Native hip-hop vibration in times of isolation

In bridging pop-culture with land issues and spirituality, indigenous youth have embraced genres such as rap, punk, jazz, graffiti, and heavy metal since the early 1990’s. In the case of hip-hop it shouldn’t surprise us that an aesthetic that was born at the crossroads between Black American, Caribbean and Latinx migrants at a time when the South Bronx, NY was burning, would be adopted by native artists who, as protectors of their lands, have been reminding indigenous and non-indigenous peoples alike that tradition and language must be constantly moving. 

Rhythmic lyrics, drums, stomp-dances, pow-wows have been beating for millenia among First Nations from Abiayala (The Americas.) Together with the rich phonetics of glottal and tonal indigenous languages, they have sparked contemporary indigenous hip-hop. Furthermore, acknowledging non-alphabetic writings such as rock-paintings, petroglyphs, geoglyphs, ideograms and textiles, contemporary indigenous graffiti artists are occupying and reclaiming cities, materials and technologies. Today, in activating indigenous beats, languages and codes via hip-hop aesthetics, our guest-artists this month in Siwar Mayu are challenging stereotypes and expectations about indigeneity while empowering women, elders, children and keepers of the land (Juan G. Sánchez Martínez.)

Luanko Minuto Soler (Mapuche)

Gonzalo Luanko is an artist of the new Cumbia & Rap Mapuche. As a teenager he started under the pseudonym “Soler Minute,” which he later evolved toward his “Mapuche identity”, adopting his first name as his artistic name. Luanko is a teacher of History and a composer with five albums already released. He has traveled throughout the Chilean territory and has taken his “kimün” (Mapuche wisdom) to other countries such as Uruguay, Argentina and the United States.


His discography, Inche Ta Luanko (2011), A Pies Pelados (2012), Oral Tradition (2015) and Ketrolelán (2017), contains verses that alternate between Spanish and Mapudungún, reactivating the native language and delivering a message to the new generations for the reconstruction of the Mapuche culture.  His lyrics reflect upon the history of the struggle and worldview of his people. Instruments such as the trompe, pifilka, trutruka or kultrún appear frequently in his songs. His latest album called Ketrolelán / I am not silent includes the participation of Movimiento Original, Santa Feria and Spokesman. It was nominated for the Pulsar Awards 2018, in the Native Peoples category, and contains the song “Witrapaiñ / We are Standing” with Portavoz, whose videoclip was made in the Wallmapu / Tierra Mapuche. Luanko’s music evolution has taken him from hiphop to Latin American rhythms and today he is working with DJ Seltzer in a new album of Cumbia-Rap Mapuche.             

Liftun / Limpieza © Luanko Minuto Soler Liftun ~ Purification © Translation by Paul M. Worley

Verse 1

Newentu amuleiñ / Let’s walk strong

Cheu pvle miauken / where we’ve always walked

Welu tañi mongen mu / but my life 

kiñeke meu norlay / sometimes is not well

Zunguyen mu alkvlay / speaking bad, not listening

Mvlele wezake zungu / if there are bad things

Tañi piuke konlay / my heart does not want that

Kvmeche kvme zungukelu / good people who speak well

Lif piuke lif pulli ngelu / people with clean hearts and spirits

Poyentu nvtram nielu / have sweet conversations

Tañi pulli konki / where my spirit always goesÑi mongen mu liftun zuamki / my life needs to be clean

Liftun mvlele feita rume fali / if it needs to be cleaned, that’s worth it

Norche ngelan / I’m not always correct

Welu kvmeche ngen / but I’m a good person

Rume trani tañi mongen / my life goes down

Welu newenkvlen / but I’m still strong

Inche kimche ngelan  / I am not wise

Welu chilkatuken / but I’m always learning 

Kelluken ñi pu Che / I always help my people

Fei mu kvzaukvlen / which is why I work

Kvpape feyentun tañi kultruntun / for the belief to come and the kultrun to be played

Kvpape poyewvn tañi ngvlamtun / for the benefits of my advice to come

Lefvlkantun ñi piuke mu / my heart’s fast song

Kom tufachi zungu / all of these  Tañi liftun / are how I clean things


Kvtrankawvn mvlele / if  there is suffering

Kiñe liftun / a cleaning

Afi zungu mvlele / if something ends

Kiñe liftun / a cleaning

Weza zungu mvlele / if there are bad things going on

Kiñe liftun / a cleaning

we newen nieam / to have renewed strength

Verse ll

Inche zuamlan tami koila ngvlam /  I don’t need your false wisdom

Inche zuamlan tami vtrir nvtram / I don’t need jealous conversations

Fei ta kvmelay kvmelay kvmelay / that’s not right, not right, not right

Welu lif newen  nieiñ aflayai / but we have clean internal strength

Kiñeke lelin neyen ayekan / some looks, breathing, happiness

Kuifike winkul kiñeke trekan / ancient mountains, some strolls

Kiñe llellipun mawvn lelfvn kurruf / a ceremony, rain, the countryside, the wind

Lifko kuifii kvtral / clean water ancient fire

Kom tufachi zungu niey lawen liftual / all of these have the medicine to clean

Kimi tami rakizuam llitual / your thoughts know to begin

Kiñe matetun purrun Datun / a mate, dance, healing

Kiñe yafutun lefkantun / a strengthening, running

Kiñe nampulkan niey liftun / a trip can cleanAkutuy kvme weftun / the rebirth is here

Inkakeiñ  taiñ kewvn mongeli / we will defend out living language

Taiñ püllü mu weichatuki / our spirit fights

Taiñ Tukulpan akupe / let our memory come back

Cheu pvle traupaiñ wezache konkilpe / let bad people not enter where we get together

Taiñ trawvn kvme amupe / let our coming together be good

Taiñ liftun afkilpe / let the cleaning not end 

Chorus ………

Verse III

Kvpape feyentun tañi kultruntun / for the belief to come and the kultrun to be played

Kvpape poyewvn tañi ngvlamtun / for the benefits of my advice to come

Lefvlkantun ñi piuke mu / my heart’s fast song

Kom tufachi zungu / all of these  

Tañi liftun / are how I clean things

Chorus …….


Zara Monrroy (Comca’ac)

Roxana Sarahí Romero Monrroy was born in Hermosillo, Sonora in 1991. She is originally from the Comca ́ac nation in Sonora, México. She is a composer, poet, translator and writer. She is also an activist and fighter for human rights and gender equity. Zara is committed to preserving and transmitting the lyrical tradition Cmiique Iitom, through song and ritual representation of her ancient knowledge. She combines her own language and way of expressing the message of her ancestors with western genres. As a traditional Pascola dancer, Zara recreates the ancient art of facial painting, redefining it and adding to it new symbolic elements. She practices the ancient art of singing and composing in her mother tongue, Spanish, and English.

Comca ́ac Flag

Regardless, she believes that a well intentioned message doesn’t need translation- it only needs to touch the heart of those that hear it. Currently she is the founder and an active member of the ecology club AZOJ CANOJ that operates within the Comca ́ac territory, and is  composed of young women from the Punta Chueca community in Sonora. She coordinates different events and procedures, such as setting up recycling workshops and waste management.

Tcoo quipee aha / Vibración positiva © Zara Monrroy ~ Tcoo quipee aha / Positive Vibration © Translated by Ivan Melchor

He ziix quii quipee quih tcooma xiica quiistox ihmaa quih iquii oyequetx, he ziix quii cöimpla quih hanso ihyomactim isoj,tax ziix quih quipe zó ihmáa aha.

/ I thank my enemies, I thank all those that criticize, because it always comes back around, we should always send positive vibrations to people.

Me ziix quisax ihmaa quih ihmpoho x, consacaixaaj aha, yooz quih maquiho ha tax, ziix quiipe tcooma tax aha taax, ziix quipee quih taax insactiim aha, hant quipee quih taax insoha, hant ifi xah ihamoc xah, taax ihpoot taax sacaha, ox pahihos, ox spacta aha. 

/ You, human that walks and breathes, why don’t you do the same, be thankful with everything and everyone, send good vibrations to the animals, to the people, with nature, that is calmness and happiness, harmonious with what you desire and ask for and everything will unfold.

Zaah zó tocpop taax isxeen coompácah x, insiyaha, insihoha, ox spacta caha, zó intimooz? Taax quipee aha, me ziix quisaax ihmaaá quih impoho ihaax insayaha, taax sacaha.

One day you’ll know everything is temporary, but it is truly worth it, be thankful. Aren’t you a human that feels? Life is human, emotions and feelings, but this is real.

Xepe iteel intica impaho ziix ccam hequee quih taax ihmpoho x, hant quiij consacaixaaj aha, hammime com maziim, xepe coil com maziim, tcoo quipee aha.

/ When you walk to the edge of the sea, be yourself, surrender with your heart in order to be and experience life as it is, everything is beautiful, the sea is beautiful, the sky is beautiful, the earth is beautiful, send positive vibrations and connect.

Taax sacaha taax ziix quipee caha insocta aha.

Hant quiij consacaixaaj aha.

/ that’s how this is, everything is good when we know we are in the right place, be yourself and thank the earth where you step .

(spoken at the end)


Tall Paul (Anishinaabe / Oneida)

Tall Paul is an Anishinaabe and Oneida Hip-Hop artist enrolled on the Leech Lake reservation in Minnesota. Born and raised in Minneapolis, his music strongly reflects his inner-city upbringing. From personal expressions of self, to thought provoking commentary on issues affecting Indigenous and diverse communities as a whole, Tall Paul’s music evokes a wide variety of substance and soul.

Prayers in a song © Tall Paul

Verse I

I feel the latent effects of assimilation

Inner city Native raised by bright lights, sky scrapers

Born with dim prospects, little peace in living

As a child, hot headed bout the fact I wasn’t wild

Like they called my ancestors, imagined what it’d be

To live nomadic off the land and free

Instead I was full of heat like a furnace cause I wasn’t furnished

With language and traditional ways of my peeps

Yeah I used to feel like I wasn’t truly indigenous

Now I say miigwech gichi-manidoo

For showing me my true roots, definitely Native

Take responsibility for being educated

My people and customs originating from early phases

Of history it’s, deeper than frybread

And contest pow-wows, tears shed in the sweat lodge

Prayers go out to all those I’ve wronged

And who have wronged me gotta treat em like family


Gichi-manido wiidookawishin ji-mashkawiziyaan / Great Spirit help me to be strong

Mii dash bami’idiziyaan / So that I can help myself

Miizhishinaam zaagi’iiwewin / Show us all love

Ganoozh ishinaam, bizindaw ishinaam / Talk to us, hear us

Mii-wenji nagamoyaan / That is why I am singing

Nimishomis wiidookawishinaam ji-aabajitooyaang anishinaabe izhitwaawin / Grand father help us to use the Anishinaabe customs

Mii-ji-bi-gikendamaan keyaa anishinaabe bimaadiziwin / So that we’ll know how to live the Anishinaabe way/the good life

Verse II

Becoming aware of a heart beats fragility

So I pray for my creator’s will and humility

It seems my prayer’s weak I can’t speak, not a linguist

Does he hear my English when I vent I fear the answer

To the question, this is symbolic of anguish

I feel regarding language and the obligation of revitalizing

Something sacred, failure to carry through is disgracing

A Nation, my first tongue’s in need of a face lift but

Deciphering conjugation’s like trying to find

My way through a maze in the matrix, complex

Hard to start without an end aside from being fluent

I gotta push the limit if I’m gonna keep pursuing

So I use it in a way that relates to my life and vocab

Bring some entertainment to it, spit it on a track

And I take it out the class, can’t let what I lack

Become a self-defeating habit that’ll make me want to quit


Verse III

It’s far fetched but Grandfather please help me learn it

Help me assist in keeping it from burning

Don’t let me quit and flee from working for a worthy purpose

Enlighten me and help me comprehend effects of my service

I need a spark in my desire from something higher

Prior to negative reminders killing my stride

Sometimes I’m the type that likes getting results

Overnight, without sweating or stressing overnight

So I pray

Creator give me strength, so I can move on

Creator show us love, so it can spread around

Communicate with us, from above, hear me now

My prayers in a song I speak em out loud

Grandfather help us to revitalize the language

And ways so we walk the Red Road

That you paved, communicate with us from above

Hear me now, my prayers in a song I speak em out loud


More about Native Hip-Hop

“The anticolonial beats of Indigenous Hip Hop”

About the translators/collaborators

Ivan Melchor was born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1997. Presently he studies history at the University of North Carolina Asheville. He has published his undergraduate thesis regarding the migration of Latinamericans to the western region of North Carolina. In 2019 he assisted in a project with the UNCA Department of Languages and Literature to translate a collection of interviews of immigrants from Asheville, N.C. USA.

Paul M. Worley is Associate Professor of Global Literature at Western Carolina University. He is the author of Telling and Being Told: Storytelling and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures (2013; oral performances recorded as part of this book project are available at, and with Rita M Palacios is co-author of the forthcoming Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (2019). He is a Fulbright Scholar, and 2018 winner of the Sturgis Leavitt Award from the Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies. In addition to his academic work, he has translated selected works by Indigenous authors such as Hubert Malina, Adriana López, and Ruperta Bautista, serves as editor-at-large for México for the journal of world literature in English translation, Asymptote, and as poetry editor for the North Dakota Quarterly.

Juan G. Sánchez Martínez, grew up in Bakatá, Colombian Andes. He dedicates both his creative and scholarly writing to indigenous cultural expressions from Abiayala (the Americas.) His book of poetry, Altamar, was awarded in 2016 with the National Prize Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia. He collaborates and translates for Siwar Mayu, A River of Hummingbirds. Recent works: Muyurina y el presente profundo (Pakarina/Hawansuyo, 2019); and Cinema, Literature and Art Against Extractivism in Latin America. Dialogo 22.1 (DePaul University, 2019.)

Ita ha’eñoso / The Stone Is No Longer Alone. Miguelángel Meza

Selection, introduction and translation

from Spanish by Elisa Taber

Miguelángel Meza © photo credit: Douglas Diegues

Miguelángel Meza is a Guaraní poet and cultural promoter born in Caacupé in 1955. He has contributed to numerous anthropological and linguistic research studies, as well as translations. He also worked for the National Ministry of Culture of Paraguay. He has published the books Ita ha’eñoso (1985), Perurima rapykuere (1985 and 2001), Purahéi (2001 and 2011), Chipi Gonzales guahẽrã (2006), Maleõ (2007), Perurima pypore (2010), and Arami mburukujaguýre (2012). He is the founder of the cartonera press Mburukujarami Kartonéra, with which he has published numerous titles authored by him and others.

Ita ha’eñoso is a bilingual, Mbya Guaraní and Spanish, collection of poems by Miguelángel Meza. Mbya Guaraní is distinct from Jopara, a variant of Spanish-inflected Guaraní spoken widely in Paraguay, a bilingual country, Spanish and Jopara. This, his first book, published thirty-five years prior, is a twin collection to Ayvu Rapyta, the Mbya Guaraní sacred myths of origin transcribed and collected by Paraguayan ethnologist León Cadogan. He writes a self-reflexive response, not retelling, of the myths; therefore, while his images, symbols, and metaphors refer to an ancestral culture, they are also very much his own. Meza’s words are signifiers without hierarchy that mean literally within the lyric structure, the first words by a new author, and connote literally Mbya Guaraní cosmological narratives. In essence both are the same as the word “ñe’ë,” which literally translates “word-soul.” The origin of the world is not announced by the materialization of the hummingbird, but by a voice that mournfully asserts, “I appear.”

Since Ita ha’eñoso (1985) Meza has published six collections of poetry and short fiction. However, Ita ha’eñoso remains a seminal work in Guaraní poetry because it marks the transition from oral and communal to chirographic and authorial literature. He makes an attunement to both an authorial style and a millenary culture possible, while they jointly point to another way of conceiving the world. The counterintuitive way that this poet renders the individual from the communal is reminiscent of the Paraguayan embroidery technique, ñandutí. Ñandutí means spider’s web in Guaraní. Threads extracted from, rather than woven into, a fabric trace a geometric pattern. Meza imitates this practice by claiming authorship through his lyric synthesis of a communal narrative. Meza seems to say through those that came before him: identity lies in erasure, not mark-making.


Poetry by Susy Delgado


Elisa Taber is an Argentine writer and anthropologist. She explores the ontological poetics of Amerindian literature. Her stories and translations are troubled into being, even when that trouble is a kind of joy. Her writing appears in specialized media, such as 3AM Magazine, Colleex Open Formats, and Minor Literature(s). She is the recipient of two Library of Congress Hispanic Division Huntington Fellowship and a Janey Program for Latin American Studies Fellowship; and holds an MA in anthropology from The New School for Social Research. She is co-editor of Slug, a journal that bridges the gap between literature and ethnography, and editor of a Guaraní poetry issue for Words without Borders. Her books include 300 and 28 (Oakland: Gauss PDF, 2019) and An Archipelago in a Landlocked Country [Minneapolis:11:11 Press, (forthcoming) 2020]. Elisa was born in Asunción, and lives between Buenos Aires and New York.

Six poems by Kimberly L. Becker

Kimberly L. Becker is author of the poetry collections Words Facing East; The Dividings (WordTech), and Flight (forthcoming, MadHat Press). Her poems appear widely in journals and anthologies, including IDK Magazine, Panoply, and Tending the Fire: Native Voices and Portraits. She has held grants from MD, NC, and NJ and residencies at Hambidge, Weymouth, and Wildacres. Kimberly has read at venues such as The National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, DC and Wordfest and served as mentor for PEN America’s Prison Writing and AWP’s Writer to Writer programs.

To introduce these poems, Kimberley sent to Siwar Mayu this statement about her art, a powerful invitation for the younger generations:

As a mixed race poet identifying Cherokee, I neither presume to speak for any sovereign nation nor identify with the dominant culture. I am undocumented and describe this experience in an essay for the upcoming anthology Unpapered co-edited by Diane Glancy and Linda Rodriguez.

My work is influenced by my attempts to honor my heritage through the study of language, culture, and history. I look to my literary elders and betters, such as the brilliant Allison Hedge Coke, who taught me to “hold the door open” for others and so I seek to give back where I can.

If, as Tillie Olsen wrote, “every woman who writes is a survivor” and if, as Audre Lorde wrote, “so we speak, knowing we were never meant to survive,” then every writer of Native descent, documented or undocumented, is not only a survivor, but also a witness against the institutionalized racism still pervasive in this country. The Holocaust happened here, as well; Andrew Jackson’s visage is on our currency and his portrait hangs in the Oval Office of our current corrupt president.

Thankfully we have Joy Harjo as Poet Laureate, the first Native American poet in that role, an important cultural corrective. Read the work of her and so many Native writers who are of the land and speak wisdom from ancestors who were here first. Raise up young writers. Hold the door open. Make your writing an offering. Pray. Praise what you can. Call out injustice when you see it. Call on the strength of generations of people who were never meant to survive, but have.

“Language Classes,” “Morning Song,” “In the Purple and Blue of It,” “The Cherokee in Me” © From Words Facing East. WordTech Editions, 2011.

“In Your Mind you Go to Water,” © North Dakota Quarterly.

“Copper” © From Flight. forthcoming MadHat Press.


written on Qualla Boundary; for C.M.


“Morning Song”: Facing East, a song of praise is offered in the morning. Nogwo sunale nigalsda (now morning has come). Yona (bear) Gvyalielitse Yihowa (I am thankful to you, God) iyugwu (Bring it)





Genetic Dissenter: An Interview with John Henry Gloyne

© By Trey Adcock

Booger Mask, 2017, acrylic.

John Henry Gloyne, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indian (EBCI), grew up in the Yellowhill community of the Qualla Boundary in Cherokee, NC. Born to a Cherokee father and a Pawnee/Osage mother from Tulsa, Oklahoma he is a prolific artist using several mediums to blend traditional indigenous images within modern contexts. Tattooing, painting, drawing, and sculpting are his main outlets of expression. John Henry’s most well-known works include his own take on traditional Cherokee masks and Mississipian inspired gorgets.

His work has been most recently featured in the Renewal of the Ancient art exhibit of the Museum of the Cherokee Indian and the Appalachia Now! exhibit at the Asheville Art Museum.

You can check out more of his work HERE, and on instagram.

John Henry and I met on a sunny, brisk morning at a small coffee shop in the River Arts District of Tokiyasdi “The place where they race” known by its more popular colonizer name of Asheville, NC. Former industrial buildings turned art galleries, coffee shops and micro-breweries sprawl out along the French Broad River that runs northeast through the city. We both live and work within or near urban spaces associated with Tokiyasdi. I am an enrolled member of the Cherokee Nation of Oklahoma who directs the American Indian & Indigenous Studies program at the local university while John Henry is the owner of Serpent & the Rainbow tattoo shop located in the western part of the city.

I heard about John Henry for years from friends who he played basketball with and from students who raved about his work, both painting and tattooing. We finally met-in-person when he and his partner were taking Cherokee language classes at the local university and I came to sit-in on the class from time to time. I was immediately taken by his work, his love of basketball and his family’s passion for Cherokee history and culture. For my 40th birthday I got my left forearm with my Tsalagi ‘Cherokee’ name in syllabary at his shop. The Cherokee writing system known as syllabary was invented by Sequoyah in the 1820’s and eventually led to the first bilingual Native American newspaper, the Cherokee Phoenix, in the United States.

Adasdelisgo’i “One who continuously helps”

During our morning together we talked art, politics, language, and another of our shared interests…basketball. The following is a brief excerpt of our conversation which highlights his work, his inspirations, and how fatherhood has shaped his craft.

Trey: Do you feel that there’s a Pawnee-Osage influence in your art or do you feel like its mainly Cherokee?

John Henry: Now, I think there’s a big Mississippi influence. That’s the umbrella of all of us in the southeast. Even beyond the southeast too. I think all tribes can relate to the iconography. I would definitely say at the moment, more Cherokee leaning. I even tried a little bit to get out of the Mississippian thing… just cuz I was using it all the time.

Anikituwaghi, 2018, acrylic                                                   Man on Mound, 2018, acrylic

Trey: When you were growing up when was the first time when you considered yourself an artist? Were you always drawing and stuff?

John: Always, yes. Always, as I had a very encouraging mother. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I was not being creative like that. Seriously don’t remember. Mom kept all my drawings since I was like five, six.

John Henry Gloyne, Age 5, 1988.

One of the big things that I ever did was I was just always drawing. My mom was always encouraging me to draw. I drew at school when I shouldn’t have been drawing.

