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The Indigenous Andean Concept of "Kawsay", the Politics of Knowledge and Development,

and the Borderlands of Environmental Sustainability in Latin America

Source: PMLA, Vol. 127, No. 3 (May 2012), pp. 600-606
Published by: Modern Language Association
Stable URL: https://www.jstor.org/stable/41616852
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theories and

The Indigenous
Andean Concept of
Kawsay , the Politics
Kawsay in Colonial and Postcolonial Borderlands
of Knowledge and
The personage of Huatya Curi, the "Baked Potato Gleaner," figured
Development, and prominently in an early colonial account of the landscape and re-
ligious mythology of the Andean people of Huarochiri, a province
the Borderlands
in the mountainous interior of Lima in the Viceroyalty of Peru. The
of Environmental Huarochiri manuscript, a sixteenth-century Quechua document, in-
troduces Huatya Curi with these words: "Chay pacha cay huatya curi
Sustainability in ñisca huacchalla micuspapas huatya cuspalla causaptinsi sutiachir-
Latin America can huatya curim ñispa . . 'At that time Huatya Curi, a poor potato
eater, was accustomed to living from gleaning baked potatoes, and
for that reason people named him Huatya Curi . . .' (Salomon and
Urioste 163; my trans.; see also Taylor 32-33). While poor, Huatya
KARL S. ZIMMERER Curi was powerful; in the same passage he goes on to vanquish a
mighty Andean lord, Tamta Ñamca. The demise of Tamta Ñamca
KARL S. ZIMMERER is professor in the De-
sets the stage for the ascendance of Paria Caca, Huatya Curi 's father,
partment of Geography and in the Earth emerges as the chief Andean deity. Huatya Curťs existence is
and Environmental Systems Institute at yet linked to his supernatural lineage.1
the Pennsylvania State University, Univer- Causaptinsi , translated above as "accustomed to living," derives
sity Park. His most recent books are from
The causay , a Quechua portmanteau word in early colonial Peru
New Geographies of Energy (Routledge,
whose spectrum of meanings extended well beyond the usage in the
2012) and Globalization and New Geog-
Huarochiri manuscript. The Jesuit missionary Diego Gonzalez Hol-
raphies of Conservation (U of Chicago P,
guin (1552-1618) listed no fewer than twenty-three variations in the
2006), and he has published more than
two dozen scholarly and popular articles
specific meaning of causay in his 1608 dictionary of Southern Pe-
ruvian Quechua, making it one of the most versatile of indigenous
during the past few years, on topics rang-
ing from sustainability and conservation ("Causay"). Based in the order's Cuzco headquarters and trav-
to social justice, biodiversity, agriculture, in numerous Andean towns and villages, Gonzalez Holguin
and food (www.geog.psu.edu/people/
joined in the extensive cultural encounters among ecclesiastics, local
zimmerer-karl). His current work on agri-
officials of the Peruvian viceroyalty, indigenous people, and other el-
culture, land use, and food is coordinated
ements of colonial society. The meanings of causay ranged from ba-
with policies and projects on climate
sic connotations of existence and subsistence to appraisals of health
change, development, and human rights
being pursued by nongovernmental orga- well-being. Many causay- derived words were also detailed in
nizations, indigenous and peasant organi- pioneering Quechua lexicographic work of Domingo de Santo
zations, and Tomás (1499?-1568), another Jesuit working in the Andean cultural
governmental and university
institutions borderlands. During recent decades causay and other indigenous
in Peru, Bolivia, and Mexico.


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12 7-3 ] Karl S. Zimmerer 601

By the
terms signifying "to live well" mid-1990s, kawsay
(especially vi- had become T
vir bien , allin kawsay , and increasingly common in and
sumak kawsay) Andean studies and 0

"sweet or good living" (especially vida dulce

movements concerned with agroecology, food ST
and suma qamaña [Medina]) have
security, become
social justice, and, more generally, &

enshrined as a conceptual sustainability.

centerpiece ofcontexts
In these as- kawsay re- 3
ferred to a fit
cendant indigenous movements andlivelihood or resource ethic in
endog- 3
enous development in thetheAndean countries
diverse livelihoods of contemporary Que- a

and have encouraged a pan-Latin
chua people amid American
rapid change in the Andean 0
perspective (Escobar; Salgado).
countries. Ethical or normative meaning was 0

