Shunku-yay / Looking at Each Other Through the Infinite of the Heart. Samay Cañamar M. 


Shunku-yay / Mirarse en la eternidad del corazón
© Samay Cañamar M.

Translation from Kichwa © Fredy A. Roncalla

Ilustrations © Manai Kowii

If you prefer to read the PDF, click HERE

Shunku-yay

Shunku-yay arawi kamuni, runa shimipi, mishu shimipi killkashka kan. Ñukanchik allpa mamata kuyashpa charinamanta rimapan, shinallata runa warmikunapa kawsaymantapash riman.

Shunku-yay / Looking at Each Other Through the Infinite of the Heart is a collection of poems in Kichwa and Spanish that was born as a cry for empathizing with sacred Mother Earth as well as with the body of Indigenous women and their reality.


Minkachiway 

Kallari willkay

Minkachiway,
kikin achiklla muskuywan,
kay munayta, kay shimita, kay rurayta watachinayan.
Allilla, kikin sumaklla ukuman yaykunkapak.

Kikinpa samaywan kay ñankunapi kumpatukunayan,
kucha manyakuman yaykunayan,
urku chakikumanta puri kallarinayan,
chakra manyakumanta tarpunayan,
kikin wasi ñawpakuman kimirinayan.

Minkachiway apukulla.
Minkachiway allpa mamakulla.
Kikin chaskikkunaman willapaylla. Mayllak shunkumari shamukuni,
upalla supaykunawanmari minkarimukuni.

Minkachiway, sumak kawsak samaylla, willka kuskalla.
Kikin wasiman, mayuman chayamunimi,
kuri allpakuta kay shunkuwan takarinkapak shamupanimi.

Minkachiway kikin ukshakupi, kikin apu pintukupi,
paktalla muskuykuta karawankilla,
usharinalla ushaykuta mikllachiwaylla,
tukuy llaki kawsayta kaypi uriyakuchichun sakiwaylla,
kikinpa rimaypi rikcharinkapak,
shinashpa samashkatapash tullpushpa sakinkapak.

Minkachiwaylla,
puyu killpamukpi,
inti llukshimukpi, 
tamya urmamukpi,
kikin rimamukuwankimi yasha.


Minkachiway
(Kallari willkay)

Initiation

I ask for your permission

to enter into your realm

while I gently gather my desires

acts and words

with clear dreams.

I wish to talk about your time

in these paths,

arrive to your lake’s edge

get closer to your house’s entrance

and start my path 

at the foot of  the mountains.

I ask for your permission, dear Apu.

Give me permission, dear Mother Earth.

My body has been getting ready

and my soul wants some rest.

Welcome me,

sacred place that gives breath

to good ways of living.

I am arriving to your house and your river

to touch you, blessed land, with this heart.

Let the deepest dreams come

blessing me with your powers.

Let me go beyond all my tears

and wake up in this conversation

full of colorful and breathing words.

With the rain coming down

I will hear your words

talking to me.


© Manai Kowii

Ñukanchik allpa mamaka tawka kawsak apukunata, samaykunatapashmi charin, paykunapi tukuy pachapi kawsamushka kan. Kay wakakunaka, hatun ushaykunatami charin, hatun samaykunatapash, chaymi paykunapa wasikunaman yaykunkapakka, minkachiway nishpa yaykuna kashkanchik. Shinami paykunata rezashpantin, takishpantin, rimachishpantin yaykuna kanchik. Urkuman rikushpaka, minkachiway ninami nishpa hatun taytakunaka yachachishka kan. Ima chakrata tarpunkapak kallarikushpapash, minkachiway nishpa yaykuna kashka ninmi hatun mamakunapash. 

Chashnami shuk wakakuta minkachiway nishpa kallarikrinchik. Wakakunaka mana warmillaka kanchu, mana karillaka kanchu, shuk shuk ushaykunami watarishka paykunapika, wakinpika warmi, wakinpika kari, shina rikurin punta rimaykunapi, shutikunapi, ima ruraykunapipash. 

Mother nature/allpa mama is constituted by several bodies and time-spaces or pachas. Sacred territories or wakas with their own powers, where we cannot enter without first asking permission, through prayers, greetings, chants, whistles.

Minkachiway is the beginning of an entering ritual to a space. The grandfathers say minkachiway when they start walking at the foot of a mountain. The grandmothers ask permission for announcing the arrival at a chakra/crop. The nights before a purification bath ritual, one reaches the water spring by saying minkachiway, just as one announces her own arrival to someone else’s house.

This is how we now enter a waka or a sacred place such as our apus, spirits of the mountain with diverse powers beyond the feminine and masculine, personified in names, actions, and stories.


Warmi Imbabura 

Urku apu

Uksha pampawan killparishka warmimi
kuyaylla yana ñawiku, kalluyashka makiku,
tukuy wiwakunapa, yakukunapa, apu warmi.
Kikin umapika, Illull kuchata,
Chakishka kuchata,
Hatun kuchatapash chashkikunki,
paykunaka tamyapa ñañakunami
pakcha tukushpa, urku umakuta Wayku Chupakaman shamunakun.

Urkumanta hatun apu, hatun warmi kanki.
Uchilla michik wawakunata pampapi pukllachinki,
yana pumawan rimarishpa kawsashkanki,
atukkunaman alli rikuna ushayta karashkanki,
kikin wakakunapi sumaklla ushaykuta allichinki.

Intika paypa chawpi ñanpi kakpimi,
allpa samay pachata wayrawan kushilla takinki.
Kikintikukunaka kikin willayta aparimunmi,
waykukunaka chashkinkapak ashtawan paskarinmi.
Tukuykunami kikin apu punchapi kushiyanakun.
Kikinka kutin, pakta pakta kawsayta 
ashankakunapi churashka shuyanki.

Imbabura woman

Mountain deity

Covered by grasslands

—deep eyes and working hands—

you are the great mother of children

animals and rivers.

Your summit is Lake Illull,

Lake Chakishka,

Lake Hatun.

Their waterfalls and the rain

come down 

valleys and crevices.

Great woman, 

you come from inside the sacred spaces

play with the shepherd girls,

live talking with a black puma,

teach the foxes certain powers,

and keep the magic in your wakas.*

The sun is at the middle of his path

and you sing with august winds.

The hummingbirds bring us your message

and the valleys open up to receive us.

This day all the apus* celebrate.

You hold a well balanced basket

and wait for us.

* wakas and apus are sacred spaces, especially mountains

© Manai Kowii

Ñukanchikka, sinchi ushaykunami kanchik, wayrakuna, ninakuna, yakukuna, allpakunapashmi kanchik. Chay ushaykunataka wakinpika mana riksishpallatami chinkaririnalla kanchik.

We are also spirit that mutates within air, fire, wind, water, mother earth. An infinite force that very few of us manage to experience fully.

Samaymi kani

Samaymi kani.
Kuyurishpa, mirarishpa ashtawan kuyurik.
Sinchilla, tinkushna tantarik, tukyarik.
Paypantin mirarishka tullpushka puchkashna kawsakuk.
Paypura chimpapurarishka,
tukyarishka, mushukyarishka samay.

Ñawpamanta churu laya muyurishka kawsay
shamuk pachamantapash
kuntur yuyaywan sinchi watarishka.

Wayrapa shunku kani
kikinman samayta karakuk;
tukuy manchanayaylla uyariktapash mishkilla uyayta karak:
shuk taki sami shina
asha asha kay pachapa yuyayta takarishpa purik.

Pukyu ñawikushna kuyaylla kani,
urku apukunapa kasiyashka kawsay,
akapanashna kuyurikuk allpa
maytapash pawakuk ushay,
upalla kawsaypipash ima ninata allichishka.

Hatun sumak ushay kani
pachawan awarishka muyuni, 
muyumuni. 

I am vital energy

I am vital energy.

One that grows moving.

I am strength and confluence.

A renewed energy

standing up

and exploding.

My life is the spiral of the past

and what comes ahead

tied up by the wisdom of a Condor.

I am the heart of the wind

that nurtures your vital energy

and makes the tremors of fear

sound gently.

I  am like a spiritual song

touching all the memories of the universe.

I have the beauty of a fresh water spring

of quiet mountains

vast and exalted lands

and silence.

I am young and beautiful.

I go on clothed by the land.

Moving on and on.


Killkana

Imatak kan killkanaka niwarkami
Chayka imashachari nanay shunkuta tuksimurka, yuyaytapash, makitapash nanachirka.
Chay yashka kipaka nirkani;
Killkashpaka ankashnami kay kawsaypi muyurini…

Shina nishka kipapash, uchilla kaspishnallami ukuta upalla tuksimukurka.
Punta kawsayta yarishpa llakiyarkani,
Imatapash chushayachishka shina karkani.

Yachanimi. 
Punta watakunapika, tullukaman chayaktami waktashpa llikata killkanata yachachishka.
Shuklla apunchikmanta nishpa sarumushka,
Shuk shimillami tiyana nishpa. Shuklla runakunallami allikuna yashpa.
Ñukanchik yachaykunataka kuchushpa, ñuka wasi allpata nallikachishpa.
Tawkalla sami kawsaykunata wañuchishpa.

Imasha chay llika kanchikman chayamushkata yarishpa, imashalla ñukanchik pampakunata, awashkakunata, makikunata chushayachishkata rikuni,
tukuy puchkakunapa, kururukunapa samaykunata llakini.
Chay kawsaykunataka ñuka ñawika mana rikurkachu, shinapash ñukapakunami kawsarka.

Kunanka tapurinimi, maypitak ñukanchik killkayka.
Chayta yuyakpika, chumpikunami wasi ukuta warkuriyanakun,
chaykunapi puchkawan shuyurishkakunami rimawan,
ñuka hatun mamapa akchata watakuk cintami rikurimun,
ñuka hatun taytapa awashka katanami ukllamuwan,
ñuka anakupa kinkukunami kumpanakuwan.

Kutin imashpata killkanki nishpa tapukpika.
Ñuka yuyaykunata hampinkapak nimanmi.
Punta punchapika tullutapash nanachishka llikami
kunanpika ñuka shimiwan awarishka, samayachishpa kayman chayman llukshikun. 

To write

They have asked me: what is writing?

A heartfelt confusion spread across time,

memory and my hands.

After a few seconds I answered: 

Writing liberates me.

But there was a splinter silently bothering me.

I was swamped by nostalgia

and emptiness. 

Growing in the mist of memories

an ambiguous voice screamed inside

Bringing rain drops to my face.

I know that at one point in time 

the alphabet was forced upon us punch by punch.

With a God, lord,

King, and language, 

that would mutilate knowledge and sweep my gardens

killing diversity.