Spud Webb, 1995, pencil and ink.

Trey: Do you have other family members that are artists?

John: Yes, my sister was a big influence on me. She went to the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) and that’s why I went there because she turned me on to it. As she got older– I would imagine with a lot of people that are creative when they’re younger and then adulthood slows it. Just because you’ve got bills to pay and that kind of shit. I think I was a little bit more reckless with it like, “I don’t care about bills. I’m still doing this.”

I threw caution to the wind and just dove into doing art and fucking got lucky and it worked out for me. She painted, but she also did a lot of collage stuff. Just a mix- mixed media, collage, paint, she did a lot of that kind of stuff. She was a big influence on me though. She’s still creative in her own way. She was always funky.

Cherokee and Creek: Indian War. 2016. watercolor.

Trey: How did she influence you?

John: She was a grind metalhead. I never got into that, but it was like, the aesthetic was always around. She loved [the band] Jane’s Addiction. All that was a big influence on me. Their album covers and stuff. That Nothing Shocking record that has two paper mache women and they’re like Siamese and their heads are on fire. Anyways, that was kind of the stuff my sister was into. She would show me all that stuff and she would be like, “Check out the art on this.” It’s cool, it’s awesome or whatever and then I’d trip on it. I was nine. That was a big influence, for sure.

Trey: How’d you get into tattooing?

John: I started learning to tattoo in 2001, I was still in high school, man. I remember I was working at Peter’s Pancakes in Cherokee, bussing tables with my sister. The owner of a local tattoo shop came to one of the high school art shows in Cherokee, He’d seen some of my stuff, asked me if I wanted an apprenticeship. I just immediately quit the bussing tables job and I just got real heavy into tattooing for almost 10 years. Not that I didn’t paint, but it was just strict, like real folks doing tattooing. Looking back, it was like, all I wanted to do was wake up and be creative. That’s all you had to do.

Trey: Do you have a particular style of tattooing?

John: I’m extremely versatile tattooer. I can do a lot of different styles. Maybe that is my style.

Trey: You tattooed in Minneapolis for a bit right?

John: Yeah, well, I got a job, but I picked up and moved almost immediately. I tattooed in South Minneapolis and East Lake Street and just a native would come in and it was just like a trip cuz I didn’t realize how huge the native community was there until I moved there. I tattooed Clyde Bellecourt that helped started AIM [the American Indian Movement organization]. Yes, I got to know his son Crow. He had a powwow group called The Midnight Express. Crow knows a lot of powwow heads from Cherokee.

Anyways, but it was awesome and on top of the native community, just the arts in Minneapolis are huge. It’s a very art hungry town. It was awesome. They call it, “Concrete Rez”, which is just right there in the middle of downtown Minneapolis. I think it’s called Red Earth. Anyway, it’s just like a little rez. It’s right in the middle of the city, it’s all just like concrete housing and stuff.

Seven Clans, 2018.

Trey: Why did you leave?

John: It was too far from home. I’m close to my family. I didn’t want to be a stranger to my nephews and nieces, because I got 12 nephews and nieces. We’re all close. I love Minneapolis, though. Too far from home, though.

Trey: You’re painting more now?

John: All the time. I actually paint more than I tattoo and I tattoo a lot. I’m just constantly doing something.

The process of weeding out, 2018, acrylic

Trey: How do you describe your painting style?

John: Yes. Like most oppressed people, their anger and oppression makes them hilarious. I joke around a lot. I’m a real fun person, but it’s you’re just hiding your fucking anger. [laughs] I feel like– It’s like the more angry you are, the funnier you are. The more darkness there is, the funnier you are. It’s getting to the point where that has a lot to do with my artwork.

Bernini’s son, 2016, acrylic and gouache.

Trey: Does it?

John: Yes. Which is funny, because the past few years I’ve just been painting things to me that are just tame. It’s almost like, I just want to show people, I can do that. But there’s still a bleakness to it, I think. Just a little bit of darkness to it.

Dogdick, 2019, acrylic.

Trey: Do you as an artist, do you feel this pressure that some people talk about, doing so called, “native art”?

John: See, I was so against that when I was younger. Yeah. I was like,” Fuck you, I’m not going to paint a horse or painting” or like, “I’m not painting a fucking Indian doing some shit.”

Tattoo Flash, 2019, acrylic and ink.

Trey: You were resisting.

John: I was resistant as fuck. I’m a genetic dissenter, it’s like– It’s in my blood to just be like, “No man, I’m not doing what you want me to do.”…but really, me doing more Native American type stuff, everything changed when I had the kids. I was probably was thinking about it before I had kids, but then when I actually had them, I was just wanting them to be more aware of who they are, but also be really proud of it. For Cherokee people too, especially Eastern Band, we’re the end of the line here…

More about John Henry Gloyne

Serpent and the Rainbow Tattoo

Tiawanaku. Four poems by Judith Santopietro

Judith Santopietro © Elena Lehmann

Judith Santopietro was born in Córdoba (Veracruz, México) in 1983, though she was also raised between Ixhuatlán del Café and Boca del Monte, native communities in the Altas Montañas to which her family belongs. There she first heard stories about nahuales, chaneques, flying women, and other extraordinary beings from the Mesoamerican world. Her mother tongue is Spanish; neverthe- less, she has learned Nahuatl for political reasons and to honor her foremothers who dreamed and lived in that language. Judith holds a Master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin and has carried out research residencies in the Sierra de Zongolica and Tecomate (Veracruz), the Teresa Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies (Texas), and the University of Leiden (The Nether- lands), as well as in New York and Bolivia.

She has published the books Palabras de Agua (Instituto Veracruzano de Cultura-Praxis, 2010) and Tiawanaku. Poemas de la Madre Coqa (Hanan Harawi Editores, 2017) —the first version in Spanish—, as well as the essay “Migran- tes nahuas celebran a Santiago Apóstol: un ejercicio de comunalidad en Nue- va York” (Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas, 2017/ Leiden University Press, 2016). She was awarded the Lázara Meldiú National Poetry Prize in 2014 and was a finalist for the International Literary Prize “Aura Estrada” in 2017. She has published in the Anuario de Poesía Mexicana 2006 (Fondo de Cultura Eco- nómica), Rio Grande Review, La Jornada and The Brooklyn Rail, and has also par- ticipated in numerous festivals, including PEN America’s World Voices Festival in Nueva York, 2018.

Her passions are the project Iguanazul: Literature in Indigenous Languages, photography, participating in traditional rituals and dance, birdwatching, and leafing through her rice paper book of poetry from the Tang Dynasty in Chinese ideograms. Currently, she is writing narratives of migration about indigenous communities in the US.

Excerpted from Tiawanaku. Poemas de la Madre Coqa

© Judith Santopietro

English Translation © llana Luna

© Judith Santopietro
© Judith Santopietro

© Judith Santopietro

About the translator

Ilana Luna is a nomad at heart, and has lived on both coasts of the U.S. (Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, California); Miramar, Bs. As. Argentina; Mexico City and currently calls Phoenix, Arizona home, where she is an Associate Professor of Latin American Studies at Arizona State University. She has been a mother, a lover, a poet, singer, novelist, educator, activist, cooking enthusiast, and translator for the last two decades. She holds an M.A. and Ph.D. in Hispanic Languages and Literature from the University of California, Santa Barbara, and came into her unrepentant and intersectional feminism at an early age, culminating in an undergraduate degree from Bryn Mawr College, in Pennsylvania, where she was born. She is also a life-long cinephile, and writes about women filmmakers in Latin America (and the world). She is the Programming Director of Femme Revolution Film Fest in Mexico City, and has written Adapting Gender: Mexican Feminisms from Literature to Film (SUNY Press, 2018). Among many loose publications of poets and essayists, she has also translated several books of poetry, including Juan José Rodinás’ Koan Underwater (Cardboard House Press, 2018) and Giancarlo Huapaya’s sub verse workshop (Lavender Ink, 2019).

More about Judith Santopietro

Tiawanaku. Poemas de la Madre Coqa. Print. Bilingual Edition

Directed by Patricio Agusti

Painting the Invisible. Brus Rubio Churay

© By Juan G. Sánchez Martinez

© Translated by Lorrie Jayne


Brus Rubio Churay is a Murui-Bora artist from the Amazon region. He was born in 1984 in the community of Pucaurquillo, located in the basin of the River Ampiyacu, in Loreto, Peru. In his work, natural dyes and acrylic come together on canvas and ‘llanchama,’ the fibrous bark of the ojé tree. In “Our grandfather guiding the children”, the ancient territory / jungle carries the children, keepers of water and dance. Trickstery and joy emanate from the earth in a maze of barks and branches.


Whether in Miami, Havana, or Paris, the jungle reveals its boa eyes. Rubio’s sight captures the invisible. The world of men fills only a bare snippet of the canvas. Though the waterfront and the beach unfurl all of their human strength, the beings that sustain the image are, and are not, women and men, but the beings who inhabit the canvas alongside tourists, and songs and dances that accompany Salsa.


Between the city and the jungle, the Murui-Bora gods of this universe are not mere mythical episodes from a book. They are the curious gaze of Buinaima himself before the indelible structures of a contemporary city. What in the world have men done with the Tree of Abundance? Could it be true that they divide the platters of macambo and petroleum as if there were no consequences?  The skeletons of the devourers devour themselves.


Rubio explains in his bio:

“My creation reflects a great cosmic happiness because it is inspired by gods and important mythic people, by festivals and rituals, by the tasks of farming and cooperative work (minga), by the magic and beauty of fish and animals, by the song, vision, and sacred work of my ancestors. All of this is part of my existence, of my way of thinking, feeling, and looking at the world.”

Brus Rubio Churay

“(…) My paintings also address social, historical, and political themes that affect my people and Amazonia in general, such as environmental contamination, the crimes of the rubber barons against my ancestors, corruption, and the outside agencies that impose development programs without understanding the local reality.”

MYSTIC LOVE © Brus Rubio

Considered as a whole, the work of Brus Rubio allows long silences for daydreaming (but not for romanticism or exoticism.) The viewer goes from the known (let’s say a leaf) to the orange skin of a jaguar made of falling leaves. Suddenly, colorful butterflies alight upon the Milky Way while the Mother bathes beneath the stars. Eroticism and love linger, buzzing above the waters.

STARS WATER © Brus Rubio

More about Brus Rubio

Artist website:

Ndé Alliterations, by Margo Tamez

© Original poems, excerpted from Father | Genocide: New and Selected Work, 2009-2019,  a new book-in-progress by Margo Tamez

If you prefer to read the PDF, click here





dáá’koh jeekíí dádidlohgoh beeshá’íí’áná

I am thankful
when the sun rises.
This day.
Just this day
the woman danced until sunset.









nááyiiskáo dáá’koh



gokíyaa’í bich’í’yégoh

After a while
she remembered
dislocated shoulder
her spine
her body.
Just at evening
the next day
the movement back
was begun
toward their country.





this country
is my home
my little house.
bring it back for me.


Shángodńnał ? 




Will you save me
a place?
Though they cried
and pleaded,
they were abandoned.

Father replays the funeral in Dream #28

Published in Eduardo Corral, curator.

Shame             forces             what we denied into luminosity.

In dream       my father tells me               my mother’s grieving      

prevents          momentum.

He’s projecting thoughts to a screen          for me to read.      

I’m at his private film  of captivity.

He’s watching us.    We’re hunched over       heaving the sorrow vomit.

Father stands before me

time without fear    suspended and apart

unafraid of anything   one way or another.

“When did they cut it?”                                                       he wants to know 

pushing the thought into space                   between my eyes.

Raising his pant leg    where the mortician

smoothed and stretched the salvage skin     Father used for padding 

his below-knee amputation                         

hovering   inches above the ground                                   glints in his eyes.

He doesn’t remember the amputation                                     

in the bending.

Father shows me his whole leg.                    Scars

mended and smooth.

He is an uncut body again.  Like before the bending place.

Only the graft scars on his thighs remain.

He projects: “I feel my leg here Margo  my foot still itches here” Father

points: “in this empty space”     he twirls his fingers a slow    spiral.

I nod to him:               “I see. I’ll remember this for you.”

Artist Statement

At a very young age, I suffered a severe hearing impairment brought on by a runaway fever, poverty, and the intergenerational effects of colonization. At the time, there wasn’t the capacity to know if there was mass interest in the effects of the industrial chemical colonization of the air, land, water, and food systems in which I was raised in southern Texas and in the Texas-Mexico bordered region.

Early on, I made linkages between the settler society’s broad disrespect for and war against the Earth and the aggression we experienced as the local, non-recognized, Indigenous peoples.  I didn’t have the language for this then; though, I was gaining intuitive knowing about how the oil-cattle-cotton and extraction economies trickled down toxicity to my body and how illness resulted.

Being Indigenous, poor, from non-recognized Ndé Dene peoples of Kónitsąąíígokíyaa, (aka: Southern Plains Lipan Apaches from the Big Water Country; unceded Aboriginal Title lands in current-day Texas), this also meant that my experiences, understandings, and critique of these interconnections were also linked to difficult histories spoken, or expressed nonverbally, amongst adult family members. Poetics of repressed memory, knowledge, and anxiety about our subjugated and invisible class (non)identity and (non)recognized political personhood raged into the 20th century:

through new Indigenous battle-grounds

waged inside cramped rental houses,

low-wage neighborhoods, school yards,

job sites, compulsory CCD catechism

classes, athletic indoctrinations, Sunday

mass, and public schools with White teachers

and rulers, and rule-line paper, and ruling glares.

through compulsory Brownie and Girl Scout

regimentation, yellow school bus rides, armed check points,

vehicle searches, identity papers, incomplete homework,

after school detention, signed yellow slips from home,

parents feeling contained in the rule-lined signature line

for their compulsory signing without consenting, that I

am a bad person for telling our people’s version of history,

compulsory silence in classrooms, compulsory seating order

at the back, with another Native and a Black girl,

curfews, canned corn, old tortillas stuck in

frozen wax paper, Halloween stereotypes, hard leather shoe

blisters, jumped by a gaggle of white boys managing

the settler racial architecture of space and place.

First grade in the occupied territory of unceded Lipan Apache homelands,

South Texas.

My work relates my life-long interest in language, history, archives, memory, and Ndé Dene peoples’ resistances and refusals to disappear and go away. My work also engages where and how Ndé Dene peoples have become conditioned into submission to settler supremacy, and where the colonizer’s methods embedded into the colonized.  My work, as a truthing instrument, leans toward healing and revitalizing, by way of uncovering the hidden in order for truth to emerge; in order to purpose that which has been hidden and negated to be a vehicle for recovering Ndé Dene peoples’ spirits, well-being, and futurity beyond the non-persons we are imagined to be by colonizers which includes Indigenous peoples. Difficult knowledge and peace building have been core to my art, thinking, and process.

 “Difficult knowledge and peace building have been core to my art, thinking, and process.”

By recognizing that genocide—for Ndé Dene peoples—has intricately involved diverse actors and polities, Indigenous genocide in southern Texas has demanded that poetry ascend to different places and strongly opposes genocide being used as a metaphor, or a generic, abstract descriptor. Genocide is an area of research, developed amongst contemporary Ndé Dene scholars, specific and located within groups of my family and kinship society, my immediate ancestors (embodied in the last four generations, between 1872-2019), as well as specific to sites/places of terror, crisis, violence, atrocity, brutality, indignity to the human body, and organized erasure in Kónitsąąíígokíyaa.

In my work, I engage different ways of knowing (epistemology), historicizing, ethics, and valuing to inform my methodology and creative methods to imagine and construct poetry which gives form and voice to non-recognized Indigenous nations. I reference my research on the state, state actors, bystanders, and specific Indigenous polities, organizations and institutions which have contributed to the process of obstructing Ndé Dene peoples’ access to justice. Poetry is a vital form to address histories and voices relegated as disposable and abject.

The cultural, physical, social, and political personhood of peoples of Kónitsąąíígokíyaa is persistently denied in US society into the present. Being deeply involved in three legal cases, between 2007 to 2013, which firmly rejected the state’s normative myth-making regarding US and bystander complicity in perpetuating genocide acts in Ndé Dene peoples’ unceded and Aboriginal Title lands (Texas) during the violent border wall conflict (2007-2009), I find poetry a useful and dynamic tool for stimulating imagery, animating truth-telling, making space for non-western language and knowledge systems, and igniting fire underneath the sedated and numbed consciousness of US-American society.   

As a researcher and scholar, I am an archive builder, curator, and papers manager for two branches of Ndé Dene peoples’ historical documents and culturally related objects. In my current projects am making crucial links between Ndé Dene peoples’ difficult knowledge and state power as warehoused within officially sanctioned archives as an important subject for, (currently updated figures), 400 non-federally recognized Indigenous nations whose political personhood and land claims cases are subjected to multiple forms of human rights violations committed in the US today with the sanction of the federal government, state actors, as well as numerous federally recognized political actors today. This is untenable and is a major motivation in my production in and across poetry, visual arts, language activism, theory, and Indigenous rights advocacies.

The subject in these poems shared with the Siwar Mayu online publication is persistent genocide denial, negation, and obfuscation. As well, I’m interested in exploring the roles and memory of bystanders, beneficiaries, and obstructers to the Ndé Dene peoples’ experiences. I’m exploring Ndé Dene historical memory of complicated emotions connected to being forced by the state and its legal institutions, to helplessly witness the US and other tribal polities take control over unceded Ndé Dene peoples’ homelands. My engagement in Ndé Dene language recovery is a crucial act of honoring my ancestors—the genocide survivors and the non-survivors—and a loving act of reclaiming Ndé Dene peoples’ political, cultural, spiritual, and physical belonging with Kónitsąąíígokíyaa, our customary and traditional homeland. By doing so, the poems re-energize the Ndé Dene peoples’ self-determination and larger belonging amongst the Dene Nation. In poetry, the Ndé Dene peoples ascend to identity beyond the legal subjugated status of ‘Apache’, which is the legal synonym for the settler state’s normalizing genocide as an act of settler state sovereign impunity and immunity from accountability, redress, or recognizing responsibility. These things are hinged and interlocking; not separate. 

“The memories of Ndé Dene peoples remain within me through my deep familial bonds and connections with a significant and large kinship society which spans Niguusdzán (North America).” 

The memories of Ndé Dene peoples remain within me through my deep familial bonds and connections with a significant and large kinship society which spans Niguusdzán (North America). By recovering and decolonizing the legal archives, and re-purposing Ndé Dene language revitalization, I (re)visit intimate familial places in Lipan Apache (Ndé) homelands, in South Texas, eastern New Mexico, and northeastern Mexico. My ancestors’ spatial time-bending emplaces a pictorial language, helping me decipher historical violence felt by Ndé Dene of Texas. 

My poetry acknowledges and draws attention to the lingering impacts of historical trauma which saturate Ndé Dene storied landscapes still obscured by aggressive settler colonial erasure. Spirit memory as sentience, landguage, place, despair—the collective internalization of Indigenous spatial exile—influence my understanding of my peoples’ refusal to settle for the abjection we’re experiencing still today as a result of the genocide politics of perpetrators and bystanders. These poems, echoing post-memory of Ndé intergenerational genocide survivors, explores how historical memory of violence disturbs linear settler literary, history, and narrative structures which have denied Ndé Dene peoples our lived experiences, knowledge, and homelands—even after death. My poetry, inter-ribboned with Ndé Dene peoples’ perspectives of herstory and law, emphatically position different realities, existences, and outcomes which the Ndé Dene peoples will into being.—Margo Tamez


Poetry by Margo Tamez

Margo Tamez: Native American Writers

© Fronteras 810: Lipan Apache Band of Texas – Margo Tamez. New Mexico State University

Chillico: The Undisputed Inquisitor of Laughter

Chillico: el inquisidor inapelable de la risa © Hernán Hurtado Trujillo. September, 2019. Abancay, Apurímac, Perú.

Chillico: The Undisputed Inquisitor of Laughter © Translation by Lorrie Jayne

César Aguilar Peña, popularly known as Chillico, is one of the most important graphic humorists in Peru. He is the director of the Magazine of Humor, Art and Cartoons Ch’illico, the only graphic humor magazine that has been in force, confronting dictatorships and abuse of power at the national level, for more than 25 years. Chillico burst forth from his native Abancay with his own style: his superior technical mastery of drawing, where color and written text complement one another, render his work bright and sharp.

Laughter is an essential quality in human beings, or in the words of Henri Bergson: “Man is the only animal that laughs.” Without  a sense of humor, life would have a mournful atmosphere; we would live in a world of automatons, without emotion, without blood, without the bugs that sting and tickle us. Chillico, through graphic humor posed seriously (the most difficult mixed form to achieve) frees us from our country’s social and political chaos; he drags us out of our sadness, out of tension, fear, apathy and bitterness with a loud unexpected guffaw. Colliding with the common view, against the status quo, social fears, and the “what would they say?” mentality, he demystifies the devotion to snobbery, to mediocrity, and  social-climbing. He manages to reveal the hidden, the malevolent, the perverse, and the cynical that disguises itself as deceitful morality. His caricatures help us to see reality, to seek coherence within the chaos. Nothing escapes his paintbrush, not even the Divine; spirit is made flesh, even the sublime reveals the ideological background of power, represented by his wolf-shepherd and his herd of alienated lambs. We ask, what motivates the shepherd to feed and care for his herd? The response reveals to us the false love of the shepherd who keeps, controls, and guides the herd, only to eat them.

Chillico’s artistic sense captures the essential in life, universalizing local and national themes. He caricatures power, bringing irony to the incoherent and daily nonsense of politics. He does this in the cartoon “Tolero,” in which an indignant and disgusted llama hawks a gob of spit at the ex-president—who, during his election campaign, had identified as “cholo” or “authentic indian”, but when he was elected president he supported corruption and alienated himself to foreign tastes and interests. Similarly, Chillico caricatures the current presidents of Brazil and the United States through “Bolsonerón” and “Tramp”, with characters depicted beneath a swastika, “worried” about the state of democracy in Latin America.

His vast production builds a court of humor in which the readers become the judges who will proclaim the final sentence. His is a humor that is neither trivial nor vulgar, it is grown-up humor, humor for serious laughter; it is the humor of the liberator, the emancipator, who helps us to find our own identity and a worthy life. Not only does he liberate us from tensions and emotional disturbance; he also helps us to build a more humane and just world where we can laugh fully at no price and be happy with the permission of no one.

