Coastal Desert - Worldview

Fragment of Chancay cloth

The three basic principles of the Andean worldview have existed since ancient times:

  • 1. Everything in the universe has a pair
  • 2. Nothing can be taken without giving something in return
  • 3. A person's livelihood depends on a community of others

These principles were a response to the landscape, and were important to every coastal culture.

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Detailed view of a Moche loin cloth panel

Ancient Andeans believed that everything in the universe has a complementary half, and at every level, things are bonded as pairs. Husband and wife, north and south, high and low, positive and negative. Scholars call this type of thinking dualistic. It affected the way Andeans organized their societies. This way of thinking is evident to us when we look at their art.

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Detailed view of a Moche polychrome stirrup vessel

Andeans also believed in a system of give and take, which scholars call reciprocity. All things achieved by humans were thought to be at the allowance of the gods (such as this major deity of the Moche people, as depicted on a ceramic vessel). In turn for the good fortune the gods provided, humans were obliged to repay them with prayers, devotion and sacrifices. It was fundamental that the gods be repaid and the balance of give and take preserved.

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View of agricultural landscape

Many coastal peoples made their living fishing. However, the reeds used to build their boats and the cotton fibres and gourds used to make their nets were all a product of agricultural activity. In addition to producing crops like cotton, which were used to make fishing equipment and garments, many coastal peoples farmed to produce the crops required for food and trade. Agriculture on the coast required extensive irrigation canals to increase farmable land, a very labour-intensive task. From very early times, Andeans realized that the only way to thrive in the desert was as a larger community, a fact that shaped how they understood and saw the world.


Image: Sterile sand lies side by side with productive soil in the Moche Valley where extensive present day irrigation brings patches of green to an otherwise desolate landscape.

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