To live well = to coexist well

from CIPCA Notas 217
Sunday, 10 of February of 2008

The original Spanish version can be found at:

by Xavier Albó

One of the main expressions one now looks for to synthesize the new style of country we wish to build [in Bolivia] is, “to live well”, as opposed “to live better”. It has now even been included in the solemn Introduction to the new Constitution given to the President this past 15th of December [2007]. It outlines the virtues the new Bolivia should have - respect, equality between all, solidarity, harmony, fairness, etc. - and concludes: “where the search for living well predominates”. This is also the central objective of the National Development Plan.

But sometimes translations are treacherous: traduttore traditore say the Italians. The expression comes from the Aymara: suma qamaña, and therefore it would be good to understand it in its fullness, to apply it correctly. We analyze and we enjoy these two words and all that they imply and project:

Qamaña is to live in, to live, to dwell, to be in'. As Simón Yampara tells us, it is related to qamawi, 'humble abode' and is also related with qamasa that is 'the character, the way of being, the value, boldness, energy'. And qamiri is not as much 'rich' (in the Creole sense, as many believe) but the one that lives that way, welcomed and welcomer. It is opposed to wajcha, that is 'orphaned, abandoned'. This last is the word that both quechuas and aymaras always prefer to say poor, beggar, referring more to the lack of security and warmth of coexistence in their life than to the abundance of their goods.

All this world of meanings is richer than that of jakaña, that is also to live and life, but only in the sense to be alive, as opposed to be dead and, to the death. For that reason, when in the Andean world, and among so many other [ab]original peoples, one affirms that theirs are cultures for life, not only referring to this physical fact of life, but also to all this group of social relations with a welcoming atmosphere. For that reason it is also called “taking care of” and “bringing up” life, as in what we do together, in family. Qamaña is also the name given to a sheltered place, protected from the winds, built with a stone semicircle, from which shepherds, while they rest, take care of their cattle.

In the oldest and classic Aymara dictionary of Bertonio, jakaña is used for the simplest meaning of “to live”. But for “to live in peace” and “to live with zest” it turns to qamaña: muxsaki qamaña 'to live most sweetly'.

Suma is, according Felix Layme, “pretty, beautiful, good, amiable”. And suma jaqi is 'good people', but in a sense of fullness that does not occur in Spanish: it is the one “that has the greatest possible degree of the required qualities. Perfect”. It is complemented with aski that refers more to benevolence [goodness, kindness?] and moral qualities.

These clarifications allow us to get a bit deeper into the perceptions of original peoples, that tend not to be considered in development planning and proposals. And it's also not bad that that the Constitution has laid the way open to looking for the suma qamaña, the “good life”.

Why not say to live better instead? In their conception, the original peoples (at least the Andeans) do not see it necessary, because suma (or sumaq in quechua) already includes “to the greatest possible degree”.

On the other hand, they resist saying “better” because it is understood too many times to mean that an individual or group lives and is better than others, and at the cost of the other. It is this which exposes someone, makes them q'ara, and not the color of the skin, because in fact q'ara means naked, bare, that is to say one that lacks something fundamental. It is equivalent to “uncivilized”, not to follow the rules and fundamental objective of coexistence. Therefore, to say only “well”, in this sense of suma(q) and in the context of qamaña, it already brings together that all of the social setting is absolutely good. Something far better than to simply see that some are far better than the others.

In a recent workshop of the Vice Ministry of Planning on the central objective of development, somebody commented: “Isn't suma qamaña in fact not 'to live well' but 'to know how to coexist and to support each other'”. Hopefully we can achieve it at both micro and macro levels.

El Centro de Investigacion y Promocion del Campesinado (CIPCA)
three Jesuits – Luis Alegre, Xavier Albó and Francisco Javier Santiago
English translation by Bob Thomson, 4 December 2009