More about Indigenous Comic Con

CBC- 17 Beautiful Indigenous Comic Books And Video Games For Kids, By Selena Mills

Kaqchikel Women and Their Bodies. Emma Delfina Chirix

© Divergencia Colectiva

© Emma Delfina Chirix García From Desacatos 30 (2009): 149-160

© Translated from Spanish by Gloria E. Chacón and  Juan G. Sánchez Martínez ~ Copy edited by Lorrie Jayne

If you prefer to read the PDF, please click here

Despite the western biomedical knowledge imposed over the Mayan culture, Kaqchikel women have learned to keep one foot in modernity and the other in their historical-cultural roots in order to maintain and legitimize cultural practices and beliefs that allow them to replicate a principle of care over their bodies. It is important to remember that the perception of the construction of bodies and sexuality is not the same in every culture.


Through language and their mother tongue, Kaqchikel [1] women reflected on perceptions, experiences and feelings that gravitate around the construction of heterosexual sexuality. The vehicle that allowed them to speak openly was trust. Based on trust, a dialogue was achieved, and good personal relationships were established.

[1] It is important to undertake an analysis that goes beyond gender in order to show other identities and realities present not just in Comalapa (the municipality where the research was conducted), but in Guatemalan
society at large.

The colloquial language captured in this text, made up of feminine words, trickles in in the form of stories; it responds to forms of expression, metaphors and jokes through which the experience of feelings such as love, pain, suffering or desire is transmitted. 

This language portrays diverse ideas and different ways of looking at life and expressing sexuality. The Kaqchikel language imposes other categories and, most of the time, another way of looking at the world. It also involves a model of appropriation through words that denote an understanding of sexuality and human corporeality linked to nature and culture. Kaqchikel language prioritizes collectivity. It only communicates knowledge if it is associated with the possibility of experience. For example, children and young teenagers should not know about sex, because if they learn about this subject, they will surely practice it. For this same reason, it is feared that talking about sexuality with young people will put information at their disposal that will need to be tested. On the other hand, currently the Comalapenses [2] usually express their ideas in two languages: Kaqchikel and Spanish. In both languages, the networks of power that are embedded in words and that correspond to the dominant ideology are evident, and uphold the discourses, stereotypes and normalization of heterosexuality. The latter is identified as a political system that can be questioned in order to decolonize the bodies and sexuality of indigenous women precisely because a patriarchal domination system depends upon the subjection of women through forced heterosexuality.

[2] San Juan Comalapa is a Kaqchikel town located in the
municipality of Chimaltenango, a province located in the center of Guatemala.

The Kaqchikel language has specific signs, symbols and feelings to communicate its idea of ​​human corporeality, but first and foremost it conceives the body as a whole, whose parts are interconnected. A trilogy that interrelates body, mind and spirit is one of the ways to understand the human being. These three elements form a unity, and if they are fragmented, it causes an imbalance in the person’s life. This indigenous worldview perceives the body as a living being, with energies, feelings and needs; basically, those related to nutrition and physical and mental health; however very little is said about the body’s desires. For some Mayan women (who have completed higher education), the meaning of the body is linked to self-esteem, because taking care of their body “is a way of regaining self-esteem, because they feel the need to love and take care of themselves,” which also consists of “giving up pain and suffering and learning to love each other.” (Chirix García, 2003: 184)

In reflecting on the Kaqchikel language and the body in Comalapa, I have found that there is still an abundant terminology to speak about sexuality and the body. When one says jari ruch’akul, it means “her/his/their body”, and jarirutiyojil refers to “fat”. In identifying the intimate parts of the body indirect terms related to nature are used: the male genital organ (penis) is identified as tzik’in (bird) or rab’aj achin (man’s organ). The female genital organ (vulva) is called in several ways: rab’aj ixoq, meske’l (cat) or ru tutz’. There are also double entendre expressions about some parts of the body; for example, jokingly or metaphorically, the vagina is related to the mouth; it is possible to say ri jun ixok’ k’o ka’i’ ruchi’, which means “the woman has two mouths.”

The heart is privileged as one of the important centers of the human body: it represents the person and is named ranima. The heart is identified as the main seat of reason and feelings, so it is common to hear expressions such as kan k’i nuna’ri wanima (my heart is happy), chke’ nubij awanima (what is your heart saying?) or noqa’ pa awanma chke xin bij apochawe (remember in your heart what I told you that time). Heart pain is not physically located in the location of this organ, but in the pit of the stomach, since the understanding of anatomy and physiology used is not western. In this way of knowing, things or plants also have their soul or their heart: ruk’u’x kem is translated as “heart of the textile, the essence, el nawal”, and ruk’u’x che’ refers to “heart of the tree, the essence, the tree’s core.”

Generally speaking, talking about sexuality between women, between men, or in mixed spaces – women and men – causes laughter and nervousness, both indicating there is pleasure involved when dealing with the topic. [3] What has been observable is that some women feel pleasure in talking about this taboo. In groups where there is enough trust, this topic is explored in casual chat and in jokes and jests. In this way, between jokes, Kaqchikel people express their feelings, emotions and experiences. The joke is based on what looks like a phallus or a vulva. Some women and young people joked, expressing freedom and delight, giving free rein to their imagination and the feeling of joy.

[3] The expression of laughter can be observed in informal
conversations between people and, especially, in the q’ejelonik (collective and festive meeting).
© Elisa Lipkau

Analogies are used to talk jokingly about sex: mes (cat), saq’ul (banana), ki’ (delicious), ik (chile). Throughout my fieldwork I recorded many two-way expressions or jokes with sexual connotation. For example, when women cooked chiles, some said: “Ay kan chix wa’ an, tzawi ri ik kan poralgo kan kiäq jajaja” (Oh how ugly it is, oh, this chile is so big and red! hehehe). This expression invited everyone to laugh. Faced with the joke, women with conservative thinking reacted with disapproving gestures and scolding. Two of them expressed themselves like this: “Oh so disgusting, they are already adults and look what they are teaching!” Another elderly woman added: “We come to work, not to laugh! There must be respect here!”, but a lady from the non-conservative group replied calmly: “We’re just joking.”

Women laugh and, after a moment, one takes up the subject again and adds another funny expression. They laugh again and continue the conversation with new jokes, until someone changes the subject. The most liberal women, with more experience and with a sense of humor, are those who make funny comments and guide the conversation in the group, during which a process of feedback of the joke occurs.

The kaqchikel language is rich in meanings regarding sexuality when speaking about the body which proves the interest that this topic arouses. These expressions, which are communicated in everyday contexts, are samples of the collective and cultural expressions that language adopts to approach sexuality in an informal and festive tone. To delve into what has been said, I present here more expressions of this nature recorded in the fieldwork:

  • While speaking about bananas, a woman invites: “Qa ch’olo’ ri saq’ ulk’a” (let’s peel the banana), and another one replies: “who knows if this banana will endure” while she shows a soft or overly ripe banana. A third woman suggests: “It would be good if you pass a little bit of copal smoke on it, it will straighten out”, and they all laugh.
  • While speaking about tamales, a woman asks: “Tiba’na’ utzil nib’anta nim rak’än ri suba’n, kan rak’än tzik’in nib’anche’ haha” (can you please make the tamale long as the size of a penis? ha ha), and with the movement of the hand when doing the tamale she says: “Kan na sirisape” (how you round it!); the other women give in laughing and someone adds: “Ay rat la’ utz nana’ what nib’an chawe” (ah! you like what they do to you), and they continue laughing.

Drawn from colloquial language, the examples above express personal tastes and a relationship with sexual pleasure and the body. There are different expressions to speak directly about sexual intercourse such as nab’än achk na’ (you are doing something) and nak’än apo ruwäch jun achin (you are hanging out with a man; this is said by a mother to a daughter, or one woman to another woman). The expression xa yiq’ojoman (I’m playing music) was said by a man during the interviews. 

Among the expressions that invite sexual intercourse are yatin roqij pa ch’at (I throw you in bed) and yatin chop (I will grab you). These expressions are generally said by men. According to different women, when they are invited to have a sexual relationship they are told jo’ pa awän (let’s go to the cornfield) or jo’ chuwa xan (let’s go to the wall). This last expression is used by youth. One way of expressing it respectfully is tasipaj  jub’a chuwä (give me some). Women also talk about the bold offerings of some men; expressions such as ninb’än jub’a chawä (someone will give you a little). When they refer to the attitude of women they say xb’an kan chre ixoq’ (or she got some?). When a woman has desires, nrajo’ jub’a ri ixoq cha’ (that woman wants something) or tasipaj jub’a chwä (give me some).


In the case of teenage girls, the body changes, different feelings are born, and the connection with sensuality begins. One of the interviewees refers to how two strong events in her life – the earthquake and the civil war – turned off her memory and feelings about the changes in her body. Victoria told us her situation:

“Oh, I don’t remember because of the stress we had, the earthquake, the violence, I only remember when my period came and I was very scared because I had nothing to wear, there was no underwear, I seldom wore any. I didn’t realize when my breasts grew, I felt no shame because almost nobody told me anything, they never prepared us for that.”

Marta, on the contrary, was aware of her changes and this allowed her to make comparisons: “Ah, anyway one says xinok wa läq ixöq re, xeki’iy pe nutz’um, that’s how it is, my breasts grew, I am no longer a girl.” The growth of a part of her body marked the transition from girl to adult.

In the teenage years, mothers are the ones who verbalize prohibition, fear and denial. What is behind fear and the prohibited? What are the institutions that create and reproduce this fear and the forbidden? When no argument can be made, the NO is chosen, and denial is interpreted as rejection, exclusion, dismissal, a barrier, which produces more gaps and boundaries, and separates what is united. In power relations, denial is important because it does not support the foundation of freedom to know about the theme of sexuality and to acquire knowledge about its practice.

In the teenage years, recommendations based on danger are reinforced by the mother:

“You have to take care of your body, nobody should touch you, it is dangerous if someone touches you once, and even worse if it’s after your period. Quickly you’ll get pregnant.” She told me that if it’s that time of the month for a woman, she gets pregnant right away. Just as one has experience now, with three or four, one learns.”

Both the mother and some cultural practices have been responsible for the normalization of women’s behavior, but sometimes in the messages they convey, contradictory perspectives can be identified. For example, it is common to hear expressions such as “No fucker will take advantage of my daughter ” and at the same time expressions such as “A woman has to obey her husband, she must not raise her voice to him, he is the one with authority.” These contradictory statements illustrate the possibilities for social behavior to be followed by indigenous women: either they become the eternal servants of their husbands or they lead the journey for rebelling against the patriarchal control.  

Mothers, culture and the church provide patterns of behavior that lead to prohibition. It is common to hear expressions such as “you shouldn’t see”, “you must not touch yourself there”, “you must not drink”, “you must not feel ticklish”, “you shouldn’t be alone with a man or with male family members, even less with strangers”, “you must not pay attention to the ladino (mix-race person) because he will never marry you”, “be careful with drunks [in the street], they make you believe that they are inebriated to fondle you.”

Power also applies the Law of Prohibition. Law and the church reinforce the validity of prohibitions to maintain the status quo since those institutions require relationships based on domination. In the framework of morality, the forbidden becomes a synonym of fear, danger, and is associated with sin. Therefore, the principle of care, which drives people’s health and life, becomes a mechanism to control and to freeze freedom, pleasure and love.

Estela, the youngest of the women interviewed, shares her experience: when she began to feel the changes in her body, she began to give importance to the care of her hair, feet and nails because she “likes they look good”. She is one of the interviewees who has high self-esteem and demonstrates it in the assessment towards her own body:

“I like to take care of myself and sometimes I joke to my friends: ‘I am very pretty’, then I say:’I have self-esteem.’ I like how I am, because most women say: ‘I don’t like this, I don’t like the other’, but I feel good, I love myself as I am. I accept my body as it is. I saw that my body was beautiful [laughs], but when you are a girl it is normal for the body to be straight and then I began to notice curves, widened hips, that’s all I can remember.”

One motivation to be positive in life is the ability to appreciate the body and accept it as it is. Another factor that helped her in satisfying her curiosity was that her family did not hide the theme of sexuality from her. Censorship on this issue motivates people, especially children and adolescents, to resort to other means that do not inform but misinform. Generally, women who belong to poor families and who perform multiple activities to survive do not realize the changes their daughters experience, while other mothers forbid them from dressing nicely in order to avoid the eyes of men. Stories and experiences of indigenous women are diverse, and it is necessary to make them visible to understand their reality. 


Midwives or female body specialists are still recognized. In many families, their word is still heard; they are recognized as the ancestral authority that gives specialized attention to female bodies.

Momostenango © Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

All midwives pray before starting their work in the tuj (temascal) [4]. They invoke the spirit-keeper of the tuj and of the fire also, so they both will give health to the woman’s body and avoid complications, such as fainting. For the women’s bath, the “tusa” (made of corn cob husks) is still used, and it must be large in order to call forth steam.

[4] On the temascal or steam bath in Guatemala see Virkki, 1962.

The tol [5] is also used to cover women’s faces and to protect them from the heat. Midwives also continue using tallow soap or black soap, with which they not only clean the body, but also, thanks to the effect of circular motion, stimulate blood circulation in places of the body that are cold or tense.

[5] A container made of jícara that has several uses in the kitchen and in the temascal. It is used by women.

Victoria tells of her experience:

“I have used the tuj, I have bathed with several midwives, because I remember that they told me that my uterus had descended, and when that happens, it hurts, and they recommended the temascal to me since it relieves the pain a little. Then I tried it with six or seven different midwives. They all bathe differently. I had the opportunity to meet them, out of need.” 

Midwives identify uterus prolapse through the following symptoms: pain in the belly, sometimes back pain and, in addition to difficulties in walking, feet that are almost numb when walking. In kaqchikal, the uterus prolapse is called xq’a apam, or xuya’ vuelta a pam or rob’olqotin ri’ ruk’u’x apam (your belly descended, your uterus turned over.)

It is customary to place long benches inside the temascal [6] where one can sit or lie down. The woman who takes the bath will receive her treatment lying down, an adequate position for the midwife to give her massages. The woman, at the end of the bath, can approve or disapprove of the work of the midwife, but generally this is the expression she says: “This lady does know how to bathe.”

[6] In recent years the temascal has undergone a process of extinction due to spatial, economic and cultural factors. Families do not have enough space to build a temascal nor resources to invest in its construction. Furthermore, health personnel with their “modernizing” ideas have discredited the use of the temascal.

The encounter between women’s bodies, care of the female body by another woman is one of the expressions of the principle of care: “We bathed together with the midwife, for me it was not so strange, to see ourselves as women, maybe because we are already mature”, “there is no shame, no, nothing, and she knew how to bathe me well, that first temascal warmed me up, I liked her.”

Throughout the interviews I was able to identify knowledge and techniques that midwives still apply today:

  • Entrance: the midwife prays to the tuj’s grandmother or its nawal and the fire.
  • When the midwife throws water to the stones, steam rises; at that precise moment the midwife puts a wet cloth or a tol on the face of the woman who receives the care.
  • The moment of the massage: the midwife gives massage using a tallow soap. She starts with breasts, then stomach, belly and legs. She raises the woman’s legs and hit the soles of her feet with her fist or soap. She also hits the woman’s hands. She blows in some parts of the woman’s body in order to get cold air out and hot air in.
  • Exit: it is recommended to lie down, “it is important to rest, lie down and sleep for a while”. In the process of relaxing hot drinks or beer are shared.
  • Sensation: “I feel like a new woman.”

Midwives recommend drinking beverages and tea from medicinal plants. If the disease is diagnosed as cold, it is advisable to drink some hot tea. For girls and boys who urinate at night, due to something other than a psychological problem, such as if they are cold in the stomach, are advised to use the tuj. It is well known that another benefit of the tuj is that it stimulates the production of breast milk. Chest massage has this goal. The oldest of the interviewees said that she had plenty of milk, it would spill; sometimes she tried to take it out to prevent the formation of bodoques (hard balls around her breasts) and prevent mastitis or breast infection. She wonders:

“Why do women no longer have enough milk and why the use of pachas (bottles)? Before  women had a lot of milk, but now who knows why they don’t have it anymore, what did these women do I wonder [that] they are using the bottle. Before going to the mountain, I gave milk to my son and when I returned, my breasts hurt, a whole day of work in the mountains, I helped the man to work, I had plenty of milk.”

Women who were already mothers used to give milk to a child who needed it. Sometimes the mother had to be absent and the other women in solidarity breastfed the girl or the boy who cried out of hunger. In the last three decades, indigenous women who have opted for wage labor are forced to bottle feed their babies.

The elements that correspond to the subjective part of the benefits of the tuj and the relationship it maintains with the bodies are also relevant. The meeting between a midwife and a woman who receives special care is an encounter between the healer and the woman who is the subject of healing, and is a congregation of two female bodies. Naked bodies express a type of communication. Women value the experience of female healers, and they hide or bury shame, allowing themselves to be sheltered by the trust and security that the midwife inspires. Women who receive this care gain a sense of well-being and freedom. Midwives have the ability to identify the geography of pain or well-being in the body. They clean any negative energies and reinforce positive energies. Therefore, the temascal is considered as the place that contributes to the spiritual, mental and physical cleansing of people.

Girls and boys who have had the opportunity to experience the temascal construct a body sense and nudity that is without morbidity. Acquiring a very human concept of the body from its own discovery and the perception of other bodies constitutes the basis for the construction of respect for female or male bodies. The tuj is a space where you can observe human difference, in terms of male and female bodies, and also generational differences: children’s bodies, teenagers, old and young. To apprehend this diversity is to understand that bodies are different in size, color, and also in smell. This set of elements constitutes the basic material for the construction of richer concepts and more human relationships in societies, not only in Mayan culture but in other cultures that have made pain sacred and have buried pleasure.

If children’s perception of the female body is stimulated in the tuj at an early age, they may discard stereotypes and other misconceptions that induce the objectification of the woman’s body. In the tuj, without much talk, the bodies communicate, which allows clarifying doubts and prejudices, and invites us to reflect on the urgent need to know who we are, without clothes that hide us, and to strengthen our identities. The social construction of the body usually reflects difference and when it is perceived from a dominant model, social inequalities and injustices are embedded in its discourse and attitudes, for example, when large bodies are valued at the expense of small bodies, or white bodies at the expense of colored bodies. Some cultures have been founded beneath this umbrella of this superiority.

The health of the body of Comalapan Maya women depends on some humanizing social practices that promote the life and well-being of people but, above all, on the care lavished by the hands, knowledge and wisdom of midwives. They have been the ones who have strengthened the principle of care among women. The work of body caregivers is more of an expression of resistance than a maintenance of “tradition”, as it has been perceived by modernist anthropologists. This resistance lies in the reproduction and experience of ancestral practices that promote life.

Several informants maintain positive memories in relation to the use of the temascal. Victoria recounts her experience as a child:

“I remember when we bathed, we were little. I came to spy on the temascal, they used just one blanket like this, it would have been better if they had covered everything, but it half hung. I would come to spy on those who were bathing. My mother’s or my grandmother’s breasts were (this big), their breasts hung and they would all bathe in there, and when they would finish, they took them [the kids] out one by one.”

Generally it is women, especially mothers, who take care of bathing the little ones. Tuj bathing is another female practice; those responsible for bathing girls and boys are mothers. At that age, the interviewees, being girls, saw the collective women’s bathroom as normal. From childhood, Marta has always used the tuj, and has always relied on its benefits. She is currently using the tuj with her children.

When women have a life partner, the two usually enter the tuj. In that first tuj experience together there is a bit of shame, but little by little it disappears: “One body looks at the other and is different from the other body, when you are first intimate with a man it is not the same, it feels bad, but not after.” In the tuj they learn to practice reciprocity, the woman lathers with soap and scrubs the man’s back and he does the same with her: “Because one cannot scrub one’s own back with his or her own hand, one cannot.” This practice in kaqchikel is called ninjos a wij (I scratch your back).

The tuj is considered as a space to appreciate bodies, smells and nudity. Regarding the appreciation of nudity, men said they felt no shame: “You hardly feel anything, you look at your body, you look at the other, you almost don’t feel anything.” The oldest in the group of respondents said the same. Jesusa married at approximately 20 years old, in 1942, and she tells us: “Yes, I bathed him, so what is wrong with that? We live together, so I wash his back, I bathe him with paxte, lather him, and he does the same to me, we were not ashamed. If someone comes in then one does feel embarrassed but since it was just us two, then no.”

The tuj has been a place where people bathe, appreciate bodies, where a couple shares intimacy, where you can ask about the body and where women are taken care of by midwives after childbirth.

One issue I want to expand upon here is in regard to the benefits of tuj. Many generations have transmitted cultural knowledge and practices related to the tuj through oral narration. Among the Kaqchikel families, the tuj or temascal is advised not only for personal hygiene, but also as a remedy for diseases that have a cold origin or when someone “has been hit by air.” It serves to calm muscle contractions and body aches caused by emotional stress or cold; it corrects circulation problems; it prevents and corrects varicose veins and low blood pressure; accelerates the healing process of a wound; relieves respiratory problems; it is useful during pregnancy and postpartum. It is a space that heals, cleanses and purifies the body and spirit, and is conducive to having sex.

Approaching corporeality through language implies being attentive to life stories, perceptions, experiences, power relations, signs, symbols, metaphors, jokes, nudity, body transformations, violence, pleasures; this allows you to approach places where other ways of perceiving are possible and where the body is accepted without fear.

Corporality expressed in one’s own language, connected to nature, with the logic of temperature — cold-hot — and interrelated with intimacy and respect are factors and values ​​that are expressed daily, despite the sexism, violence and objectification of bodies and communities present in families.

Among the kaqchikeles, ancestral ideas, values ​​and beliefs that stimulate the taking care of bodies are saved and practiced, and it is women who nurture the continuity of these ideas and social practices. From childhood and under the principle of care you learn to watch over the body and bodies. The tuj or temascal is perceived as a physical and social space that contributes to satisfying bodily needs. Women legitimize its usefulness because it continues to grant life and well-being to people and communities. Women, tuj, language, midwives and a critical analysis are elements that energize an indigenous worldview and constantly challenge a modernist thinking of the body.


