We protect the forest beings, and the forest beings protect us: Cultural resistance in the Ecuadorian Amazonia
Keywords:buen vivir, resistance culture, social movements, Ecuador, indigenous politics, extractivism
Sarayaku is an Amazonian Kichwa community on the shores of Rio Bobonaza, Ecuador. Ten years ago, Sarayaku hit international headlines because it managed to expel the Argentinean CGC oil company from its territory, and it won a court case against the state of Ecuador that had given oil concessions to a private company without consulting the community. Nevertheless, that was not enough because it did not guarantee Sarayaku’s protection from future extractivist projects. In order to achieve that, Sarayaku coined the legal category of kawsak sacha/the living jungle, which views the jungle as inhabited by visible as well as non-visible beings that protect it and considers those beings to be bearers of legal rights. At the same time, by employing their cultural perspective on the jungle, the inhabitants of Sarayaku have forged an anti-colonial, anti-extractivist, and anti-capitalist resistance culture. How did that culture develop? How is it articulated? Moreover, how is kawsak sacha positioned in the discussion over the rights of Nature in Latin America? Based on three months of ethnographic research in the community of Sarayaku and more than twenty-five interviews with community members, this article addresses those important questions and argues that securing legal protection may not be a long-term resistance strategy, because laws can be overturned as easily as they were introduced and they are dependent on governmental commitment. On the other hand, the formation of a culture of resistance culture is more difficult to uproot and remains within the community’s control to further consolidate it.