Thinking about the origins of this alphabet 

I can feel how they emptied my fields, weavings and hands. 

I feel the threads and their designs are no longer there. 

It’s a loss that my eyes did not see but was felt by my people.

I ask myself: where is our writing?

And hanging from the roof

there are weavings appearing in front of me:

figures drawn with wool thread,

the band that holds grandmothers hair,

the manta that my grandfather did with his life,

the zigzag I carry in my skirt.

If they were to ask me again why I write

I would repeat: to heal memory and remembrance.

Now I am healed with what at one point tied our bones.

I now write with their letters. 


Killkakmanta

Samay Cañamar M., warmi kichwa Otavalomanta, yachachik, feminista, shinallatak psicoterapeutami kan. Arawikunatapash, ima killkanatapash ashtakata killkanata allikachinmi. Shinallatak runa warmikuna imashalla kawsaymantapash ashtakatami rikuchinkapak munan; feminismoskunamantapash.

About the poet

Samay Cañamar M. is kichwa from Otavalo, Ecuador. She is a university professor, a feminist, and a psychotherapist. She writes in Kichwa and Spanish, and  is interested in Indigenous feminisms, and contemporary struggles of women and feminized bodies. @tsay.samay

More about Samay Cañamar M.


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 aesthetics. 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, Churoncalla.com, and Hawansuyo.com

Shunku-yay / Mirarse en la eternidad del corazón © Tsaywa Samay Cañamar M.Translation from Kichwa © Fredy A. Roncalla 
Siwar Mayu, May 2022

Around the House. Maya Cú


Original poetry in Spanish from Alrededor de la casa © Maya Cú

Introduction, selection and translation by Gloria E. Chacón and Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

If you prefer to read the PDF, click HERE

Kaqchikel researcher Aura Estela Cumes explains that paternalistic culturalism in Guatemala represents the Mayan woman as a tourist object, a museum piece, a weaver and guardian of culture, but at the same time separates her from the possibility of being an “epistemic authority.”  Maya Cú captures this sexist paternalism in the following verses:

(...) to be clear:
I am not
an ancestral clay doll
revived by divine breath
of postmodern intellectuals.

Since 1996, Maya Cú has been reminding Guatemalan—and by extension Latin American— society how scared they are to look in the mirror and discover how brown, how cinnamon, how mixed they are, how  “beautifully brown” [they are] (“Rabia / Rage”.) In her essay “Poetas y escritoras mayas de Guatemala: Del silencio a la palabra” (“Mayan Women Poets and Writers from Guatemala: From Silence to Word”) (2016), Cú questions the censorship of colonial institutions (school, family, church) of Indigenous women voices, but also interrogates the self-censorship of Indigenous women. In some cases, Indigenous women do not recognize themselves as writers (84). In Cú’s words, the expectations of editors and academics about Indigeneity (as a rural and ethnic problem) preclude them from recognizing the diversity of contemporary Mayan expressions. The poems that we publish here are a sample of Maya Cu’s latest book, Alredor de la casa (“Around the house”) (La Chifurnia, 2022). 


It was never
more than a shelter
from the outdoors

it had
fragile walls
humidity

there we cohabited
rats
trash
my sisters
me

it was the house
it is the house

root of
a human
group

and that woman
a column
who refuses
to let it fall

An aseismic house
must have a strong foundation
a deep iron frame

when the earthquake comes,
the house will hardly fall

What if this tenant does not have a good foundation?

Wooden walls
vulnerabile before fire

aluminum walls avert rain
but lock the heat in

cement ceilings and walls
protect from rain, sun, fire

how to avoid loneliness?
how does one defend oneself from sadness?
how to build
kick-proof walls?

who designs houses
that shelter, feed, protect
and provide endless doses
of understanding and tenderness?

For those in the room. Managua, 2002

We live together
we recreate love

we strip
our skins

we listen to each other
we fight
we laugh, we play
we were girls
we cry

we were
the women
from that room
killing borders
creating
a new house
from which we didn't 
want to leave

a refuge
with sisters and mothers
in a constant coven
giving us freedom

There is a lot to do
a lot to do

first
we will rearrange space

the cardinal points
will be oriented in the direction
of heaven

the moon
will be full
for a long time
the rainy cloud will come
at night
to sleep on the terrace

where will we put
the fog?
the balcony that is
on its way
will gladly share
its flower

you will have an infinite 
wall
to set up
your wildest exhibition

for me
I just want the corner
from where I will
see you
my love
assembling
and disarming the world
Where can a young heart go, wounded by distance, melancholy, disdain, if the house is half built? If the walls are fragile and the floor is damp? Seeking refuge without finding it. Leaves running naked, to shelter in other hungry hearts for company.
I aged
inside

left
pieces of me
scattered throughout
walls

I moved
by inertia

I left seeds
in some eyes
hugs
in some bodies

I left
almost empty

now I carry
wrinkles
white hair
nostalgia, pain

I pick up
my pieces
I put them in a bag
and I go out

and I can't find anything
but sadness...

I dreamed
of a house
 
White
surrounded by flowers
and tall trees
 
I only asked for a
deserved 
roof and floor
 
I never had it
 
Yesterday
a provider
of certainty appeared
He daily
builds
next to me
this new house
 
in mutual discovery
we are laying
the foundations
 
we make the walls
 
we share the dream
to put our pieces together
to build a new house
where we will live

Today I undressed
 
I posed for
the camera
 
the room  strewn with
clothes throughout
 
my footprints
scattered
 
when I stopped
I realized
that 
all the mirrors
disappeared
 
I found my body
dancing
smiling
friendly and passionate
 
and it was enough for me

She
knows that upon her return
she will open the door
and feel joy to meet you
for coffee
for dipping  bread
in  coffee
to the listen to the radio
and dance to the beat of your song
 
He
knows that upon his return
he will remove the wire from the gate
cross the patio to reach
your side
 
he will greet you happily
because he managed to finish a day’s work
because the earth responds to his care
 
the sun was benevolent and did not burn his skin
the rain is generous and will fall later
 
he will show you the best seeds
that he found
for the next sowing
 
they will eat next to the stone-bench 
beans and hot coffee
corn tortillas from their harvest
and cheese
 
melted
like them

Elena visits the house

I

Strange communion with Elena

Did you hear my name?
You looked for it and you preferred it, because you know that here, behind this nomenclature, my soul is waiting for a reunion celebration.
But, the only celebration we put up today is one of tears.
Time and time again, the weeping, why unites our hearts like this? Is our sorrow for these beloved cities so great that it is capable of uniting our distant melancholies?

II

girls reunion

Painting that afternoon would be fun if Elena was calm enough to pose.
But Elena is a restless girl who bites her nails and spits the waste on the chair. She wets her feet in the firm sand of a sea that cannot be crossed. A sea that erased the way back to the city of our daydream, our dream, our ephemeral root, our space of communion. I, the little sister, watch her carefully, while I wait for time to stop on this piece of beach, asking Yemayá to take care of us, to be our mother, our goddess, our friend, our compass, to return to that city.

III

The one I’m not

Diva
elegance in the word
voice and erudition
corporeal strength
unattainable height
charismatic presence
 
a story that I would like as my own
feet dancing on the urban cobbled street
sand full of your feet
water full of your fear
lips reciting verses next to Reynaldo

eyes alive of revolution
 
flashing fingers
 
mestizo song 
eternal song 
cheerful song
song with tone
song with you
your song
my song
 
Song  not yet written
half song
song without score
broken song
shared song
song in two rhythms
 
distant song
oppressive
uncertain
 
sad song without reason
sad permanent weep
 
never ending pain
intimate pain
pain countering
parallel pain
 
the one you are not
the one we are


IV

Epilogue

If I ever belonged to someone
it's to you
 
because you chose me
or because my shadowy female ancestor 
chose you

Image

Grandma whisks cocoa
gathers the fire
secures the ocote-sticks
 
the girl braids garlic
draws a circle,  and skeletons 
rise dancing at its center
 
inviting to swing
a song
of few notes
 
I dance
the mist fills with colors
I rise
 
the image
is immortalized
behind the door

More about Maya Cú

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 University. .\

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.) He is currently an associate professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville, in the Departments of Languages and Literatures, and of American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

Alrededor de la casa © Maya Cú ~ Siwar Mayu, April 2022
Introduction, selection and translation © Gloria E. Chacón and Juan G. Sánchez M. 

Bringing the Cherokee Syllabary to the Spotlight, Jeff Edwards

Sequoyah © Jeff Edwards

By Celestine J. Epps

Published first in the Blue Banner, UNCA

“A Living Language” exhibition celebrated recently the cultural and national identity of artists from the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indian (EBCI) in downtown Tokiyasdi / Asheville, NC. The curated works on display at the Asheville Art Museum consisted of over 50 multimedia pieces by EBCI artists who direct audiences’ attention to the Cherokee syllabary. 

Their artwork defies the bias that Indigenous languages are dead by uplifting local Indigenous creators who help to restore the language. A variety of compositions such as Rachel Foster’s stone-polished ceramic “Sequoyah,” show traditional representations of Tsalagi, or Cherokee, in cultural artifacts like pottery and basket-weaving. Likewise, the graphic designs of Jeff Edwards puts on a prideful display of the syllabary, and inspires viewers to want to learn how to speak it. His piece “Tsalagiopoly” is delightfully shocking.

The syllabary was invented by a Cherokee man named Sequoyah in the early 19th-century who translated the 4000-year-old language into visual symbols and the written form we know today. 

Tsalagiopoly © Jeff Edwards

Edwards is also a Language Technology Specialist for the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. He contributes to the language education in schools and ensures that students are equipped with the technology needed to be successful. In 2010, the artist worked with fluent speakers to integrate Tsalagi into system keyboards on devices including Apple, Android, Microsoft, and Google

Edwards says: “What started our 10+ years of working with tech companies is we wanted our kids to be able to text in Cherokee. That was it. Nothing more. So, we worked with Apple for about 18 months and once the technology came available we saw something we didn’t expect. Our elders also took advantage of the technology. So not only were our students and elders communicating but they were also communicating with each other.”

Trickster © Jeff Edwards

Upon completion of the keyboard, Edwards explains the labor involved in translating entire operating systems and its impact on Cherokee people throughout the diaspora: 

“So, when we started translating Windows 8 we had 18 months to complete the project. We had the 5 regular employees and some contract translators that were from various communities. We would receive 500-1000 words a day, I would do my thing, split them up evenly amongst the available translators, email the project out and when they finished they would send them back, I would submit and we continued this for 18 months with very little breaks. It is tough to say how many words were translated. It was well over the 300,000 range. But once the project was completed Microsoft in North America recognized two languages, English and Cherokee.”

