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Reimagining The Act Of Living In The Tropical Rainforest

Dr Susanna McIntyre
March 21, 2024

Having recently relocated to the Colombian Rainforest in the foothills of the Andes, I have been struck by the rapid rate of destruction of native habitats by slash and burn techniques to make way for cattle farming. But equally astonishing is the rate of repair of these landscapes and forests once human destructive practices cease.

This 300-hectare territory was cleared of beautiful ancient rainforest with its massive trees about 100 years ago, planted with a very strong type of grass pasture (Brachiaria) and stocked with cattle and a few horses.  Lacking the protective tree canopy, the constant enriching of the soil by gently falling leaves and branches, the retentive forces of the tree roots and undergrowth and the gentle attentions of the small, light-footed natural animals that called this environment their home, this naked land suffered massive erosion as the shallow topsoil was worn away by sun, wind, rain and heavy-footed cattle and horses. The dense red clay that remained could not easily support vegetation, so all native wildlife vanished.

Lacking the indigenous small mammals, hungry parasites looked for substitutes, so infested the cattle, horses, humans and their pets. Anti-parasitic medications have become the norm, rendering the faeces of these mammals toxic for the few remaining insects to process. The land easily becomes saturated with manure, but here, the sun, wind and rain and some more resistant insects prevail, breaking down some of this excrement and washing the remainder into the water courses, where it causes nitrosification and pollution, destroying yet another habitat and taking its toxins into the sea.

The ramifications of the destruction of the rainforest are massive and far reaching, not only from the more obvious and popularised reduction of the photosynthesising oxygenating leaves of the rainforest trees and undergrowth and their concomitant absorption of atmospheric carbon dioxide and pollutants.

But nature is an incredibly vital force with an unbridled desire to repair and recreate the natural environment.

Fifty years ago, war drove the farmers off the land. The human trauma, disability and death toll are a terrible living memory, so much so that few campesinos (country folk) even wanted to return to their devastated farms. Most had relocated to the cities and found gainful employment and new lifestyles, so were reluctant to leave this easier, mind-numbing life and too disheartened to return to start their farming practices all over again. The threat of a repeat of this trauma lives on and acts as a further deterrent.

In the intervening forty years of guerrilla warfare, plants rapidly took over the landscape, invading houses and rendering them uninhabitable to humans. So successfully camouflaged were these farms that it became virtually impossible to return.

This land was reopened, about 120 hectares were burned and restored to their former cattle and horse pasture. After ten years of marginally profitable cattle farming, Sergio, the Grandson of the original owner, felt the urge to return to Colombia, having recently married my daughter, Eleanor.  Both being architects drawn to sculptural architecture following the natural forms of both plants and crystals, informed by such sages as Rudolf Steiner, they have initiated a way of living with the natural environment, respecting the laws of nature, reforesting the devastated landscapes and literally dwelling in symbiosis. Named after the local bird’s song, Ekawa was born!

At a very low stocking density, cattle can play an important role in allowing the reforestation to occur naturally.  Cattle prefer to eat the grass which would otherwise smother the emerging trees and bushes, allowing the indigenous forest trees to grow.

The native bamboo, known as Guadua, is not only a strong, adaptable structural material for construction, but also a very effective carbon sink. The vega, the flood plain of the river San Blas which runs through the farm, is the natural home of this rapidly growing woody grass, so the carbon footprint of creating bamboo dwellings in areas already devoid of trees is minimal.

Elle and Sergio have created several bamboo houses here, nestling into the landscape, beautifully camouflaged within the growing forest. They have invented numerous techniques to enable the construction of sculptural homes with curving roofs supported by inclined bamboo poles emerging from the local rocks and following the natural forms of the land. In this idyllic climate, who needs walls?

I am lucky enough to be living in one of their creations, Casa Luna. It is so peaceful, but more than that, it is a positively enriching experience. I enjoy more dreams, more profoundly restful sleep and feel regenerated just by being here. I have planted numerous fruit trees around the house to encourage reforestation, use various soil regeneration techniques and grow a lot of my own food.

This is their aim; to provide dwellings that enhance the natural living environment, so that the act of living can contribute to supporting nature.

Gradually, the wild animals are returning to the region. Most mornings, I am blessed with an awesome acrobatic display of Titi monkeys, singing to each other as they swing and leap through the branches way up in the canopy. Interestingly, their tails are not prehensile. With arms and legs spread widely, tail acting for balance, they often take a massive leap of faith, knowing that they will catch hold of a leafy branch well before they reach the ground. When there are delicious fruits available lower down, they venture closer, unable to resist the lure of sweet ‘monkey guavas’ and guama growing wild in the forest next to my house.

I feel we all need to work towards taking more care of our natural environment by reducing the usual unconscious, exploitative, destructive, self-centred ‘normal’ way of living in the ‘developed’ world to one of minimising our negative impact by careful consideration of our use and abuse of resources, consciously contributing to support and enhance the natural living environment.

Is it really necessary to exclude humans from nature by setting up nature reserves to protect wild habitats from errant human behaviour? After all, we are part of nature. We are not separate although we have become divorced from it. Most people don’t even know where our food comes from. As a species, have we simply forgotten how to behave as part of nature? Can we re-educate ourselves to be reunited with the natural world of which we are an integral part?

To discover more about this enriching way of life, you are invited to explore the Ekawa website and join in with the projects, where humans thrive in symbiosis with nature. There is a 3 week bamboo workshop here this July if you know people who could be interested in exploring this amazingly adaptable construction material. The Bamboo Village is a dwelling opportunity for those interested in real, vital living here, integrated within the natural living forest and all her inhabitants.

Nature and the human condition can blossom in synergy with one another.

Let’s reimagine what the act of living can become!

For more information, visit and on Instagram, ekawa_ekawa