Ecuador: The Puruhaes’ Concept of Sumak Kawsay

The Puruhaes are an indigenous people who live in the provinces of Chimborazo, Bolivar, Tungurahua and part of Cotopaxi, in the central area of the Andean Region of Ecuador. Today, they are around 200,000 people. Two indigenous leaders of these communities explain the meaning of Sumak Kawsay.

Sumak and Kawsay are two ancient words from the Andean Quechua language. Sumak means beautiful, harmonic and joyful, while Kawsay means a life full of wisdom, spirituality, health and education. The two words also bind together the concept of the harmonious life of the three worlds: Jawa Pacha – the world above, Kay Pacha – this world and Ura Pacha, the world below. The words Sumak Kawsay, therefore, express the concept of a way of living in harmony within communities and most importantly, within nature.

Our indigenous communities use their resources in a way that promotes regeneration and regrowth. They embody community, well-being and a co-existence with nature. Through living Sumak Kawsay, communities are able to preserve their unique culture and identity, as well as the environment. Our communities have decided to build a new form of public coexistence, in diversity and harmony with nature, to achieve the good way of living.

A defining characteristic of Sumak Kawsay is harmony between human beings and between human beings and nature. A related theme is a sense of the collective. The concept of Sumak Kawsay subjugates the rights of the individual to those of people, communities and nature. We all, the old and the young, work together and share everything. The Sumak Kawsay is firstly practised inside the family, where all members learn to mutually love, respect, support, share, and tolerate. We also learn to work, for the family, which is the first example of community, where members learn to be helpful and honest to the others. Our people reveal a participatory way of being within a community of multiple relations. These relations define the self-identity of individuals who harmonise with life through various forms of practical and ritualistic exchange or reciprocity. An ‘energy’ and ‘presence’ is felt as it moves through all beings from all possible worlds and it is quietly, simply and naturally revered. Relationships, rather than an intense search for ‘oneness’, are emphasised.

Sumak Kawsay is like a pack animal withstanding rain, sun, frost, wind, hunger and thirst. It is strong, it carries heavy loads and it knows the paths to follow and the paths to avoid. This is likewise the life of the indigenous peoples, who suffer, who endure and stand out for their great wisdom and hope. They keep on walking step by step, little by little. They go forward and step back. They harvest and sow, from generation to generation, resisting all kinds of pressures from the individualistic, neo-liberal capitalist system against their way of living and thinking, which is based on collectiveness and reciprocity. Utopia is in the heart and the blood of these indigenous people. Shuk Shunkulla Shuk Yuyaylla Shuk Makilla Runa Kashpaka, Karaja – one heart, one thinking.

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