This post about yanantin, masintin, ayni and pachacuti is going to be a roller coaster of information. It’s difficult getting an entire philosophy summary into one comprehensive post. This is going to be short and sweet.

Oh, and there’s a lot of strange words. There’s a glossary at the bottom to help you follow along. So, here we go.

Yanantin is a basic principle of those living traditionally in the Andes mountains, and to some extent, along with the coast. It dates back thousands of years, and the teachings are still with us despite it never having been written down until recently. Yanantin to Ancient Andeans is what the Law of Moses is to Jews, the principles of Yin-Yang in traditional Chinese Culture, and the Golden Rule in Modern Westernism.

Yanantin can be considered as opposing pairs that continually give to each other in order to create existence. This process of the opposites or pairs as I’d rather call them, creating something new is called masintin.

A Moche and Inca style vessel

Vessel demonstrating yanantin. The spouts are opposite colors and opposite directions yet are a pair. They come together to form one object.

Yanantin preaches that everything has a pair, and the pairs are opposites. The pairs, although they are opposites, don’t threaten one another, in fact, one cannot exist without the other. Yanantin doesn’t view these pairs as opposites but as a set of the same thing. Existence is pretty much dependent on the tension created by the opposition, so long as the opposition is balanced with each giving and taking at an equal rate. If one over-rules the other both suffer the same extent.

Yanantin doesn’t celebrate the differences between opposites, but what brought them together and is created by their parity: what is born when the opposites are put together. But putting opposites together doesn’t necessarily do anything. It’s the giving and taking that each of the pairs do that creates something new. The giving and taking are called ayni in Quechua.

Ayni is reciprocity between the pairs (Man provides sperm for baby, woman provides egg baby; mountains provide moisture for crops, lowlands provide flatland for crops) it is practiced in each aspect of Andean Culture from day giving way tonight or a neighbor giving his time and effort to help a neighbor with construction his house because he helped you. As long as ayni is adhered to, with both sides giving and taking evenly, prosperity, security, and all the good sorts of things happen as they are supposed to. When one side takes or holds instead of adhering to ayni, then things fall out of balance. I will go more in-depth about ayni in a different post. Right now we’re focusing on yanantin; however, in order for yanantin to work, ayni must happen. In fact, it’s always happening.

Archeologists can trace the origins of yanantin to the Chavín culture based on imagery: idols, art, and designs. How they can tell is because these items come in pairs. There are the unique chicha vassals of the Andes that date back thousands of years, there are sculptures of creatures that are a combination of animals that live in the lower and upper worlds, serpents and birds. There are textile designs that are symbolical of opposites as well with Incanic designs take these to a new level as you can see in the pictures. There are pottery remnants from the north and the south of the Andes paying respect to yanantin and ayni.

It is commonly accepted that yanantins spread throughout the Andes spread with what is called the Chavín culture. The Chavín culture engulfed the Andes and data suggests that it was more of a belief system than a culture. Either way, it was the first wide-spread ideology to spread throughout the Andes on a grand scale. That makes sense because yanantin, ayni, and masintin are so well embedded in Andean communities from north to south, mountain to sea. One of the other fascinating facts about the spread of the Chavín culture was that it coincides with the widespread use of maize in the Andes. From the time of the Chavín, whichever culture was to dominate the Andes, maize and yanantin played a significant role.

Lanzon Sculpture at Chavin de Huantar

Lanzon Sculpture at Chavin de Huantar. The courtyard is set up to disorient those that go. Each object is representative of yanantin.

The first archeological significant artifact that represents yanantin is the Lanzon sculpture at Huantar de Chavín. This is a tall sculpture that signifies opposites in all its forms. It’s a big tourist attraction in Peru and many tourists say that they still feel the serenity of the location upon their visit.

“[Looking at Lanzón] was like seeing something out of a nightmare. Logically, I couldn’t say why it had such a profound effect. Certainly, the Lanzón’s face with its fangs and strange hybrid expression was eerie, but my reaction was totally unexpected and completely non-rational. The only way I can describe what it was to sit there in front of it is that looking at it was like trying to stare directly into the sun. Kneeling there, I had the sense that if I were to spend too much time with it, something inside me might be obliterated, might collapse from the power of it. An eclipse of the soul might occur that would be too much for my psyche to handle.” – Webb.

So the reason you don’t hear about yanantin is that it was almost destroyed, and it’s struggling to survive? It’s easy to assume premise. Anyone reading this is probably familiar with Western ideology which views an end as the end. In Andean worldview this is not a case: nothing really ends. Ever. Not even yanantin. It just changes, and change is to be expected. And change is meant to be embraced. It is easy for a Westerner to view the philosophy of yanantin as struggling to survive, but to think that is to show your ignorance of the philosophy.

What’s the opposite of thriving? Struggling.

So if yanantin is to thrive, it must also struggle. Only that way will it exist.

Or it could be undergoing a Pachacuti. Look, another weird word!

Yanantin preaches that the balance between pairs is rarely achieved long term. One side typically wins over the other. When that occurs a re-shuffling occurs called a Pachacuti. It is an era of change until yanatin is

Inca tunic with traditional pattern

Each image on this Inca textile represents yanantin (opposing pairs) in some form or another. This is typical of Inca textiles.


The Inca empire was not the first empire in the Andes to fall or rise, there were at least 20 of them. Each began with a pachacuti, and each ended with a pachacuti. Perhaps the philosophy of yanantin which is based on change needed to undergo a Pachacuti itself. Maybe the belief system was growing to rigid. Too much old, not enough new: it was out of balance. The yanantin philosophy goes to show that it will only emerge again, but different than the past.

When yanantin re-emerges, it will have undergone the necessary changes demanded of it by itself and be more fitting for this new world. To try to dig up what yanantin was to the Incas as a way to live today would violate the philosophy.

This is a very board overview and there will be more in-depth posts about yanantin, ayni, masintin, and pachacuti in the future.

Webb, Hillary S. Yanantin and Masintin in the Andean World: Complementary Dualism in Modern Peru (Kindle Locations 1978-1983). University of New Mexico Press. Kindle Edition.

Anyi: Reciprocity
Yanantin: Opposing pairs
Masintin: What opposing pairs create
Pachacuti: The reshuffling of space and time when the opposing pairs of yanantin aren’t equal.