In the twentieth centuryrootedkawsay

in a belief that sup-
social need and jus- o
tice demanded production,
ported a similar range of meanings conveyed acquisition, and ft

across the indigenous Andean cultural

consumption bor- to sustain
capacities sufficient
derlands to national societies and interna-a wide spectrum of foodstuffs and agroeco-
tional milieus. In 1931 Toribio Mejia Xesspe
systems. In these uses kawsay was a counter
to national and international environment-
(1896-1983) published an article entitled
"Kausay: Alimentación de los Indios" 'Kaw-and-development policies and changes that
say: Staple Foodstuffs of the Indians' in the often undermined such capacities. Kawsay
inaugural issue of Wira kocha , a Peruvianinvoked not only adequacy of cultural skills,
anthropological journal. Mejia Xesspe was atechnology, and resources - such as land,
provincial autodidact whose family's cultural water, and other resource endowments sup-
background was partly indigenous. Fully bi- porting food supply and consumption- but
lingual, as was common among a number of also the social relations in and among fami-
provincial Peruvian intellectuals, he altered lies and communities needed for the inter-
his maternal family name to Xesspe fromtwined fabric of learning, knowledge, work,
Quispe, its earlier spelling, to make it accord
and enjoyment in healthy living. In much of
with Quechua orthography (Ravines). Mejiathe Andes, sustainability-enhancing agrobio-
Xesspe went on to become an important Peru-diversity took shape in the scores of farmer-
tended varieties of Andean food plants, such
vian scholar, assisting and collaborating with
as potatoes, maize, quinoa, and ulluco, so
Julio C. Tello, a pioneering and internationally
renowned Peruvian archaeologist (Salomonthat "kawsay cuisine was based on customary
and Urioste 29). Mejía Xesspe's article on kaw- diversity of crops and especially landraces"
say is a unique compendium of indigenous(Zimmerer, Changing Fortunes 60). In the
Andean foodstuffs and their culinary uses,sense of the word as used in agroecology and
especially those of the Quechua-speaking peo- food studies, local sustainability projects, and
subsequent usage among burgeoning Andean
ple of Peru. He based his concept of kawsay on
ethnographic and landscape interpretations ofindigenous movements, kawsay invoked the
quotidian Quechua language and livelihoods. indigenous peoples' culturally inscribed rights
The article was praised in Peru as a pioneer-
to customary eating and cuisine- rights that
ing work about the rescue and revival of tra-were related, in turn, to these peoples' use of
ditional technology, the particular promise ofand access to the diversity of foods and food-
Andean foods, and the potential of Perus foodproducing landscapes. The history of this rela-
growers to solve world hunger. Mejía Xesspe'stional meaning of kawsay traced also to early
colonial times and to commoner expectations
work on kawsay also reflected a deep scholarly
engagement with Quechua culture, including of customary foodstuffs and agrobiodiversity
under the imperial dictates of Incan rulers
his comprehensive Spanish translation of the
entire text of the Huarochiri manuscript. (Zimmerer, "Agricultural Biodiversity").

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6o2 The Indigenous Andean Concept of Kawsay [ P M L A

♦Ï Kawsay has remained common in every- rialism connoted by "the good life." Kawsay
day Quechua conversation, quotidian usage has been used to denote an indigenous alter-
o occurring extensively alongside the newer native to neoliberal governments and global-
0 public expressions. The concerns of the lat- ization and to modern Western technology,
<H ter expressions have ranged from indigenous economics, and politics. It was employed to
E rights to sustainability and well-being to is- voice the unpopularity of previously predom-
"ü sues of plurinational citizenship and social- inant neoliberal approaches. Allin 'well' or
n ecological utopia, and the commonplace uses 'good' is commonly affixed as a prefix, form-
Ü also demonstrate a defining range of linguis- ing allin kawsay 'to live well.' For example, the
o tic versatility. Four principal meanings tend to Proyecto Andino de Technologías Campesi-
jc anchor the everyday use: "to live, to exist"; "to nas Andean Project of Peasant Technologies,'

start, to be pending"; "life, lifestyle"; and "sta- or PRATEC, a proindigenous nongovernmen-

ple foodstuffs, agricultural products." Taken tal organization in Peru that draws on inter-
together, these meanings refer to human lives national funding, has effectively publicized
and livelihood experiences with implications allin kawsay as an indigenous principle con-
regarding what should be possible. "Lifestyle," noting "to always share" and "to have respect
or modo de vivir, for example, is evidenced for our natural collectivity" (Proyecto Andino
in expressions such as Kawsaywanqa ima- 104, 106; my trans.). Having gained renown
pis tariy atiyllan 'In life one always gets what through its internationally supported proj-
is striven for' (Cusihuamán G.; my trans.). ects on Andean agrobiodiversity, conserva-
Uses of kawsay like these are characteristic tion, and sustainability, PRATEC is adopting
of Southern Peruvian Quechua, a dialect also allin kawsay as a three-pronged concept of the
referred to as Cuzco -Callao Quechua (many earth, relations among people, and culture (5).
speakers of which live in central Bolivia), and
they resemble expressions integral to other
Kawsay: Indigenous Movements and New
Andean languages, as well as Quechua dia-
lects, from southern Colombia to northern
Argentina. Indeed, as many as fifteen million During recent years the rights to kawsay
speakers of diverse Quechua dialects and Ay- have been enshrined in the constitutions of

