WRITTEN BY CARRY SOMERS
On this Leg of eXXpedition from the Galápagos to Easter Island, we are sailing past the cultures and communities I studied for my MA in Native American Studies. After setting up my fair trade panama hat and accessories brand Pachacuti, I subsequently worked with communities in Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia for over 20 years.
Leg 7 crew wearing Pachacuti Hats (Photo credit: eXXpedition)
Ayllu: A community of Man and Nature
The Andes mountains run down the spine of the Pacific coast of South America. Andean philosophy sees all individuals as being part of a community, an ayllu. Humans are not separated from the natural world; they are two parts of a whole, each dependent on the other and giving to the other through a reciprocal relationship which sustains the community. The ayllu does not have fixed physical borders but is formed from the complex interlinking of relationships and an understanding of the fundamental interconnectedness of my interests, your interests and the interests of plants and animals. The ayllu is a place of nurture and regeneration and is seen as the basic cell of life. People, plants, animals and the earth itself nurture and are nurtured in a symbiotic relationship.
Giving Nature Back its Voice.
In indigenous cultures around the world, and particularly within indigenous cultures in the Americas, it is common that nature speaks. Ecuador has drawn from its indigenous past and became the first country in the world to legally recognise the rights of nature in 2008, followed by Bolivia. These countries understand that nature is alive and capable of agency. They have given nature back its voice. As part of these constitutional amendments, both countries incorporated the concept of Sumac Kausay, often translated as good living or living well. The Ecuadorian constitution, for instance, now “recognises the right of people to live in a healthy and ecologically balanced environment that ensures sustainability and good living.” Good living does not mean living better than anyone else, nor does it imply the accumulation of material wealth. It means living well together with mutual support, shared knowledge and community wisdom. It is a process, not a state.
Good living recognises that there is an alternative to the unsustainable over-consumption which is the root of much of the macro and microplastic pollution we are finding as we trace a white line through this deep blue world.
(Photo credit: Carry Somers)
One of the measures of the economic success of the Incas is how their economic practices drew upon the maximum available resources for their own use but they never depleted them at the expense of the prosperity of future generations. As such, they were unable to understand the Spaniards desire for immediate material gain which sacrificed future prosperity for present riches and showed no concern for the lessons of the past. The Inca world was based on a delicate and complex balance of reciprocity and opposing forces. They maintained balance in their world through a system of exchange, expressed in the fundamental Andean concept of Ayni , meaning balance, reciprocity and co-operative responsibility in solidarity with the world.
The Commodification of Nature
In January, before I joined eXXpedition, I worked on the research for Fashion Revolution’s 2020 Fashion Transparency Index, which measures the transparency of 250 of the world’s leading fashion brands and retailers, I read company report after report referring to the preservation of natural resources, but even in attaching the word resources to nature we are effectively commodifying the planet, protecting it to support ever-increasing productivity. When studying Quechua, I learned that there is no word for possession in the language. You cannot say ‘I have’.
Everything you have or possess – not just goods and resources but also power and authority – are instead either with you, or not with you, meaning you are the steward, not the owner. This way of thinking changes everything.
Carry during a beach clean (Photo credit: eXXpedition)
The Challenge: A Respectful, Renewable, Regenerative System
Our challenge this decade is to move beyond our currently destructive Western worldview which is tipping us into a climate crisis and a marine plastic pollution catastrophe, towards a world where companies integrate nature in a truly sustainable way. Governments around the world owe a duty to future generations to safeguard biodiversity on land and in our seas. Our legislators could learn from the laws passed in Ecuador and Bolivia and restore a voice to the oceans, earth and all that live in and on them. We can also look at to the Nagoya Protocol, part of the Convention on Biodiversity, which recognises the role of indigenous communities as custodians of biodiversity. It aims for the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of genetic resources in cooperation with the local community. However, this protocol is currently under utilised and only a few companies are using it in any meaningful way.
We need brands and retailers to move from competitiveness to collaboration and from the commodification of natural resources to working alongside nature in all her diversity in a way that is respectful, renewable and regenerative. We need them to look at longer lasting value systems than profit, prioritising instead the protection of our ecosystems and the wellbeing of our communities. And as citizens who have lost touch with the reality of living in mutual nurture and interdependence with the natural world, including our oceans, we need to find new ways to live in balance with plants, animals, earth and water.
I believe that transhistorical community value systems can present a powerful counterpoint to the logic of generating profit now and help us to once again rediscover the spirit of the ayllu.
Carry’s Desert Island Disc song: Fisherman’s Blues by the Waterboys
Carry’s Luxury Items: Never-ending supply of loose leaf tea
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