One way to approach the ancestral knowledge of the body is through the “archaeological pieces”, as they are called in archeology and western anthropology. These disciplines give an account of the conception of the body in pre-Hispanic times. The pieces found and saved from the general destruction that indigenous books and documents were victims of are an objective sample of how pre-Hispanic cultures looked at the human figure, but they are also body representations that take us back to the past to understand the present. The ancient Mayan, Nahua, Toltec, Teotihuacan, Huasteca cultures have bequeathed us artistic expressions in which it is possible to appreciate the human figure. The same happens in ancient Peru with the Salinar, Vicús, Virú and Mochica cultures. [7] Many of these manifestations not only show the human figure, but erotic signs and images, without a negative or sinful sense. Human images and figures offer different readings of the universe and the body. Each of the body parts expresses relationships and tensions with the cosmos. On a subjective level, these human figures invite us to alter ethnic and generic consciousness because they allow analysis of not only history and culture, but also of individual and collective identity. In my personal case, these figures reflect my status of belonging, and are part of my culture, because the men and women represented by them were my people. They are my fellow kind, my ancestors, because I descend from them, I am a Mayan woman. These figures lead us to reflect and articulate the past, or our past, with the present, or our present.

[7] To illustrate the meaning of the body of pre-Hispanic
cultures, I relied on Praise of the Mesoamerican body, magazine-book number 69 of Arts of Mexico (2004), and Erotic Art in Ancient Perú (Larco Herrera, 1998), edited by the Archaeological Museum of that country. Many of the archaeological pieces exhibited in the aforementioned number of Arts of Mexico are currently in the Regional Museum of Guadalajara, the National Museum of Nayarit and the National Museum of Anthropology of Mexico. The Anthropology Museum of Guatemala also stores several pieces of the human figure of the Maya.
Plaza Oxlajuj Baktun. Chichicastenango © Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

Another way to enrich knowledge about the body is through history. It is important to note how some historians are contributing to the understanding of the sense of the body. Elvira Sánchez-Blake [8] analyzes the image of the body and what it represents historically:

[8] A Colombian social communicator.

The opening scene of Américo Vespucio before a naked woman who incorporates herself from the hammock is the point from which Michel de Certeau departs to develop his theory of the writing of history. This image prefigures the discourse of colonization, the representation of the New World, America, as the naked woman’s body – the blank page – where history is written, and the conformation of the nation state from that body-text. This establishes the relationship between body-text-nation, the basis of literary and historiographic study. In the specific case of Latin America, due to their historical and geographical circumstances, and the effect of colonization, these factors will play a decisive role in their political and social development. (Sánchez-Blake, 2001: 7)

Analyzing the body from a historical and political point of view allows the invasion of the new world to be remembered. This fact imposed a sexual model and a beauty model. In this regard, Miguel Güémez Pineda points out: “Western beauty models have been imposed and their male and female prototypes are governed by European physical features such as white skin, blond hair and light eyes” (Güémez Pineda, 2000: 314). This Western influence, which Güémez Pineda defines as “the coloration of the body,” implied silence for indigenous women, running over it, its use as cheap labor, and living tied to servitude and slavery, monogamy and the construction of mestizaje ideology, an ideology that “was made based on the exploitation and rape of indigenous and black women. The women were always instrumentalized to satisfy the sexual appetite of the white man and thus ensure the mixture of blood to improve the breed. Whitening policy fed and promoted by incipient states” (Curiel, 2007: 98) to legitimize exploitation, servitude and domestic work.

Regarding the conception of the body, it is important to remember how the Spaniards were scandalized by the nakedness of the natives, how Columbus felt “scandalized by the nakedness of the other.” (Todorov, 1989: 47) Institutions responsible for the indoctrination of the body were established, whose purpose was to turn people into a moralizing social being and that motivated the rationalization of pain, guilt, punishment, exploitation, double standards and fear of pain.

The first to question the nakedness of the Indians was the small group of Spaniards who invaded the territory, but the most moralistic were the Spanish priests, who questioned the fact that the Indians wore so little clothing. Colon narrates his encounter with the inhabitants of these lands: “These people are very meek and very fearful, naked as I have said, without weapons and without law (…) the Indians resemble each other because they are all naked, deprived of distinctive characteristics (…) particularly those belonging to a lower social strata.” (Todorov, 1989: 44) (It should be remembered that attire was another sign of social position). The Dominican chronicler Tomás de la Torre stated that in the Tzotzil town of Zinacantán, Chiapas, the men went naked, and when the cold or a party forced them to dress, they  wore only a knotted blanket over their shoulders. For his part, his co-religionist Ximénez pointed out that in Guatemala, dresses “were so few that they can hardly be called such.” (Ruz, 1996)

There are more recent examples of the disapproval of nakedness and of ideological imposition.  The women of Cahabón (Guatemala) previously did not cover their breasts, and now the only one who continues to  dress in this way is one grandmother. The Poqoman women of Palín used to wear a short huipil that covered only their breasts until General Ubico ordered them to wear long huipiles. [9] Faced with the dilemma that nakedness unleashes in which on the one hand the desire and freedom to show the body persists, and on the other, in this oppressive society, mitigating freedom with the objectification of the body of women is easier, whether indigenous or mestiza.

[9] This story is currently told by the Poqoman women of Palín. A young woman tells how this change happened. Poqoman women used to sell fruit to the vans that went to the south coast, and by offering their fruits in baskets over their heads, the huipil was lifted, leaving their breasts uncovered. On one of his tours, General Ubico observing this expression of nakedness, did not agree with it and ordered women to cover their breasts.

For indigenous men, nakedness creates an ambivalence that fluctuates between the desire to see and at the same time to hide the body. In Ladino men, it provokes a racial ambivalence that, together with anxiety, is expressed in jokes that underlie a base of mockery that suggests a self-betrayal that calls into question their Indian side. According to Diana Nelson, the jokes:

[…]  help understand the diverse and complex ways in which ethnic and national political bodies rely on gender. The traditional costume of Mayan women occupies a prominent place in jokes and seems to mark a space of particular ambivalence or challenge to the notions of national ethnic identity […] that is why the corte (or the long wrap skirt of Mayan women) is a topic of particular interest in jokes, in many of them with the idea of ​​”unwrapping it.” (Nelson, 2006: 298) [10].

[10] Diana M. Nelson makes an in-depth analysis of the gender issue in the ethnic-national issue in her book Man Ch’itïl. A finger in the wound: political and political bodies of the body in Guatemala of the Fifth Centenary (2006).

In racial ambivalence, Nelson continues, “the jokes allow ladinos to satisfy their opposite instincts” (Nelson, idem). There is the symbolism of undressing indigenous women in order to send the following message: “Look, she doesn’t ‘have it’.” This also reflects the “ladino fear”, the fear of seeing what you don’t want to see. In racial ambivalence two ideas are combined, on the one hand, the symbolism of undressing indigenous women to affirm that they have a desirable body, but what a pity that this body is that of an Indian.

Oppressive, conservative and moralistic thinking has forced indigenous Christian women to cover themselves and dress “like the Virgin Mary,” but other women, especially younger women, have transgressed these conservative ways of dressing in order to show a body freely owned. Some women have started the fashion of using huipiles with a lower neck, or raising the hem to show the “yams” or calves. The women of the Q’eqchi’ people, who live in a warm climate, take off their huipil and expose their necks and shoulders. Another way to expose the body freely is to breastfeed by showing the breast, since Mayan women do not cover themselves or hide their young ones with “mantillas” [11].

[11] A recommended reading: Marilyn Yalom's Breast Story(1997).

Indigenous people learned to see themselves with moralistic eyes and to submit. The rooting of this perspective changed the concept of nakedness and sexuality. Another vision was applied, another value system, another way of dressing. [12] They were instructed to live sexuality as a sin, as dirty and impure, as something private and as a shameful activity: “Thus, the concepts of transgression and immorality were emptied of sexual delight.” (Ruz, 1996: 6) The human body was considered unworthy of enjoying pleasure.

[12] This statement is not made with the aim of legitimizing the version of the Ladino domination that states that the current indigenous attire was imposed by the Spaniards because this argument, paraphrasing Diana Nelson: is to strip indigenous people of their garb and of the fact  that the body shows national equality. It is possible that the encomenderos uniformed their Indians, but they did not create the Mayan designs.
Tz’ib’ de Don Luis Ajtun. Momostenango 2013 © Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

Another element of analysis in the perception of the colonizers towards the natives is the following: they saw Indians as things, “because after all, they are also part of the landscape.” (Ruz, 1996: 26) This thought is still alive and is reproduced by criollos, mestizos and some state institutions. The Guatemalan Tourism Institute (Inguat) and the Ixchel Museum, specifically, continue to see the attire of Mayan women and bodies with indigenous dress as part of the landscape [13]. That is why it is important to reveal the history of sexuality, because revealing it implies undressing history and confronting a reality of submission to indigenous peoples by the State, private initiative and NGOs that work with a folkloric and patronizing perspective.

[13] No indigenous weaver participates in the board of
directors of the Ixchel Museum; all of its members are “white” women who live off of Mayan art.

However, despite the invasion, evangelization, colonial life, modernity and capitalism, both the Indigenous worldview and the resistance of indigenous women come alive in the construction of autonomy and self-determination of communities and bodies. The human body that is mentioned today in Mayan languages ​​is interrelated with nature and the cosmos, but it has not been associated with the territory, because doing so implies seeing the body as a political body and the territory as a woman’s body, because in wars and in the process of colonization, the ultimate representation of invasion has been the penetration or rape of women, and in this case of indigenous women. It is necessary to remember how “in patriarchal culture, women are seen as the property of men, and, in the context of war, as the property of the enemy, which, like all other properties, is expropriated and destroyed in order to weaken the enemy.” (Actoras de Cambio Consortium, 2006: XIV)

So far, the indigenous movement and indigenous women’s organizations have not delved into this issue departing from the invasion in the processes of assimilation and in the recent war in Guatemala, [14] and we must not forget the daily sexual violence indigenous women continue to be subjected to by indigenous, mestizo and white men.

[14] There is a significant contribution written by mestiza Guatemalan Women in the book, Rompiendo el silencio. Justicia para las víctimas de violencia sexual durante el conflicto armado en Guatemala (Actoras de Cambio Consortium, 2006).

To recall a sense of the body through human figures from a critical perspective allows us to rescue the memory, not to stay in the past, but as a way to link that past with the present in order to understand the diversity of cultures, but also the diversity of knowledges and truths about bodies. Social groups, especially those who identify as indigenous, have defined corporeality through their worldview, and this has been the privileged place from which to express a dialogue with the world. [15]

[15] On this subject see also García, 2000.

About the translators

Gloria E. Chacón is Associate Professor in the Literature Department at UCSD. Both her research and teaching focus on indigenous literatures, autonomy, and philosophy. She is the author of Indigenous Cosmolectics: Kab’awil and the Making of Maya and Zapotec Literatures (2018). She is currently working on her second book tentatively titled Metamestizaje, Indigeneity, and Diasporas: Challenging Cartographies. She is co-editor of Indigenous Interfaces: Spaces, Technology, and Social Networks in Mexico and Central America by Arizona Press (2019). She is also co-editing an anthology Teaching Central American Literature in a Global Context for MLA’s Teaching Options Series. Chacón’s work has appeared in anthologies and journals in Canada, Colombia, Germany, Mexico, and the USA. She has co-edited a special issue on indigenous literature for DePaul’s University academic journal, Diálogo.

Juan G. Sánchez Martínez is originally from Bakatá (the Colombian Andes). He is the author of Memoria e invención en la poesía de Humberto Ak’abal (Abya-Yala, 2011) He is co-editor of several collaborative projects dedicated to Abya-Yala’s literatures: Arte, Literatura y Cine Indígena Frente al Extractivismo en Latinoamérica (Diálogo 22.1), The Five Cardinal Points in Contemporary Indigenous Literatures (Diálogo 19.1), K’obéen. Indigenous subjectivities in Latin American Literatures (RCEH 39.1), Indigenous Message on Water (IWFWP, 2014), and Poetics and Politics of Indigenous Americas (Cuadernos de Literatura 22). In 2016 he won the National Prize for Literature in Colombia, awarded by the University of Antioquia, with his book Altamar. He is Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville, where he works in the Department of Languages ​​and Literatures, and collaborates with the American Indian and Indigenous Studies program.

Walter Paz Joj. Illustrations with Tz’ib’ and Heart.

Translated by Lorrie Jayne

Sib © Walter Paz Joj

Walter Paz Joj is an ajtz’ib (a Maya Kaqchikel scribe), a designer, musician and  community leader in Pan Ajache’l (Sololá, Iximulew/Guatemala). Like many young people in Iximulew, Paz Joj is revitalizing the tz’ib’ (in its form of gliphs/epigraphs) with which the ancients painted the codices, sculpted the rocks, and registered the cycles of the heavenly bodies and of the peoples. In 1997, the Q’anjob’al Mayan writer Gaspar Pedro González explained that tz’ib’ “covers  the distinct modes of thought through the use of signs, symbols, colors, weaves, and lines.” Since that time, the force of tz’ib has multiplied, bringing into question the patriarchy of alphabetic writing. Today, Paz Jojs’ tz’ib serves as a bridge between the amatle-paper and the electronic screen: the ukux (heart) of his illustrations challenges the understanding of time as linear. (Juan G. Sánchez Martínez)

Conejo © Walter Paz Joj

In the words of the artist:

My work is based on and inspired by the form of ancient Maya writing (tz’ib). It seeks to represent, in my own way and my own style, ideas, feelings, and emotions as a Maya kaqchikel. I come from Pan Ajache’l, Sololá, within Lake, Atitlán, Guatemala. I am dedicated to researching and sharing the ancient Maya writing through its function and use, as well as in its artistic application, so that it might serve as inspiration for all Maya people who are interested in contributing to the revitalization and use of Mayan hieroglyphic writing from their own territories, ways of thinking, and languages. I have also dedicated space to music through the re-creation of ceramic instruments, invoking forms of expression through sound that were created by the ancestors.

K’awiil © Walter Paz Joj

The themes in my illustrations are varied and are always dedicated to an element of nature, a person, or a way of thinking- philosophy, language, territory, among other elements- all based in my own practice of maya thought and life.

K’ayo’m Kan Naahb’ © Walter Paz Joj

In my consideration, every illustration/drawing represented with tz’ib’ possesses a heart, an essence, that allows it to take on a life of its own. The illustration/drawing is not merely observed as a decorative thing, since its function, aside from being a form of communication, also possesses a reason for being and existing that reminds us and allows a link that unites us, the present day Maya with our ancestors, the Maya of the past, leaving no doubt that we possess an ancient and valuable past, and that despite the intent of the extermination, we still continue living and contributing, from our spaces, to life, to life’s protection, to life’s happiness.

Batz © Walter Paz Joj

As an ajtz’ib’ (Maya scribe) I do not consider Maya writing to separate itself from the spiritual, the material, from living, language, music, art, weaving, or from philosophy, all of the expressions that sustain the cultural legacy that brings us into being, existing, and expressing ourselves from within ourselves.

Pescado © Walter Paz Joj

The use and revitalization of the written Maya hieroglyphs (tz’ib’) is also an act of protest and resistance that assures that we do not forget our history, our legacy, and that we express that we are living Maya people with much to contribute to the collective good.

Renacuajo © Walter Paz Joj

We are contemporary Maya who paint/draw with the heart and who speak out through the ancient signs and forms. As our ancestors did, we paint/draw in order to tell our story.

About the translator

Lorrie Jayne is a poet, translator, writer, and educator from the desert border region of the United States. She teaches Spanish and Portuguese in the Department of Languages and Literatures at the University of North Carolina in Asheville, NC. Lorrie’s interests include poetry, plants and healing, memoir, Amazonian literature, and intercultural communication. She lives with her husband and daughters in the Blue Ridge mountains of North Carolina.

For more about the works of Walter Paz Joj

For more about contemporary Tz’ib’

Indigenous Cosmolectics. Kab’awil and the Making of Maya and Zapotec Literatures, by Gloria E. Chacón.

Unwriting Maya Literature. T’siib as Recorded Knowledge, by Paul M. Worley and Rita M. Palacios.

Roderico Y. Diaz. Photography and documentary about forced migration and resilience

Roderico Y. Díaz © Forests in the Maya Chortí region, eastern Guatemala, This territory is being reclaimed and restored by the Maya communities.
Roderico Y Díaz. © Maya Q’eqchí women vote in community consultation to decide if a hydroelectric project can be installed in their territory.

Roderico Y. Diaz is an independent photojournalist and documentary videographer who has worked in the areas of photo-documentary, photojournalism, and documentary for fifteen years.  He has focused his work primarily on the path of people from indigeneous communities who search for justice and reparation after surviving the genocide in Guatemala (1960-1996).

This 2013 short documentary addresses the historical trial for genocide against retired generals José Efraín Ríos Montt and José Mauricio Rodríguez Sánchez, as well as the brave and constant struggle of witnesses and survivors of the genocide in various communities of the country to keep the charges against Ríos Montt and Sánchez alive and to continue working for justice. It also shows the impact and reactions generated at the national and international level as a result of the court verdict.

Here, in the artist’s own words, are some of the elements that guide Roderico’s work:

First of all, I am a descendent of an indigenous, Maya Kaqchikel family. My parents and grandparents were ‘mozos colonos’ (indigenous slaves) and workers on coffee plantations. I was born on a coffee plantation, owned by Dutch families, at the end of the 1970’s, and have  experienced directly the effects of colonization and the forced displacement and violence provoked by the genocide in Guatemala.

Secondly, despite the fact that historically indigenous peoples have been subjected to colonization, interference, plunder and inequality of culture and goods within their territories, they have, at the same time, maintained the fight to continue their way of life. For this reason, I have found a tool in photography to make known (from our indigenous perspective- rather than that of others, or of re-victimization) the resistance and resilience of indigenous peoples that is harnessed in order to keep going and heal the traumas and after-effects of war. These after-effects often end up being just as violent or more violent than war itself.

Roderico Y. Díaz © Elder Maya Kaqchikel holds in his hands a corncob that will be used as seed for the next sowing.

Roderico has documented the postconflict in Guatemala, denouncing the ways in which extractivist projects that have impacted the lives and territories of indigenous communities have been implemented in recent times. In this context, the Guatemalan justice system has criminalized social leaders (see the Bernardo Reyes short) and has generated continual forced displacement of campesinos and indigenous peoples. 

The Rivers tells the story of folk singer Juan Aguirre’s visit to Santa Cruz Barillas- the  town where his family is from- who was invited to participate at a cultural festival in solidarity with community leaders who were jailed for their fight in defense of their territory.
Roderico Y. Díaz © Turtles

Roderico has published in various mediums in Guatemala, the United States, Europe and several countries in Latin America. His work has been exhibited in galleries and universities in Guatemala, and the United States (see “Defending Truth and Memory, Roderico Y. Diaz“, at New Mexico State University.) He has also participated with his documentaries in national and international festivals. 

Roderico Y. Díaz © Portrait of a Q’eqchí woman during an occupation of several farms in Cahabon.

Currently, Roderico follows the migrant struggle in the northern triangle of Central America: people are escaping their countries because of violence, organized crime and corruption. For Roderico, the situation for migrants today is similar to that of those who arrived in the United States many decades ago when escaping civil war and military dictatorship (people who are, in fact, refugees in the sanctuary churches in the state of North Carolina to this day).

Roderico is the co-founder and collaborator of the Centro de medios independientes de Guatemala –CMI-GUATE-(The Center for Independent Media of Guatemala) and a correspondent for the newspaper Qué Pasa News in North Carolina. (

More about the genocide in Guatemala

500 years. Life in resistance,” by Pamela Yates

Words Like Love. Tanaya Winder

© Photo by Viki Eagle

Tanaya Winder is a poet, writer, artist, and educator who was raised on the Southern Ute reservation in Ignacio, CO. An enrolled member of the Duckwater Shoshone Tribe, her background includes Southern Ute, Pyramid Lake Paiute, Diné, and Black heritages. Tanaya writes and teaches about different expressions of love: self-love, intimate love, social love, community love, and universal love. She attended college at Stanford University where she earned a BA in English and the University of New Mexico where she received an MFA in creative writing. Since then, she has co-founded As/Us: A Space for Women of the World and founded Dream Warriors, and Indigenous artist management company. She guest lectures, teaches creative writing workshops, and speaks at high schools, universities, and communities internationally. @tanayawinder ~

5 poems from Words like Love. West End Press New Series, 2015

PDF version

dear moon
hallow out my memory to a tree trunk
turned canoe so I may sail away from
the sea of you, waiting, ready to burst
into Milky Way. indistinguishable pieces
every time my mouth opens to encircle
your name but my lips dare not
form the shape.

reflections of the moon
in the beginning, Earth yearned for a companion, the Sun,
someone to share in the gifts: land, water, and
life. even light needs balance, darkness, death
to understand the push pull, days
echoing continuously. so, Earth gave an offering
to the sky, to become the Moon.
ever since, the Sun dreams growth
believing we would know – love intertwined
with loss if only we would look up each night.
but, we buried Earth’s sacrifice, caught in
our own wayward wanderings.
the stars aren’t the only ones capable of falling

the weight of water
When I first arrived into this world, I flew
on ancient winds. I was born into a creation story.
Long ago, my great great great grandmother met
her other half. He, too, flew on winds, then as one of
many grains of sand – each split in half looking
               for the other. Back then, humans were only spirits
searching for connections. Long ago, a single grain found
another, my grandmother. So, they asked the Creator
for bodies, to know what it was like to touch each other.
They did and foresaw their child would die in birth.
            So they prayed – Save her, each sacrificing
something in return. The man entered the spirit world
as a horse and the woman opened herself up
from the center to give him a piece of her
            to remain connected.
In the middle of the desert
there is a lake created out of tears. Long ago
there was a mother with four daughters:
North, East, South, and West. Once they grew up
each daughter left to follow her own direction.
Saddened by this loss, the mother cried
so intensely the skies envied her ability to create
such moisture. Days turned to months, months to
years and tears gathered in salty pools that gravitated
towards each other’s weight. Unable to release
her bitterness, the mother turned to stone.
Today, the Stone Mother waits.
Come back to me my children.
Come back to me.

broken/ pipelines
if we
            cannot even love                                                                      our land
            how can we love                                                                      each other
            how can we love                                                                      our/selves

for the murdered & missing Indigenous women on Turtle Island
Not when or where but how, did we lose you,
in between Last Seen _____ the words become elegy
echoing sidewalks and streets. Hand out your picture to
strangers. Post it on Post Office bulletin boards: Missing
as if it were destination, a place one goes
to disappear in invisible cities. Except there’s no hero like
in the movies. No ads, mainstream coverage, or TV shows
to show our story. Are we invisible if no one knows, why?
When 1,181 women were taken, did eyes cease to have vision
or pay attention to a body being swallowed up?
Those left behind who remember you continue on a mission,
an endless search of the cities in which we loved
(and love) you. We will never forget. We demand for you
action, words, even a poem that ends: your lives matter, too.

