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Building a harmonious relationship with nature

The recovery of ancestral practices, knowledge, and wisdom of the indigenous peoples, focused on the common well-being and the reunion between human beings and nature, has been injected in the debate over development, and in the name of Good Living, or Living Well, they are established as alternatives.

Latinamerica Press/ALC
Saturday, June 29, 2013

By Ana Lilia Esquivel Ayala

Emanating from the Andean cosmovision, these concepts are based on principles of complementarity and reciprocity, where respect for life and Mother Earth is fundamental to maintain an equilibrium and establish harmony between human beings and nature.

In Bolivia it is termed Good Living, a concept derived from suma qamaña in Aymara. For Bolivian Chancellor David Choquehuanca, this life style “signifies complementing each other and not competing, sharing and not taking advantage [of others], living in harmony among people and with nature”.

Under this notion, the idea of exploiter and exploited is abandoned and instead, work is seen as happiness and a medium of learning.  Likewise, the idea of individualism is substituted for community, where cooperation and mutual support are indispensable, and the laws of nature are what regulate everyone’s actions. These and other principles were consolidated in the new Bolivian Constitution in 2009, in which that related to Good Living is on the same level and hierarchy as classical principles, such as unity, equality, inclusion, dignity, liberty, solidarity, reciprocity, respect, social and gender equality, common well-being, and social justice, among others.

Sumak kawsay and suma qamaña

In Ecuador the notion of Good Living, or sumak kawsay in Kichwa — in articulating ancestral visions and practices with modern reality — supports the creation of alternatives with the principle of establishing an harmonious relationship between human beings and nature.

In that regard, Alberto Acosta, Former Minister of Energy and Mining, explained at the Latin American meeting of the World Forum for Alternatives held in Quito in 2008 that “Good Living is born from the collective life experience of indigenous peoples and ethnicities. It searches for a harmonious life between human beings and with nature (…), a fundamental element to conceive a different society, a society that [can] rescue the popular wisdoms and technologies, the supportive way of organizing, of giving proper answers”.

The growing indigenous prominence, along with various citizen movements, allowed the proposals of Good Living to become concrete in the new Ecuadorian Constitution, approved in 2008. However, unlike the Bolivian Constitution, all the principles derived from sumak kawsay appear as “rights of good living”, within which others are included, such as rights to food, health, education, a healthy environment, among others. Thus, Good Living is recognized as a constitutional right.

In both cases Living Well and Good Living are directly linked with traditional indigenous wisdoms and practices. However, there are important differences between them. In Bolivia, suma qamaña is considered an ethico-moral basis, while in Ecuador sumak kawsay appears within the body of rights. Another difference is that Ecuador recognizes nature, or Pachamama, as subject to rights, which are focused on the integral respect for its existence, structure, and all of the vital and evolutionary processes. Furthermore, the integral restructuring of nature is also a right.

Hence, the Ecuadorian Good Living is founded on human rights and rights of nature. However, an explicit recognition of the rights of nature does not exist in the Bolivian Constitution, even though within the Living Well philosophy it is primordial to recover the harmony and mutual respect with Mother Nature.

Communality and collective labor

Proposals that are similar and complementary to those of Good Living and Living Well exist in all of Latin America, and in a similar manner, come from the cosmovision of the original peoples. In Mexico, “communality”, or communal way of living, and “rule by obeying”, derived from Zapatista practices, have implied processes of resistance and struggle, and at the same time have as guiding principles the respect for nature and complementarity among all, as well as the recognition and recovery of ancestral practices, such as barter.

Collective labor is part of the good living of Guatemalan indigenous communities, which recognize the importance of preserving and safeguarding natural goods as well as the conservation of traditional agricultural practices. In Peru, Andean and Amazonian women, despite being the most vulnerable to poverty and discrimination, are the ones who are formulating proposals aimed to build the Good Living of their peoples; in rural areas, there are efforts to include the philosophy of Good Living and of the Andean culture in educating children. As part of Good Living, the education system is designed on the basis of society and common interests, that is to say, in a way that the knowledge of all cultures is valued.

Good Living “is one of the most important and profound proposals in the context of globalization, as a new model of development and economic growth”, Mónica Chuji, vice-president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), told Latinamerica Press.

The inclusion of the Good Living notion in public policy making in order to create truly sustainable development is a challenge and an opportunity for, as pointed out by Chuji, making “consensus-based and collective political decisions that generate guidance and security for the welfare of the community”. 

Fundamental principles of Good Living or Living Well


Everything is alive and connected. This is a universal principle of justice; the reciprocity in interpersonal relationships is conceived as social duty related to mutual help (barter or mutual provision of services), but is not limited to just that; it also has to do with cosmic, religious and economic relations.


A state where every being and occurrence is “complete”, because it contains both of its constituent parts, the one of simply being and the other that complements it. Everyone and everything has a complement, we complete each other because we are brothers and sisters of Mother Earth. No one is superior to another. Complementarity impedes competition; it is mutual and permanent help within the community.


There is no possible equality, there is always diversity. Good Living is being in permanent harmony with everything. Good Living is an ethical concept, it is living in harmony with the cycles of life, knowing that everything is interconnected, interrelated and interdependent; it is knowing that the deterioration of one species means the deterioration of the whole.


Everything works in pairs (masculine and feminine; big and small; tall and short; sun and moon; sky and earth); one cannot exist without the other.


Everything is connected with everything and there are no completely separate entities; there is interdependence between everything and everyone.


Space and time are one and are repetitive. Time is not linear, it is cyclic, that is to say that it is not conceived through a beginning and an end, but it is in a continuous state of flux. There is no logic to a progressive linear process. There is no notion of an underdeveloped state to be overcome or a developed state to be achieved.


Different aspects, regions or fields of reality correspond with each other in a harmonious way.

Photo: Respect for life and Mother Earth is fundamental to maintain an equilibrium and establish harmony between human beings and nature (Louisa Reynolds  Latinamerica Press)

Source: Latinamerica Press:

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Latin America and Caribbean Communication Agency (ALC)
Information and analysis about the social-ecclesial reality, development and human rights in Latin America and other regions of the world
English edition: Casilla 17-16-95 - Quito - Ecuador
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