Revista Yachaikuna
Working Papers
Boletin ICCI Rimai
A monthly publication of the Institute for Indigenous Sciences and Cultures (IISC)
Year 2, No. 17, August 2000

General Edition: Pablo Davalos
Editorial Direction: Luis Macas
Design: Rocamadour
Electronic Edition: Marc Becker


También disponible en español.

Indigenous institutions: The llacta - ayllu

Luis Macas

Within the process of reconstructing our ancestral peoples and nations, it is important to stress the role of the institutions that have been established through-out our history whose primary function has been to ensure continuity of indigenous peoples’ historical and ideological reproduction.

We highlight the essential elements that constitute the institution now known the Kichwa peoples as the llacta, or the ayllu or jatun ayllu which can loosely be translated as ‘commune’ (“group of people or settlement for the pursuit of common interests and sharing goods”) rather than the catch-all term of ‘community’.

The llacta – ayllu is the organizational nucleus of indigenous society, the fundamental hub that articulates and provides its coherence. This historical institution is the fundamental primary social structure that lies at the center of indigenous people’s organizational development; the fundamental basis on which culture, society, politics, history and ideology are concentrated and processed.

The llacta - ayllu is a cultural and social referent in which the values and principles that guide and regulate people’s actions are developed, for example:

  • Mutual help
  • The value commonly-held goods
  • The relation of respect with nature
  • Solidarity
  • Social responsibility
  • The principles of collective discussion
  • Respect for others

The llacta – ayllu is therefore at the center of cultural reproduction and history where ideology is generated and where practices, coexistence, learning and social customs are developed that serve as the central means for articulating indigenous people’s worldview.

The llacta – ayllu is also the historical institution that became the basis of indigenous resistance and a vital component of our identity, as many outside social and political commentators have noted.

Eric Wolf, for example, when writing about the Aztecs and Mayas says, “it’s a corporate and closed family. These peasants only use their land for their subsistence and not to be traded for profit”. The same goes for Chayanov who writes, “...peasants cannot be understood in terms of ‘utility’. Their activity is a form of subsistence and not a commercial activity that seeks profit. Families are a productive unit but are not linked to the market economy.”

Within the llacta – ayllu social and historical practices are carried out that run counter to western cultural values. The absence of criteria such as “profit” and “gain” makes the llacta - ayllu unviable as regards developing mechanisms of the market and capitalist accumulation, which is a fundamental reason why indigenous people with their llacta – ayllu are to this day considered as being “an obstacle to social development”. According to this Western view it is necessary to “modernize the Indians”, destroy their communities and integrate them into the market economy. In other words, to continue imposing neocolonialism from an ideological position that posits the superiority of “modern civilization” over that of the indigenous world.

Essentially, we argue that it is indispensable to recognize the llacta - ayllu as an indigenous institution that is a fundamental contribution to today’s society. This recognition is part of a strategy to preserve people’s living memory and build different terms of reference to those of western “modernity” and all that that entails.

We must give these historical contributions, such as the llacta – ayllu, the rightful category of ‘institutions’, which have also been a strategy of resistance that have ensured indigenous peoples’ presence throughout history in the face of neocolonialist impositions.

Institute for Indigenous Sciences and Cultures (IISC)

Address: Buenos Aires 1028 y Estados Unidos
Quito, Ecuador

P.O. Box: 17-15-50B
Tel/Fax 593-2-2229-093
E-mail: icci@waccom.net.ec

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