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.
In the village, a nursery and primary school, which teaches both ancestral knowledge and the national curriculum, was set up by the Yachak of Sarayaku (Atayak) association in a bid to keep local culture alive.
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.”
Sabine is Belgian, and has spent over 30 years living in Sarayaku, where she had her two children. Thanks to the Yves Rocher Foundation’s ‘Terre de Femmes’ award, she was able to build a house where the little girls could go to school. She is a very active member of the community and is married to José Gualingua, a leader in Sarayaku.
Chicha, known as ak’a en Quechua, is an Andean drink popular in Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, Venezuela and Colombia. It is made from corn, peanuts (mani), cassava (yuca) or rice (arroz), to which fruit is added
Hunting is commonplace here: two species of boar (wanta, watusa), and different types of birds. Less commonly, hunters might bring home tapirs (rarely, as this is an endangered species), a few monkeys, armadillos or squirrels. Hunted meat is smoked and thus preserved.
Water and forestland are the Sarayaku children’s main playgrounds. Water is essential to the lives of the Sarayaku community.
The wells that began appearing for extracting the oil contained beneath the feet of the forest are a threat to water and water quality, as well as to biodiversity and the health of indigenous communities.
A simple suspension bridge, which links the banks of the Bobonaza River, is used by children to get to school.
The Sarayaku territory spans 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.
What a better bathroom. There's no drinking water, no sewage, no sanitation. There are only ecological bathsQuelle meilleure salle de bain. Il n’y a pas d’eau potable, pas de réseau d’égouts, ni de sanitaire. Il n’y a que des bains écologiques
Children should become familiar with water and the use of dugout canoes at a very early age.Les enfants très tôt doivent se familiariser avec l’eau et l’utilisation des pirogues.
Sarrayaku is governed by the traditional Kichwa authorities (Kurakas system). The assemblies are the heart of Sarayaku's community life. All decisions are taken after consultation with the inhabitants who participate in these meetings with assuidance.This direct democracy is the strength of the people of Sarayaku.Sarrayaku est gouverné par les autorités traditionnelles Kichwa (système des Kurakas). Les assemblées sont le cœur de la vie de la vie communautaire de Sarayaku. Toutes les décisions sont prises après consultation de habitants qui participent avec assuiduité a ces réunions.Cette démocratie directe est la force du peuple de Sarayaku.
For 90%, it is a subsistence economy depending mainly on agriculture and forest resources such as hunting, fishing, fruit picking, honey, palm trees and timber.Pour 90%, c’est une économie de subsistance dépendant majoritairement de l’agriculture et des ressources de la forêt telle que la chasse, la pêche, la cueillette de fruits, le miel, les palmiers, les bois de construction.
Setting up a camp can take up to an hour, often ending with the arrival of nightfall.L’établissement d’un campement peut prendre une heure, il se termine souvent avec l’arrivée de la nuit.
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