mara use these everyday expressions (Walsh). Ecuador and Bolivia. Article 275 of the new
By the early 2000s kawsay and related Ecuadorian constitution, approved in 2008,
terms began to be deployed to signal in- guarantees citizens the right to sumak kaw-
digenous concepts of development and na- say , the Ecuadorian Quichua equivalent of
tionhood. By mid-decade kawsay became a allin kawsay (a term characteristic of Cuzco-
favored referent of mass indigenous move- Callao Quechua). Similarly, the new Bolivian
ments in the Andean countries- princi- constitution, written by the recently installed
pally Bolivia, Ecuador, and Peru (Escobar; government of Evo Morales and approved in
Salgado). Indigenous groups and their sup- a national referendum in 2009, establishes
porters have framed visions of alternative or vivir bien as a goal integral to the country's
endogenous development and Andean nation- plurinational model of nineteen indigenous
hood by focusing on the concept of kawsay , ethnic groups and their territories. Consti-
frequently referred to in Spanish as vivir bien tutional meanings of sumak kawsay and vi-
and buen vivir in mainstream national dis- vir bien embody the values of social justice,
courses (Delgado, Rist, and Escobar). Kawsay inclusion, and equality. In addition, sumak
is translated into English as "living well" kawsay
or and other provisions of the Ecuador-
"well-living," contrasting the Western mate- ian constitution recognize nature as inde-

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12 7-3 ] Karl S. Zimmerer 603

pendent and thus suggestenvironmental

that it has and rights
sustainability meanings y
(Gudynas). The kawsay- related concepts
seeks to confirm in
kawsay s similarity to glob- 0

ally prevalent
these constitutions represent forms ideas.
andFor ob-
example, in a new 5T

jectives of governance under the

monograph on new state
vivir bien Giuseppe De Marzo &
architectures of these two Andean countries likens kawsay to the ideas of the well-known 3

(De Marzo 159) - yet they are at odds with 1987 report on global sustainability ( Our 3
a variety of existing government policies. In Common Future) by the World Commission ft
fact, the present-day governments continue on Environment and Development, known as 0
to pursue a wide range of contradictory po- the Brundtland Commission.2
litical, economic, and environmental policies 0"

involving a "[modern] vision of development

Kawsay and Sustainability
still based on extractive industries, energy
and water intensive usage and [socially and Amid the upsurge of intense and varied in-
environmentally unjust] rural development" terest, kawsay is an apt subject also for new
(Salgado 8; see also Escobar; Radcliffe). scholarship on environmental sustainability
envisioned as a broad suite of healthy and
durable social-ecological trends. The idea of
Interpreting Kawsay
relational ontology in Quechua meanings of
Popular use has unleashed new interpre- kawsay integrates and fuses the natural realm
tations of kawsay- and a suite of similar (pacha) and the human-social world, in con-
terms - as potent portmanteau concepts of trast to the separateness of nature and culture
indigenous customs and rights in the An- in classical traditions of modern Western

dean countries. In recent works kawsay has thought, including many strands of environ-
been carefully defined as social justice, with mental studies and resource management. By
emphasis on normative attributes of inclusion contrast, central to the Andean worldview,
and equality (Gudynas 34), and as a quality or so-called cosmovision, is the Pachamama
of social movements representing collective (Madre Tierra , or Mother Earth), believed to
well-being (Escobar 21). Still, debate and con- be the essence and giver of all life, both natu-
tention infuse the ongoing interpretation. On ral and human-social. However, the precepts
the one hand, kawsay is cast hopefully and of kawsay and the Pachamama typically differ
with widespread public support as signaling from the predominant ideas of sustainability
a decolonial turn and a new paraeconomic as principally a global institutional challenge.
model of national development and coopera- Unsurprisingly, kawsay concepts refer only
tion in the Andean countries. On the other rarely to the definitions of global sustain-
hand, the concept coexists uneasily in the ability commonly advanced in international
continued amalgam of so-called neoliberal reports (e.g., the documents issuing from the
multiculturalism and environmentality (Rad- influential 1992 United Nations Conference
cliffe; Zimmerer, "'Conservation Booms'"). on Environment and Development in Rio de
Amid debate, the concerns of the environ-Janeiro, such as the sustainability action plan
ment and sustainability have become even prescribed in Agenda 21). Instead, kawsay is
more central to the growing popular usage a methodology or process in which human
lifestyles must continually be "harmonized
and interpretations of kawsay. The term has
recently been defined as connoting political
to the pacha " through quotidian customs of
ecology and global ecology (Salgado) and en-
reciprocity with nature, understood broadly
to encompass elements from food plants to
vironmental protection combined with social
solidarity (Avendaño). Such highlighting local
of climate (Proyecto Andino).

