By Mara Precoma
When trying to understand the cultural and political context within which Two Rivers Reserve operates, it is helpful to familiarize oneself with the concept of buen vivir. Those who have heard of buen vivir have likely come across the “fun” fact that Ecuador’s Constitution bestows rights upon nature. While this is true, there is much more to buen vivir – an idea with revolutionary potential.
Buen vivir is best understood as an umbrella term for a set of different, context-dependent positions. It is loosely translatable into “good living,” but the inadequacy of this translation already points out that buen vivir is far from the western notion of wellbeing which prioritizes the individual. Buen vivir describes a community-centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive way of life. This worldview is embedded in various Indigenous belief systems across South America, but it is also expressed by critical movements such as feminist thought or environmentalism. Two of the most well-known approaches to buen vivir are the Ecuadorian Kichwa concept of sumak kawsay and the Bolivian Aymara concept of suma qamaña, both Andean conceptions of life which value diversity and a harmonious relationship with nature.
In its more abstract form, buen vivir constitutes a philosophy. It tries to overcome the artificially created dichotomy between society and nature which has resulted in an understanding of nature as an inanimate object which can be sold and owned. Buen vivir advocates for cohabitation with others and nature. At the same time, buen vivir proposes an alternative model of economic development and societal organization. It prioritizes the collective over the individual, the community over the self. As opposed to a consumption-based and profit-driven market economy, buen vivir promotes reciprocity, redistribution and small-scale, local production. It acknowledges that each product comes with a social and environmental price; one which South America pays all too often as its resources are exploited in order to satisfy a global market. Buen vivir also encompasses the legal and political recognition of diversity and the celebration of cultural pluralism. In Ecuador, for example, Indigenous movements are promoting the idea of a plurinational state.
Buen vivir asks for transformations. Not just transformations of the economy, the political and legal system, education or the health sector, but transformations of thought and changes to the ways in which we perceive our surroundings. Rather than a strict blueprint, it is a platform for critical thinking and alternative visions.
Ecuador has shown that buen vivir can be translated into practical strategies. In 2008, the country included buen vivir in its Constitution. Together, economy, politics and society are to promote and protect the principles of sumak kawsay. In Ecuador’s Constitution, buen vivir does not just constitute an ethical principle, it represents a set of rights. Breaking with traditional patterns of environmental protection, nature itself is attributed rights. The Constitution states that “Nature, or Pacha Mama, where life is reproduced and occurs, has the right to integral respect for its existence” (Article 71).
Knowing of the continued environmental degradation which takes place under the eyes of the Ecuadorian government, a puzzling contradiction emerges. With regard to environmental protection, Ecuador’s Constitution seems to be an aspirational document at best. This is why the conservation work of organizations such as Two Rivers Reserve takes on such an importance. However – and this point is not to be underestimated – the constitutional appointment of the Rights of Nature authorizes a rhetoric which legitimizes the public performance of rights claiming, an important step towards the lasting implementation of any claim. Buen vivir is hope, after all.
Balch, Oliver (2013): “Buen Vivir: The Social Philosophy Inspiring Movements in South America.” The Guardian, 4 Feb. 2013, www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/blog/buen-vivir-philosophy-south-america-eduardo-gudynas.
De La Cadena, Marisol (2010): “Indigenous Cosmopolitics in the Andes: Conceptual Reflections beyond ‘Politics’.” Cultural Anthropology, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 334–70.
Gudynas, Eduardo (2011): “Buen Vivir: Today’s Tomorrow.” Development, vol. 54, no. 4, pp. 441-47.
República del Ecuador (2011): “Constitution of the Republic of Ecuador.” Political Database of the Americas, 31 Jan. 2011, https://pdba.georgetown.edu/Constitutions/Ecuador/english08.html.
Hannah is a 26-year old student from Germany. She has a very special connection to Ecuador since after her high school graduation she spent one year working and living in a children’s home in Quito. In order to understand and reflect on her experiences from a more academic point of view, she specialized in Latin America during her Bachelor’s in International Studies and learnt a lot about the region’s culture, history, politics, and economics. Although she has visited several other Latin American countries since then, Ecuador will always hold a special place in her heart. If she is not busy traveling, Hannah tries herself at yoga or entertains her two beloved cats.
Erick is a trilingual graduate student from Ventura, California studying at Albert-Ludwig Universität Freiburg. During his Bachelors and Masters degrees, he has studied in universities from 5 different continents and prior to beginning his MA in Global Studies, held positions in global supply chain management, law firms, and study abroad providers. He loves playing guitar, playing football/soccer, and traveling.
Mara was born and raised in Germany. She completed her B.A. in Interdisciplinary American Studies in 2019, and is currently pursuing an M.A. in Social Sciences at the University of Freiburg. She has not yet been to Ecuador, but she spent a few months in Argentina as part of her Master’s degree. Mara is interested in literary studies, social movements, gender & queer studies, and Indigenous cinema. In her free time, she is usually on the hunt for cafés with delicious hot chocolate, beautiful landscapes to photograph, and new true crime podcasts to listen to.
Sarah is a 27-year-old Master’s student from Saint John, New Brunswick, Canada. She is currently studying Global Studies at Albert-Ludwigs-Unversität in Freiburg, Germany. She completed her undergraduate degree in International Relations in 2015. Her research centers around critical education, inclusivity within education and post-conflict studies. She enjoys spending her free time traveling and reading.
Thank you for checking out Two Rivers Reserve's brand new blog. You can find all kinds of information about Two Rivers Reserve, Amazonia, and Ecuador here. Our lovely volunteer interns have been writing up a storm about things they have just found fascinating in Ecuador. Although our volunteer interns would have loved to be in Ecuador this summer, the Coronavirus pandemic has made it impossible for them to travel. We hope they'll come and visit it us soon. Take a look below to meet our writing volunteers!
This page is happy to have many authors! From some of the Two Rivers' staff to our lovely volunteer interns. WE hope we can see Ecuador in as many perspectives as there are trees in the Amazon.