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Living well together (Peruvian Amazon)

Case study | |

The Ashaninka peoples of the Peruvian Amazon believe that if all living beings are not in harmony with the earth (Aipatsite), humans cannot achieve fulfilment and happiness. The Ashaninka call this form of harmony “living well together” (kametsa asaiki), a concept that focuses more on the close relationship of humans to landscapes than on the distinction between nature and those who inhabit it.   

According to the Ashaninka, “real Ashaninka people” (Ashaninka sanori) are incapable of becoming the good people they want to be unless their actions are in harmony with nature. Because the earth is where human and other beings interact on a daily basis, people are thought to be incapable of growing healthy food, finding new medicines or building sustainable houses and communities unless they respect its many gifts. This entails deciding when to stay away from the deepest forests out of respect for the spirits (maninkari) who they believe lead the souls of the dead to the afterlife. These culturally established protocols of respect and restraint ensure that certain forests are protected from depletion and overhunting, which in turn prevents illness and produces long-term well-being among Ashaninka peoples.  

Indeed, many indigenous groups across the globe believe that the world can only avoid catastrophic disruption if humans breathe harmony into it. For such cultures, there can be no hard and fast separation between humans and the places they inhabit; there is an absolute obligation to sustain the environment because they are a part of it, and because they themselves cannot survive without being its responsible caretaker.  

These highly responsible beliefs about stewardship and balance, however, are challenged by long-term social disruption, large-scale extraction of, for example, forests, oil and natural gas, and ongoing cycles of violence against those who protest such mindless destruction. This begs the question: how might integrating environmental policies with local cultural values encourage deeper commitments to protection and stewardship? 



Photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash

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