Latin America: The Ancestral Wisdom Of Sumak Kawsay

The millennial experience of indigenous peoples can help to give concrete answers to the current crisis in the world.

In Andean communities, the concept of Sumak Kawsay, ‘good living’, has been proposed as an alternative concept of development and has been incorporated into the constitutions of Ecuador and Bolivia. This concept, nowadays, acquires a special relevance because it shows, in the face of the current crisis, a path of solution that is not just theory but an approach inspired to the millennial experience of Andean peoples.

Sumak Kawsay social philosophy was, in the past, a reference point for the communities of the Andes for the elaboration of mechanisms of social organisation that reached very high levels of civilization. The ancestral concept of ‘good living’ still endures nowadays, despite many difficulties, and it can inspire appropriate solutions to face today’s challenges.

Obviously, the Sumak Kawsay or other indigenous utopias such as the ‘Land without evils’ the ‘Tierra florida’ or the ‘Zapatero Guendaazaaca’ are not easy recipes to apply in such broad and plural contexts as those of today’s society.

However, in the face of the current crisis, indigenous peoples provide those basic principles and values that supported their great civilizations in the time preceding the Europeans’ arrival and that allowed these communities and their cultures not to succumb to the predatory impact of conquerors.

The words Sumak Kawsay express the concept of cosmic harmony, of a way of living in harmony within communities and nature. The ‘good living’ concept implies the acknowledgment that life is the most precious gift of all. Sumak Kawsay values people over profit and its definition of development is based on a decreased emphasis on economic and product development, and an increased focus on human development – not in population, but in the enrichment of core values, spirituality, ethics, and human brotherhood. The ‘good living’ social philosophy develops a sense of the collective, describes a way of doing things that is community-centric, therefore, relationships between relatives and neighbours are emphasised and celebrations are the most tangible expressions that show how the enjoyment of life in a community is possible.

Other current expressions such as the French Bon Vivant or the Living Well, recommended by the Church, can create confusion since they refer to different concepts. The Andean Sumak Kawsay and other indigenous utopias or models of society have their own characteristics. The model of the Bon Vivant referring to a person who enjoys the good things of life, is the logical result of the bourgeois capitalist model that leads to the individualistic enjoyment of goods by the wealthy at the expense of others.

And when the Church mentions the concept of living well it refers to good moral attitudes which do not hurt anyone, but this idea of living well does not necessarily commit people to creating decent living conditions for all. The rich young man of the gospel while fulfilling all the requirements of the law, does not intend to give all his belongings to the poor and follow Jesus.

The ancestral wisdom of the Andean peoples can help to solve the current crisis of credibility of the religious institutions because it is based on key truths of life, such as the sense of community, the interdependence between people, the value of service, and the collaboration with God.

The Sumak Kawsay social philosophy is not abstract words, but concepts rooted in the reality of the past which have proved their effectiveness and continue to nurture the history of peoples. Indigenous peoples have a developed sense of humanity and they are willing to share their seeds of life with others so that people can come to their senses and give meaning to their existence – we are all children of God and Mother Earth.

The austerity of life of many indigenous peoples, especially the nomads, offers contemporary society examples of how man can live well with just the essentials. Only austere life styles such as those of indigenous peoples can guarantee a sustainable future.

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