Day of Reckoning

How many people have heard about judgment day, a day of reckoning where someone will confront you with every detail, good and bad, about your life? Kind of a balance sheet in which close tabs have been kept on your behavior?

We learned yesterday from ethnographer Frank Salomon that some communities in the Andes practice a version of judgment day each year. In Christian traditions ancient people tended to think of judgment day as a very personal event (at an individual’s death?) But in the Andes, this day is a mechanism for communities to keep track of reciprocal obligations. Community survival is based on everyone doing their fair share here, and very accurate, complex records are kept of labor and goods exchanged (for example, rows of corn planted for your brother-in-law’s fields; bags of potatoes a household contributed for a wedding…)

These records have been kept for centuries, if not millenia, on sets of knotted strings called khipus. There are elaborate rituals and community offices for managing responsibility for everyone’s labor exchanges.

There are also penalties for things such as showing up to work without the proper tools, without your bag of coca leaves to chew, or not wearing the right work clothes. One community was even said to hold its day of reckoning at the edge of a cliff, to add a sense of seriousness to the whole process.

This sheds a new light on our casual workplaces…I don’t know how most of us could measure up under this system.

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