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6o4 The Indigenous Andean Concept of Kawsay [ P M L A
Kawsay and the Pachamama conjure an ties and interlocutors (e.g., Jesuit missionaries
ideal of nature as humanized landscapes of in the Viceroyalty of Peru), while later, in the
0 indigenous food-producing environments first half of the twentieth century, it conveyed
0 and technologies, unlike the predominant meanings rooted partly in Peruvian indigeni-
+-» Western ideal of nature as pristine wilder- sta anthropology, and late in the century it re-
E ness (Denevan). These Andean beliefs suggest flected interest in food and agroecology issues
■ü an incipient divergence from the biocentric and the rise of national indigenous political
formulation of sumak kawsay recently incor- movements. Even PRATEC - the Peruvian

porated into the Ecuadorian constitution (Gu- group that has effectively promoted kawsay
o dynas; Salgado). Notwithstanding this recent and related concepts on indigenous agendas
xi shift, the historical continuity is noteworthy. during recent decades- must be seen as situ-
ated in a similar cultural borderland. This

Cross-historical comparison shows that the

ethical demand to preserve a suitable quality Lima-based nongovernmental organization,
of life and livelihood is a persistent foundation headed by adept agronomists and intellec-
of kawsay notions (e.g., health and well-being, tuals, including many from nonindigenous
along with whats needed to support them). backgrounds, has excelled in offering insti-
Continued framing of kawsay is seen by in- tutional translations and expertise in the
digenous culture as a complex of well-being borderlands of indigenous agriculture and
related to food, technology, and socionatu- culture in broader Peruvian society and in a
ral resources; one recent encapsulation poses notably international milieu (Apffel-Marglin
kawsay as the capacity for adequate resource and PRATEC).3
allocation. Reflecting on these beliefs high- Kawsay and related concepts share Uto-
lights the continuities, as well as the changes, pian qualities, which have begun to be trans-
in the meanings of kawsay and related terms. lated into the so-called anticipatory-learning
In general, historical analysis is crucial to un- and adaptive-capacity approaches to sustain-
derstanding the meanings of kawsay related to ability. Utopian qualities have distinguished
sustainability. Indeed, the historical approach the lengthy history of kawsay concepts, es-
of this essay strives to illustrate the sort of new pecially in Andean borderland spaces of cul-
scholarship necessary to deciphering the un- tural, political, and economic struggle and
certain political significance of kawsay , given contestation. Hence, colonial connotations of
the expansion of interest and usage among kawsay , considered in the essay s opening, fre-
diverse citizens, social movements, and, most quently encompassed the facts of a life as it is
recently, national constitutions. lived and a belief about how the life should be
The long arc of the uses of kawsay and lived. The kawsay- based ideal of access to suit-
related terms is characteristic of cultural able quantities of wholesome food for the sake
borderlands involving, but not exclusiveofto,
a healthy life or fit livelihood differs from
the notion of a subsistence diet. Recently,
indigenous peoples. In the Andes these bor-
derlands are both geographic locales indigenous
and movements have appended to
kawsay the qualifiers "good" and "beautiful"
figurative spaces of cultural encounter, rural
and urban, where Andean indigenous groups
( allin and sumaq ), emphasizing the prescrip-
have interacted with their nonindigenous
tive sense of justice in kawsay .4 One example
counterparts across a wide range of contexts
of this combined sense of aesthetics and jus-
in complex imperial, colonial, and modern
tice as applied to sustainability is illustrated
in current attempts to foster anticipatory-
societies. Kawsay was an important portman-
learning and response-capacity-enhancing
teau concept in the early colonial encounters
approaches in Andean communities re-
of Quechua speakers with viceregal authori-

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12 7-3 ] Karl S. Zimmerer 605

sponding to climate change, which

of kawsay tends
into the political constitutions of 7
to be pronounced in theEcuador
Andes and
(2008) other
and Bolivia (2009) signals a 0

tropical mountain environments. Sustain-

momentous shift in its usage. Constitutional ST

ability approaches to climate change

meaning suggests in these
the move toward a biocen- &>

landscapes have focused tric

enabling local
at least in Ecuador. While 3

initiatives, wherever possible,

seeming using
to environmental values, 3
ally appropriate knowledge,
this technology, and
shift of meaning could compromise the

vision building. Utopian and understanding of humanized land-
mean- 0
ings of kawsay and related scapes
terms thatare
has been integral to the meaning
enabling 0

