From Africa to the Amazon – an Inter-cultural Exchange

In 2004 Gaia accompanied a small group of local leaders from Ethiopia, Kenya, Ghana and South Africa to the heart of the Colombian Amazon. This was to be the start of an annual intercultural exchange hosted by The Gaia Foundation, our partner Gaia Amazons and the local indigenous communities to share experiences between continents. It laid the foundation for this work to grow across Africa.


Amazon River from the air


In the Colombian Amazon the indigenous communities have revived their cultural traditions and secured legal recognition to govern their territories according to their traditional, Earth-centred customs.

At the close of 2009 the exchanges which had inspired the work of so many in Africa were reciprocated. Three indigenous elders from the Amazon visited Limpopo Province in South Africa to meet the VaVhenda communities to share their practice of developing ancestral eco-cultural maps and calendars as a focus from which to map their future, drawing on the past. Indigenous leaders from the Altai, Russia and various African countries participated. Since this gathering, communities in Ethiopia, for example, have developed Clan Constitutions based on their customary laws and gained legal recognition of their sacred natural sites & territories as ‘No Go Areas’ for any activity other than the required ceremonies.

Million Belay – Ethiopia

Million in the Colombian Amazon

Million first visited Colombia in 2006. He went on to start his own organisation – MELCA Ethiopia – to work with traditional communities to revive indigenous seed diversity, secure land rights and promote cultural biodiversity. MELCA is now a thriving and well respected organisation. In recent years it secured legal recognition to protect 22 sacred natural sites in Bale, Ethiopia, in a collaborative programme with Gaia.

Million is now the Coordinator of the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), advocating for small farmers and a just food and farming systems across the continent. Gaia has worked closely with AFSA since it was formed, supporting its emergence.



Thiong’o (right) in the Colombian Amazon, together with Mellesse Damtie (left) from Ethiopia

Thiong’o’s Story – Earth Jurisprudence Advocate, Kenya

Ng’ang’a Thiong’o participated in the Colombia Exchange between 2004 and 2009. Thiong’o was a highly respected Human Rights advocate whose life was transformed by his encounters with Earth Jurisprudence and the Amazon. Thiong’o went on to become a committed “barefoot lawyer”, dedicated to learning from the Elders in communities to better understand the Earth law foundations of customary law in Africa.

Together with Prof Wangari Mathaai, Thiong’o worked to include these Earth Jurisprudence principles in the Kenyan Constitution. Sadly, he passed away in 2010.



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