A lesson in philosophy from Latin America’s indigenous population

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Have you ever heard of “Buen Vivir”?

Also known as Sumak Kawsay, it’s an indigenous philosophy in South America. Buen Vivir is based on one key principle: that one’s well being is intimately connected to that of the environment and the community.

Similar to the concept of ubuntu from South Africa, it holds that an individual’s well being can only be achieved through harmonious relationships with the wider community; people, the environment, other living beings, their ancestors, and the cosmos. 

Literally meaning, “living well”, it recognizes that the harm in other beings is harm in the whole environment.

The principles of Buen Vivir encompass themes like food sovereignty, land rights, environmental justice, economic solidarity and the protection of local biodiversity. According to an ex-minister of foreign affairs in Bolivia, to achieve Buen Vivir one must know:

  • How to eat - choosing season and local healthy ingredients provided by the earth

  • How to drink

  • How to dance

  • How to sleep

  • How to work - with passion and joy

  • How to meditate - introspection

  • How to think - reflection

  • How to love and be loved - encompasses everything in the environment

  • How to listen - not just listen, but understanding and feeling

  • How to speak - thinking before speaking

  • How to dream - the dream is the beginning of reality

  • How to walk - waking with mother earth

  • How to give and receive - giving with happiness and being thankful for what you receive


….it doesn’t get more holistic than that.

Buen Vivir in a few words, is learning to value myself as a human being...learning to value the other and learning to value and care for the environment in which one develops themselves” -@joseanibalcriollo in a recent BBC interview.

Photo by Etienne Boulanger on Unsplash

How can I practice Buen Vivir?

There are many ways to put Buen Vivir into practice in our daily lives! A good place to start is at the dinner table. When you buy and cook with seasonal,  local vegetables you learn to appreciate the different seasons and the ingredients nature provides you with - all important elements of buen vivir and general well-being. 

Something as small as going out to a garden, and sitting for 5 minutes to appreciate nature, is practicing buen vivir.

Indigenous communities all over the world have suffered from colonial invasions over the years but bravely fought (and keep fighting) to keep their culture alive. This is symbolized by this balanced way of life: a commitment to harmony with their surroundings.

If you want to help preserve indigenous culture and knowledge, you can donate to organisations like the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs. 👇

More about: environment / indigenous

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