Recently I met Emil and Tulio. They came from Ecuador to share the inspiring story of their village Sarayaku. Read more about the case Sarayaku and the defense of the jungle, here:
… is a village at the river Bobonaza, in the southeast of Ecuador. Located in the deep Amazon jungle, accessible only by plane or canoe, it has been home to Kichwa people for a long time, but in recent years an oil company from Argentina was a central reason to worry in Sarayaku.
How it all started…
In 2002, the Amazon jungle changed. Where previously the only danger were animals, this year came a far more bigger threat: Man. The Argentine group CGC got a permit from the Ecuadorian government to drill for oil in the jungle.
One day it got loud in Sarayaku. The noise of helicopters dominated and without warning the armed military emerged. Their mission was to clear the land, persuade people to leave their homelan, so the forest could be eliminated and oil drilling started.
All this was decided without informing the people, taking care of them, nor conducting negotiations. Over the next 10 years, this has changed the lives of approximately 1200 people who are dependent on their environment: the rain forrest.
The role of the government
For the people of Sarajaku, this made no sense. One may think the military is actually there to protect the people of the country, and not the interests of an oil company. In this case the Ecuadorian government did not seem to care enough about the problem, even though they certainly knew that people were facing displacement.
According to Ecuadorian law, the surface of the soil is the property of the local population. While the interior of the earth belongs to the state. To get access to the Earth’s interior, one has to destroy the surface and habitat around it.
The defense of the jungle
The people of Sarayaku realized there was no hope to get support from the own government. They were ready to discuss and peacefully defend their rights, but the military neither gave them information nor left.
Instead, they left their trash and showed no respect for the people and the land they were standing on. It was clear that something had to be done. For once the forest has been cleared, and the soil destroyed, not only this, but also future generations have lost their habitat.
Sarayaku is not the only village that was affected. A large area was divided into different blocks. Through manipulation, bribery and oppression, the individual tribes should be incited against each other, So the people of Sarayaku should have been expelled, but the village held firm and did not give up fighting for the jungle. After years of discussion and argument, the village made it to the International Court of Human Rights.
Seventeen people were chosen by the village to fight for common rights and to speak to the Tribunal. For two days they told what had happened and campaigned for the whole community.
The role of women
Women have a firm place in the community, and their role in defending the village has also been strong. For strategic reasons, not the men, but the women have gone forward to negotiate for the village with the military. They did not want to, and could not do anything with violence because they were never equipped as strong as the military.
The community structure
Every two years, Sarayaku elects a president to act in the interests of all. He is representative and makes decisions for the 7 neighborhoods. Every family has the chance to fill this job. Women have the same opportunities and rights to the leadership positions and are often elected for them.
How did the fight for the jungle end?
In 2012, the people of Sarayaku finally managed to win the case. The ecuadorian state was charged and requested to remove all explosives safely. In the future, they would have to promise never to immigrate again. A total of 10 years, Sarayaku was exposed to the tension due to the conflict with the Argentine company. Only through self-initiative could they defend what is sacred to them: Nature.
The meaning of Nature in Sarayaku
The jungle is a living being. It protects, nourishes and is habitat for many species. This is how the people from Sarayaku see it. The plants are made into medicine, from Yucca they make the color for their body painting, they hunt, fish and grow food, and they find all that in the Amazon Jungle.
All that would not be possible if the trees fell. Apart from the fact that dynamite was under their feet, natural dangers would also increase. If it rains the Bobonaza River can rise up to 4 m. Due to started deforestation, there are floods every 2 years that destroy all the seeds.
Deforestation would also have consequences for the global climate system. Oil is a fossil resource, limited occurring and contributes significantly to the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Meanwhile, an important role of trees is to convert CO2 into oxygen by using photo-synthesis and, in addition, they store excess CO2 in the soil.
Sustainability in Sarayaku
The village has grown and certain traditions are changing. Earlier, when fewer people lived there, there was a big party every year for which animals were hunted. Every year a few men went hunting, while everyone else at home prepared everything for the party. Today, the festival still exists, but only every 3 or 4 years, because they know that if too much is taken, things get out of control and they do not want to interfere too much in nature. Therefore, the Kichwa do not remove more than necessary, so livestock can regenerate again.
The message of Sarayaku
The people of Sarajaku experienced conditions that they might not have expected. But they knew that they had to defend the jungle. Today, it’s about telling more people about this story. They have proven that even a small community can make a big difference. They want to pass this on to other indigenous people, so that those know what is possible.
New projects for future protection
In the future, flower trees will mark the borders of Sarayaku. This not only makes visible, but also people from far away can adopt a piece of Sarayaku. With that, the jungle should be safe from corporate interests in the future.