Despite the nation’s success in making Tsalagi accessible on major platforms, they were forced to stop working with tech companies due to the endangered state of the language. There are only 176 people still living in the Eastern Band who grew up speaking Tsalagi and an estimate of 2,000 speakers left in the United States. Thus, prioritizing second-language speakers in tribal communities.

“A Living Languages” exhibit lived up to its name in its selection of pieces from Cherokee artists across generations. While navigating his busy schedule, Edwards continues to make original graphics. His latest piece, “Relocate, and/or Die” drew inspiration from Benjamin Franklin’s political cartoon intended to unite the colonies during the Revolutionary War.

Relocate and/or die © Jeff Edwards

Edwards explains: “My piece is made on a backdrop of a map of the Trail of Tears and the routes taken in Cherokee. My Uktena is cut into 8 pieces to represent the 8 states the tribes traveled through during removal and the Uktena has 5 buttons on his rattle to represent the 5 tribes that were forcibly removed from their homelands.”

“Anger can be a very good motivator.”

Ultimately, what inspires Jeff Edwards the most is bringing the syllabary to the spotlight.

“I try to showcase something that all Cherokee’s are proud of, our writing system.”

After seeing the exhibition multiple times, I was immediately drawn to Edwards’s work, especially “Tsalagiopoly.” Upon first glance, I recognized the similarity to the game Monopoly, and all that it represents in our western capitalist society. 

Edwards’s intricate designs and sole use of Tsalagi communicate to a specific audience that is uniquely Indigenous. I believe his piece speaks volumes to first and second-language speakers. To participate in the game, you have to be able to understand the rules, but Tsalagiopoly breaks one’s expectations. With the syllabary as the centerpiece of his work, non-Tsalagi speakers like myself are stuck at collecting $200, incapable of moving forward.

The longer I examine the artwork, the more I wish to comprehend the nuggets of history, and cultural references embedded in the cards I imagine in the community chest space. Like anger, ignorance is a great motivator to understanding the language of the land that I stand on.

More About Jeff Edwards

About Celestine J. Epps


Celestine J. Epps was born in Bronx, New York, on April 16, 2000. She is studying Mass Communication at the University of North Carolina at Asheville, and is currently the assistant Arts and Features Editor at the Blue Banner. She enjoys learning about global Indigenous communities, including the Haliwa-Saponi near her grandmother’s hometown. Upon graduation, Celestine would like to write about her conversations with Indigenous storytellers and the impact of their artistry across generations.

Bringing the Cherokee Syllabary to the Spotlight, Jeff Edwards © Celestine J. Epps - Siwar Mayu, April 2022

Putisnan, disenchanting the memory

By Sara Ríos Pérez

Translated by María Grabiela Gelpi

“We did not know that we were Indigenous” is one of the first sentences that is pronounced in the documentary Putisnan, disenchanting the memory (2022), directed by Colombian Oliver Velásquez Dávila—an anthropologist who leads his life between activism and investigating the memory of Indigenous Communities of the Colombian southwest.

At the beginning we see green, green in majestic mountains sheltered by furrows and planted with potatoes, beans or corn. Then a panoramic view of the village of Aldea de María, located in the south of Colombia, in the Nariño Province. This is where the story of the Cabildo Indígena Aldea de María, Putisnan, of the town of Los Pastos is told.

Oliver’s recent documentary is a spiral flight over the territory. First, we look at the landscape, the mountains, the furrows; then we go down and we find the stones, which like great crumbs left by the ancestors, are responsible for taking the inhabitants of the territory to meet the memory of the Pastos. Closer and closer to the earth we see the town, the roofs of the houses, the crops, the roads, to land on the people, in the faces of the inhabitants and enter their house, to their daily lives.

Oliver together with director of photography, Juan Pablo Bonilla, propose a natural handling in the use of shots and follow-up sequences to the characters, with a camera on their shoulder they record the actions of the protagonists as an indiscreet spectator

From the reference of Jean Rouch’s cinema, they propose an image with social commitment and at the service of Indigenous communities. Likewise, there is the influence of the Colombian documentarian Martha Rodríguez, above all in the research methodology, which refers us to participatory narrative constructions, where the audiovisual production instead of made “about” Indigenous people is “precisely from” those involved, in order to support the process of seeking their identity, and the remembrance of their cultural history and resistance.

“We came from a culture of peasants, mestizos, from another way of thinking, not our own way of thinking, after that we came into this process (…) of feeling, thinking and acting like Indigenous people,” says Eloy Gesamá, one of the interviewees.

The documentary shows how the earth is the one who sustains, keeps the practices, the memory whose traces are in the stones. It recounts the process that the Aldea de María community has gone through to rescue their traditions as Indigenous Pastos People, claiming their rights and finding their history, after colonization, modernity, and “development” arrived in their territory.

There are shots of hands brushing the stones, cleaning the earth to remember, to claim the memory, and disenchant it. The stone is called Mama Piedra—she shines to make us see, it is the flame that guides us to rescue ourselves from oblivion.

Putisnan means cosmic library, which is why, in one way or another, the documentary shows how the inhabitants of the resguardo, from their daily lives, are remembering their ancestry as the original Pasto People, searching throughout the traces of that library: “first you have to teach people that there is nothing wrong of being Indigenous,” one of the young women, who is actively participating in this process of awakening, says.

In another scene, Alejandra Güepud adds: “for me, it is to start by putting aside the shame of saying I am indigenous (…) first we have to feel proud of what we are, of who we are, that we do not need to change anything, and begin to feel that we belong to something much bigger, because we descend from someone as important as the Pasto people (…) we have to feel that pride of saying yes I am Indigenous, I know where I come from, and I know where I am going.”

Oliver Velásquez Dávila accompanies this process by documenting with his gaze and showing the viewer a glimpse of the Pasto territory. 

In addition to the present documentary, Oliver, within his searches, has focused on the transmission of shamanic knowledge from the Upper and Lower Putumayo River Basin, among the Kamëntsás, Ingas and Kofan Peoples, which allowed him in 2009 to carry out a documentary titled “Las Rutas del Yagé”, produced by Señal Colombia and DocTv, which deals with the dissemination of these practices in urban contexts. In this journey, he dedicates himself to studying photography and documentary filmmaking as a way of translating ethnographic research into images.

↪ Watch “Las rutas del yagé” here: https://vimeo.com/48574556

More about the Pastos Indigenous Community

More about Sara Rios Perez

She studied literature at the Javeriana University, and currently works as a reading and writing promoter. She is a collaborator for the digital publication Columna Abierta. She accompanies the processes experienced by public and rural libraries in different parts of Colombia. She is the author of De lo Imaginario a lo Real: Cuentos y leyendas de Montes de María (“From the Imaginary to the Real: Tales and legends of Montes de María”), and co-author of  Voces que caminan territorios (“Voices that walk territories”,) an investigation on the right to communication in the Colombian Southwest.

The translator

Maria Gabriela Gelpi Cortes was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico on April 9, 2000. During her upbringing, she studied at the Colegio Marista de Guaynabo where she received a bilingual education. After graduating high school, she moved to the United States to continue her education at the University of North Carolina in Asheville. She completed her bachelor’s degree in International Studies and a minor in Political Science while working at the college’s Health and Counseling Center and interning with a non-profit organization. On the other hand, she worked alongside Dr. Juan Sanchez Martinez creating content and translating texts for the Siwar Mayu project. Maria also took on the task, along with two colleagues from the Latinx community, to create an organization at the university that would support the interests of marginalized communities and give them a space to carry out these types of conversations. In the future, Maria would like to continue her education and obtain a master’s degree in human rights.


Jonny Appleseed, by Joshua Whitehead

Joshua Whitehead (he/him) is a Two-Spirit, Oji-nêhiyaw member of Peguis First Nation (Treaty 1). He is currently a Ph.D. candidate, lecturer, and Killam scholar at the University of Calgary where he studies Indigenous literatures and cultures with a focus on gender and sexuality. His dissertation, tentatively titled “Feral Fatalisms,” is a hybrid narrative of theory, essay, and non-fiction that interrogates the role of “ferality” inherent within Indigenous ways of being (with a strong focus on nêhiyawewin). He is the author of Full-metal Indigiqueer (Talonbooks 2017) which was shortlisted for the inaugural Indigenous Voices Award and the Stephan G. Stephansson Award for Poetry. He is also the author of Jonny Appleseed (Arsenal Pulp Press 2018) which was long listed for the Giller Prize, shortlisted for the Indigenous Voices Award, the Governor General’s Literary Award, the Amazon Canada First Novel Award, the Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award, and won the Lambda Literary Award for Gay Fiction and the Georges Bugnet Award for Fiction. Whitehead is currently working on a third manuscript titled, Making Love with the Land to be published with Knopf Canada, which explores the intersections of Indigeneity, queerness, and, most prominently, mental health through a nêhiyaw lens. He recently published Love After the End: Two-Spirit Utopias and Dystopias (Arsenal Pulp Press, 2021). You can find his work published widely in such venues as Prairie Fire, CV2, EVENT, Arc Poetry Magazine, The Fiddlehead, Grain, CNQ, Write, and Red Rising Magazine.

Jonny Appleseed © Joshua Whitehead

Excerpt chosen and translated to Spanish by Sophie M. Lavoie

If you prefer to read the PDF, CLICK HERE

VIII

I have this recurring dream where I’m standing on the shore of this ocean. The sky is dark at the edges but lit by the glow of the city behind me. The water is a rich black-blue in colour and when it washes over my feet I see all sorts of things in it: mud, grass, even blood. The tide is retreating—there are dead fish, aluminum cans, and metal bolts lying in the wet sand, which shine in the glaring light of the city. But the water is not calm—it retreats only to get momentum. And the sea foam is no precious Grecian thing—the froth bubbles balck with grit and oil, burning holes in the land. As the waters retreat farther, I see a dark wave rising on the horizon. Every ounce of the ocean’s strength is contained within it. And the city is panicking now— I hear air horns and blackouts and screams as loud as bombs.

And there I am—a lone brown boy naked on the precipice of the end of the world, the soles of my feet burning in the residue of an angry beach. Turtles scurry between my legs and become boulders on the sand holding steady onto their own. I hear the doom song of orca, wolves, and bears all around me—the cacophonous cry of an animal feeling death like the texture of gauze sticky with blood and stone. A multitude of birds take flight towards the wave, carrying sticks, grass, and little rodents in their claws. They are going to fly over the crest and make a new home—somewhere over there, in the distant west. Suddenly a large bird, an eagle perhaps, digs its talons into my clavicles and lifts me into the sky. But it doesn’t hurt, as there are grooves in my bones, grommets even, for these claws to fit. I am like a toy in an arcade machine being lifted by a claw. And the higher we go, the colder it gets, so I climb onto its back and nestle in its feathers.

