How to live a good life: the concept of "Sumak Kawsay"

How to live a good life: the concept of "Sumak Kawsay"

In these unsettling times, lately I found myself questioning our "western" lifestyle more and more. Heatwaves, war, pandemic, physical and mental illness everywhere - it seems we have reached the breaking point of an intrinsically ill system. 

The despair made me remember community concepts I came across when I studied Cultural Sciences, one of them being Buen vivir (good life), "the Spanish translation for the multi-faceted Quechua-term "Sumak Kawsay". Sumak encompasses the good and the beautiful, the sublime and the wonderful. Kawsay signifies life, understood as an active process that is perpetually changing." (Lücke, Linda, 2014). An indigenous concept applied in the Andean region of South America (Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru) that aims to balance the needs of people and nature striving for collective wellbeing. Since Peru is one of the countries I am currently sourcing from (and Bolivia is also high on my list since I have been there a few times), it seemed really interesting to recall.
If development as we have understood it has led us into this world of multiple crises - isn't it "about damn time" (sorry, the Lizzo reference was necessary...) to consider alternatives? "Sumaq Kawsay is based on an ideal of balance among three closely connected Ayllus (communities or realms). Runa Ayllu refers to humans and domesticated crops and animals; Sallqa Ayllu is made up of wild species and spaces; and Auki Ayllu represents the sacred, including mountains, sacred sites, customary laws and ethics." (Argumedo, A., Stenner, T., Swiderska, K. (2021)).
The concept of Sumaq Kawsay is holistic and all-encompassing with economic, environmental and social sustainable development goals. Now, sustainability is unfortunately an overused term these days, and I am not sure I want to even go down that road. But I think "buen vivir" is a concept that is actually very practical. We all want to live a good and happy life. It is painfully obvious that exploitation of nature and people has led us where we are at the moment. Consequently, an approach based on principles such as reciprocity, complementarity, and balance seems far more feasible.
For centuries, the Western world has believed that we are the "knowledgeable" ones and the ones that should help "develop" the rest of the world. Honestly, I think it is exactly the opposite. Wisdom is found where communities have established ways to sustain a peaceful life, in harmony with nature. We have so much to learn from them. And maybe it can be baby steps. For me personally, I aim to focus on "ayllu" - community. A community of Atelier Maqui people who love authentic, handmade products with cultural heritage. A community that values traditional craftspeopleship and lifts up artisans by paying a fair price for work that is done with heart and soul. Ultimately, this is not about "helping" anyone. This is about community, partnership and equality. Let's learn from each other, support each other and live the best life we can.

 

 

Photo Credit: Michael Busch on Unsplash
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