s attention is also an example of ‘equivilancy’. When you love something, you also respect it. Love, like Mother Earth, is an outdated concept, debased by populist sentimentality. However, it’s a sensation we all harbour for some people and/or some creatures, even if we keep it to ourselves.

Observe the world around you: the elegance of grass blades, the happiness in daisies’ faces that always face the Sun; the different sounds the wind makes in different species of trees - their size and their leaf shapes break up the wind into varied patterns; the variety of wing beats between bird species - the broad sweep of the heron’s wing and the invisible flutter of the goldfinch as it snatches seeds from the thistle. These and billions more - many of them invisible microbes - are our relations. They deserve our care, because we are all interdependent.

The bee, the slug, the eagle, the ant - they and all others are our relations. Their genes are only very slightly different from ours. See how you can bring the notion of allyu into your life - all creatures have a place in this endless cycle of birth, growth, reproduction and death.

About the author: 

Judith is a well-known and highly respected Irish Herbalist in Donegal. She offers a range of courses that cover plant identification, remedy-making techniques, and drying herbs.

For details contact Judith on 07497 36406 or email [email protected]