The great wave is nearing and the great skies are now red from a silhouetted sun, flashing lightning. Rain, hail and winds peck at our faces, but we push on through the storm. The wave is higher than we expected. The great bird won’t make it — it’ll have to pierce through the crest of the wave. The winds are strong enough now that they yank out my hair and scoop out handfuls of feathers from the bird. We are weathered and worn—both of us bleeding in the sky. And I decide, if we are both to live, that I must shield the bird from the impact of the wave. So I climb higher up on its back and wrap my torso around its head, tuck my legs beneath its stout neck, pull my body tight against its, then lean in and whisper, with gentle kisses, “It’s okay, it’s okay”.

It’s okay.

Then with a great flap of its wings, we shoot through the crest of the wave. The coldness of the water stings my flesh, the pressure and force rips open my back as if it were a zipper, and the debris that churns inside the wave bruises our tired bodies. We emerge on the other side of the wave, both a bloody mess—both a sad, scalped sight flying through the sky. We ready ourselves to find a promised land on the other side with the Fur Queen and Whisky Jack waving us home, but instead we see that the water has not calmed, and there are waves as far as the eye can see. The waves are coming—they are here to take back what is rightfully theirs; we are all due—a thunderbird and Nanabush both. 

More about Joshua Whitehead

Author’s website: https://www.joshuawhitehead.ca/


Animating Cherokee Narratives. Joseph Erb

By Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

If you prefer to read as PDF, please click HERE

At the turn of the century, animation was not the first option for Indigenous artists. Actually, when Joseph ᎧᎾᏘ Erb (Cherokee Nation) drove from Oklahoma to Philadelphia to do his Graduate Studies in Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania, he wanted to be trained in sculpture. However, some days before he arrived, there was an accident in one of the sculpture studios, and the program he was interested in was all but canceled. Since he did not not know exactly what to do, some professors motivated him to go into animation. While learning this new art, someone asked him: “Why don’t you try Cherokee stories?” This was in the early 2000´s, and that question opened a door through which Joseph Erb has refined his aesthetics and traditional narratives, elevating Indigenous animation to a new level. “The Beginning They Told / ᏗᏓᎴᏂᏍᎬ ᎤᏂᏃᎮᏓ” was the first Cherokee animation in Tsalagi, the Cherokee language. Since its production, Joseph Erb has expanded the use of Cherokee ​​language in technology, cinema and education. Currently, ​he teaches at the University of Missouri Digital Storytelling and Animation.  

In “The Beginning They Told / ᏗᏓᎴᏂᏍᎬ ᎤᏂᏃᎮᏓ”, Grandpa Beaver, Little Water Beetle, and the Great Buzzard work  together somehow to create what today we call the Appalachian and Rocky Mountains. It is not just the use of Tsalagi and the syllabary that makes this short animated movie Cherokee, but also the way the elder-ones talk respectfully with each other, and are comfortable with their long silences. Furthermore, small pieces of a complex cosmology are shared in these stories such as the relevance of the numbers 4 and 7, or references to specific places where the community gathers medicines. As Erb explains, not all audiences pay attention to these details, and Indigenous animation is sometimes classified as “fiction” or “myth” in film festivals. Nevertheless, Erb prefers to call his art “traditional narratives”, because –as the animation title above suggests– these stories are still being told, believed, and followed by some members of the community. These short animations are not about supernatural beings, but contemporary representations of stories –which have many versions– that teach how to walk in “the proper way” (Duyuktv.) 

When you ask Joseph Erb about the challenges of doing what he does, he has plenty of stories to explain. Indigenous animation is not just about designs and aesthetics, but also about having the right tools, resources and technology. For instance, the software, app, or program being used needs to offer the syllabary keyboard and include the appropriate fonts to represent the language. This special consideration requires  establishing relationships with big companies such as Google, Apple or Microsoft. Once you finally have the technology, you would never imagine that the syllabary font has to be approved at some point by the tribe, because the digital version is a different one than the 1820’s type that some elders are accustomed to. Now, after all of those negotiations –extra work– with both tech companies and the tribe, imagine that  the moment to share your work has arrived. If the animation’s voice over is in Tsalagi (the Cherokee language), then you hope the non-Tsalagi-speakers will engage with the version with English subtitles, which is not something that some audiences enjoy. At these crossroads, Erb’s art finds the proper way to represent Cherokee narratives  between codes, channels, and audiences. As Erb told me, elders who he worked with in “The Beginning They Told / ᏗᏓᎴᏂᏍᎬ ᎤᏂᏃᎮᏓ” were really excited about the possibility of seeing the Great Buzzard represented for the first time in this code. “A couple of elders made me actually animate it”, said Erb laughing.

The first animation that I encountered by Joseph Erb was “Mini Wiconi / Water is Life”, an artivist piece dedicated to the protectors of water at Standing Rock Sioux Nation. As voice over, Standing Rock Chief David Archambault II guides the animation with a clear message. Black uniforms over a red horizon in which fences disrupt the land are juxtaposed with black and red buffalo running free through the great prairies. How can an artist adequately represent the fact that 31 million buffalo were slaughtered at some point as a settler-colonial stratagem? Mountains of buffalo skulls in white fill the screen so the snake/train –a metaphor for progress and extractivism throughout Abiayala– can cross. Instead of the rhythm of buffalo’s hooves on the land, we suddenly  can hear only  bulldozers. Led by women, all types of peoples, all nations will always protect water for future generations. No Dakota Access Pipeline.

When I asked Erb about his vision for the future of Indigenous animation and game design, he was excited about the possibilities for indigenizing “narrative structures” with those unique flavors that place and community can add to creativity. “A place-based robust aesthetics” is Joseph Erb’s advice for younger Indigenous designers. One of his latest projects is Trickster, an app-video game in which the player drives the journey of a young person who is rescuing words in Tsalagi within a forest. While the player enjoys the obstacles and visuals (i.e. tree bark tattooed with Mississippian designs, or the underworld patterned as a basket), everytime he hits a word, they are able to listen one of the beautiful languages of one of the first peoples of the Appalachian mountains, the Cherokee.

Trickster. An app-video game by Joseph Erb

More about Indigenous animation and Joseph Erb

About Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

He grew up in Bakatá/Bogotá, 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 coordinates Siwar Mayu, A River of Hummingbirds. Recent work: Bejuco (2021), Muyurina y el presente profundo (Pakarina/Hawansuyo, 2019); and Cinema, Literature and Art Against Extractivism in Latin America. Dialogo 22.1 (DePaul University, 2019.) He is currently Associate Professor of Languages and Literatures, and Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of North Carolina Asheville.


Resilience. Marcie Rendon

© jaida grey eagle

Marcie Rendon is an enrolled member of the White Earth Nation, author, playwright, poet, and freelance writer. As a community arts activist, Rendon supports other native artists / writers / creators to pursue their art. She is a speaker for colleges and community groups on Native issues, leadership, and writing. Rendon is an award-winning author of a fresh new murder mystery series, and has an extensive body of fiction and nonfiction works. The creative mind behind Raving Native Theater, Rendon has also curated community performances such as Art Is… Creative Native Resilience, featuring three Anishinaabe performance artists, premiered on TPT (Twin Cities Public Television) in June 2019. Rendon was recognized as a 50 over 50 Change-maker by MN AARP and POLLEN in 2018. Rendon and Diego Vazquez received a 2017 Loft Spoken Word Immersion Fellowship for their work with women incarcerated in county jails.

If you prefer to read in PDF click HERE

 “Resilience”. Living Nations, Living Words – online map and recordings from 47 contemporary poets Anthology, edited by poet laureate Joy Harjo, WW Norton, 2020 © Marcie Rendon

Resilience

My mother, in 7th grade, ran from a South Dakota boarding school back home to White Earth in an age before Interstate highways, cell phones or google maps. That determination and love of life is resilience.

A Native father sitting in Perkins, after working a late shift, with a two-year-old toddler in a high-chair,  explains that the baby’s mother showed up at his door with a child he didn’t know existed and said, “Here, I’ve done this for two years, I’m done. He’s yours.” He didn’t hesitate to do the right thing. That is resilience.

The woman who lost her child to child protection because she was caught in the cycle of addiction and street life. Sent to prison. Who spent five years getting clean, going to meetings, petitioning the court against all odds to regain custody of her child. That is resilience.

The poet, who grew up with a not-so-easy life in Oklahoma. Resilience gave her words to write, now US poet laureate.  Resilience also gave her music in her heart that pours out of her saxophone, healing hearts of listeners.

A Native Artist living on the street collected discarded lipstick and eyeshadow to create gallery-worthy paintings. Creating beauty out of beauty-discards. That is resilience.

My father, along with thousands of other fathers, for more generations than we want to remember, sat alone, not changing residence, waiting, waiting, waiting for children to return. That is resilience.

Men who went to prison – who somehow came out and started businesses, who raised families and took jobs way below their skill level; who became sweat lodge runners, sun dancers and pipe carriers. That is resilience.

The children, raised in families outside the culture, who followed their heart’s spirit back home – facing rejection, ridicule, identity-questioning – but staying, becoming one with the community, one with their tribe. That is resilience.

Mothers – who, with or without shame, have stood in line at Salvation Army for cheap toy giveaways, food shelf lines, who sit in welfare offices again and again because it is one way to keep the family going. That is resilience.

Our relatives who never hesitate to go to war, wars that are never ours. Code talkers, tunnel rats, snipers, those who walk point, medics. They die fighting because that is what we do. Or they come home and hide the pain as best they can and carry flags at Grand Entry. Or not. That is resilience.

People who give more than they get. Mothers who love their children, fathers who stay. Grandparents who babysit, even in a wheelchair.

We create beauty out of scraps. Hold cars together with duct tape. Work jobs and sell beadwork for cash to ‘have a little extra’. Make frybread even though we know it isn’t good for the diabetes but because it’s good for the spirit.

