Last year, the Sarayaku community in Ecuador’s Amazon rainforest made history and elected its first woman president. Mirian Cisneros, a native of the indigenous Kichwa people, leads with a fierce passion and respect for Mother Earth. She works tirelessly to empower her people—and the planet—to preserve its natural resources and raise awareness of socio-environmental challenges.
Here at Rahua, we share Mirian’s love of the Amazon rainforest and her desire to preserve the jungle, its cultures and communities. This love is the force behind Rahua hair care, and it drives us to create natural beauty that’s in complete harmony with the earth.
In honor of Women’s History Month, we asked Mirian to discuss the challenges facing her people, her love for Mother Earth and what beauty is power means to her.
What does it mean to live in peace and harmony with Mother Earth?
For me, it means having a healthy territory without pollution and a productive, abundant land of natural resources to ensure food sovereignty. It also means maintaining our ancestral knowledge and practicing traditional customs to strengthen our own identity.
The Allpa Mama, or Mother Earth, gives us everything we need to protect and feed ourselves. Mother Earth is life and sustains life. From this strength comes wisdom, vision, responsibility and solidarity.
We like to say “kawsak sacha o selva living,” which means living in peace and harmony. To respect the life of another means to respect the life of the forest, Mother Earth and human beings. Only then will we give achieve balance and continuity of life.
How does your community achieve this peace and harmony?
Our community has a relationship of respect with Mother Earth that was taught by our parents. We’ve made rules of coexistence in the form of written regulations to achieve mutual respect among humans and with Mother Earth.
What is the significance of being the first woman president of Sarayaku?
It’s a very difficult responsibility but not an impossible one. In a sexist world, to break cultural barriers and overcome racism means to fight. I have the support of my people and my family, which gives me strength and courage. With the strength of the jungle and all of its beings, I will lead my people.
What led you to be so active in the Sarayaku community?
I cannot be oblivious to the tireless struggles of my people. Women are essential to everyday life. Without women, there is no peaceful struggle, there are no triumphs that a people like the Sarayaku can achieve. We are like Mother Earth. We love the continuity of life and humanity.
What do you want to achieve as President of Sarayaku?
My goals are to achieve harmony, tranquility for my people and the continuity of life and humanity. I also want to liberate my living forest, Kawsak Sacha, and lead humanity to respect Mother Earth.
What are the main challenges as president of Sarayaku?
To make the importance of the jungle known to those who do not understand, to those who think that the jungle and Mother Earth have no life, to those who consider the jungle to be only a bonanza.
We’re working to increase local, national and international visibility for our proposal to create a new category of protected areas for territories of indigenous peoples nationally and internationally. Kawsak Sacha (Living Jungle) is a true conservation proposal born from the philosophical vision of an original people. It counts on the support of the world, including the United States, to legally recognize it and enact it as law.
How can we spread the word about the importance of preserving traditions and cultures origins?
By holding political and scientific forums and creating documentaries about the importance of the jungle. Through our Kawsak Sacha proposal, we want you to help us contribute to the solution of the great socio-environmental problems, such as climate change. It is a declaration to safeguard the welfare of all living beings—human beings, protective beings, plants, animals, forests, mountains and lakes—and ensure protection against the extraction of natural resources from Sarayaku and Ecuador.
We also hope to protect the lives of other peoples and territories around the world by creating a new legal category of protected areas for indigenous peoples according to their philosophical conceptions.
What is your favorite quote or line that inspires you?
Sin las mujeres no hay selva ni paraíso…
Without women, there is no jungle or paradise…
What is your main source of inspiration?
The beauty of the jungle, Mother Earth and women. Women are as tender as the jungle and as strong as Mother Earth. Women are quiet, powerful, proud, humble, complicated.
What does the phrase "beauty is power" mean to you?
Much. Beauty goes to the heart of every woman, and with beauty, we can conquer the heart of the world. Beauty can change minds and inspire confidence and respect.