The struggle for autonomy : finding a balance between Westernization and tradition in Sarayacu, Ecuadorian Amazon
The Sarayacu are an indigenous community in the Ecuadorian Amazon struggling to maintain they define as their traditions and culture in the face of territorial challenges by outside interests. The influx of modem Western technology, material goods and culture due to globalization has changed the community. To protect their rights, it is necessary for them to incorporate some Western technology, but they have also adopted some amenities purely for convenience. They are now working to limit how this affects daily life, establishing a precarious balance between incorporating aspects of Western technology and culture and maintaining traditional customs and practices. If they incorporate too much from the West, the Sarayacu risk losing their identity. If they do not incorporate enough, they risk not being able to protect their rights. Maintaining this balance is particularly important in their struggle for autonomy because the government is looking for any reason to reject the community's claim for self-determination in their territory. Furthermore, to maintain credible claims with the Ecuadorian government, Sarayacu officials must try to maintain at least the appearance of a certain degree of traditionality. In this the balance will be discussed in the following six areas: (1) culture and the maintenance of ancestral knowledge, (2) management of land and natural resources, (3) health, (4) education, (5) money, and (6) cultural tourism and ecotourism. All of these areas are important in the establishment and maintenance of selfdetermination and the struggle for autonomy in their territory. In the struggle for autonomy, it is necessary to gain outside support. The search for outside support, however, illuminates many problems the Sarayacu face because of their identification as an indigenous group. To cultivate relationships with local indigenous and non-indigenous groups as well as national and international organizations, community officials take advantage of something called "symbolic capital," described as the resources available to the Sarayacu because of the outside perception of them as "bearers of tradition." By using symbolic capital, community leaders are employing something called strategic essentialism because of the simplistic nature in which it portrays the community. These conflicts over identity affect everything the community administrators try to do in their struggle for autonomy. Despite these difficulties, the Sarayacu, as a community, provide a good example for other indigenous communities on how to deal with outside pressures to modernize, while maintaining strong ties to tradition and culture.