Resilience is making decisions that benefit the whole instead of just the individual. It is getting up and putting one foot in front of the other, even when you don’t want to. This is our resilience.

what if I never said…

what if i never said another thing
     	but sat silently
              	smoking filterless cigarettes
              	drinking colombian coffee
holding grandchild after grandchild
on a lap ever leaner, ever bonier with age
 
what if i never wrote another word
but filled my heart with beauty
     	sat silently wrapped in fog
     	while thunderstorms shook me to the bones
     	and lightning currents
     	connected brainwave/thought waves
     	to spirits dancing on the shoreline
 
would my silence drive you crazy

More About Marcie Rendon


nila northSun. Vignettes

Nila Northsun, of Shoshone-Anishinaabe descent, was born in Shurz, Nevada, and raised in the Bay Area. She completed her BA in art at the University of Montana-Missoula. Some of her volumes of poetry are Diet Pepsi and Nacho Cheese (1977), Small Bones, Little Eyes (1981, with Jim Sagel), the anthology A Snake in Her Mouth (1997), and Love at Gunpoint (2007). In 1980, Northsun also authored After the Drying Up of the Water: A Tribal History of the Fallon Paiute-Shoshone. In 2000, she was awarded the Silver Pen Award from the University of Nevada Friends of the Library, and in 2004 she received ATAYAL’s Indigenous Heritage Award of Literature. She lives on the Stillwater Indian Reservation in Fallon, Nevada, where she works as a grant writer. Nila has shared the following poems with Siwar Mayu. Although “falling down to bed” and “The coat” are renowned among her works (see the video below), here is the first time that they are translated into Spanish. The other four poems are unpublished. A conversational, intimate and sarcastic tone is sustained throughout Northsun’s poetics. Her verses question romantic perspectives on indigeneity through day-to-day-life-vignettes in the reservation.

If you prefer to read in a PDF file, click HERE

rez cars

it’s always one thing

or another

fuel pump out this month 

radiator blown next

bald tires of course

paint faded and clear coat peeling

from no garage

crack so long on the windshield

you’re afraid to take it 

to one of those car washes

with the big whirling brushes

but there is a sweetgrass braid

on the dashboard

an ashtray full of sage

an eagle feather dangling from the

rear view mirror

and some sort of native decal

on the back window

your ride is ‘protected’

from everything except

mechanical failure.

falling down to bed 

i used to look at with disgust 

these indians laying around 

on the dirt & grass 

passed out drunk 

their bodies littering 

the pow wow grounds 

or city parks 

i’d look at their crumpled bodies 

laying in the noon sun 

still sleeping where 

they fell 

but one time 

i went to the 49 

after the pow wow 

& got shit faced drunk 

then got sleepy 

& fell in the dirt parking lot 

it seemed nice 

the ground was clean in the darkness 

the stars were vibrant above 

the night air was cozy 

‘get up get up’ they said 

‘no no leave me here 

i want to sleep here’ 

luckily they shoved me into 

the car 

or i would have been 

the drunk somebody looked at 

with disgust 

at least now 

when i see them 

i understand. 

The coat

his coat hung in the closet

the coat he wore

for funerals

and court appearances

the dark somber coat

waiting for his return

as did we

never really understanding

his lengthy absences

in jail

or just partying in another town

with another woman

days became years

until all we had left

were faded photographs

and his coat in the closet.

nila northSun reads “The Coat”, “Falling Down to Bed”, and “The Art of Living Poorly”

marry me or I’ll suicide

I had this friend

since high school

that I saw maybe once

every 5 years

he was a tribal guy

and when I last saw him

in his 40’s

he said he wanted to be

married before he was 50

but not to any white women

that he seemed to attract

he wanted a tribal woman

so when he was at ceremony

there would be his native woman

waiting for him

bringing him food

making him proud

he said if I don’t get married

by the time I’m 50

I’m going to suicide

so

will you be my bride?

walmart

it is finally there

just on the other side 

of the freeway

located on our tribal land

our poverty is over

we get all of the sales tax

besides the lease on the land

it is a fact

our unemployment rates

will decrease

an elder is a greeter

her white hair brilliant

against   the blue of her 

walmart smock

she smiles at me and

says ‘welcome to walmart’

minimum wage is

better than nothing.

Medicine bundles………for cheri

As we sat around the table making 

Little yellow bundles of tobacco, cedar, 

And sage tied with red string to help her

With a peaceful passing

We talked about how she’ll be the 

first one of us to find out what death is like

is it going to heaven and meeting god?

Is it being reincarnated into something else?

Is it nothingness?

Will there be ghosts and spirits?

Will she be turned into energy that floats

With the dinosaurs?

Will she mingle with the stars in the universe?

And the 10 year old says ‘lucky’.

More about Nila NorthSun

http://nativeamericanlit.com/northSun.html


 

INGESTION. Digital archive/embodied: Uaira Uaua (Benjamín Jacanamijoy Tisoy)

Uira Uaua / Benjamin Jacanamijoy Tisoy

Original photographic Interventions by Uaira Uaua

Essay by Miguel Rojas Sotelo. Chapel Hill, August, 2021

Translated from Spanish by Lorrie Jayne, Carolina Bloem and Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

If you prefer to read this essay as PDF file, download it HERE

For the peoples of the Andes and the Amazonian piedmont of southwestern Colombia, ‘to walk’  | purij is a metaphor for life. Walking implies a bodily action that is in relation to the medium which one inhabits. For the oralitores and social movements of the region,  “word walks” is also the way in which the idea of the minga is described (word in movement).

Inga artist and researcher, Benjamin Jacanamijoy Tisoy (1965)–Uiara Uaua (son of the wind in Quechua)– is a member of a traditional family in Sibundoy (Santiago Manoy, Putamayo.) He is the heir to a Taita (shaman) who is recognized for the skillful handling of magic plants, particularly yagé. His mother is herself an heir to the weaving and healing tradition. (1) Uaira Uaua affirms that in order to break away from the sumaj kaugsai llullaspalla (good living through lies) and move on to sumak yuyai (or beautiful thinking), a dimension of Sumak Kausay (good living), it is necessary to put the concept of ‘word in movement’ into practice, by thinking/doing beautifully. Since the early 1990’s, Uaria’s work has centered upon telling his own story, through relational practices  situated within the context of his people. He tells this story in conversation with disciplines such as design, ethnography, visual art and literature. 

(1) As a child,”he ran along the paths of the spirits of the plants in the flowered fields of the hills, valleys, and grasslands of his birthplace, the Valley of Sibundoy, with Mama Conchita, his grandmother, Mama Mercedes, his mother, and Taita Antonio, his father.” (Rodriguez-Mazabel, 2011,pp 191)

Recently, the environment has been defined as a dynamic system determined by biological, social, and cultural interactions. Therefore, Nature and the environment constitute a subject of fundamental legal rights that must be established in order to guarantee its capacities as a living being subject to the rule (precepts) of relationality, correspondence, complementarity, and reciprocity (Avila-Santamaría 2011). According to Angel Maya (1996) the environmental problem is the price that mankind must pay for its technological development. This is to say, the problem is the complex of relations between the ecosystem and culture, which basically depends upon the technological and cultural forms of human adaptation. For the Inga, Kamëntzá y Quillasinga, communities who share a geographic and lingual base (Quechua), these relations present themselves in a form that is harmonious with the territory.

The oralitor Kamëntzá Hugo Jamioy Juagibioy (2) reminds us about the concepts of  ‘walking upon words’ or ‘words become walking’ to describe words being materialized into action, and ‘beautiful thinking and doing,’:

Botamán cochjenojuabó 

Botamán cochjenojuabó... 
chor, botamán cochjoibuambá 
mor bëtsco, 
botamán mabojat ̈sá.  

Beautifully you should think

You should think with beauty.
Then, with beauty you should speak
Now, right now
You will begin to do and make with beauty.
(2) Hugo Jamioy Juagibioy (1971) -Begbe Wáman Tabanók (Our Sacred Place of Origin), Valle de Sibundoy, Putumayo, Colombia. Poet, narrator, and researcher of orality, and Colombian and American Indigenous thought. Activist for the fundamental rights of his people, the Kamëntsá, whose principal activities are farming, medicine, music, weaving and woodcarving. Among his books of poetry: Mi fuego y mi humo. Mi tierra y mi sol (1999), No somos gente (2000), and Bíybe Oboyejuayeng / Danzantes del viento (2010). 

Scholars have written somewhat extensively about Uaira Uaua’s artistic production (Triana 2020;  Hirano 2019; Rojas-Sotelo 2021, 2019, 2017; Rodriguéz-Mazabel 2011; Montañez 2001). In addition to working as an artist, Uaua acts also as a researcher, distinguished for his work regarding the design theory of Chumbe (Jacanamijoy Tisoy 1993, 2017). Chumbe is the name of the weave of ideographic bands, protector of the fertility of the Inga woman. This weave, in a mere space of  ten centimeters of width by three or four of length, constructs a kind of ideographic book that is invested with power and knowledge (3), and is therefore a maker of worlds.

(3) We see a similar tradition in the Shipibo-Konibo culture of Amazonas. Recently cultural producers such as Olivia Silvano and Chonon Bensho have referred to the Kené, as another form of writing: ideographs and design from a world that they consider alternative and parallel to the western archive. This tradition of weaving, Kené, is produced and incorporated (the designs were earlier painted on the body as in the case of the Gunadule mola) as a second skin; they become an incarnated archive for the Shipibo. The Kené, as Olivia Silvano says, is the felt tip pen of the world, ”a plant with which worlds are written.” Uaira Uaua defines the Chumbe as a poetic and ideographic aesthetic of the creation of the world.

Uaira has dedicated a large part of his work to recognizing, valuing, researching, and disseminating an understanding of this ideographic practice, woven and worn by the Inga, Kamëntzá and Quillasinga women. He has also based his own artistic exploration on this practice as in his homage to the Chumbe in 2015 on the face of the Colpatria building in Bakata (Kaugsay Auaska: Tejido de Vida – Auaska Nukanchi Yuyay Kaugsaita: Tejido de la Propia Historia). Chumbe sustains a cosmovision that passes from generation to generation through the hands of women, as an alternative form of archival production, and as an alternative economy for Indigenous women. Furthermore, it is the source of a large part of Uaua’s art, as well as of the art of other artists of the region (i.e. Inga artist Rosa Tisoy, and Mizak artist Julieth Morales.) Another theme of his investigative and artistic work is the chagra. (4)

(4) The chagra is a space in which early traditional agriculture is practiced. Large quantities of plant species are managed through integral breeding that interacts with and is sustained by the natural landscape, thereby satisfying the necessities for the food and prime materials needed by the communities. The seeds used by the Taitas and wisdomkeepers are, for the large part, conserved in the chagra, seeds from plants such as: potatoes, beans, lima beans,vegetables and leafy greens in general, and medicinal and plants of knowledge. Chickens, guinea pigs, rabbits, and hogs are bred; they, too, are fed by the herbs from the same chagra. Planting of the chagra takes place at certain times, taking advantage of the different spaces within. The chagra is held by the family, They manage the agrosystem of the traditional chagra applying the knowledge of the varying phases of the moon and climate. The enriching compost of the chagra comes from the excrement of the animals raised there along with dead leaves mixed with ashes. The chagra is a system rooted in recycling. The organic residues are incorporated into the soil, restoring the nutrients absorbed by the plants. (Rodriguez-Echeverri, 2010, pp.317.)
Uaira Uaua (October 2015). Kaugsay Auaska: Tejido de Vida – Auaska Nukanchi Yuyay Kaugsaita: Textile of our Own History [Exterior lighting system , Colpatria Tower, Bogotá/Bakatá]. This piece received Honorable Mention in the VIII Luis Caballero Prize. Courtesy of the artist.
Uaira Uaua © Chagra Symbol in the chumbe (woven band)
Uaira Uaua © Chakruna Kindi / Hummingbird Chagra. Photographic intervention. 70×70 cm. 2020.

