The Globalization of Interculturality

Miguel Puwainchir
Huamboya Municipality, Morona Santiago Province

In this paper, I would like to discuss the idea of interculturality and its importance to one of the themes of this conference, the coexistence of cultures. Every person is born with his or her own culture. We all occupy a distinct space, where we create our lives -- often in the midst of a struggle between cultural complexes – and where we also create new human beings who inherit our culture. We want these children, and others like them, to live at peace with nature. And based on this cultural value -- which flows from Indigenous thinking, for I myself am a Shuar -- I would like to state the following.

The manner in which national republics were built was irresponsible, for it has led to the development of national cultures that disregard the diversity of cultures existing within these modern states. Part of this state formation has been the adoption of unrealistic laws, a situation that has given rise to constant struggle.

A clear example of this is in my own country, Ecuador, in which recognition of intercultural relations, or plurinationalism, has been achieved only through the joint action of all Indigenous groups in the country. We have been able to establish a respected space for ourselves both socially and politically. And consequently, our laws have changed because we Indigenous people contributed to changing them. We have participated in democratic elections, and through this, we have managed to carve out a respectable space for ourselves. Currently, there is an Indigenous woman, a Quechua, who is a representative in our National Congress and the Vice President of the Republic of Ecuador. So now an Indigenous woman has also been able to carve out a space for herself, not only men.

I must say with courage and pride that we value our identity. We value our culture. We have maintained our identities as members of our cultures, and we have resisted being assimilated by other cultural groups. Where we are treated with contempt and called “Indios” -- not members of humanity in the full sense of the word -- we have struggled to defend ourselves. We work toward good intercultural relations.

When countries develop social pathologies, it is not only because there are economic problems but also because social and cultural differences are marked by difficulties. And consequently, we believe that those of us who have our own culture must remain hopeful and engaged in the struggle to secure a space in this world of modern technology, in which minorities are often invited to disappear. In the future, states should have no single state culture. Local cultures should not be turned into objects of folklore, of marketing, and of commerce, nor should the only places for old cultures be repositories in museums or descriptions in books. And we must avoid being represented only in monuments. No, we are a culture that is alive. We are a culture that generates and regenerates itself, and we shall struggle to continue living despite the great threats we face.

I am a Shuar. I am proud to be one that nature made so. This is why I walk and I work as a Shuar does. I come from a family of warriors that shrank human heads. Today we want to shrink human egos so they will accept a globalization of cultures that does not merge the many into one. And we want state and national governments to support changes in laws so that they promote, defend, and foster different cultures and include cultural matters in their national educational curricula. Then this form of knowledge will not be seen as relegated only to Indians, anthropologists, artisans, and musicians, but be part of mankind’s legacy.

That is what we mean by intercultural relations. We ourselves would like to learn about other cultures. We would like to know them, however, without losing what we are, our own identities. And this is why we ought to establish and defend a global policy of a two-way street for cultures. And so on this occasion, I believe that UNESCO and we the participants at this gathering, be we here as official delegates or as observers, should think of ways to further the existence and the development of these many cultures with the tools available to us in our work. The globalization of interculturality will help our culture and our people continue to exist.

And consequently, I recommend to the leadership of UNESCO and other organizations such as the Smithsonian that we submit as our only resolution the idea that the entire year 2000 should be the World Year of Cultures. This would be a time for state and national governments in the world to change their way of thinking about the diversity of cultures within their borders and to promote and celebrate the richness of our cultures in both small communities and large cities. Let us promote and celebrate them, even as technology is trying to destroy us and file us in some old museum.

Let me finish by saying that we still have time. In this world there are people who have hope -- people like us, who are hoping to change conditions and promote interculturality. That is what will save us from the destruction done to the world under a pretext of “modern development.” We must defend the way we think. We must defend our human geography and must struggle to continue living in this world despite a multitude of adversities and threats. We must require that governments respect the cultures of the world. And this means they must respect mankind’s right to continue living through these many cultures. I thank you very much.