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By Ana Lilia Esquivel Ayala
In the Sierra Juárez, state of Oaxaca, in southern Mexico, "communality" is lived. The indigenous Zapotec thinker Jaime Martínez Luna, in his book That which they call Communality (2010), explains: “We are communality, the opposite of individuality, we are communal territory, not private property; we are compartment, not competition; we are polytheism, not monotheism. Just as the imperial forces have relied on law and violence to subdue us, we rely on law and harmony to reply, to announce what we want and wish to be ”.
The territory is the physical space where the community stands, the relationship with nature is special, magical, spiritual, since it is known that life depends on that harmony between human beings and nature. It is made up of natural goods and sacred goods, it is the basis of physical and social reproduction; it is the main site for the proper development of community culture.
The form of social and political organization has been established in such a way that it has the participation of all of its members for decision-making. They meet in the General Assembly of Citizens —considered as the space that represents the highest authority in the community—, where men and women freely express their opinion to reach consensus for the benefit of the community. The council of elders or body of characterized (group designated by the General Assembly, made up of citizens who prominently held some position within the community), turns out to be a space for consultation and opinion, where experience and knowledge guide and guide the way forward. The positions to carry out are decided and assigned in the General Assembly; thus, both communal authorities and commissions and committees made up of the community's inhabitants are born. The election of authorities is based on prestige and consequently on work. Holding public office or performance does not entail an economic benefit, but it brings with it prestige and confidence that rises according to the hierarchy of the position held.
The resistance of the indigenous-peasant peoples of the Sierra Juárez has allowed values and principles of complementarity and reciprocity to be preserved within a harmonious environment that has been undermined and violated by the presence of capitalist practices characterized by the control and predation they exercise. on natural assets and violence towards communities in the region. This resistance, motivated by the history of each community, has led to these peoples having greater possibilities of achieving and / or maintaining well-being and happiness, what they call communality (or community life) and that ties in very well with the idea of Good Living from Andean thought.
Identity with Mother Earth Santa Catarina Lachatao, a community of Zapotec origin, located in the Sierra Juárez, represents a clear example of the reunion between human beings and nature. In the past, this community decided to exploit its natural assets. The felling of trees became one of the main economic activities of the community.
However, today, the path is different. Juan Santiago Hernández, former municipal president and now community representative, explains to Noticias Aliadas that the relationship that exists with nature is one of harmony. For him, Mother Earth is part of his identity.
"If we have land and we take care of it, we will continue to exist," he says. “Everything is a harmony with the soil, the water, the air. Nature is the most important thing for us; that's life".
Sensitivity towards nature, within community living, is being transmitted to children. Verónica Hernández Cruz, assistant to the community's Ecotourism Committee, points out: “Now we are working on activities with the children, to take them to the forest, because they must feel it, live it, in such a way that they realize the consequences of not caring and respect nature. We teach them what flora and fauna are. Also through workshops we want to convey the intention to continue conserving what nature gives us.
The forestry activity, although it brought significant economic benefits for a short period, has left a great irreversible void in the community's natural landscape. Now, Santa Catarina Lachatao, through a rescue of its own history, has been building and working alternatives that lead to the well-being and happiness of the community, but always maintaining a balance with nature. Activities such as agriculture — growing corn, beans, peas, wheat, broad beans, and squash — and ecotourism are generating economic income, but they do not cloud the principle of conservation and good management of natural assets.
The ecotourism project offers visitors a true coexistence with nature. Hernández Cruz tells us that the activities carried out for the proper functioning of the project range from wastewater treatment to waste recycling and rainwater harvesting. Likewise, for the construction of cabins, materials such as adobe and tile are used so that the impact on nature is minimal.
Preserve the forest
For his part, Santiago Hernández, recalls: “The grandparents spoke to us about harmony with nature; They tell us that before there was a lot of water, that before one went to the forest and heard birds and other animals. Now we go and the forest is drier, we no longer find the birds or animals that they saw. That is why we know that you must have respect for nature. We also think about future generations, because they will tell us that we had the opportunity to conserve the forest and put a stop to exploitation; And perhaps you think that for money, we continue to exploit and destroy nature. Rather, we want them to say that we stopped, that we tried to start that fight.
To understand life in communality, elements such as trust, complementarity, reciprocity, brotherhood and the party must be taken into account. For the Zapotec communities of this region, teamwork and support in various activities, through tequio, provides them with well-being. Tequio is a community practice that through work or service (without economic remuneration), which each citizen grants to the community, works are carried out for the benefit of all; such as schools, water supply systems, road cleaning. This way of life is not new, it is rather something intrinsic to the worldview of the indigenous-peasant peoples; something inherited from their ancestors. However, with the influence of the Western world and the constant attacks of privatization, added to the penetration of media based on market principles, this worldview was distorted, which is why communities like Santa Catarina Lachatao seek to recover the values upset and rescue the harmonious balance between human beings and nature.
Paraphrasing the teacher Martínez Luna, communality is the ideology, thought and action that has allowed communities to face and solve challenges and problems that history has brought them. For him, communality is "living wisdom that makes it easier for everyone to live together and collaborate in a community at the service of all."
The importance of understanding and preserving this way of life, says Martínez Luna, “lies in the fact that in the future the survival and transcendence of ancient peoples, with respect to the actions of the world that surrounds them, will rest on maintaining the resistance-adequacy of this way of being a community (…), since it is known that the fundamental values of Western society rest on individualism ”.