Plant Being

Situated at the bottom of the food chain, plants comprise the majority of the quantity and diversity of life on the planet. Furthermore, they provide  a direct source of food for the majority of heterotrophs. Plants may be sessile, but they are not defenseless. To the contrary, they are conscious, sensitive beings that possess systems of defense, and deploy a formidable physical and chemical natural arsenal that reinforces their barriers.

Uaira Uaua © Sumay Yuyau Vinankuna / Leaves for thinking beautifully and calling back the spirit. Manoy, Valle de Sibundoy, Putumayo. Photographic intervention. 2020.

Thorns, hairs and waxy cuticles made from a weave of polyesters and hydrophobic waxes,  discourage predators sufficiently. Plants produce phenols, tannins, flavonoids, terpenes, alkaloids, glucosides, and cryogenics, chemicals that act as an alert and defense system. Carmen Fenoll (2017) explains how many of these compounds are microbicides or fungicides while others, such as cardiac toxins (digitalins), psychotropic agents (the opioids), cytotoxics (taxol) or hallucinogenic (jimsonweed) act against animals that might harm them. Plants also produce defensive proteins, such as enzymes that reinforce the cell wall, or generate oxygen reactive species, antifungal chineses or the inhibitors of digestive enzymes of insects.  The sensitive dimensions of plants have been studied (Tomkins and Bird 1973) since the 1970’s. It has been found that plants communicate through extensive subterranean networks (through enzymes and electric pulses) and symbiotics, free volatile organic compounds that alert other parts of the plant or even other nearby plants, provoking their defenses. When wounded, plants produce alcohols as a form of self-care, including other aromas that drive away attackers or attract their attackers’ predators.

The vision of the universe, according to the three ethnic groups that inhabit the great Andean/Amazonian apothecary (the Valley of Sibundoy, Putamayo, Colombia) can be summarized and characterized as a view in which a supreme being is spoken of (espiritu). This being delivers energy to all of creation through “Father Sun.” The supreme energy comes to “Earth Mother.” The ethnobotanist Rodriguez-Echeverri (2010) explains that she channels this energy to birth the plant world: nutritional and medicinal plants, and plants of knowledge –considered the mother of all plants. Earth Mother, made fertile by Father Sun, gives food, clothing, and medicine to the animal world, including to humans (2010: 320.) Throughout his production, Uaira Uaua pays special attention to plants. His works go beyond that of a mere aesthetic search, “they consolidate in images of juxtaposition, compendiums of textures, weaves, braids, as if they were a ‘chumbe’- fragmented in places, catalyzing and transmitting the memory of the integral states of cognition. In this way,  Benjamin succeeds in producing an interweave of codes that, as they spring well from Nature, enter into and express his own cultural principles. Contact with his work allows us to perceive how very elemental it is to be in harmony with Nature, as he manages to produce an interweaving of codes that, despite coming from nature, end up expressing his own cultural principles…” (Rodríguez-Mazabel, 2011: 193.)

Uaira Uaua © Ayaguaska panga Tujtu / Flower of the Bitter Vine’s Leaf.
Photographic intervention. 90×90 cm. 2020.

Yagé is the plant mother of the medicinal plants –the plant knowledge par excellence of these communities. Yagé is the door that accesses the vision of the cosmos, the plant entrance that has as its end health and knowledge of how to live in harmony- sumak kawsay. Uaira Uaua’s work “has as its goal the tracing of the rhythm of the essence of the plants, animals, and spirits of the ancestors that live with us permanently, such as the waters from which health flows, to water the root, the stem and the flowers that sprout from the heart.” (2011:190.) In his most recent series, “In Search of the Flower of the Origin” the artist attempts to visually resolve one of the origin stories about the beginnings of knowledge, which is transmitted orally from Taita to Taita, and from Taitas to their sons. In this story (5) the flower of the andaqui/borrachero meets with the woody vine of  ayahuasca/yagé in order to climb anew into the cosmos converted into sun –the flower that originates from the belly (that also represents the pregnant woman in the chumbe).

(5) The story is called ¨Ambi Uasca Samai ”reath of Yagé, and can be found transcribed in El Chumbe Inga. Una forma artística de percepción del mundo (The Inga Chumbe. An artistic form of perception of the world). BenjamIn Jacanamijoy, 2017.pp 18-19.

In this sense, the series is a translation project, expressed in contemporary registers, of oral traditions and visual narrations. The three aforementioned ethnic groups from the Sibundoy Valley are characterized by a common vision of the universe that begins with plants, particularly with yagé, from whom they take their structure for conceiving and living in the world. Hugo Jamioy makes known the presence of yagé in everyday Indigenous life in this way:

Yagé

I know who you are
I have watched you
in Yagé
In the magic colored world
the geometry of Borracha
has shown the perfect figures
the dream-thought
the hallucination- the passage
the trip to the other world
where all of the truths lie
the world where nothing
can be hidden
where nothing can be denied.

The world where everything
can be known.
In my journey, I have arrived in that world
In my pathway, I have seen you

I have seen everything
through the guasca
who bestows power
I cannot tell you
I just want you to know
That I have watched you.
Uaira Uaua © Uigsa Tujtu / Flower of Origin
Photographic intervention. 90×90 cm. September 25th, 2020.

Plant Worm

Knowledge production in the western world is related to the construction of the archive, the term “bookworm” literally refers to the obsessive reading about a particular topic from the modern library. “Plant worm” literally refers to the vital relation that our species has with the vegetable kingdom, not only biologically but also symbolically. “Bookworm” is part of an extractivist practice that identifies, classifies, represents, captures and files or archives these visions of the outside world and places them in an interior space (second nature/library-archive). This practice is the basis of modern science in as much as the scientific method emanates from these experiences –observation of natural phenomena, proposing hypotheses, and corroborating them through experimentation. Parallel to the Enlightenment, botanical expeditions emerged during the construction of the modern nation-states at the end of the 18th and beginning of 19th centuries in the Americas. These expeditions aimed to –as structures of colonial power– identify, classify, and capture the botanical, as well as the mineral and ethnological diversity of the colonies. Today they are also linked to introducing liberal thought (French revolutionary), and the establishment of the arts and professions in countries like Colombia, which lives and re-lives through the botanical expedition of José Celestino Mutis and the visits by Alexander Von Humboldt as foundational events, time and time again, in an endless cycle. 

Uaira Uaua © Tujtu kindi samai suyu / In a place of the flower of hummingbird-spirit
Photograph of a flower, Yako Jacanamijoy. Photographic intervention. 2020

In contrast, Andean-Amazonian communities constitute a legacy of knowledge in the cultural and ritual “consumption” of plants. Like modern scientists, communities have their shamans (taitas) that dedicate their lives to incorporating and applying their findings. For example, the use of fragrances like menthol or limonin, and the scent of jasmine are used to protect medicinal gardens that are based in the methyl jasmonate, the master mediator of the defensive responses of plants against herbivores. This knowledge is used by the Inga artist Rosa Tisoy Tandioy in her pieces Tiagsamui (2015) and Tinii (2016). The intense smell of the Brassica oleracea, garlic, peppers and onions, as well as the preserving properties of spices (peppercorn, parsley, oregano) is also due to defensive compounds. All of these metabolites are specific to plants and have important pharmaceutical and nutritional uses.

The consumption of these plants, and the use of knowledge plants establishes processes of communication in the symbolic realm (the other dimension) where the plant allows for other types of dialogues. The plant is direct, and reading, listening, feeling its designs is the purpose of a centered scientist. It is in the purgative rituals (night time rituals when yagé is ingested) where the production of knowledge is manifested, dialogue between species takes place (human and non-human), and wisdom is transferred to and embodied by new generations –via dance, song and performance– to finally be fixed and incorporated in the living archive of the community –a relational and incarnated awareness. As Floresmiro Rodríguez-Mazabel (2011) would say in relation to the work of Uaira Uaua: “concepts like ecology and environment are not sufficient to understand the dimension of nature and humanity offered by the artist. In his work, human beings are presented as one more species that belongs to the earth and is subjected to its cycles. This perspective is different from a view of humans as  superior entities or owners of the planet as western thought has classified them.” (193)

Uaira Uaua © Atun Puncha (The day to think beautifully). Remembering the “star eyes” of the elders that have gone on (Taita Antonio Jacanamijoy R. 1923-2008). 2021

To know the plant. Ingestion, color, texture, image

The Sibundoy Valley and the Andean-Amazonian piedmont have been classified as places of high biodiverse concentration, especially of wild and cultivated knowledge-plants, as well as an important reserve of ancestral knowledge about medicine and botany (Friedemann & Arocha, 1982). From the mid 20th-Century, researchers have conducted ethnobotanical, anthropological, and archeological studies in the Sibundoy Valley, making great contributions, such as Yepes (1953), Schultes (1957,1969), Bristol (1965), Seijas (1969), Reichel-Dolmatoff (1975), Taussig (1986), Juajibioy (1991), Van der Hammen (1992), Guevara (1995), Daza (1996), Giraldo (2000), and Rodríguez-Echeverri (2010). Thanks to these studies, hundreds of plants, wild and domesticated, have been identified, and are still in use by the communities. A lot of them are planted in the plots that in a way show the imbrication of these worlds, vegetable and human (including the non-human) in the everyday life of the communities. By the use of lines, textures, colors and shapes, Uaira Uaua negates the stark separation between his work and the natural environment. His main theme is the responsibility of the human being, woven in harmonious coexistence with other living beings and with the Earth. Uaua is a weaver of plants, an animator of place-based knowledge, and a bridge between worlds. 

