The Incan Empire was the largest pre-Colombian civilization in South America, spanning modern Ecuador through northern Chile. As a naturalistic people, the Inca based their spiritual and cultural practices on an observance of the natural environment within the Andes Mountains.
These deeply religious South Americans attached divine significance to any resources they depended on for survival, worshiping many Gods who they believed were intimately involved in all aspects of the natural world. One such deity, who may be likened to Mother Nature, was the goddess Pachamama, wife of Viracocha, creator of the universe.
Pachamama was a central figure in Incan mythology. Apart from being mother to the moon and sun, Pachamama gave birth to life on earth itself and was said to live beneath the mountains. The Inca routinely sacrificed llamas and other animals to their earth goddess and called upon her for the success of their crops.
Despite the eventual collapse of Incan civilization under the weight of Spanish colonization, the rich legacy of Pachamama and the natural mysticism she embodied still persist in contemporary Andean culture. The indigenous people’s great respect for the environment transcends time and national boundaries. In countries like Ecuador, a former home to the Inca, the veneration of nature has even been codified in law.
In 2008, Ecuador ratified a new and unprecedented constitution to provide for the Rights of Nature. Whereas other countries consider environmental law through the lense of private or public ownership, Ecuador’s government views nature as having its own inherent rights and became the first to provide them through its founding document.
Article 71 of the Ecuadorian constitution says: “Nature or Pachamama, where life is reproduced and exists, has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles, structure, functions and its processes in evolution… The State will motivate natural and juridical persons as well as collectives to protect nature; it will promote respect towards all the elements that form an ecosystem.”
Under the environmental provisions of its constitution, Ecuador establishes the right of nature to replenish itself without undue interference. The government is empowered to restrict any practices which might harm ecosystems, endanger animal populations, or alter natural cycles. Ecuadorians may also petition the government on behalf of nature to further ensure its protection. This unique take on environmental protection stands to reason, given the traditions of Ecuador’s indigenous heritage and the country’s tremendous biodiversity.
What is the relevance of such laws in a modern world? Ecuador, a nation the size of the state of Nevada, hosts twice as many species of birds than the continental United States and more plant species than all of North America. Despite its small size, Ecuador has the most biodiversity per square kilometer of any nation, and is considered one of 17 megadiverse countries in the world for hosting such a wide array of plant and wildlife. According to the World Bank, over 25% of Ecuador’s territory is federally protected, compared with just 13% of U.S. land.
Ecuador also contains several geographically distinct regions. The capital city of Quito is nestled in the ranges of the Northern Andes, where snow-capped mountains and volcanoes compliment the high elevation. The eastern quarter of Ecuador is comprised of the Amazon rainforest, and further southward, open green valleys continually trade off with forestlands. Ecuador also has a drier, lowland region bordering the Pacific Ocean in the south. Furthermore, the Galapagos Islands are a renowned hotbed of biodiversity situated 500 miles west of continental Ecuador. With such a wellspring of natural wonders all inside one country, Ecuador is right to instill the values of the Inca and their devotion to the goddess Pachamama in today’s society.
Foreign travelers may experience the beauty of Ecuador firsthand on Tren Crucero- a luxury train which traverses the country from Quito to Guayaquil. The train is a source of great national pride, and for the third year running, Tren Crucero won the 2016 World Travel Award as South America’s Leading Luxury Train. Palace Tours is the official U.S. representative of this esteemed train line. Let us show you Ecuador and you may realize your deep respect for Pachamama.