Communal Workdays in the Andes

Posted by Dusty Christensen – MA Candidate at CLACS / Global Journalism at NYU

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Kichwa men in the village of Turuku digging a ditch for a water pipe as part of a communal work day known as a minga. (Photo by Dusty Christensen)

Early in the morning, before the daily summer winds start to howl, the music comes blaring out of the church loudspeaker. The guitars, charangos and flutes carry across the village of Turuku, waking everyone who wasn’t already out in the fields. Though the announcement won’t come for another hour, everyone knows what the wake-up call is for — today is a communal work day.

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Alberto Anrango, the president of the indigenous village of Turuku, announcing the minga over the village loudspeakers. (Photo by Dusty Christensen)

At 7 o’clock — an hour after the music has started — community President Alberto Anrango pics up the mic and begins his impromptu speech. “Ladies and gentlemen,” he begins in Kichwa, his voice crackling over the old speakers mounted on top of the chapel roof. “Don’t forget that today is the minga.” He urges everyone to bring pickaxes and shovels, and warns that those skipping today will be fined by the village government.

The minga is a tradition that predates the arrival of the Spanish. Like in many regions across the world, the Kichwa here on the outskirts of Cotacachi organize communal workdays — similar to a barn raising, for example — to solve problems in the community. The minga is an act of reciprocity; after working all day in the sun, workers are often greeted with food and drink — in this case, provided by the village government. The tradition extends across the Andes, and is a unique was of establishing reciprocal bonds between members of a community, linked by the work they do to improve the village.

On this particular day, we set out at 7:30 in the morning to fix a water pipe; a large section of the village had been without water for over a week, and so a minga was organized. The job takes several hours of digging — the blisters on this researcher’s soft hand can confirm that — but we are able to put in the new pipe, cover it up with dirt and breathe a sigh of relief. Now, the whole community has water again.

The minga takes place on a number of different levels in Cotacachi: at the municipal level, at the local village or neighborhood level, and even within families, when all members of a family work towards a mutually beneficial task. The very next weekend, my host family rounds up grandpa, the kids, dad, mom and some aunts to plant out in the field. The work will pay off come harvest time for the whole family, although try telling that to the grumbling children wondering why they are awake so early on a Sunday morning.

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