In 1801, Humboldt went through the territory en route to Quito, and left these impressions in his journal about varnish, one of the botanical-artistic practices of the region: “varnish is not abundant because the Sibundoy indians do not actively search for it. These Indians, who have preserved internal forms of government and the language of the Inca (although they have their own language) are the only ones that search for varnish and barely cultivate the land.” (1826) It is clear that he was not aware of the domestic chagras (collective plots of cultivating land) in these communities, and that he was more interested in documenting production practices of material culture than local knowledge. It is possible that he ignored the botanical universe of the region and the Indigenous knowledge about it. 
From another excerpt of the same journal, Humboldt describes –from his Imperial Eyes— the botanical-chemical process of varnish in the region:

“The natural color of varnish softened in water is a greenish yellow, almost like the colorless wood, not too pleasant to view. To imbue color, for example, the red comes from Urucu (Bixa orellana, mixed with rubber milk) in powder form and the softened varnished in water is extended, unchewed, until a small membrane is formed and powder is added, folding the fabric like a funnel. It is placed again in hot water and is chewed immediately until the saliva gets the desired color. The chewed up and colored mass is put in hot water and is extended then to form colored membranes in the way described. With these membranes, similar to wet paper, plates are wrapped, warming the hands to press them down and extend them… licking them… because saliva always plays a big role in this disgusting varnish. Blue is obtained with indigo dissolved in a lot of water and barely warming up the varnish; black is obtained with large amounts of indigo, warming it up a lot (maybe to carbonize it); red is from Bixa orellana, green is obtained chewing two balls, a soft blue one and a yellow one; yellow is the pulverized root of escobedia flower or saffron of the earth. Golden is made as well with escobedia over the silver blade… White is very difficult to obtain; it is produced imperfectly with white lead oxide… The regrettable aspect of this production is the bad shape of the pots made with indian knives and taste; ugly motifs. All things considered, it is possible to recognize some imitations of English forms, although very little.” (1826) (6)

(6) In his journal, Humboldt also recognizes the treatment towards Indigenous populations, their exile, exploitation and ways of survival: “Remnants of old dwelling structures are evident everywhere, especially round ones, like the ones used during the times of the Incas, and now in Gachancipá it is affirmed that smallpox and measles decimated Indians in particular. I think all that is said to be the cause of the decimation of Indians is false… Indians constitute the poorest and most crushed human group, and  bad government like the one here, crushes most violently the poorest and most helpless class. That is the true reason. Where few Indians live among many whites, the pressure is greater. In that case, they try to annihilate them completely, they are pushed to the least fertile and coldest regions, like Coconuco and Puracé; they take over their possessions (despite the laws of the Indies this is easy to do in a country where the justice system is venal) ... Priests… and magistrates wish to rid themselves of the Indians. They know how to impose irrational and cruel law.  If a certain number of Indians don't live in a given town, those few ones have to be taken to another town; that is how Indians are expelled from their native land… Indians would have been exterminated faster if marriages were not so fertile. I know that in some towns around Sibundoy, some years, there are 200 births and barely 7 cases of death.” Journey to the equinoctial regions of the new continent (1799-1804). Paris: Rosa editor, 1826. Online access to this section of the journey between Pasto and Quito: https://banrepcultural.org/humboldt/pasto3.htm.  (translated from Spanish for Siwar Mayu)

In 1803, Francisco José de Caldas recorded how Noánama, an Embera Indigenous man that served as an informant and guide, was “famous in the art of healing serpent bites that are so common (in) these places. When I used to serve at the site of one and shared my fears, the Noánama calmed me and used to say: ‘Do not be afraid, white man, I will cure you if it bites.’” Caldas used to wonder about the systematization of Indigenous knowledge that he compared to the new botanical taxonomy proposed by the Swedish naturalist Carl Linnaeus. Linnaeus (1707-1778) developed a method to “taxonomize and identify in an universal manner all the plants and animals, assigning each one a unique name, composed by two Latin words (‘the language of eurocentric science’) that indicate the genus and species of each specimen” (García-Cuervo, 2019: 53). 

It is not until 1850 that the expeditionaries Alfred Russel Wallace, Richard Spruce, and Henry Walter Bates leave a record (in the Western archive) about Yagé (caapi for some communities, from which the scientific name is taken). In his classic book The Shaman and the Jaguar (1975) Reichel-Dolmatoff affirms how “In 1850, Richard Spruce was the first westerner (European, educated, man of science) that ‘discovered’ yagé. He ‘discovered’ it not because he had been the first white man to try it. He ‘discovered’ it because he was the first one who had a specific interest in it, who sought the knowledge of the plant. Because Spruce was interested in making a correct botanical identification, he included it in his collection of unknown plants and identified it under the name of banisteria caapi.” (37-38) Spruce takes a step further and describes (in an ethnobotanical manner) the rite and experience of ingesting the purgative mixture. In this way, he opposes the other form of hegemonic knowledge (other than Eurocentric science), the one from the church that for centuries had condemned these practices as witchcraft and drunkenness, in opposition to the civilized colonial order as well as to the control over pleasure. (7)  

(7) In Geography of the Republic of Ecuador, Ecuadorian governor of the Río Napo province, Manuel Villavicencio, writes about the Záparo people, and takes a humanistic perspective as protector of the community, speaking against slavery. In his book, Villavicencio mentions yagé and its uses. In his description he mentions the elements that the English naturalists also pointed out: both the prophetic-divinatory and the mystery-erotic elements. For Villavicencio, yagé produces pleasure, and for him pleasure is not synonymous with bad habit. As governor of the Napo River, he tries to understand the Indigenous peoples. He does not just try to “protect them”, but to share with them and take yagé. (Villavicencio, Manuel. Robert Craighead printing, 1858: 371-372)

Friar Manuel María Álvis, in the Journal of the American Ethnological Society of 1857, publishes his treatise about different plants that Indigenous peoples used to treat illnesses. He references aguayusa to cure poisonings, yoco for dysentery, cobalongo for epilepsy, but when he reaches yagé, he does not find a different use than the prophetic one associated with drunkenness and superstition (Tausig 1986). (8)

(8) “[...] Their doctors are accustomed to taking an infusion made with a vine called yoge that produces the same illusion as tonga or borrachero, and within the delusion produced by this intoxication they believe they see unknown things, and foresee the future. Most of these charlatans pretend they have a tiger in the jungle that tells them everything, and they are consecrated to their profession with the same attention and thoroughness as real science. They believe the tiger is the devil, and pretend he talks to them; they are so taken by their chimeras that they become the first believers of their own fictions.” (In Taussig, 1986: pp. 372-373).
Uaira Uaua © Onga Ambi Waska Yagé / The beginning of the historic weaving of the Ingas of the Sibundoy Valley. Manoy Santiago, Putumayo. Photography. 35×50 cm. 2019.

Recent research (Rodríguez-Echeverri, 2010: 311) recognizes around eighty-seven recorded plants, seventy had a level of cultivated treatment and seventeen of wild tolerated management. Sixty seven medicinal plant species, the most used by the Taitas and female knowledge keepers, are planted in the family planting plot. (9)

(9) Thirty-five recorded species are used to treat illnesses of the digestive system; twenty-two for the genitourinary system; sixteen for illnesses of the nervous system; thirteen for illnesses of the respiratory system; thirteen for illnesses in the musculoskeletal system; nine for skin illnesses; nine for inflammations; eight for illnesses of the metabolic system; seven species for nutritional needs; five for poisonings; four for illnesses of the sensorial system; three for illnesses of the circulatory system; two for post-pregnancy illnesses; one for illnesses of the blood system; one for body cleaning and one for social use… It is worth highlighting that out of the twenty two species of magic plants, sixteen had a level and type of individual-cultivated management associated with them, four population-cultivated associated, and only two wild species individually tolerated associated. (Rodríguez-Echeverri, 2010: 323)

Indigenous communities that live in the Sibundoy Valley have a plant-based lens –the yagé, banisteriopsis caapi– to see and interact with the Universe. According to Zuluaga (1994), the botanical knowledge of the Indigenous peoples of the Sibundoy Valley occupies an important place within their cosmology. This knowledge is the access door to interpreting and interacting with the universe within the historical and cultural development of the communities (2010:234) as Hugo Jamioy encaptures it in his poem:

Yagé II

What is your intention. 
Taita Yagé is a man, 
is wise and orients everyone
is wise and guides everyone
is wise and takes care of everyone
is wise and counsels everyone
is wise and is taita;
is cautious and that’s why
he does not show nor teach you anything
he asks you for tranquility and respect.

He is wise, and long before you are next to him
he knows what your intention is;
when you are with him
he guides you, teaches you, takes care of you,
advises you, directs you
or he just simply leaves you.

Paying plant. Writing and representation

The agro-ecosystem chagra (the food and medicine garden cultivated by each family group) is the means through which the communities sustain the environment. The chagra shows endogenous adaptation technologies made by the communities, thus supporting self-determination and developing place-based processes. In other words, the community re-exists, creates and directs its own collaborative sustainable development. By representing these processes in a visual, graphic, ideographic or literary form, a kind of payment is carried out.

The Chagra of knowledge of Mamá Merceditas. 2019

On April 29, 2021, Uaira Uaua visited Manoy Santiago on one of his visits to the annual celebrations. As a recognized leader of the community he stated:

Today will be a historic day in the events of the Inga families who live in Manoy Santiago in the Sibundoy Valley, Putumayo, and who are part of the “Cabildo Mayor” of this same population.

Through a “Sumaj yuyay/Beautiful Thinking” Minga [collaborative Andean work] we will define whether from now on we are going to walk along the paths of the “Sumaj Kaugsai/Good Living or Beautiful Living”, or, to the contrary, are we going to continue along the paths of the “Sumaj Kaugsai Llullaspalla/Good Living just with lies.”

We are certain that the “Samai: breath of heart” from our ancestors, women and men knowledge keepers who defended and practiced wisely and coherently the Inga way of life and thought, will guide us so that the “llakiys: sadness” events won’t be repeated in the future of the families of our new generations.

Indeed, Uaira Uaua was referring to the impact of the pandemia on the communities and the management of their traditional medicine and social organization. His recent work responds symbolically to this spiritual payment that is made up of the representation of a female and a male being, that is, by a “uigsa uarmi | woman’s origin”, a “uigsa kari | man’s origin”, and a yellow flower or “Tuna Puncha Tujtu | Big Day Flower ”. In this design –explains Uaira– the Flower of the Origin stages the “munay | love ” of human kinship. (Triana, 2020)

This series of 60 pieces (which now numbers about a hundred), In Search of the Flower of Origin, invites you to a visual journey through the interwoven paths of the plants present in chagras, and the amulets and crowns that protect the Taitas, their apprentices, and their patients. These pieces also represent some beings –animal, people, place, object and color– typical of the Yagé culture in the Sibundoy Valley.

Uaira Uaua © Jatun sacha misitu tujtukuna sacha suyu / Jaguar at the place of the flowery tree. Photographic Intervention / 90×90 cm / february 7th, 2021.