About the translators

© Photo by Elena Lehmann

Judith Santopietro was born in Córdoba (Veracruz, México), though she was also raised between Ixhuatlán del Café and Boca del Monte, communities in the Altas Montañas to which her family belongs. Her mother tongue is Spanish; nevertheless, she has learned Nahuatl for political reasons and to honor her foremothers. Judith holds a Master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. She has published the books Palabras de Agua (Praxis, 2010) and Tiawanaku. Poemas de la Madre Coqa (Orca Libros 2019). She was awarded the Lázara Meldiú National Poetry Prize in 2014 and was a finalist for the International Literary Prize “Aura Estrada” in 2017.  She has published in the Anuario de Poesía Mexicana2006 (Fondo de Cultura Económica), Rio Grande Review, La Jornada and The Brooklyn Rail, and has also participated in numerous festivals, including PEN America’s World VoicesFestival in Nueva York, 2018. ~ @judesantopietro

© Photo by Elmaz Abinader

Kim Jensen is a Baltimore-based writer, poet, educator, and activist. Her first experimental novel, TheWoman I Left Behind, was a finalist for Foreword Magazine’s Book of the Year. Her two collections of poems, Bread Alone and The Only Thing that Matters were published by Syracuse University Press. Kim’s articles, essays, poems, and stories have been featured in numerous publications, including Electronic Intifada, Mondoweiss,Extraordinary Rendition:Writers Speak Out on Palestine,Gaza Unsilenced, The Baltimore Sun, The Oakland Tribune, and El Humo. In 2001 she won the Raymond Carver Award for short fiction.She is professor of English and Creative Writing at the Community College of Baltimore County where she is the founding director of the Community Book Connection, an interdisciplinary literacy initiative that demonstrates the vital relationship between classroom learning and social justice in the community. 

TED talk by Tanaya Winder

The Woven Colors of Tenaz

By Alejandro Padilla a.k.a  Supay Kayampa (Illapa Iriwari)

Ecuador, a country in South America crossed by volcanoes, mountains, rivers, lakes and the Ekuator, the equator, is small in area, but immensely diverse. Its flora, fauna, colors, and cultural landscape, as well as  its people, history and memory make this small land a space for fusions and mestizajes. Ecuador is a country that is not set apart from mass communication media and the new socio-cultural paradigms of contemporary modernity. Of note is the fact that the historical struggle of Ecuador has always been for territory,  for memory, language, and the traditional use of basic resources such as water and land. In Otavalo, a small territorial division in the Imbabura province of northern Ecuador, the Peguche community can be found. Peguche shelters, nurtures, and sustains indigenous peoples, or better said, Runas (human beings in Kichwa). Among them, one in particular, who with colors and stains on the walls has perfected Hip Hop grafitti through the creation of works of hyperrealism in spray paint. Under the pseudonym or street name Tenaz, Álvaro Córdova tattoos the urban skin, and his murals can be found today throughout the country. 

Álvaro Córdova discovered his gift and love for drawing at an early age and came to know that drawing and colors represent life and are a driving force for his foundation as Runa. In these contexts, Tenaz continued to build his identity from the place that he inhabited and his belonging to native peoples, who have historically occupied the lowest rung in the social hierarchy and caste within the structure of the State and the citizen. At least  this was true until the national indigenous uprising of the 1990’s, a milestone from which indigenous peoples, men and women, have been considered to be active social actors. The case of the otavaleños is special because they have been able to carry the Runa cosmovision to the entire world through the commerce of their artisanal crafts. They have traveled abroad,  taking with them their traditions and bringing globalization and mainstream practices back to the communities.

At the same time, Influences such as Hip Hop, a counter-hegemonic and cultural movement that was born in the ghettos of New York in the 1970’s, began to gain power and acceptance throughout the world as a rebellious shout against the establishment. This is how  gringo Hip Hop arrived and gained its place throughout Ecuador and all of its communities. Hip Hop was inserted into the social struggle and gave voice to those who did not have a voice. Hip Hop is a universal language that uses musicality and the transmission of ideas through artistic mechanisms as its starting point. These mechanisms include the MC, who relates the facts and events, rapping in rhyme; the graffiti artist and writer who outwardly express their ideas through paint, color, and distorted letters; the DJ, or musical architect; bboy or bgirl; and the dance code that belongs to Hip Hop. And then there is the fifth element- the knowledge that assembles all of these pieces and contextualizes them within a historical- social process and a struggle based primarily in race and class.

Tenaz was able to find Hip Hop through his search for his own individual identity and his quest to earn his place in his community. His respect for his ancestors is visible in his personal aesthetic  expressed in the braid woven into his long hair. For him, the braid is the form through which he connects himself to Mother Earth, remembering and respecting from whence he came. He does not wear the traditional clothing of Otavalo, such as a hat and white pants. Instead, he follows the aesthetic codes of Hip Hop: an oversized t-shirt, wide pants  covered with paint, headphones to listen to music, and sometimes a cap. Graffiti has allowed this young man from Peguche to bring together two things that are part of his basic structure: his passion for painting and drawing, and his indigenous memory and cosmology. During our conversations, he says in passing, “Never forget where you come from and where you are going,” a phrase that has strong connotations for understanding the territorialities and spaces that he inhabits and passes through.  This feature of remembering and looking forward is particular to the murals he creates and can easily be de-codified in his writing. The hyperrealism that gives expression in his murals nearly always depicts real people from distinct indigenous communities and his polished technique allows the images that are represented through color, line, and the cosmogonic to stand out and call the attention, as much of the general citizen as of those who are members of the Hip Hop culture. For Tenaz there is no greater sensation than to see people in front of his murals, especially the elders from the community who smile when they see our Kichwa culture pictured on the walls. “That happiness is contagious, it spreads and motivates.” What Tenaz’ eye evokes is somewhat unexpected since those who are adept at Hip Hop have always been considered to be marginal and delinquent, due to their critical rebellious stance. Despite this, Tenaz, through his compositions and murals, demonstrates just the opposite and exemplifies how it is possible for a symbiosis between Andean and Hip Hop to exist.

It is indispensable to him that the art that he creates  be in the streets and that the walls of the public spaces be the platform for his murals. Everyone, without exception, has the opportunity to see his work and generate a feeling response in the face of whatever captures the walker’s eye. The muralism that Tenaz puts forth is popular and within the reach of anyone. Even so, he has received proposals to do his work on canvas and perhaps to sell paintings, but these would not be within the reach of just anyone, and that is not what Tenaz is after.

Hip Hop, with its rebellious outcry,  blends with the emergent and local circumstances. From the realities that are particular to each population, Hip Hop will provide the elements that will allow peoples to continue to fight. Cases like the Otavalo community, in which they call out the “Rap Shima” (the word in Kichwa for language) and rap the lyrics in their mother tongue, Kichwa, renew Hip Hop and reveal its primary function: to convert itself into a collective voice of the oppressed, the subalterns, the others, that they may be heard and that they may transform their imposed urban reality and retain their relationship with nature, with the volcanos, the lakes, the waterfalls and Apu (the spirit) of their guardian mountain, Imbabura. This is what is manifested by Tenaz and the grafitti to which he has forged himself by choice and develops with great dexterity. 

His actions as an indigenous graffiti artist and part of the Hip Hop culture make him reflect upon his greatest fear. He suggests to us that this fear has always been that he would lose the opportunity to continue painting, that death will snatch away the chance to transmit the memory of his people and his love of staining with color.  He reflects that the technical aspects of graffiti are secondary and can be learned. Doing things from and with the heart is fundamental for Tenaz and his crew, Soberanos (SBRNS), who are native to Peguche.

Peace, Unity, Love and Leisure

Alejandro Padilla a.k.a  Supay Kayampa (Illapa Iriwari). Active militant of the Hip Hop culture, researcher and activist from the social sciences and the andean cosmogonic world. Equinoxial Runa, who sees in representation, imaginary and told, a need to awaken memory, remember who we are and what our role is in this world where the past and present co-exist and feed one another. Tenaz was part of the circuit of guests on the radio program, Nunkeii Zulu, a collective which he belongs to that seeks, through Hip-Hop, to propose and incite structural change in the society of Quito.


Tenaz Grafitti – SBRNS runas de Peguche – Otavalo, Ecuador.

Adriana Paredes Pinda ~ Water Hummingbird. Selection of poems

Adriana Paredes Pinda is a Mapuche-Huilliche indigenous poet from Osorno, Chile. She has published  Ül (2005) and Parias Zugun (2014), and many of her poems also appear in poetry anthologies such as Hilando en la memoria (2006) and 20 poetas mapuche contemporáneos (2003). Her poetry has been awarded literary prizes as well as several scholarships. She is also an academic who teaches at Universidad Austral de Chile and a machi, a Mapuche shaman that heals using remedies, teas, prayers, songs and dances. 

Her poetry brings her ritual knowledge to her poems. For example, her poem “Sanación” (“Healing”) focuses on the experience of a young Mapuche woman who is sick physically and spiritually because she has moved away from her community. As a result of this separation, this woman harbors deep internal anguish about her state of being split between two cultures: the Mapuche and Chilean cultures. The inner division of this woman is caused by cultural loss and assimilation to the wingka or non-Mapuche culture. Therefore, it must be the Mapuche machi who goes in search of the missing half of her spirit through a machitún, a healing ritual that restores health, and that is performed in this poem. She writes in Spanish, but her poetry is profusely inhabited by words in Mapudungun and concepts from the admapu, the mapuche traditional norms and practices. In the poem “Sanación” there are many words in Mapudungun interspersed within a text written in Spanish, such as names of plants and herbs (foye, palke), musical instruments (trutruka, pvfvllka, trompe), among other important elements of Mapuche tradition. 

“Lenguas secretas” (“Secret tongues”), another of her poems, stages a ritual performed on the top of a mountain that the poetic subject must do in order to get in touch with the “language of the land”, literal translation of “Mapudungun”. Hence, the poem describes how the evening ceremony is urgent: the spirits will help overcome language barriers that separate the subject who is speaking from the Mapuche community it wishes to belong to. In the end, the poetic voice affirms that in order to fully join the community one must be receptive to the language of the ancestors, and the ritual makes this union possible in this poem. In her poetry Paredes Pinda brings awareness to the Mapuche historical struggle for recognition of their lands and their rights in Chile. In the selected fragments of Parias Zugunshe looks to stress the cyclical nature of events in Mapuche history and the need to restore the land’s equilibrium and end the destructive actions of forestry companies. (ANDREA ECHEVERRÍA)

is what is missing. Laurel cleanse these airs,
clear the paths.
The one that guides me
throws foye in the shadows, a moon
erupts biting the spirits. She will say when.
Meantime I have the smells,
I wake up with my nose stuck
to the watershed,
the dream’s lick.
Fuchotu fuchotu
pieyfey tañí ñaña
amulerkeita pu chollvñ mamvll.
The girl will sing her old song if she knows
the mother of her root, if she fills her mouth
with healing herbs. Coltsfoot
for the sorrow that spills
in asthmatic cough through the chest, palke
for the feverish head without trarilonco,
matico will heal the scar of childbirth
when the light comes.
Now her eyes are stuck in cement,
there are no maternal moons in the buildings,
no sun comes in, no air or fire.
The girl will have to do machitún.
The wood’s buds
push on their tongues,
a pewen of aroma in childbirth.
Her spirit had left, they say.
We made campfires with a full moon for her home,
her arms did not want Mapuche that’s why her sorrow,
but she surrendered with foye
while we sang. Trutruka,
pvfvllka, ancient trompe with raulí
to make her fall in love.
A boy asked for her return,
so that we would get rid of the black dogs.
The girl did not want to be kidnapped 
in another world, but her heart was broken
in two
that’s why the grief and white lice.
We ask the little mother to knead the split
where she died. Then came good smells,
Treng-Treng’s earth filled her hands,
returned the spirit of the sick girl
because the mother went looking for it.
“I had to go look for it where it got lost.”
Something is missing from this house –they told me.
Therefore it will be necessary to inhabit it,
the old tiger is on the prowl.
Pu aliwen.
Open the muttering rooms, let him
take what is his. Get on
the secret pulses.
Let the fire come, consume us in its living embers
the smoke, the millenary secretions.
I allow you, old tiger, to comb my hair.

Secret languages
The machi said it, do not repeat it.
She was in a trance. Go
to the mountain to wait for the language of the earth
to also open for you.
We will go to the hill when the full moon,
we will sing to you there. The only way:
to listen to the spirits at dawn.
If the rafts of death did not take the girl
it was for a reason. That the dream took her,
it does not release her anymore. She has to keep dreaming.
The spirits appear, only some
can enter the lagoon.
Let the warrior of luminous braids watch out.
They take her suddenly. We do not see her anymore.

I am the one with the late-night hair
wet and urgent in the rain
of lost nguillatunes.
The ashes unearth the light of my insides,
the tigress kneads her incarnation among the hot
mountains. I howl in boldness
to gallop on the last star of my blood
on the world’s palm.
Burn lost moon,
I came to the mountain to suck your heart. I will not
go in the whiteness of your breath.
I am the one who flies with three fingers,
who sings fire from her kona’s mouth.
I have been well appointed
the other root.
Twelve knots has the birthsnake,
tremble wuinkul.
And there were twelve dreams for your twelve nipples.
Giving birth to
the omens of the kultrung in your body. Your legs
extended to the beds of the Bio-Bio,
one of those who knew resistance.
The dark one was abandoned of snow,
half-spirit, half-flesh
returns death forward 
to weave the metawe of origin
that was sung blue. The skin
of the Mapuche has the writing.
I was given the words
like a volcano that burns and bleeds. Memory
of unlearned alphabets.
The nipples of time spawned,
fertile were the lands until dawn
when I knew
that my hand was not the writing.

They call you in rauli and alerzaria tongues 
Treng-Treng is falling
Why do you not listen to the children?
Plant cinnamon trees for the time of the buds.
Grandmother grandfather,
the wuinkul falls in front of
my mother’s house.
They are going to look for the power at the mountain,
the marshes only allow some.
The pastures are too thin for you.
The woman carries the music,
the one whose spirit
was taken by the bird.
Grandmother grandfather,
I'm going to Quinquén to see the snow,
to hatch your broken dream,
before it goes silent
I’m going alone.
Apochi küyen mew
Kuze fücha
Ülcha weche
the snow is green.

They call you in rauli and alerzaria tongues

Treng-Treng is falling
Why do you not listen to the children?

Plant cinnamon trees for the time of the buds.
Grandmother grandfather,
the wuinkul falls in front of
my mother’s house.

They are going to look for the power at the mountain,
the marshes only allow some.

The pastures are too thin for you.
The woman carries the music,
the one whose spirit
was taken by the bird.

Grandmother grandfather,
I’m going to Quinquén to see the snow,
to hatch your broken dream,
before it goes silent
I’m going alone.
Apochi küyen mew

Kuze fücha
Ülcha weche
the snow is green.

Three fragments of Parias Zugun

.. lukutues foliles srayenes
all the stone’s writing 
at Txem-Txem’s moldering back 
in ominous suspicion
that voracity of burning nipples
usurped litanies
of when the great snake Txem-Txem
still reigned
and he had a warm embrace
because his leather was
live ember 
of the living
the seeds sang in his hands
kissed them
with his breath of all the forests
alerzales foyehuales
languages and languages all blossomed
in the puelche’s primary caress. . . (33-34)


…If my Genechen language
does not twist
my already frayed skin
–’I looked for it and did not find it’–
the language of the great love
running the tongue over
Txem-Txem’s lacerated back 
the language of the great love
the kallku language 
the despised
‘Come and see the blood of the forestry companies’
–Forests in coals ablaze– 
–Iñche ta zugun– (36)


…Tree language
one can hear it roar in the languages of the sea
the heartbeat of the hushed lament
                                  –and in a spiral I go singing-
–Kay Kay zugun-
it looked at me
the snake
its eyes
wormwood honey
they said the infinite
–give me the uncertain
give me the flame
solsticious and fatuous
I am the aroma in which the people get lost
murta and pennyroyal
the language that cheats. (112)


  • Nguillatun: Great Mapuche ceremony.
  • Kona: Young warrior.
  • Wuinkul: Hill.
  • Kultrung: Ritual drum used by the machi or Mapuche shaman.
  • Metawe: Small vessel or pitcher.
  • Fuchotun: To perform a cleansing ritual with the burning of medicinal plants.
  • Foye: Sacred autochthonous tree, also called canelo.
  • “Fuchotu fuchotu / pieyfey tañiñaña / amulerkeita pu chollvñ mamvll”: “Ritual, Ritual / that’s what the aunt said / she’s walking / in search of new plants”.
  • Palke or palqui: Shrub whose leaves and bark have a medicinal use.
  • Trarilonco: Woven ribbon that is used as an ornament on the head.
  • Machitún: Rite of healing officiated by the machi.
  • Pewen: Fruit of the araucaria.
  • Ruka: Mapuche house.
  • Txutxuca or trutruka: Wind musical instrument.
  • Püfülka: Wind musical instrument.
  • Trompe: Small metallic musical instrument.
  • “Pu aliwen”: “My tree”.
  • Kvtral or Kütral: Fire.
  • Treng-Treng (Txem Txem) and Kai Kai (Kay Kay): The mythical account of the war between Treng-Treng and Kai Kai explains the origin of Mapuche society. Treng-Treng is the serpent of the earth that fought against Kai Kai, the serpent of the sea.
  • Genechen or ngenechen: Divine creator or Mapuche Supreme Being.
  • “Apochi küyen mew / amutuan / Kuze Fücha / Ülcha Weche”: “With the full moon / I go / Elderly Man Elderly Woman / Young woman Young man”. Kuze, Fücha, Ülcha and Weche form the divine Mapuche family that survived the mythical war of Treng-Treng and Kai Kai.
  • Lukutues: Mapuche anthropomorphic symbol representing a kneeling man. It is usually incorporated into the fabric of the female girdle (or trariwe).
  • Foliles: Roots.
  • Srayenes: Flowers.
  • Ilwen: Dew.
  • Zugun: Language or tongue.
  • ‘Inche ta zugun’: “My language”.
  • Champurria: Mestizo.

About the translator

Andrea Echeverría is an Assistant Professor at Wake Forest University. She has published a book on the work of two Peruvian poets titled El despertar de los awquis: migración y utopía en la poesía de Boris Espezúa y Gloria Mendoza (Paracaídas Editores & UNMSM, 2016), and several articles on Mapuche poetry, ritual and memory. She is currently working on a book project on contemporary Mapuche poetry and visual arts.

More about Adriana Paredes Pinda

From Cantos de amor al lucero de la mañana in LALT

More about Forestry and Mapuche Land Rights in the Walmapu / Chile

The land is our mother

Utshimauat / The Masters, by Josephine Bacon

Ambassador for indigenous cultures, Joséphine Bacon is an innu writer from Pessamit, on the coast of the Saint Laurence river, in the territory now known as Québec, in Eastern Canada. Bacon writes in her native tongue, Innu-Aimun, and in French. From 2009, she has published four bilingual books of poetry and collaborated on a number of anthologies. Two books of poetry have been translated into English: Message Sticks: Tshissinuatshitakana (Translated by Phyllis Aronoff, Mawenzi House Press, 2013) and A Tea in the Tundra / Nipishapui Nete Mushuat (Translated by Donald Winkler, Bookland Press, 2017). She has also written scripts for two films (Ameshkuatan, Les sorties du castorin 1978 and Tshishe Mishtikuashisht, Le petit grand européen: Johan Beetzin 1997), as well as collaborating on various television programs. For years, she has worked with elders to try to preserve indigenous languages and ancestral traditions as well as with young indigenous artists to foment artistic creation. She has won a number of distinguished prizes at the provincial and national level.

The poem “The Masters” comes from her first book, Bâtons à message / Tshissinuatshitakana published in 2009 by the Quebecois publisher, Mémoire d’Encrier. The message sticks from the title are pieces of wood that nomadic Indigenous groups from that area would position on their paths to leave messages for others who might be passing through the same place. In the book’s preface, Bacon says: “My people is rare, my people is precious, like an unwritten poem. / The elders have fallen silent, leaving us the echo of their murmuring…” (Translation by Phyllis Aronoff). With select and precise words, Bacon’s poetry renders explicit the undeniable relationships between Indigenous people, nature, territory and the spirit world.

Nimichumat nejanat nuitamakutiat :

“Tshitatshakush puamuishapan
eshkueja inniuin.
Shash petamushapan assinu tshitei.”

The ancestors told me:

“Your soul dreamed long before you.
Your heart heard the land.”

Tshitei uitamu
anite uetshin

mamitunenim tshitatshakush
uin an ka minishk
anite tshe ituten,
eshkueka inniuin.

Your heart tells
where you come from

think of your soul,
it gave you the source
before birth.

Papakassiku, Atikuapeu
tshin ka pagushuenimikuin,
nimititen meshkanau anite

etat Missinaku
uin nika ashamiku
kukamessa shiueniani

nika tshishunak
tshetshi minukuamuian,

Ushuapeu takushiniti
uin nica uitamaku

etati Tshishikushkueua
uin ja tshitapamikuiaku
ute tshitassinat.

Papakassiku, Atikuapeu
the one we wait for,
you lead me to

who will offer the lake trout
of our land, and if

I’m cold,
will keep me warm
in my sleep

will take me away close to

she who watches over
the beating of the land
in my heart.

Alanis umenu

Uetakussiti shakassineu pishimu
nuamapamau ukaumau ka mitshetushet
e minat peiku
auassa pakushenitamunnu

innitsheuau mamitshetuait
anite shipit
anite ut kuepitak

uin mukutshissenitamu
nete tshe ishi-shatshituaunit
tshetshi uinipekunipekakuiaku
natutuakut kashkanat.

For Alanis, my mother

On a night of a full moon,
the mother of so many children
gives new hope
to a child

an image gives
a multitude of colours
to a river
diverted from its place
of birth

it alone
knows its course
to the sea that rocks us
on the waves of sleep.

Utshimauat © Joséphine Bacon (Innu-aimun). From Bacon, Joséphine.  Bâtons à message/Tshissinuatshitakana. Montréal : Mémoire d’Encrier, 2009.

The Masters © Phyllis Aronoff (English translation) from Bacon, Joséphine.  Message Sticks/Tshissinuatshitakana. Aronoff, Phyllis, Trans. Toronto: Mawenzi House, 2013.