Andean communities to reconfigure the

of kawsay concepts. use
These concepts need to Õ
and accessibility of resources like farmlands,
be deciphered, in particular with regard to 5*

forests, grasslands, seeds, water, andDoing so will require probing
in response to climate change (Ishizawa
the multiscale Oba, matrices of
Rengifo, and Arrillas Traverso; Salgado).5
the linguistic terrain of kawsay in the cultural
and environmental borderlands - spatially
extensive and historically and morally condi-
Conclusion: Kawsay and the
tioned-of Andean peoples and their liveli-
Sustainability Borderlands
hoods, aspirations, and political movements.
Kawsay is a versatile, portmanteau con-
cept common in the linguistic borderlands
formed through the contacts of indigenous
Andean peoples and cultures with nonin-
digenous groups and interests. Kawsay and
similar expressions have likely been
1. Huatya deployed
Curi s contrasting origins were akin to those
of the Huarochiri manuscript itself, whose authorship, in
for many hundreds of years among the in-
1597 or shortly thereafter, is unknown though it was ap-
digenous inhabitants of the Central Andes
parently sponsored by Francisco de Ávila (1573-1647), a
between Colombia and Argentina. Cultural
well-known clerical persecutor or "extirpator of idolatries"
norms, social relations, and
of thethe
viceroyalty. Constructed as an investiga-
tive text rather than an anti-Andean polemic, the manu-
cal quality of produced and consumed goods
script reflects the early colonial encounters and emerging
(e.g., foodstuffs) have been invoked in a litany
hybridity of indigenous belief systems, as well as the cor-
of changing linguistic uses. Most
responding recently,
social and cultural complexity of places and
mass indigenous movementspeopleshave
in colonial used allin
Peru (Salomon and Urioste; Taylor).
kawsay , sumak kawsay , and2. suma
In this example,
qamañakawsay is claimed
to to contain mean-
ings built on the idea of cross-generational environmental
connote social and environmental goals in lo-
equity (De Marzo 157) articulated in the principal clause
cal communities and at the national political
of the Brundtland Commission report's definition of sus-
level in each of the Andean countries
tainability: (pri-
"Sustainable development is development that
marily Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia).
meets the needs of theTogether
present without compromising the

with social justice and ability of

political future generations
reform, to meet their own needs . .
(World Commission on Environment and Dev. 43).
ronmental sustainability is a principal goal
3. In addition to its effectiveness regarding issues of
of these indigenous movements. Meanings
endogenous development, of empowerment,
kawsay related to sustainability range
agrobiodiversity, from
and sustainability, PRATEC has thrived
the fused human-social and natural world of as a translator of the Andean world's essential qualities,

relational ontology to Utopian qualities suited or lo andino , especially in Peru (Apffel-Marglin and
PRATEC). While scholarship centered on lo andino was
to adaptive learning and capacity buildingsubject to trenchant critique among social scientists and
in the face of environmental, climatic, andhumanities specialists, PRATEC effectively reinvented
development changes. The incorporationthis idea within an indigenous activist agenda.

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6o6 The Indigenous Andean Concept of Kawsay [ PMLA
4. For example, a//iw kawsay (vivir bien ) is the Ishizawa Oba, Jorge, Grimaldo Rengifo, and Nilda Ar-
M chief goal in the 2008-13 strategic plan of Bolivia's rillas Traverso. La crianza del clima en los Andes cen-
0 trales del Perú. Lima: PRATEC, 2010. Print.
Consejo Nacional de Ayllus y Markas del Qullasuyu
Õ (CONAMAQ), which consists of sixteen indigenous na- Medina, Javier. Suma qamaña: Por una convivialidad
0 tionalities and hundreds of communities. postindustrial. La Paz: Garza Azul, 2006. Print.
«M 5. The role of kawsay as an ideal in national politics, es-
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pecially through state-level policies and legal systems, in- los índios." Wira kocha: Revista peruana de estudios
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c the Andean countries. For example, ujamaa , a Swahili
Proyecto Andino de Technologías Campesinas, ed. Al-
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♦ï so-called African socialism under the government of Ju- amazónicas. Lima: PRATEC, 2002. Print.
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Sumak Kawsay, Living Well and the Limits to Decolo-
nization in Ecuador." Geoforum 43.2 (2012): 240-49.
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