Ecuador, the living forest

When I travelled to Sarayaku, I realised that planting trees isn’t enough. It’s equally important to support the people protecting the forest. – Catalina

Sarayaku is located in Ecuador’s Amazon region, in the middle basin of the Bobonaza River, in the province of Pastaza. Sarayaku encompasses seven community centres: Kali Kali, Sarayakillu, Chuntayaku, Shiwakucha, Puma, Kushillu Urku and Mawka Llakta. It spans a total of around 135,000 hectares, and is home to abundant biodiversity: Sacha (forest), Yaku (rivers), Allpa (ground and underground) and Wayra (air), all of which form an infinite number of ecosystems and sustain animal and plant species that are essential to the survival of the Ayllukuna, the guardian spirits of the populations living in the Amazon and on our planet.

This community is native to the Amazon, and has a holistic vision of the Pachamama of which it is an integral part. From childhood, every member of the Kichwa Sarayaku community embraces a lifestyle that allows them to coexist alongside all the beings that make up the Living Forest.

The Kawsak Sacha declaration expresses the way in which the Sarayaku inhabitants view the world.

“It is not just a simple relationship based on scenery or aesthetics, but the incarnation in our bodies, hearts and thoughts of the vital acts of each of the living organisms that surround us. We rely on the existence of the visible and invisible Sacha Runakuna (inhabitants of the forest); we organise our reciprocal relationships with them, and define and practise Sumak Kawsay (living in harmony).”*

“Our mission is to protect and use our land in a respectful manner that safeguards its longevity to reinforce Sumak Kawsay and ensure the survival of Kawsak Sacha, the Living Forest. Our Life Plan is designed to keep land and water ecosystems free from contamination. Our fertile land is home to lots of wildlife and diverse, flourishing vegetation. It also provides sources of minerals, food for fauna, swamps and pure, clean waters that ensure food is in good supply and that life can reproduce.”

For us, the people and nationalities native to and living in the Amazon, the forest is alive. It is Kawsak Sacha.

It is inhabited by Protective Beings who watch jealously over the balance of fragile ecosystems and their relationship with human beings. The waterfalls, lakes, rivers, marshes, trees of life, sources of food and minerals, the great trees and the mountains all have their protective beings: these are the Runayuk.”

“The aim of this declaration is to sustainably protect our territories, as well as the material and spiritual relations that the native people nurture with the Living Forest and its Beings. Our land is, and will remain, free from any market-driven extraction of the Living Forest’s resources.”

Through this declaration, the Sarayaku people requested that the Ecuadorian State government officially recognise and legitimise the Kawsak Sacha as a conscious living being and a subject of law, as well as the sovereignty of the people of Sarayaku and the free determination of indigenous peoples’ fundamental rights. These people have drawn up a Life Plan.

In September, photographer Catalina Martin-Chico set off on a mission for the Yves Rocher Foundation to document the lives of the Sarayaku people living in harmony with the rainforest.

*Extracts from the Kawsak Sacha declaration adopted by the assembly of the Kichwa native people of Sarayaku on 8 and 9 December 2012 /

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