Phyllis Aronoff. Born and bred in Montreal and educated at McGill, UQAM and Concordia (MA in English literature), Aronoff translates fiction, non-fiction and poetry from French to English, working solo or with co-translator Howard Scott. She has translated a dozen books and served as president of the Literary Translators’ Association of Canada. She has received a number of awards for her translations including the Governor General of Canada Prize for Translation in 2018.


© Le Devoir. 2018
© La Scena Musicale Team. 2018.

Paula Maldonado: “To draw is to continue a pending conversation…”

© Hummingbird Hut. Paula Maldonado. Pen, ink and watercolor with digital intervention. 2019.

In the words of the artist:

“For some time I have found myself living in Leticia, Amazon, where I have carried out creative workshops with diverse communities and participated in the development of experimental spaces and strategies for learning about indigenous thought and language. Presently, I am working with a research group that includes native artists and thinkers, upon an android game(app)for learning the Tikuna language

© Muu. Paula Maldonado. Digital Drawing, 2019.

…For me, “to draw” is to continue a pending conversation, a strategy to trick thought, a territory where I can exercise my right to appropriate myself and transform something in the world, however small it might be, a path, infinite and ever open towards the unknown…”

© Mawü. Dialogues with Yuca. A digital drawing which refers to a performance under the same name in the Museum at the Colombian National University Bogota. Paula Maldonado. 2018.

Paula Maldonado studied Philosophy at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia and earned a Master’s in Aesthetics and history of the Paris 8 (Saint Denis Université) with the thesis, “Clichés de América, la impresión de los imaginarios del poder” (Clichés of America. Printing of the Imaginaries of Power). She has worked as a teacher, researcher, curator and coordinator of seminars and workshops in different settings. She is particularly interested in the multiple links between art and cosmopolitics, Latin American art, anthropology of images, postcolonial studies, community-based pedagogy, and transdisciplinary and collective creation.

Language Revitalization Collective Projects – Colombian National University Amazonia

Native Languages Lecture Series: Language is Spirit.
Colombian National University Amazonia. February 10, 2018.

Marga B. Aguilar Montejo: U Juum u T’aan Koolnáal / The Voice of the Campesino

Marga Beatriz Aguilar Montejo is a Maya Yucatec writer from Sotuta, Yucatán (Mexico), author of the play U wáayilo’ob xLetra / Las brujas de xLetra, published in the anthology Nuevos cantos de la ceiba. She studied at the Itzamná Municipal Academy of the Mayan Language in Mérida, and the Center of Fine Arts in the Yucatan Peninsula, where she was part of the first class of graduates in Creative Writing in the Mayan language. The Voice of the Campesino is her first book of poems. Aguilar first wrote the collection in 2017 in the Maya Yucatec language, and self-translated the poems to Spanish. I thank the poet for allowing me to translate and publish the first poem of her book here. (Melanie Walsh).

In the prologue of U juum u t’aan kolnáal / La voz del campesino, Martha Aracelly Ucán Piña writes:

“Words have the power to break the boundaries of time and space; a poem can transport us to the entrails of the mountain, to the middle of the milpa, along paths and roads, between the waves of the sea or to the depths of underground waters. This is what happens in U juum u t’aan kolnáal / La voz del campesino, where Marga Aguilar puts together a series of eight poems in Maya; a rhythmic and metaphoric language, rich in epithets, images and synesthetic contexts, that stimulates sensations we cannot stop exploring. In these texts, the original poet of Sotuta is composing an atmosphere through images, flavors, smells and sounds of the countryside, based on the knowledge inherited from her parents and grandparents. Beyond an intention of reminiscence and nostalgia for ancestral knowledge about peasant work, the poet reaches a voice that vivifies the elements. In revitalizing her tradition, she is anxious to learn as well as to reflect about the cyclical sense of the country life.”


Iik’ ku yáalkab tu jobnel k’áax,

ku báab ich k’áak’náab,

ku xik’nal tu ka’anlil pu’uko’ob,

ku yéemel,

ku xíimbal,

ku síit´ tu ba’paach baatsilo’ob ku k’ayko’ob payalchi’ob ti’ u yuumtsilo’ob,

leti’ u juum u t’aan.


Wind that blows through the entrails of the mountains

that swims in the sea,

that flies above the hills,

that descends,

that walks,

that leaps around families who sing prayers to their gods

that, is the sound of his voice.


Ich k’óoben naj tu suutubaj t’aan,

junjump’íitil yóok’ol xamache’

tu tséentubáa yéetel u tuuch chaanbalo’ob,


súut u wíinklal bey waaje’

ka janta’ab tumeen ixi’im wíinik,

tu núupuba’ob juntúulil utia’al u múul tséentuba’ob,

je bix le x-much’koko’ mix bik’in kun kíimik,

u chichmachmubáa ti’ lu’um,

u balmubáa yéetel jay tuunich,

táan u paa’tik yáax nukuch cháako’ob

utia’al u ka’a síijil tu ya’axil le’ob,

tu k’ank’anil nikte’ob, tu chakjole’enil chúuk yéetel tu booxil éek’joch’e’en.


In the kitchen it became word

little by little upon the comal

it fed from the bellybutton of babies,

they gave it life;

it took the form of a tortilla

that was eaten by the man of corn,

they became one-to survive,

like the x-muuch’ kook plant that will never die,

refuged in the earth,

protected by the stone,

waiting for the first rain,

to be reborn in the green of leaves,

in the yellow of  flowers,

in the red of  ember and in the black of night.


U juum u t’aane’, u k’aay xk’ook’ jejeláas u juumo’ob,

ku tóop’ol ich kaajo’ob mixbik’in u kíimlo’ob,

tu’ux ku tsikbalta’al k’aajlayo’ob ti’ jko’oko’ xikino’ob

ku cháachko’ob tsikbalo’ob ku xik’nalo’ob ka’an.


His voice, song of the nightingale in many tones,

that sprouts in  eternal towns,

where stories are told to restless ears

that catch stories flying to the heavens.


Xíimbal t’aan ku k’uchul tak k’áak’náab,

jit’bil t’aano’ob chi’ichnako’ob u puluba’ob báab,

nu’ukulil chu’ukul kay pu’ul ich ja’;

ts’áanchakbil chakchi’,

tsajbil bu’ul kay, tsaja’an ich ta’ab,

t’aano’ob ku chu’ukul ich k’áaknáab.


Traveling voice that arrives at the sea,

woven words anxious to swim;

fishnet thrown in the water;

chakchi’ stew,

fish fried beans, fried in salt,

those words fished from the sea.


Yooxol ja’ ku payalchi’ chúumuk k’iin,

kali’ikil u xíimbal yéetel u xúul,

tun julbe’entik loobita’an t’aano’ob.


Evaporated water that prays at midday,

while it walks with its sower

resowing wounded words.


Lu’um ku ka’a ts’iik u yaal ku ka’apúut kuxtal,

ku nojochtal u juum u t’aan,


táan u ch’áajal yóok’ol le lu’uma’,

ku ka’apúut kuxtala’.


Fertile land that germinates once more,

voice that grows,


it’s dripping,

over this land,

that germinates once more.


U juum u t’aane’, loobita’an báalam,

kabalchaja’an báalam,

tusa’an báalam,

kíimsa’an báalam,

ka’a síijnal báalam,

kalaanta’an báalam,

payalchi’ta’an báalam,

kili’ich báalam.


His voice, jaguar wounded,

jaguar depleted,

jaguar deceived,

jaguar murdered,

jaguar who is reborn,

jaguar taken care of,

jaguar worshipped,

jaguar sacred.


U juum u t’aan koolnáal

iik’ ku yalkab tu jobnel k’áax,

ku báab ich k’áak’náab,

ku xik’nal tu ka’anlil pu’uko’ob,

ku yéemel,

ku xíimbal,

ku síit’ tu ba’paach baatsilo’ob

ku k’ayko’ob payalchi’ob ti’ u yuumtsilo’ob.


The voice of the campesino

is the wind that runs in the entrails of the mountain

that swims in the sea,

that flies above the hills,

that descends,

that walks,

that leaps around families that sing prayers to their gods


Melanie Walsh received her B.A. from the University of North Carolina at Asheville in Spanish and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies. She translated The Voice of the Campesino as part of her Senior Capstone in Spanish, a project which sparked an interest in pursuing translating and interpreting in the future. She is currently working on producing an album and a creating a zine of her own poetry.

Fernando Pomalaza: For the Love of Art

Fernando Pomalaza studied drawing and painting at the Escuela de Bellas Artes de la UNCP de Huancayo (the School of Fine Arts at UNCP at Huancayo), the Escuela Nacional de Bellas Artes de Lima (the National School of Fine Arts at Lima, Peru), the Art Students League, the New School of Social Research, and the Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop in New York, USA. He has lived and worked in New York since 1978 and has participated in International Art Fairs and individual exhibitions in Perú, the United States, Europe, Australia, Japan, Singapore, and China. In his own words:

“I have been making collages since 1981, always experimenting and discovering new possibilities, mixing different materials in a spontaneous way. The colors, textures and artistic values of the pre-columbian cultures and popular art of my beloved Peru have a great influence on my collages. Collage allows me to express my inner world, my experiences and knowledge of the past and the present while envisioning the future.”

© Condor Marka. Fernando Pomalaza

The artist introduces this series of collages thus:

“The collages which I share in this opportunity pay homage and recognition to my teachers who, at some juncture, freely offered me their friendship and shared their experience and knowledge without interest in personal gain – FOR THE LOVE OF ART.  These works are for those who are no longer among us, but whose spirits live on in my memory and heart: Alejandro González (Apu Rimac, Escuela de Bellas Artes de la UNCP Huancayo, Perú), Carlos Galarza Aguilar (Escuela de Bellas Artes de la UNCP Huancayo, Perú), Hugo Orellana Bonilla (Escuela de Bellas Artes de La UNCP Huancayo, Perú), Miguel Ángel Cuadros (Escuela Nacional Superior de Bellas Artes de Lima), Leo Manso (The New School of Social Research New York), Sidney Simon (The Art Students League of New York), Robert Blackburn (Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop New York). FOR THE LOVE OF ART is a series of collages in a small format (mixed media) which uses acrylic as a medium for fusion and preservation, along with  materials that have been found and gathered from the city’s streets and walls. The pieces in the series are essays in collage form, an expression of a visual poetic; of a dialogue with the materials, a search for and reaffirmation in art and life- Trying to find sense in the era of cultural whirlwind in which we live.”

New York, January 18, 2017  

To learn more about the artist

Ashok Jain Gallery, Nueva York

13 poems by Joy Harjo

The work of Joy Harjo (Mvskoke, Tulsa, Oklahoma) challenges every attempt at introduction. Singer, saxofonist, poet, performer, dramatist, and storyteller are just a few of her roles. Somewhere between jazz and ceremonial flute, the beat of her sensibility radiates hope and gratitude to readers and listeners alike. For example, from Harjo we learn that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear. Several of her books, such as How We Became Human, The Woman Who Fell From the Sky, and She Had Some Horses are now classics in both English and World Indigenous Literature. Harjo has recorded five original albums, including the outstanding Winding Through the Milky Way with which she won the 2009 Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Woman Artist of the Year. The first 8 poems in this selection are from her book, Conflict Resolution from Holy Beings (2015). The remaining 5 poems are from earlier works and have not been previously translated into Spanish. We are grateful to the poet for allowing us to translate her work here. (Andrea Echeverría y Juan G. Sánchez Martínez)

For Calling The Spirit Back
From Wandering The Earth
In Its Human Feet

Put down that bag of potato chips, that white bread, that
bottle of pop.

Turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control.

Open the door, then close it behind you.

Take a breath offered by friendly winds. They travel
the earth gathering essences of plants to clean.

Give back with gratitude.

If you sing it will give your spirit lift to fly to the stars’ ears and

Acknowledge this earth who has cared for you since you were
a dream planting itself precisely within your parents’ desire.

Let your moccasin feet take you to the encampment of the
guardians who have known you before time,
who will be there after time.
They sit before the fire that has been there without time.

Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial insecure jitters.

Be respectful of the small insects, birds and animal people
who accompany you.
Ask their forgiveness for the harm we humans have brought
down upon them.

Don’t worry.
The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises,
interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and
those who will despise you because they despise themselves.

The journey might take you a few hours, a day, a year, a few
years, a hundred, a thousand or even more.

Watch your mind. Without training it might run away and
leave your heart for the immense human feast set by the
thieves of time.

Do not hold regrets.

When you find your way to the circle, to the fire kept burning
by the keepers of your soul, you will be welcomed.

You must clean yourself with cedar, sage, or other healing plant.

Cut the ties you have to failure and shame.

Let go the pain you are holding in your mind, your shoulders, your heart, all the way to your feet. Let go the pain of your ancestors to make way for those who are heading in our direction.

Ask for forgiveness.

Call upon the help of those who love you. These helpers take many forms: animal, element, bird, angel, saint, stone, or ancestor.

Call yourself back. You will find yourself caught in corners and creases of shame, judgment, and human abuse.

You must call in a way that your spirit will want to return.
Speak to it as you would to a beloved child.

Welcome your spirit back from its wandering. It will return
in pieces, in tatters. Gather them together. They will be
happy to be found after being lost for so long.

Your spirit will need to sleep awhile after it is bathed and
given clean clothes.

Now you can have a party. Invite everyone you know who
loves and supports you. Keep room for those who have no
place else to go.

Make a giveaway, and remember, keep the speeches short.

Then, you must do this: help the next person find their way through the dark.

© Joy Harjo. Conflict Resolution From Holy Beings. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Rabbit Is Up to Tricks

In a world long before this one, there was enough for
Until somebody got out of line.
We heard it was Rabbit, fooling around with clay and the
Everybody was tired of his tricks and no one would play
with him;
He was lonely in this world.
So Rabbit thought to make a person.
And when he blew into the mouth of that crude figure to see
What would happen,
The clay man stood up.
Rabbit showed the clay man how to steal a chicken.
The clay man obeyed.
Then Rabbit showed him how to steal corn.
The clay man obeyed.
Then he showed him how to steal someone else’s wife.
The clay man obeyed.
Rabbit felt important and powerful.
The clay man felt important and powerful.
And once that clay man started he could not stop.
Once he took that chicken he wanted all the chickens.
And once he took that corn he wanted all the corn.
And once he took that wife, he wanted all the wives.
He was insatiable.
Then he had a taste of gold and he wanted all the gold.
Then it was land and anything else he saw.
His wanting only made him want more.
Soon it was countries, and then it was trade.
The wanting infected the earth.
We lost track of the purpose and reason for life.
We began to forget our songs. We forgot our stories.
We could no longer see or hear our ancestors,
Or talk with each other across the kitchen table.
Forests were being mowed down all over the world.
And Rabbit had no place to play.
Rabbit’s trick had backfired.
Rabbit tried to call the clay man back,
But when the clay man wouldn’t listen
Rabbit realized he’d made a clay man with no ears.

© Joy Harjo. Conflict Resolution From Holy Beings. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

In Mystic

My path is a cross of burning trees,
Lit by crows carrying fire in their beaks.
I ask the guardians of these lands for permission to enter.
I am a visitor to this history.
No one remembers to ask anymore, they answer.
What do I expect in this New England seaport town, near
      the birthplace of democracy,
Where I am a ghost?
Even a casino can’t make an Indian real.
Or should I say “native,” or “savage,” or “demon”?
And with what trade language?
I am trading a backwards look for jeopardy.
I agree with the ancient European maps.
There are monsters beyond imagination that troll the waters.
The Puritan’s determined ships did fall off the edge of the
     world . . .
I am happy to smell the sea,
Walk the narrow winding streets of shops and restaurants,
and delight in the company of friends, trees, and small
I would rather not speak with history but history came to me.
It was dark before daybreak when the fire sparked.
The men left on a hunt from the Pequot village here where I
The women and children left behind were set afire.
I do not want to know this, but my gut knows the language
      of bloodshed.
Over six hundred were killed, to establish a home for God’s
      people, crowed the Puritan leaders in their Sunday
And then history was gone in a betrayal of smoke.
There is still burning though we live in a democracy erected
over the burial ground.
This was given to me to speak.
Every poem is an effort at ceremony.
I asked for a way in.

(For Pam Uschuk) October 31, 2009
© Joy Harjo. Conflict Resolution From Holy Beings. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Once the World Was Perfect

Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
Jumped through—
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.

© Joy Harjo. Conflict Resolution From Holy Beings. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Listen to the poem read by the author at Poetry Foundation

Talking with the Sun

I believe in the sun.
In the tangle of human failures of fear, greed, and
forgetfulness, the sun gives me clarity.
When explorers first encountered my people, they called us
heathens, sun worshippers.
They didn’t understand that the sun is a relative, and
illuminates our path on this earth.

After dancing all night in a circle we realize that we are a part of a larger sense of stars and planets dancing with us overhead.
When the sun rises at the apex of the ceremony, we are renewed.
There is no mistaking this connection, though Walmart might be just down the road.
Humans are vulnerable and rely on the kindnesses of the earth and the sun; we exist together in a sacred field of meaning.

Our earth is shifting. We can all see it.
I hear from my Inuit and Yupik relatives up north that
everything has changed. It’s so hot; there is not enough
Animals are confused. Ice is melting.
The quantum physicists have it right; they are beginning to think like Indians: everything is connected dynamically at an intimate level.
When you remember this, then the current wobble of the earth makes sense. How much more oil can be drained,
Without replacement; without reciprocity?

I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn to find the sun.
It was the fourth morning since the birth of my fourth granddaughter.
This was the morning I was to present her to the sun, as a relative, as one of us. It was still dark, overcast as I walked through Times Square.
I stood beneath a twenty-first century totem pole of symbols of multinational corporations, made of flash and neon.

The sun rose up over the city but I couldn’t see it amidst the rain.
Though I was not at home, bundling up the baby to carry her outside,
I carried this newborn girl within the cradleboard of my heart.
I held her up and presented her to the sun, so she would be recognized as a relative,
So that she won’t forget this connection, this promise, So that we all remember, the sacredness of life.

© Joy Harjo. Conflict Resolution From Holy Beings. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Suicide Watch

I was on a train stopped sporadically at checkpoints.
What tribe are you, what nation, what race, what sex, what unworthy soul?

I could not sleep, because I could not wake up.
No mirror could give me back what I wanted.

I was given a drug to help me sleep.
Then another drug to wake up.
Then a drug was given to me to make me happy.
They all made me sadder.

Death will gamble with anyone.
There are many fools down here who believe they will win.

You know, said my teacher, you can continue to wallow, or
You can stand up here with me in the sunlight and watch the battle.

I sat across from a girl whose illness wanted to jump over to me.
No! I said, but not aloud.
I would have been taken for crazy.

We will always become those we have ever judged or condemned.

This is not mine. It belongs to the soldiers who raped the young women on the Trail of Tears. It belongs to Andrew Jackson. It belongs to the missionaries. It belongs to the thieves of our language. It belongs to the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It no longer belongs to me.

I became fascinated by the dance of dragonflies over the river.
I found myself first there.

© Joy Harjo. Conflict Resolution From Holy Beings. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

You Can Change the Story, My Spirit Said to Me as I Sat Near the Sea

For Sharon Oard Warner and DG Nanouk Okpik

I am in a village up north, in the lands named “Alaska” now. These places had their own names long before English, Russian, or any other politically imposed trade language.

It is in the times when people dreamed and thought together as one being. That doesn’t mean there weren’t individuals. In those times, people were more individual in personhood than they are now in their common assertion of individuality: one person kept residence on the moon even while living in the village. Another was a man who dressed up and lived as a woman and was known as the best seamstress.

I have traveled to this village with a close friend who is also a distant relative. We are related to nearly everyone by marriage, clan, or blood.

The first night after our arrival, a woman is brutally killed in the village. Murder is not commonplace. The evil of it puts the whole village at risk. It has to be dealt with immediately so that the turbulence will not leave the people open to more evil.

Because my friend and I are the most obvious influence, it
is decided that we are to be killed, to satisfy the murder, to ensure the village will continue in a harmonious manner. No one tells us we are going to be killed. We know it; my bones know it. It is unfortunate, but it is how things must be.

The next morning, my friend and I have walked down from the village to help gather, when we hear the killing committee coming for us.
I can hear them behind us, with their implements and stones, in their psychic roar of purpose.
I know they are going to kill us. I thank the body that has been my clothing on this journey. It has served me well for protection and enjoyment.
I hear—I still hear—the crunch of bones as the village mob, sent to do this job, slams us violently. It’s not personal for most of them. A few gain pleasure.
I feel my body’s confused and terrible protest, then my spirit leaps out above the scene and I watch briefly before circling toward the sea.

I linger out over the sea, and my soul’s helper who has been with me through the stories of my being says, “You can go back and change the story.”

My first thought was, Why would I want to do that? I am free of the needs of earth existence. I can move like wind and water. But then, because I am human, not bird or whale, I feel compelled.
“What do you mean, ‘change the story’?”
Then I am back in the clothes of my body outside the village. I am back in the time between the killing in the village and my certain death in retribution.

“Now what am I supposed to do?” I ask my Spirit. I can see no other way to proceed through the story.

My Spirit responds, “You know what to do. Look, and you will see the story.”

And then I am alone with the sea and the sky. I give my thinking to time and let them go play.

It is then I see. I see a man in the village stalk a woman. She is not interested in him, but he won’t let go. He stalks her as he stalks a walrus. He is the village’s best hunter of walrus. He stalks her to her home, and when no one else is there, he trusses her as if she were a walrus, kills her and drags her body out of her house to the sea. I can see the trail of blood behind them. I can see his footprints in blood as he returns to the village alone.

I am in the village with my friend. The people are gathering and talking about the killing. I can feel their nudges toward my friend and I. I stand up with a drum in my hand. I say:

“I have a story I want to tell you.”

And then I begin drumming and dancing to accompany the story. It is pleasing, and the people want to hear more.
They want to hear what kind of story I am bringing from my village.
I sing, dance, and tell the story of a walrus hunter. He is the best walrus hunter of a village.

I sing about his relationship to the walrus, and how he has fed his people. And how skilled he is as he walks out onto the ice to call out the walrus.

And then I tell the story of the killing of a walrus who is like a woman. I talk about the qualities of the woman, whom the man sees as a walrus. By now, the story has its own spirit that wants to live. It dances and sings and breathes. It surprises me with what it knows.

