Andean civilisation is unique in many ways. It is the only great civilisation that originated on the mountain range – the Andes, after which it got its name. Also, it is the only one in which an empire of continental proportions was created, but which did not have a script, a wheel, riding animals, or even money. When all the circumstances are taken into account, a common sense question arises – how is any civilisation, let alone an empire, possible in such conditions? One of the possible answers lies in the ancient and still present principles of Andean societies – yanantin and masintin.


In the Andean world, everything exists in duality – city, parts of the world, cosmos, society, man. Everyone/everything is connected to someone else and together they form a complementary whole. It is this view of life that has built into Andean societies an unbreakable faith in togetherness, solidarity and cooperation.


Masintin – a complementary friendship


Masintin is a term composed of the word “masi” which means “friend” and the suffix -tnin which means belonging, creating a community, complementing, what accompanies someone or something. Roughly speaking, the term could be understood as a complementary friendship and it is something that accompanies every member of the Andean community from birth to death. Even after that! Everyone is connected to someone, and even a person that is single is in relationship with his/her community. Also, all children are “masintin”, in relation to their parents. However, it is not an eternal state and in order to reach full maturity and develop a personality, it is necessary to live with a partner:


“[U]npartnered people are missing an important part of them. They say that when you don’t have a partner, you are only half of a being. Alone, you are precious, you are unique, but you are only part. You are not whole yet. This is because when you are by yourself, you are either accumulating so much that it is overwhelming or you are draining yourself so much that you become weak. Because of that, you will feel fear or confused or lost. … you may know yourself, but you can never see yourself. For that you need another person. You need other eyes, another perspective to see that. When you are a child, you have your parents, but when you become older you no longer have your parents to see you, to recognise you. As an adult, your yanantin, your partner, is the person who is there to see what you don’t see in yourself, just as you are there to see in that person what he doesn’t see in himself. That is why it is easier to take care of another person than of yourself—because you are not supposed to take care of yourself! For that, there is the other person.”[1]


Yanantin – a complementary partnership


So what makes us complete is yanantin. When children mature, they start looking for their “yana” (lovers, partners), in order to become “yanantin” – harmoniously paired, complemented. It is also done with the help of “masintin”, that is, through friendship and getting to know each other, through building relationships on what unites and completes us. This is the only way to grow and mature – in the eyes and through the care and tenderness of someone else. From the word “yana” came another Quechua word “yanapay” which means help, which can again be obtained through a relationship of love with another person.


“Love relationships in Quechua[2] are always based on mutual help. The more you help someone, the more you love him,” says Arawi Ruiz, a Quechua historian and chairman of the Quechua Academy of Humanities[3]. “Duality always exists, so that we are aware of the needs of the other. Duality also exists within the individual himself – in the relationships and needs of his male and female sides of personality”, emphasises Ruiz.


Chakana – Andean symbol of Duality @TourInPeru



Asymmetry as a condition of motion


Although one of the translations of the term yanantin is mutual complementarity, one of its main features is asymmetry, inequality. Although at first glance it may resemble Taoism or dialectics, there are no contradictions here:


“For us, yanantin doesn’t focus on the differences between two beings. That is what disconnects them. Instead, we focus on the qualities that brought them together. That is yanantin. We don’t really see the differences. That’s why we see them as not necessarily opposed, but as complementary. One on its own can’t hold everything, can’t take care of everything. Not only are they great together, but they need to be together. There is no other way. When there is another, it represents extra strength for both.”[4]


In that relation, one side is always stronger, more dominant. And it is in this difference that brings dynamism, mobility and change. Disparity is the basis of reality and represents the force that allows things to happen. Asymmetric dualism believes that reality is made up of different and even opposing forces, but which need each other to be complete, that is, yanantin.


That these are not extreme contradictions is also indicated by the fact that homosexual couples could also be yanantin. “In Andean civilisation, homosexuality was considered sacred. Also, femininity was considered divine and the more feminine someone was, the closer he was to Pachamama – the mother goddess of this world. “Even men here speak ‘softer,’ as an expression of decency and good manners,” says historian Ruiz. What a cruel contrast to Christian patriarchy! Today, same-sex couples are no longer allowed to be called yanantin, but are classified as masintin, due to the pressure and domination of the Catholic Church and its traditions.


Yanantin as a basic value and principle of Andean civilization


Almost no pristine civilisation has so deeply and omnipresently insisted on the needs of the other, on solidarity out of love and on the concern for reciprocity as its basic and fundamental values. Such a setting of society also explains that many Andean cultures, such as the Caral / Norte Chico civilisation, managed to build stunning temples and cities at the same time as the Egyptians built the pyramids. However, unlike Mesopotamia, China, or Egypt, buildings were built here without any signs of coercion, war, violence, or the need for defense — all cities were open and without walls[5]. All this leads to the assumption that people were not led there by force or flight, but by unity and faith in the common good.


Caral – Norte Chico civilisation @npg.org



Reciprocity was also a basic principle for the economy of the Inca civilisation. Without money, this empire managed to achieve a distributive economy. Similar to the principles of communism (to everyone as needed), the system developed joint works (mita) and cooperative warehouses that equipped all citizens with everything they needed to live and work – food, clothing, weapons and tools. But in addition to the very sophisticated social policy of the state, there has always been a custom among the Andean peoples of mitk’a – that is, mutual assistance in work. This help was not charged (money certainly did not exist), but was repaid when the other party needed help.


Andean people have achieved what would be unthinkable in the so-called Old World – they have built civilisations on solidarity. Certainly, it was not a world without wars and bloodshed. Let us cite only the example of the Inca Empire, which conquered the entire northwest of South America through diplomacy and armed force. However, the cultural code of the Andean world has woven solidarity into everyday life and has not been able to exist without it. Even after the colonial conquest and destruction of local states and elites, among the people of the Andes even today yanantin and masintin form the basis of society and economy and make it an example of overcoming impossible obstacles through a deep faith that through caring for neighbour we provide welfare for all, even for ourselves.


Cover illustration: Screenshot of the animated video “Origin Story of the Inca” @Smithsonian National Museum of American Indian


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[1] Webb, Hillary S. (2012). Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World: Complementary Dualism in Modern Peru. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press. P.139

[2] Quechua are a native people of South America who speak the Quechua language, which was the official language of the Inca civilization

[3] Correspondence with Professor Arawi Ruiz, 23 September 2020.

[4] Webb, Hillary S. (2012). P.24

[5] Mann, Charles C. (7 January 2005). “Oldest Civilization in the Americas Revealed”. Science. 307 (5706): p. 34–35