Ancestral practices light a path to sustainability

26 | 05 | 2022

Lessons from the past show that the road to equilibrium has been mapped out for centuries.

Observation is but one of the great virtues we’ve inherited from the societies of the past. The practice of observing our environment, finding parallels with what we see above and below, has constituted a philosophy of life for tracing paths to true social progress. Ancestral cultures, such as those in Mexico, founded their great, intelligent cities, where environmental development and a good standard of living coexisted within a single space. 

Clouds, mountains, trees; flowers, corn, and maguey. Ants, fireflies, bees, coyotes, and jaguars. Water, wind, daylight. Natural spirits and the guardians of life. Every detail of our environment is vital and holds within it, its own world. For the ancestral cultures of Mesoamerica, these were natural resources that the environment generously shared with human beings to facilitate their well-being. Giving food back to the earth –that vital energy– was essential. This was done through rituals, offerings, and festivals. 

Looking Back to Move Forward

Contrary to the contemporary thinking which desacralizes the world, fragmenting it into disassociated forces, sustainability implies harmonizing and uniting coexisting elements. Faced with the challenges of a growing, mostly urban population, it seems that many of the answers society needs to overcome today’s challenges, were readily cultivated by our ancestors. It’s enough to look to our past, and to bring its fruits into the present, to build a better future.  

Ancestral Technologies for a Sustainable Future

In Mesoamerica, cultures developed methods and resources to sustainably use the natural environment. For example, the Maya relied on a practical cosmology in complete harmony with the environment. Such practices are still in force and their value is promoted by La Vaca Independientes’s Baktún Pueblo Maya initiative. 

Community Collaboration: A tequio, a shared work project, is an effective mechanism for collaboration and the strengthening of community ties. Basically, community members come together to collaborate on tasks that benefit some portion of or all the members of the community.  

Eco-friendly Urban Planning: Few urban layouts have stood out more for their intimate dialogue with the environment and natural conditions than those of the great Mexica capital, Tenochtitlán. Crossed by multiple canals that intensely interconnected it, the city was ensured a permanently dynamic flow and exchange. Tenochtitlan undoubtedly has valuable lessons even today. 

Multi-agriculturalism: unlike the monocultures sought by today’s agribusiness, the milpa system –a basis of Mesoamerican food sustenance– cultivated corn, beans, squash, and chili, among other crops. It ensured not only rich nutritional resources, but healthier farmlands that don’t wear out with the passing of each harvest. 

Backyard Gardening: a home garden, especially popular among the Maya, guaranteed part of each household’s nutritional self-sufficiency. It also strengthened collaborative ties between those sharing the same roof.  

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