With the last step, the last hit of the drum, the killer stands up, as if to flee the gathering. The people turn together as one and see him. They see that he has killed the woman, and it is his life that must be taken to satisfy the murder.

When I return to present earth time, I can still hear the singing.
I get up from my bed and dance and sing the story.
It is still in my tongue, my body, as if it has lived there all along,
though I am in a city with many streams of peoples from far and wide across the earth.

We make a jumble of stories. We do not dream together.

© Joy Harjo. Conflict Resolution From Holy Beings. W. W. Norton & Company, 2015.

Morning Prayers

I have missed the guardian spirit
of Sangre de Cristos,
those mountains
against which I destroyed myself
every morning I was sick
with loving and fighting
in those small years.
In that season I looked up
to a blue conception of faith
a notion of the sacred in
the elegant border of cedar trees
becoming mountain and sky.

This is how we were born into the world:
Sky fell in love with earth, wore turquoise,
cantered in on a black horse.
Earth dressed herself fragrantly,
with regard for aesthetics of holy romance.
Their love decorated the mountains with sunrise,
weaved valleys delicate with the edging of sunset.

This morning I look toward the east
and I am lonely for those mountains
Though I’ve said good-bye to the girl
with her urgent prayers for redemption.

I used to believe in a vision
that would save the people
carry us all to the top of the mountain
during the flood
of human destruction.

I know nothing anymore
as I place my feet into the next world
except this:
the nothingness
is vast and stunning,
brims with details
of steaming, dark coffee
ashes of campfires
the bells on yaks or sheep
sirens careening through a deluge
of humans
or the dead carried through fire,
through the mist of baking sweet
bread and breathing.

This is how we will leave this world:
on horses of sunrise and sunset
from the shadow of the mountains
who witnessed every battle
every small struggle.

This land is a poem

This land is a poem of ochre and burnt sand I could never write,
unless paper were the sacrament of sky, and ink the broken line of
wild horses staggering the horizon several miles away. Even then,
does anything written ever matter to the earth, wind, and sky?

Anything that matters

Anything that matters is here. Anything that will continue to matter
in the next several thousand years will continue to be here.
Approaching in the distance is the child you were some years ago.
See her laughing as she chases a white butterfly.

Don’t bother the earth spirit

Don’t bother the earth spirit who lives here. She is working on a
story. It is the oldest story in the world and it is delicate, changing.
If she sees you watching she will invite you in for coffee, give you
warm bread, and you will be obligated to stay and listen. But this
is no ordinary story. You will have to endure earthquakes, light-
ning, the deaths of all you love, the most blinding beauty. It’s
a story so compelling you may never want to leave; this is how she
traps you. See the stone finger over there? That is the only one
who ever escaped.


a woman can’t survive
by her own breath
she must know
the voices of mountains
she must recognize
the foreverness of blue sky
she must flow
with the elusive
of night winds
who will take her
into herself

look at me
i am not a separate woman
i am a continuance
of blue sky
i am the throat
of the mountains
a night wind
who burns
with every breath
she takes

© Joy Harjo. What Moon Drove Me to This? 1980.


Official site

Poetry Foundation


Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light

Joy Harjo’s Reality Show

Joy Harjo, A Life in Poetry


Andrea Echeverría

Andrea Echeverría is an Assistant Professor at Wake Forest University. She has published a book on the work of two Peruvian poets titled El despertar de los awquis: migración y utopía en la poesía de Boris Espezúa y Gloria Mendoza (Paracaídas Editores & UNMSM, 2016), and several articles on Mapuche poetry, ritual and memory. She is currently working on a book project on contemporary Mapuche poetry and visual arts.

Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

Juan G. Sánchez Martínez is originally from the Andes (Bakatá, Colombia). He dedicates both his creative and scholarly writing to indigenous cultural expression and ancestral ways of being. His book, Altamar, was awarded the 2016 National Prize for Literature in the area of Poetry, Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia.

Altamar is a tribute to the grandfathers and grandmothers, activists and writers who have protected, with their own lives, the pure water of their territories. Since 2016, he works as an Assistant Professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville, in the Departments of Languages and Literatures and Indigenous Studies.

Jeisson Castillo: Art, Territory and Spirituality

Jeisson Castillo (MA. in Visual Arts, Javeriana University, Bogotá) is a young painter, photographer, and audiovisual producer whose work focuses on the peasant and indigenous communities of Colombia. As part of various projects commissioned by the government and non-governmental organizations, he has traveled extensively in rural areas, including the entire Amazon basin of Colombia, where he has immersed himself in the traditional knowledge and ancestral wisdom of many indigenous peoples who are at risk of physical and cultural extinction.

His visual production has been exhibited in Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, France, Brazil, Norway, and the United States. Currently, he combines illustration, painting, performance, video, and anthropological research in his artistic practice. In endowing his images with spirit, his most recent work explores in particular the use of sacred plants and non-human entities.  

In his own words: “My work is an exercise in searching, traveling, and learning. First, you always must go over the territory, recognizing and remembering with the help of elders and medicine men and women; it is at this moment when I receive instructions, tasks, sometimes assignments that I must approach conceptually, and sometimes concrete images that I must recreate as actions or rituals. Then comes the production of my work, which is always an immersion. My art is experiential, therefore everything that happens in everyday life influences the pieces in process.

Formally, in my painting, I try to blend materials- from my western heritage, the minerals: oil, turpentine, canvas- from my indigenous and African heritage, the sacred plants: tobacco, yagé, borrachero… as well as quartz, soil, and incense. Through experimentation I have found that these materials allow me to link paintings to the spirit of the people, non-human entities, plants, and territories that I portray.”


Junimaré Journeys: a video

Artist website

Yana Lucila Lema: 6 poems from Tamyawan Shamukupani / Living with the rain

About the author:

Yana Lucila Lema studied Social Communication with a specialization in Television at the Central University of Ecuador. She also studied Creative Writing and received a Masters of Social Sciences with a concentration in Indigenous Issues at FLACSO. She obtained a degree in Audiovisual Journalism at the Jose Marti International Institute of Journalism in Cuba. She has collaborated with indigenous organizations such as the Confederacy of Ecuadorian Indigenous Nationalities (CONAIE), the Confederacy of Indigenous Nationalities from the Ecuadorian Amazon (CONFENIAE), and the Confederacy of Peoples of Kichwa nationality (ECUARUNARI).

In her work with CONAIE she created several videos about strengthening cultural identity among indigenous peoples. One of these videos, which focused on traditional medicine, was the winner of the First Nations of Abya Yala Film Festival. She was presenter for the Kichwa language newscast KICHWAPI for six and a half years on the national channel RTS. As a writer, she participated in the International Meeting of Indigenous Communicators and Writers in Indigenous Languages (UNAM-Mexico), the Conference of the Association for Writers in Indigenous Languages of Mexico, and the International Poetry Festivals of Medellin and Bogota (Colombia). Her poetry was included in the book Las palabras pueden: Los escritores y la infancia (UNICEF), the poetry anthology of indigenous nations of Ecuador Ñaupa pachamanta purik rimaykuna / Antiguas palabras andantes (Casa de la Ecuatoriana 2016), and in the special edition of the Diálogo Magazine “Los cinco puntos cardinales en la literatura indígena contemporánea/ The five cardinal points in contemporary indigenous literature” (DePaul University 2016). Currently, she works as a professor in the University of the Arts in Guayaquil.

Tamyawan Shamukupani is the first collection of Quichua poetry by Yana Lucy Lema. Her poetry is very intimate, sensual and connected to her Otavalo heritage and the cosmos in general. She does that with few strokes, as if she was talking to someone, usually a loved one. Hers is a new voice in Quichua poetry, going beyond the usual rhetoric. The translations were done relying primarily in the original Quichua version, and might be slightly different than the authors translation into Spanish. We have also segmented the stanzas to allow the nonlinear symbolic flow between the lines. If the translator is familiar with the native language this is the right way to approach a text, so the nuances are not lost in the intermediate language. Thanks to Robert Roth, director of And Then Magazine, for Reading and suggesting some fine tuning for this wonderful body of work.  (by Fredy A. Roncalla)

Tamyawan Shamukupani /Living with the rain


chay lusiru kimirimukunmi
kintikunapash ña pawanakunmi

pakchata yallik ñuka shunkupash wakakunmi

chay kanpa shimiwan allpata mutyachishami

wayrapash ñukanchikwan pukllachun sakishunlla

-ama manchaychu

nachu urkukunapash kuyarinmi

nishpami ñuka mamaka- nin


Morning star comes by
and the hummingbirds fly around

my heart roars louder than a waterfall

I will water the earth with your lips and mouth

It is time for the wind to play with us

do not fear:

even the mountains
love each other

my mother said


ñawpa mamakunapa makikunapi
katik wawakunapa makikunapi

uchilla ninakunashinami
puka mullukunapash

cuentakunapash punchalla rikurinakun

inti llukshinkakaman
inti washakunkakaman tushunka

shunku kushikuchun
kutinpash pukuchiyta ushankapak


At the hands of the elder women
and the young ones that follow them

shine golden mullu* shells
like small suns

the silver beads will dance
until sunrise

and sunset

bringing happiness to our hearts
so they flower again

*Mullu is the quichua mane for the spondylous shell. This shell is used in many rituals in the Andes and had an exchange value close to money in pre-Hispanic times. This shell is widely used in the manufacture of beads in the coastal region of Ecuador and Peru. This poem refers to the importance of handcrafting in quichua communities.


kunanka ñukawan
ñuka ñawi rikuypi tiyakuy

kanpa maki awayta rikukusha
nachu hawapachapi nina puchkakunapash watarinakun

nachu paykunallatak uchilla ninakunata
ñukanchik shunkukunatapash watachishka


Stay now
looking at me in the eyes

I will watch your hands
as if they were weaving threads of fire at Hawa Pacha*

those hands
perhaps the only ones tying small suns**

for our hearts contentment

*”Hawa pacha” is the celestial dimension in Quichua cosmology.
**”Tying small suns” refers to the capacity to tie a celestial body –usually with a woolen cord- to benefit the realm of this world.


kayna puncha
kayna chishi

kayna tuta

ñuka shuti kanpa shimipi
kanpa llakta ñuka ñawipi

ñawpa ñawpa punchakuna purishkami kashka

ñukanchik makikunapi hapirishka munay
ñukanchik llaktakunamanta makanakushpa puriwan paktay

chay puncha
chay chishi

chay tuta

kanpa shuti ñuka shimipi
ñuka llakta kanpa ñawipi

ñawpa punchakuna purishkami kashka

chiri wayra chawpipi ukllariy
aycha ukupi chay tukuy makanakuykunawan paktay

kunan puncha
kunan chishi

kunan tuta charichishkaka

ñuka llaktapi kan chulunlla
kanpa llaktapi ñuka chulunlla

kunan kunan purishkami kan

uchilla ninakunalla tutapi
shuk makanakuykunapash ñukanchikta tarimushkami

kanta ñukata ñukanchikpa chikan llaktakunapi


last evening

the night holding 

my name in your lips
and your land in my eyes

come from very old times

like a certain tenderness left in our hands
by the struggles for our people

the other day
and evening

that night holding

your name in my lips
and my land in your eyes

are a more recent story

just like a hug in the middle of the cold wind
blowing with the struggles we carry in our blood

this evening

and the night still holding 

your silence in my land
and your land in my silence

are even a smaller tale

like a night with small suns
guiding our future struggles

for our lands


kan ñuka suni akchata llampuchishkata yarinirakmi

ñuka rinripi

kanpa uchilla wankarpash wakakunrakmi


I have your hand going through my hair

and in my ears

the sound of your small drum


suni akchayuk
raymi kushma churakushka mamakulla

chishikunapi kanta shuyanchik

—ñanta mañachiychik yallipasha— nishpa purimuy
—yallipay mama yallipay— nishpa chaskishunmi

wawakunaman kushikuyta
kanpa mishki shimita apamupay

imashina sisakuna pukuchun tamyata shuyanchik

shina kantapash shuyanchikmi

shamuy sumak tullpukunayuk

kawsak rumikunayuk mamakulla


Venerable old lady
long haired lady

Dressed like you are going to the town celebration:

we wait for you
as the evening sets

just come and say “I am passing by your place”
we will answer “just pass, madam, just pass”

bring your sweet words and happiness
for the infants

we wait for you as the flowers long for the rain

just come, old lady

with your beautiful colors
and your stones full of memories


About the translator:

Fredy A. Roncalla was born in Chalhuanca, Apurimac, Peru in 1953. He has studied linguistics and literature, in addition to a long journey in Andean Studies, with a special focus on aesthetic elements. He is also a handcraft artist who works with recycled materials. He has published poetry and essays in diverse online and printed publications.

He is the author of Canto de pájaro o invocación a la palabra (Buffon Press, 1984); Escritos Mitimaes: hacia una poética andina postmoderna (Barro Editorial Press, 1998); Hawansuyo Ukun words (Hawansuyo/Pakarina Ediciones, 2015); and Revelación en la senda del manzanar: Homenaje a Juan Ramírez Ruiz (Hawansuyo/ Pakarina, 2016). He is currently working on Llapan llaqtan: narrativa y poesía trilingüe/ Llapan llaqtan: trilingual poetry. His trans-Andean projects can be found in the virtual ayllu: Hawansuyo Peruvian Bookstore,, y

CHONON BENSHO, Ucayali, Peru

By Chonon Bensho and Pedro Favaron
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Chonon Bensho is an indigenous artist, of the Shipibo-Konibo people of Peru. She descends from the Onanya traditional medicinal wisdomkeepers and from the women that have preserved the artesanal and artistic traditions of their ancestors.  She was raised, from childhood, in a traditional environment in her native tongue and was cured with the medicinal plants used by the people who strive to become masters of the kené designs. These designs express the philosophical and spiritual vision of the indigenous nations and attend to the search for beauty and balance. Kené art takes into account the profound relationship between human beings, ancestral territory, and the spiritual worlds.


Maya Kené

Kené designs symbolize the identity of the Shipibo people. There are different kinds of kené. When the designs have been embroidered on cloth, as in this work, they are called kewé. In the center of this picture a Maya kené design, (one which is circular or goes forth turning), has been embroidered. The form is similar to the medicinal chants, the rao bewá (or ¨maya bainkin¨ as they are sometimes referred to in the poetic formula of  chants) which, according to the Onanya healers, always advance turning around. The medicine circles round, and the healer is an instrument through which the curative force of the plants and the spiritual world materializes and is made effective. The circular design of the Maya kené also echoes the movement of the Amazon rivers with their prolonged meanderings.

The Maya kené in this picture is designed with a wide border, known as kano, a word that can be translated (with a certain poetic freedom) as ‘connection’: a principal path that ties together that which is diverse. In the ancestral architecture of the Shipibo people, the main frame, which centers and supports the house, is designated by the word ‘kano.’ In the case of this piece, the maya kené is what sustains the composition from the center.  In the Indigenous conception, the center is the fountain of life and the root which permits equilibrium. Human beings could not live in a harmonious way that avoids excess if they did not know their own physical (yora), emotional (shina) and spiritual (kaya) center- if they ignored their place in the world. Equilibrium, according to the ancestral conceptions of the indigenous people, is born from the complement of opposite forces for this reason. Symmetry is achieved in this work through a kind of harmonious tension between complementary opposites (between man and woman, between the lake and the high land in which human beings live, between the horizontal movement of the fish and the vertical growth of the trees, between the sun and the moon).

At the same time, an ascending slant rises throughout the design. It goes from the world of water (jene nate) and passes through our world (non nete), until it reaches the superior world (nai nete)- the world of the heavens. The sky, too, is where the dialogue between the moon and the sun takes place. Between them, it has been decided that three equilateral triangles be placed, suggesting a vertical visual route. This ascending shift corresponds to the ancient teachings which say that humans only become full and realized beings when they are able to be a bridge between heaven and earth, as occurs with the Onanya healers who promote the link of the visible with the invisible, between that which can be perceived by the senses, and that which is beyond the senses. It is evident, as well, that the three triangles resemble  the Christian symbolism of the Trinity The Trinity is meant to bring us closer to the unspoken presence of God and of the Great Spirit: that invisible and transcendent center that animates visible existence. For Chonon, there is no contradiction in liberally combining designs inspired by ancient Shipibos and Christian symbology. Unlike modern academic thought which pursues exclusive cataloguing, Indigenous thought is inclusive, and able to incorporate distinct elements without feeling threatened or contradictory. This view stems from an Indigenous Christianity, one which respects life and the plants and the invisible Chaikabonibo beings, who are like our angels and teach us all wisdom.

The principal design is surrounded by minor designs, beshe kené. These designs are placed on the edge or foot of the main design. This edge or foot is known in Shipibo by the name tae. Beshe kené are not mere adornments. In addition to their decorative function, they convey an ancestral aesthetic pattern that comprehends the truth that all of existence has a vibration and a spiritual knowledge that is expressed in the kené as the symbol of the spirituality of beings.

Koros Kené

Although the word ‘koros’ seems to be a neologism, or a recently coined phrase in the Shipibo language that stems from the Castilian word cross;  this kené symbol in the form of a cross greatly precedes the arrival of Westerners to the Amazon territory. Koros seems to be nearer to the symbol of the chakana (staggered cross), which has been present in distinct Indigenous cultures spanning from Patagonia to north of the Andes and further since an undetermined time. The most common of kené koros were associated with the festival of Ani Xeatil, a traditional celebration that occurred, in most cases, when an adolescent was getting ready to marry and be circumcised. Relatives from afar were received with an abundance of food and drink. The Shibibo cross was placed in the center of the esplanade in which the main celebration occurred.  Animals from the countryside, which had been trapped alive, were tied for those attending the celebration to shoot with bows and arrows during the event. Later these animals were eaten in a communal form, reinforcing the ties that united the relatives.

The symbology of the the cross as center, as the meeting point, allows us to understand the symbol as a place of resolution of conflict and complementarity. Meetings among difference could be at times friendly and festive. At others, conflict arose, such as during the feast of Ani Xeatl when two men decided to fight. The men did not try to destroy one another. The conflict was resolved when one of the men wounded the other so that all past offenses were forgotten, and peace and cordiality was reinstated between them. It was all about recuperating balance, a harmonious and healthy coexistence, so that internal conflicts did not completely destroy the ties of family relation, and being together would be possible and happy.

From a horizontal and geographical reading, the center of the cross seems to mark the point of convergence for the town, for the family members, non kaybobo, who came from every corner of the region, from the four sacred directions and cardinal points,  to visit the place where the Ani Xeatl was held. Conversely, from a vertical reading, the cross seems to point to the complement of right and left, of high and low. Like the majority of kené designs, the kené koros seems to symbolize the ancient teaching regarding the need for us to complement one another and live in equilibrium: our two eyes complement one another, our two hands complement one another, man and woman complement one another, our world complements the world of the spirits.

In the specific case of this work, a cross is proposed as a symbol of the complementarity that should exist between human beings and the rest of the living beings in the territory. For this reason, the background of the kené symbolizes the fish and inhabitants of the world of water, jene nete. On the left side of the cross is painted a ronsoco, one of the animals from the countryside that belongs to the four-footed beings that walk in the countryside and whose meat has been part of the regular diet of the Amazonian people. In the top of the cross a man appears navigating in his canoe, which allows him to enter into contact with the different worlds of our ancestral territory. The whole of this koros design is a symbol of the inseparable ties which connect all living beings and between those that should always exist in a state of balance. The ancient teaching is contrary to the practice of the modern world which does not respect the life of the rest of beings and thinks that they can extract anything they desire from the land. The codex say that capitalist modernity breaks with the healthy equilibrium with the land which  the elders knew how to maintain.

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The fruit of the huito plant(Genipa Americana) is called nane in the Shipibo language. It is an important plant for Indigenous ethnobotany. The boiled juice of this fruit produces a dark blue dye when it comes into contact with the skin and the atmosphere. Women and men used to make designs on their faces with this dye to attend celebrations. These designs provided an account of cultural identity and belonging for the Shipibo people; in other words, huito was a foundational fruit in the symbolic construction of identity. In the past, some people covered their entire body with huito to avoid sunburn, and currently it is still used by men and women to dye their hair. The artwork above explains the importance of huito for the Shipibo-Konibo people by placing it in the center of the image. An embroidered work has been carried out in which the traditional kené (geometric designs) coincide with figurative elements of modern art, thus achieving a harmonious and balanced encounter between the ancestral and the modern.

Oil paintings

Jene ainbo

Our grandparents told us that at the beginning of time, when the world was new, the old Shipibo dressed poorly. Their clothes had nothing special, no beauty, no joy. This was true until one day when a woman found a mermaid at the shore of a lake. That mermaid was a beautiful young woman who had her whole body covered with kené designs. The woman returned to her house and drew the designs she had contemplated onthe mermaid’s body on the ground. Since that time, the Shipibo have embroidered those designs on their clothes, painted them on fabrics and ceramics, carved them in the wooden beams of their houses and in the oars of their canoes. For our grandparents, the kené design was not a human invention, but a gift from the invisible beings from the water world (jene nete); they who live at the bottom of lakes and rivers in our ancestral territory. In the artwork above, the mermaid that gave birth to the kené has been painted to teach that water is not only a life source for human beings, for plants that bring healing and wisdom, for fish and fishing birds (like the different herons that are part of the image). Water is also for the invisible beings who are the legitimate owners of that world. Human beings cannot live well without clean water and we cannot devour water resources as if we were the only owners, because the true owners of the waterworld are extraordinary beings, of great thought and knowledge, to whom we owe the kené, those unequivocal symbols of our cultural identity which we inherited from our ancestors and our spiritual strength. The human being who comes to see these beings from the water world and establishes a relationship with them, receives his strength and knowledge and becomes a doctor and wise Onanya.

Kené Rao Numa

The different medicinal plants, known since ancestral times by the ethnobotany of the Shipibo-Konibo people, are called rao in the Shipibo language. The plants that could be classified under the name of kené rao are those used to learn how to make kené designs and become skilled artists. In the painting above, three different types of kené rao have been represented. 1) in the lower part of the image appears the kené-waste plant, a plant similar to fully grown grass, whose root is scraped with water to produce a liquid to be used as eye drops. 2) Likewise, in the middle part of the image, with the shape of a rope (nishi) with leaves, the plant ipon bekené has been painted. The chlorophyll from this vine is extracted and used as eye drops as well. 3) The third plant represented in the painting, similar to a croton plant, is called kené samban. It is used to brew steam baths for the hands. In these last two types of kené rao, the leaves have beautiful designs similar to the kené, which is an indication of the medicinal wisdom they keep. People who diet upon these plants, when using them, dream of old women and men who show them beautiful kené designs.

