EP. 4 / Ecuador
Saving Pachamama – Mother Earth
The Sarayaku is a pristine part of the southern Amazon where the Kichwa people continue to live in relative isolation. For more than a decade the Kichwa people of the Sarayaku have been fighting the Ecuadorian government to prevent oil exploration efforts on their land. They’ve seen the effects of oil pollution on indigenous communities in the northern Amazon so that’s why Chief Jose Gualinga is taking their fight all the way to the court of human rights.
Soon an international court will decide the fate of their community and the untold wealth that lies beneath their feet.
Flight view of the Northern Amazon
Simon in the Kichwa community of the Sarayaku
Experience has taught this community to be cautious with outsiders. For years, they’ve been fighting the Government of Ecuador and oil companies wanting access to their lands.
The Gualinga family are multi-generational leaders of the Kichwa community in the Sarayaku. Like his father, the community’s 94 year old Shaman Don Sabino Gualinga, Jose Gualinga is the current chief while his sister Patty and brothers Heriberto and Gerardo all hold positions of importance in the community. I am staying with the Gualinga family who have offered to show me their territory, their way of life, and why they want to defend their land from their government and the oil companies.
Sunday is our first day in the Sarayaku, when families come together to socialize and drink ‘Chicha’ a traditional beverage made from fermented yucca. Today I’m getting my first taste of chicha, a learning how only women prepare the drink which requires them to chew the yucca into a paste.
In the beginning when we were young, we felt freedom. We did not know of any threats, everything seems to be in peace and harmony.
To preserve their culture and way of life, the Kichwa community here carefully controls who can enter the Sarayaku and the length of their stay. While we have been welcomed into the community, it’s taken a few days of careful discussion with Chief Jose Gualinga and his council before they allowed us to film their story. Visitors from the outside world must ask to visit the Sarayaku since the oil companies are not the only threat in the Sarayaku.
Our plan is based in the principle of Sumak Kawsay, living in harmony.
In the Sarayaku, the Kichwa people ground their lives, their culture and the defense of their territory on a principal they call Sumak Kawsay. In its simplest sense, Sumak Kawsay means living good, in harmony with environment and each other, where the rights of nature come before everything else.
Because of Sumak Kawsay, the Kichwa people of the Sarayaku refuse to allow oil companies to harm nature. Monetary wealth is meaningless to them when Sumak Kawsay already provides them the abundance of life through nature.
The ‘Road of Flowers’ marks the boundary of our territory to show the world that there is life here in the amazon, that there are peoples who propose a different way of life, a different form of development, without destroying the place where we live.
To help defend themselves from the oil companies seeking access to their territory, the Kichwa people of the Sarayaku have embarked on an ambitious project, one that uses flowers and not fences to show the world they exist. Now as people fly over the Sarayaku, they’ll see flowers that mark the boundary of their territory.
Heriberto Gualinga wants to take us on a three hour hike up to the Road of Flowers where his 90 year old father Don Sabino oversees a communal garden that grows medicinal plants and flowering trees.
In the Sarayaku, I’m learning that their principle of Sumak Kawsay also commits you to living in harmony with each other. The strength of this Kichwa community is grounded on their communal values and an unwavering capacity amongst the families to help each other. As a visitor, I learn that I too have to give of myself to help sustain the community and Pachamama (Mother Earth).
I’m heading up river with the Gualinga family for a ‘minga’.
The canoe ride through the river
Dona Corina Gualinga, the matriarch of her