According to the spiritual knowledge and  vegetable metaphysics of the Shipibo-Konibo people, the different Rao plants have Spiritual Keepers who manage them, known in Shipibo as Rao ibo. Although these extraordinary beings are not usually visible to human beings in an ordinary state of consciousness, they manifest themselves in the dreams of the person who fasts and in the visions produced by the intake of ayawaska which allows human beings to learn from them and receive their strength and wisdom. In this case, the owner of the rao plants has been painted as an old but young woman, of a beauty that seems timeless. Although in the daily Shipibo language woman is known as ainbo, this painting is titled Numa, meaning dove, because this is the metaphorical form by which the poetic songs of the ancient Shipibo call women. The keeper of the kené has white skin because she lives in the humid areas of the forest and the sun never directly hits her body. She has a beautiful Mayti crown, seed necklaces and a pectoral, a cotton blouse and a chitonti panpanilla. She also has a temporary tattoo with kené designs on her cheeks, painted with the dye of the huito fruit. She is between two trees. The white toé tree, with its beautiful bell-shape flowers, is a medicine of great wisdom, and has been painted to indicate the relationship of the kené with the medicinal and visionary world. The huito tree, whose fruit produces a black dye in contact with the atmosphere, has been used in Amazonian art since ancestral times.

Samatai jonin nama

For the Shipibo-Konibo people, as for other indigenous peoples from the Americas,  the soul (kaya) is liberated during dreams from the limits of the physical body (yora), and can access other spiritual worlds where  it talks with extraordinary beings and obtains all sorts of knowledge. Although all humans dream, the Onanya healers are those who dream with more frequency, intensity and clarity. Those dreams are not normal; they are revelations from the spirit worlds. Because of their initiation rites, the Onanya can travel in these worlds with greater skill and obtain in them irreplaceable wisdom. During their initiation, the Onanya learn to move in the spirit world where they get their wisdom and power; these learning processes are called “dieta” in the regional Spanish, and “sama” in the Shipibo language. In this piece, a sleeping dietador or initiate has been painted, dressed in a traditional cushma tunic (tari) with beautiful I kené designs. The tunic is not just any garment. Interpreted poetically, it symbolizes the spiritual knowledge and protection of the dietador. The dietador sleeps surrounded by various medicinal plants and trees, which are part of the ‘dieta’ and through which he  gains his medicinal powers and songs. In the dream he appears together with yana puma, known in Shipibo as wiso ino, who is a spiritual guardian that will defend him from any attacks of bad intention or brujeria.

Rao Nete

Rao nete is a Shipibo expression that means medicine world. This medicine world is a spiritual dimension with which the Onanya healer enters into contact in order to heal. It is a subtle and luminous world of a high spiritual vibration, from which the healing force of medicinal songs and the healer’s whistle emanates. The Keepers of the Spiritual World are known as Chaikonibo; they are our ancestors who live far from the city, in purity, conserving the ancient wisdom. They are compassionate beings who offer health to those who ask with humility. This painting shows the trinity of the connection between the patient’s soul, the Onanya healer’s soul, and the spiritual owner of the medicine world.

inin nete

Inin nete means aromatic world, and is one of the fundamental aspects of the traditional medicine of the Shipibo-Konibo people. The inin nete represents a perfumed force that arises from the spiritual medicine world, and is the foundation for healing the patients. The Spiritual Keepers of the medicine are always aromatic beings that emanate a smell like flowers and perfumed plants. To reach this spirit world, the Onanya healer must bath with the leaves of the noirao plant, which are aromatic leaves that change the smell of the human being, purifying him and making him smell like plants. The aromatic world purifies all of the patient’s impurities and bad energies. When the Onanya reaches this world of high vibration and indescribable beauty, he learns the feminine aspects of the medicine and marries the perfumed beings of the spirit world. In this way, the healer is transformed into a being like the Spirit Keepers of the plants, and becomes part of their spiritual community.

Joa nete

Learn more about Chonon Bensho and her community in the following videos

Shipibo Manifesto
An explanation of the ancestral use of Ayahuasca

Transcript: Yoyokai Conversando

Achu Kantule, Guna Yala, Panama

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“The Guna mola preceded pop art,” Achu Kantule.

By Juan G. Sánchez Martínez / Translated by Catherine Thompson

Achu Kantule (Osvaldo De León) was born in 1964 in Ustupu, the Gunadule Nation (Panamá). He began to paint, as a self-taught artist, in the ‘80s. In 1996 he won the National Prize for Painting from the Cultural Institute of Panamá. In 2001, he graduated from the University of Panamá with honors (Sigma Landa), obtaining A Bachelor’s Degree in Plastic and Visual Arts. He has had over 24 individual exhibits throughout the Americas and Europe, and has participated in various joint exhibits. In 2004, he received a prestigious scholarship from the National Museum of the American Indian (Smithsonian Institution).

Recently, we met at II Congreso SoLEI, at the University of Magdalena (Santa Marta, Colombia), where Achu was invited as a special guest. Here he explained to us, the assistants, some of the principles of traditional Gunadule art: duality (“Even in celebrations we drink two shots, to honor both man and woman” he said, while laughing), repetition, abstraction, and multidimensionality (“because we believe that the world consists of eight dimensions”). We learned that there is a realm of the arts in Gunadule cosmology, in which the Gods dreamed the designs and textiles of the molas and then came to teach the women of the community.

Watch the talk on Youtube

According to Achu (meaning ‘little tiger cat’ in Gunadule), the multidimensionality of the molas and their paintings correspond to the four languages that the community uses: 1) the language for daily use, 2) the language sung by spiritual leaders, 3) the ritual language of the initiated, which is to say, the curative songs that are written in pictograms, and 4) the spiritual language, that is only thought, not spoken. In effect, these paintings that Achu has shared with Siwar Mayu engage with multidimensionality: different levels of language are traversed by different depths of meaning: “My work has to serve a purpose, which may be to heal. Art is therapy”. His first critics, however, wanted Achu to paint portraits, “but realism, like religion, is something that was imposed,” he pointed out.

Duality, repetition, abstraction, multidimensionality can be found in the work of Achu, and to better understand this, he explains it through the molas, “historical documents.” The molas are like an “ambulant book”, because the women carry the history of their community in their clothing.

Check out the collection of molas at the Smithsonian.

While sharing an image of a mola with three rows of yellow forks, in front of blue, orange and fuschia backgrounds, which ultimately turn into strange objects, Achu explained that traditional Gunadule art preceded western optical art and pop art styles. A mola in which four telephones are ringing (vintage rotary dial phones) served to demonstrate how overlap creates textures, and like a woven fabric, they can create the sense of movement, vibration and ringing!

Achu also explained that the animals that inhabit the Gunadule molas and his own paintings are echoed in the cosmology of his community: the crocodile transports sick spirits because it is an amphibious being, and there are certain sharks that are allies of people fighting those same spirits. The jaguar is also very important in this iconography, because it “represents power and strength”. There are sacred mountains, kalus, where only innocent children and psychics, the Neles sages, can go. “For each animal, the snake, the jaguar, the eagle, there is a sacred place” in the land, said Achu, while indicating a book that can be found in the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg.

View the Guna collection in the Museum of World Culture in Gothenburg (Sweden)

Achu is a storyteller and always takes any opportunity to remind the audience or his friends, of the strategies used by his great-grandfather, Nele Kantule, to win the Guna Revolution. The story goes as follows: the revolution began in Panamá in 1925. Through the construction of the canal, the Panamanian Government opted for a policy of “civilization of the savage tribes”. They sent policemen obligating the community to abstain from practicing their medicine. “The mola was prohibited, which is why I call the mola, the art of resistance, because from there the Guna people arose. My great-grandfather was the leader, Nele Kantule,” narrated Achu.

The history of the revolution in Achu’s account tells that before attacking the police who were sent by the Panamanian Government, the great Nele Kantule, decided to send eight suitcases filled with Guna artifacts (books, writings, molas, and sculptures) with two young emissaries, one to Europe, and the other to the United States. Achu continues: “he said, “when we finish with our enemies, the world will say we are savages, but we are not savages because we have our literature, we have our art, we have everything””. As the sage Sequoyah implementing the Cherokee syllabary, the sage Nele Kantule assured that the world found out about the ancient, cultural richness of the Guna Yala.

At the end of his talk, Achu gifted us with another story, about Iguanigdipipi, a young man who became a Nele by the age of 25- teacher, musician, and one of the first contemporary Gunadule artists. His map of the ancestral territory, with notes that explain the reasons behind the revolution, was painted in Canada in 1924 (where Achu now lives part of the time). Achu worked on this map during his investigation at the Smithsonian in 2004. His grandfather was the official translator of Iguanigdipipi. Achu told of a scene, in that very map,  in which a missionary arrives and speaks with a bird from Guna cosmology, siku the interpreter. “We call people that speak various languages sikui,” he explained. Yes, the art that Achu has shared with this river of hummingbirds (Siwar Mayu) is inhabited by sikui. Siwar Mayu is a multilingual river!

At the end of his talk, while presenting a Pre-Columbian vessel, Achu pointed out: “Scholars want to separate us, don’t they? The say Pre-Columbian time is different than the present. But we still have the same connection. I do not know what the purpose of separating is.” Achu’s work is the proof of a continual resistance, from the mola to installations and conceptual art. The 300 islands of Guna Yala are being affected by the accelerated rising sea level, in addition to plastics and the contamination which tourism leaves behind. The work of Achu Kantule is a multidimensional response to a current urgency, not only of his community but of this “pale blue dot.”

Check out Achu’s work in Centro América Sumergida y Dupu (Isla), la casa de los Gunas que se hunde en la Bienal Centroamericana (2016)

As observers of this work we look at the different layers of one same tapestry. Acrylic on canvas. From a canoe we submerge ourselves in geometric shapes that undulate in the water (spirals, crosses, rhombuses) which take us to a new depth, one of confronting crocodiles and sharks, Neles that transform, and grandmothers dressed in their molas protected by turtles who rescue life from the abyss. Behind warm colors and the visual vibration which the multiple layers create, the work of Achu deals also with a cosmic battle in which the grandson of Nele Kantule continues the revolution, for life, water and the ancestors of Guna Yala.

Learn more about Achu Kantule 

Selected Poems from “We Are the Dreamers: Recent and Early Poetry” by Rita Joe

                    Rita Joe is a Mi’kmaq writer born in We’koqma’q, Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, Canada, in 1932. Joe was orphaned very young and raised by various extended family members and foster families until she was taken to residential school in Shubenacadie, Nova Scotia. From there, she worked in the caring professions in Halifax and Boston. Joe married, had eight children and raised two others. She started writing poetry in the sixties and published her first book, Poems of Rita Joe, in 1978. For her later years, she lived in Eskisoqnik on Cape Breton Island, where she was an educator, songwriter, artist, poet and elder. Along with various honorary doctorates, Joe also received the Order of Canada (1989) and a National Aboriginal Achievement Award (1997). She passed away in 2007.

Joe wrote in both Mi’kmaq and English using a very simple language. Her poems are deeply personal, reflecting on her private life, Indigenous identity, Mi’kmaq beliefs, traditions, and racism in Canadian society. Four of the poems translated here are from her first book and appear in We Are the Dreamers: Recent and Early Poetry (Breton Books, 1999). All were published bilingually, except the preface. (by Sophie M. Lavoie, translator)


I am the Indian
And the burden
Lies yet with me.

The invisible line of the burden is the central idea which keeps banging against my head and cannot drop unless I am satisfied. The satisfaction does not seem to materialize with each problem I try to conquer. The minor self-war has turned into a mountain, I cannot reach the top. The top being my own satisfied conclusion.

That I think is what keeps me going, the day to day problem solving, even looking for it. Like tearing my own poetry apart, meandering into different directions, pecking there or just looking, the many trails too many to take on. But when another day comes there is that spirit rising again to take on any cause just to see if it can be slowed, dumped or won over. The tired body now broken, the spirit hanging on just so it can be pushed to the limit, if not for me but others, the endless trail into another century, then maybe, just maybe…


Poem 6

Wen net ki’l?
Pipanimit nuji-kina’muet ta’n jipalk.
Netakei, aq i’-naqawey;

Ktikik nuji-kina’masultite’wk kimelmultijik.
Na epas’si, taqawajitutm,
Aq elui’tmasi
Na na’kwek.

Espitutmikewey kina’matneweyiktuk eyk,
Aq kinua’tuates pa’ qlaiwaqnn ni’n nikmaq.


Who are you?
Question from a teacher feared.
Blushing, I stammered

Other students tittered.
I sat down forlorn, dejected,
And made a vow
That day

To be great in all learnings,
No more uncertain.
My pride lives in my education,
And I will relate wonders to my people.


Poem 10

Ai! Mu knu’kwaqnn,
Mu nuji-wi’kikaqnn,
Mu weskitaqawikasinukul kisna
Kekinua’tuenukul wlakue’l

Ta’n teluji-mtua’lukwi’tij nuji-
kina’mua’tijik a.

Ke’ kwilmi’tij,
Maqamikewe’l wisunn,
Apaqte’l wisunn,
Mukk kasa’tu mikuite’tmaqnmk
Ula knu’kwaqnn.

Ki’ welaptimikl
Kmtne’l samqwann nisitk,
Kesikawitkl sipu’l.
Ula na kis-napui’kmu’kl
we’jitutoqsip ta’n kisite’tmekl
Wisunn aq ta’n pa’qi-klu’lk,
Tepqatmi’tij L’nu weja’tekemk


Aye! no monuments,
No literature,
No scrolls or canvas-drawn pictures
Relate the wonders of our yesterday.

How frustrated the searchings
of the educators.

Let them find
Land names,
Titles of seas,
Wipe them not from memory.
These are our monuments.

Breathtaking views-
Waterfalls on a mountain,
Fast flowing rivers.
These are our sketches
Committed to our memory.
Scholars, you will find our art
In names and scenery,
Betrothed to the Indian
since time began.


Poem 14

Kiknu na ula maqmikew
Ta’n asoqmisk wju’sn kmtnji’jl
Aq wastewik maqmikew
Aq tekik wju’sn.

Kesatm na telite’tm L’nueymk,
Paqlite’tm, mu kelninukw koqoey;
Aq ankamkik kloqoej
Wejkwakitmui’tij klusuaqn.
Nemitaq ekel na tepknuset tekik wsiskw
Elapekismatl wta’piml samqwan-iktuk.

Nkutey nike’ kinu tepknuset
Tujiw keska’ykw, tujiw apaji-ne’ita’ykw
Kutey nike’ mu pessipketenukek

Mimajuaqnminu siawiaq
Mi’soqo kikisu’a’ti’kw aq nestuo’lti’kw.
Na nuku’ kaqiaq.
Mu na nuku’eimukkw,
Pasik naqtimu’k
L’nu’ qamiksuti ta’n mu nepknukw.


Our home is this country
Across the windswept hills
With snow on fields.
The cold air.

I like to think of our native life,
Curious, free;
And look at the stars
Sending icy messages.
My eyes see the cold face of the moon
Cast his net over the bay.

It seems
We are like the moon-
Grow slowly,
Then fade away, to reappear again
In a never-ending cycle.

Our lives go on
Until we are old and wise.
Then end.
We are no more,
Except we leave
A heritage that never dies.


Poem 19

Klusuaqnn mu nuku’ nuta’nukul
Mimkwatasik koqoey wettaqne’wasik
L’nueyey iktuk ta’n keska’q
Mu a’tukwaqn eytnukw klusuaqney
panaknutk pewatmikewey
Ta’n teli-kjijituekip seyeimik

Espe’k L’nu’qamiksuti,
Kelo’tmuinamitt ajipjitasuti.
Apoqnmui kwilm nsituowey
Ewikasik ntinink,
Apoqnmui kaqma’si;
Pitoqsi aq melkiknay.

Mi’kmaw na ni’n;
Mukk skmatmu piluey koqoey wja’tuin.


Words no long need
Clear meanings.
Hidden things proceed from a lost legacy.
No tale in words bares our desire, hunger,
The freedom we have known.

A heritage of honour
Sustains our hopes.
Help me search the meaning
Written in my life,
Help me stand again
Tall and mighty.

Mi’kmaw I am;
Expect nothing else from me.



Kiskuk eksitpu’kek alasutmay
Etawey kisi wi’kiken
Etawey kisi ankita’sin
Etawey kiijka’ mlkikno’ti
Ma’w kitu’-kinua’tekey aq kekina’muey
We’jitutoqsip mu i’muann
Ankite’imuloqop msit
Siaw-lukutikw nutqo’itioq
Kisa’tutoqsip na.


I am filled with grief

Today, this morning I prayed
I ask to write a little longer
I ask if I may be able to think
I ask for a small strength
I still want to show, teach.
You will find when I am gone
I thought about all of you
Continue the work, you young people
You can do it.

PDF: Rita Joe poems English/Mi’kmaq


Sophie M. Lavoie is Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Culture and Media Studies at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, Canada, where she teaches language, literature, film and culture classes. She has published various academic articles in scholarly on Central-American women’s literature, among other topics, in French, English and Spanish. With Hugh Hazelton, she was cotranslator into English of The Vertical Labyrinth by Argentinean poet Nela Rio, she translated the book of poetry We Are the dreamers by Mi’kmaq poet Rita Joe into French, and she has a forthcoming translation of the autobiography of the two spirit cri and ojibwe elder, Ma-Nee Chacaby, also into French.

Ruperta Bautista Vázquez: 6 poems from Telar Luminario/Weaving Light (2013)

Ruperta Bautista Vázquez is a community educator, writer, anthropologist, translator, and Tsotsil Maya actress, from San Cristóbal de las Casas, Chiapas, México. She holds degrees in Creative Writing from the Sociedad General de Escritores de México (SOGEM), Indigenous Rights and Cultures from CIESAS-Sureste, Anthropology from Universidad Autónoma de Chiapas, and a Masters Degree in Education and Cultural Diversity. To date she has published Xojobal Jalob te’ (Telar Luminario) Pluralia Ediciones y CONACULTA, México D.F, 2013; Xchamel Ch’ul Balamil (Eclipse en la madre tierra) 2008, Primera edición. 2014, 2da edición; Ch’iel k’opojelal (Vivencias) 2003; and had her work anthologized in Palabra conjurada, cinco Voces cinco Cantos (Coautora) 1999. Her work has been translated into English, French, Italian, Catalán, and Portuguese.

Poems from Telar Luminario/Weaving Light (2013)

This brief selection of poems comes from the latest published work of the Tsotil Maya poet Ruperta Bautista Vázquez, Xojobal Jalob Te’/Telar luminario (2013), ‘Weaving Light.’ It should be noted that it continues the trajectory established in her previous works, in which humanity must struggle day-in and day-out to survive in a world slowly succumbing to violence and despair. Situated within the context of Maya prophetic texts, Xojobal Jalob Te’ intervenes within both the world of her world and our own. As suggested its name, the book is meant to be a “seeing instrument” in much the same way as the K’iche’ Maya Popol wuj. This particular series of six poems, “Lightning,” “Sustenance,” “Ellipsis,” “Sowing Hope,” “Heirs to the Rain,” and “Ancient Offering,” emphasizes the relationships that people, and above all Maya communities, have with nature. In particular, they seek to revitalize traditional practices that have historically sustained human communities, and that remind us that our relationship with nature is reciprocal, that what we give eventually returns to us in some way. We hope that you enjoy these poems, and that shine a light in the contemporary world (Paul Worley).

PDF: 6 poems from Telar Luminario/Weaving Light

More about the poet:

  • Four Poems in Latin American Literature Today. Translated by Paul M. Worley
  • Five Poems in the Latin American Literary Review.
    Translated by Paul M. Worley

About the translator

Paul M. Worley is Associate Professor of Global Literature at Western Carolina University. He is the author of Telling and Being Told: Storytelling and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures (2013; oral performances recorded as part of this book project are available at, and with Rita M Palacios is co-author of the forthcoming Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (2019). He is a Fulbright Scholar, and 2018 winner of the Sturgis Leavitt Award from the Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies. In addition to his academic work, he has translated selected works by Indigenous authors such as Hubert Malina, Adriana López, and Ruperta Bautista, serves as editor-at-large for México for the journal of world literature in English translation, Asymptote, and as poetry editor for the North Dakota Quarterly.

Daniel A. Molina Sierra- Bogotá, Colombia

Daniel is an independent artist with a BA from the National University of Colombia. His works, connecting art and nature, have received several distinctions such as the Scholarship for Art and Nature (Bogotá, 2006) for his project Audioespectros; the prize Youth without Indifference(Bogotá, 2007); and the people’s choice award in Club El Nogal’s Young Art Room (2008). In 2010, he was the curator of the exhibition Nomad Art, Bogota in Helsinki, Kääntöpaikka (Helsinki, Finland), and in 2011 he managed the acquisition of Emberá and Cofán art and culture on behalf of the Kulturien Museum and on behalf of the KIASMA Contemporary Art Museum (Helsinki, Finland). Also, in 2010 and 2011, he coordinated the Paisajes ActivosCreative Lab in the Nariño province on behalf of the Ministry of Culture of ColombiaIn 2017, he exhibited his work at Chateau Sainte Suzanne – Musee Robert Tatin (France). And in 2018, he participated in the National Museum of Memory (Colombia) with his work “In memory of the River and its people, Kimi Pernía”.

In the artist’s words: “I’ve made art with all types of communities, in diverse projects throughout marginalized areas of the city and the country. Sharing with parts of the biological and cultural megadiversity that inhabits this territory we call Colombia, I found weaving to be a profound philosophy, and color theory to be color in action, color in practice, and art in movement. Life in the tropics is one of sharp contrasts and piercing colors. Living in the tropical forests, I have been invited by the native communities to discover the real America through deep and direct contemplation, which has been the best teacher- to listen with my eyes, to the message of the mysteries that flutter with antennas or feathers, to the word expressed by the plants, through all the senses.”

“I work with beads, attaching them to different surfaces, “ritualizing” this action, making the act of painting an act of weaving and meditation, an active visionary invocation. It is in times of crisis that the arts are activated as allied forces to the vitality of the planet, serving a healing role against the grave dangers that stalk us. I make an everyday effort to be there, concentrated in that revitalized energy, without cease, bombarding with color from my quiet, camouflaged trench in the Andean mountains.” Daniel Molina Sierra

Learn more about Daniel’s work