Uaira Uaua’s interest in rescuing the history of his ancestors persists, now as digital ethnobotany. At the same time, he invites Indigenous families to offer their tributes/spiritual payments while caring for and protecting the physical and spiritual health of the Mamas and Taitas, from the breath of their hearts, their beautiful thinking and the energy of the jaguars. His work is a thought/felt, scientific, visual and graphic exploration of the variety of plants called vinanes (those that revive the soul), kuyanguillos (those to make you fall in love), and chundures (those of knowledge), planted and cultivated in the yachaipa chagrakuna, the garden of knowledge, which are built and cared by the elderly women-Mayoras of the Inga People of the Sibundoy Valley. The vinanes are leaves that revive the spirit of a person; the kuyanguillos are herbs for good thinking and loving; and the chundures are roots of knowledge, used to heal. (Mingas de la Imagen, 2021)

Vinanes and kuyanguillos in the yachaipa chagrakuna
Jaguar’s nail leaves
Uaira Uaua © Tujtu, sillu atun sacha misitu vinan / Flower, Jaguar’s nail leave
Photographic intervention. 65×65 cm. 2019.

The construction of each piece begins from the logic of weaving, in which the artist identifies and documents a material (a plant), processes it digitally (takes out the thread), and weaves it in an even series back and forth (kutey) over an empty space. Uaira Uaua comments on the surprise that each plant brings with it, the shapes that they build and that are present when they are placed together; it is a practice where there is subjectivity on the part of the plant herself, since she determines the final product (2021: 1 ’36 “). Furthermore, Uaua makes it clear that his primary source is the territory (in this case the farm), and remembers the Tuna Puncha, the Big Day of the festival in honor of the Rainbow, and how Taita Antonio, his father, used to recount the following:

“On the day of the celebration…… four spirits arrived at the Manoy central park. The first one appeared on the road that goes to Mocoa; this was the Urarunakunapa Samai, the spirit of the people from the lower Putumayo. The second one appeared on the road that goes to the inspection of San Andrés; this one was the San Andrés Runakunapa Samai, the spirit of the San Andrés people. The third one came from the páramo [highland tropical ecosystem], and appeared on the place where you come from Pasto; this one was the Páramo Runakunapa Samai, the spirit of the people of the páramo. Lastly, the Inga Runakunapa Samai, the spirit of the Inga people, appeared. They all came, danced for a moment and left: it was the omen of a good New Year”. (Jacanamijoy Tisoy, 2017: 51).

Uaira Uaua © Digital Weaving Process
Uaira Uaua © Maskaypa Uarmi Tujti / In Search of the Flower of Origin. Andakí tujtu machachij / Andakí Flower. Photographic intervention. 2019

Uaira Uaua uses a basic design and a warp (following the weaving process) and structures each piece in this series through repetitions and digital turns (kuteys), which can well be considered as the transformed shapes of life and thought that come from the “beings” of a territory. This constitutes a journey via the interweaving of leaves, flowers, crowns, rings, father sun, and the chumbes (woven belts) that in this case act as moebius ribbons, places (suyus), animals, and the characters and colorful lines from the Yagé people. 

In Search of the Flower of Origin series also connects Uaua’s traveling through other territories as his daily observations in urban space. “In Search of the Flower of Origin” is a two-way journey because Uaira Uaua started walking it in 1987 when he traveled to the capital of Colombia to be part of a first generation of Indigenous artists, designers, researchers, “professionals” –as described in Western terminology. As an inspiration for his people, he has experienced the emergence of a new intercultural cosmopolitan indigeneity that takes its place within a history that has marginalized his people. Furthermore, Uaira Uaua is a guide and pillar for Andean-Amazonian artists who currently share their living memories and visions from their own archive, and parallel, pluriversal and thought-felt ontology, in an incarnated way. 

It remains for us, non-indigenous people, to humbly learn from their own ways and accompany the processes in an open and supportive manner.

Note from the author: The series (of 60 images and video) “In Search of the Flower of  the Origin” is exhibited at the 45th National Hall of Arts, MUTIS 2020-2021, of the University of Antioquia. This competition chose seven Colombian artists to participate in the exhibition in the second half of 2021. A virtual exhibition of the project was held in August-September 2020, curated by Alejandro Triana. The virtual catalog is available online here

Thanks to Benjamín (Uaira Uaua) for his generosity and smile during the many years of meetings and collaborative projects (since 1998 when I was his tutor for the grant regarding chumbe). Once again we celebrate your work.

About Miguel Rojas Sotelo

Miguel Rojas-Sotelo works at the intersection of Ethnic/Indigenous studies, environmental humanities, critical human geography, and border cultural theory. As a scholar, filmmaker, visual artist, and media activist he studies how Indigenous (settled or displaced) and natural spaces are shaped by modernity/coloniality and how they mobilize to adapt and resist. He is particularly interested in how Indigenous communities, articulate their archival knowledge, racial and class politics, the spatiality of those processes, and how they are manifest in the landscape via visual, audiovisual, oral, and textual narratives. Miguel was the first Visual Arts Director at the Colombian Ministry of Culture (1997-2001) and co-founding member of the Mingas de la Imagen intercultural network. Works and teaches at Duke University Center for Latin American and Caribbean Studies.

About the translators

Lorrie Jayne, a collaborator in Siwar Mayu, teaches Spanish, Portuguese, and Personal Narrative in the Languages and Literatures Department at University of North Carolina Asheville (USA).  She lives with her husband and daughters in the Appalachian Mountains where she enjoys plants, people, and poetry.

Carolina Bloem teaches Latin American Studies and Spanish at Salt Lake Community College. Her research focuses on present-day Wayuu oraliture and its impact both in local and international communities. Past research interests include travel writing in 19th-Century Colombia and Venezuela and conduct manuals and their biopolitical role in society.

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.) He is currently an associate professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville, in the Departments of Languages and Literatures, and of American Indian and Indigenous Studies.


Where the clouds are scars. Hubert Matiúwàa

Original work in Mè’phàà and Spanish by Hubert Matiúwàa

Translated from Spanish by Paul Worley

If you prefer to read in a PDF file, click HERE

Ajngáa rí mà’nè gamakùún ajngià’ ló’ tsí tsinìñà’mijna ná jùbàá.

In memory of those who have been mercilessly killed in the Mountains of the state of Guerrero.

I
 
Ído nìwa’nií
nìkra’wo mìnà’ ná àwùún dììn,
ná txuú rí nìniñáá ñùù
tsí nìgawíín inuu à’wun.
Ído nìyáxì ló’
ndiyoò à’dyàá’ rigaà nìjañúù ná jàmbaà mì’xá,
xó má à’gyáà’ nàjmàgwi rigaà inuu ga’khò
ìdo nìru’tíìn ya’dúù.
Ná nàthamá’á gíñá
xtú’ún xí’ñà ló’ drígiìn,
ndiñùún xàbò ñajun xuajiàn ló’
ìdo nìkra’wì sìún ná majñùù ñàwúùn’,
khamí ná tsú’wòò nàkhúún
ndiyáà’ ikháán nìtso inuu jùbà’.

I

When they arrived

I ran to the Guayabo tree

to escape the screams,

hiding in a hole the worms had made.

I came out

and saw your son sleeping on the white road,

your wife burning in pain

as her breasts were cut off.

I told everyone

but their hands were tied in the turning wind.

The local authorities

chewed on their rage behind their fingers,

and I felt you kiss the earth

through the cracks in their feet. 

II 

Nìgìthàn’ rùdá’ ló’
ná nàtsuwòò iya àwúún gù’wá
rí nàngwá nì’ngáà’ màtsamájaán.
Nìwanúù ná àwún xnú’ndaa rundú
tsí nìgùmà mbajáà idò màjanú mbi’i rí màtàní’gú,
nìgithàn ngù’wà xúbà’ mbàà,
gàjmáá iyoo díí rí tàgayùù mújún
numuu rí nìyáxìì nè xà’.
Nìtháàn, àtiàwàn mínà’ lá’,
a’kwèn nàwa’ñáá mé’,
khá màxátiyàá màndíxììn xàbò tsudàà’,
àtàngàán ná ndàwoó xuajen Mbaa Màñàá,
ná étsò ñàwún nùgèwèn mbí’yàá.
Nìwajúntàn’ èjèn ná Xkuàá,
nàngwá ndiyùún rí mìdxuù,
nìru’wà mìjneè nàkwá’ ansdo xó yúwòò rà’khà,
ikháán tátadxáwíín,
nìdxù’ ná jàmbaà na nàxpíbì rìgà.

II

Our mother was waiting for you

under the leaky tin roof

you hadn’t finished fixing.

The turkey they had been feeding

for your wedding day kept dreaming,

while the empty clay pots

and the half-fermented chilote *

held on to you in secret.

They said they were looking for you,

that you’d better be careful, don’t let them catch you,

turn around in Tierra Colorada,

your fate is in your own hands.

The children wrapped

around your legs like squash vines

and said that your footsteps would root,

but you saddled up the lightning

and took off.

** An alcoholic drink made from fermented corn.

III
 
Mìjnà gùwà’ xnduú ajwàn’
rí ninbatiguíín tsudùù Tordillo,
ná agóo ñuwiin ajwàn’ nìwanuú xuwià’,
niríyà’nè rumià’ khamí nirú’wá mìnà’ nè gàjmàá txámboo awuàn’,
rí maxágáàn mbò jwèn i’dià,
niwa tsakhurámá inà’ ná nijàmbiyáa’.
Nigóó àkwán ná nìkàrawanùú xuwià’
nindúun muxnaá imba xè’,
nindúun màkra’wìín ná kwijììn ginùún
ikajngó muxnáà tsíake ñawán’.
Nigòò mangiìn tsúdaà xàbò tsí nìdáa,
nigòò xóó tsúdaà rí mònè mbámbá rìgaán,
mbro’on rí nìrmá’á akwiín xíñà ló’ ná idáà’,
na’thá itsí rí drìgà’ ná xkwaá
rí nìtabàá nijñuú nè, nìràthuun ajwàn’
khamí nitharmídájmii xàbò tsú’kwè,
idò nitatsá’wá mbi’yuu xíñà ló’.
Ninújngoo xtálítí ná inuu ixè xndú xkudí,
nì’thuún ru’wa rí ma’gàa,
rí màxagi’thàn nè,
numuu rí skiyáa nìwanuu ná inuu xpipíù
khamí akhiàn’ nà’nii akwiín idò naxphátríyà’ a’wóò.
Idò niwàà ítsáa’,
nìmba’tòò ná najngwáàn ajngáa ngínu’,
dxoò xó ixè rí rígà ná jàmbaà jà’nii
ikhaa rí ni’kà ajmùù khamí nirú’wá nè xuwiù’.

III

They drug you nine miles out of Tordillo,

hung your stomach knotted with tufts 

of your pubic hair from barbed wire

so the mbò jwén would not drink you

as the leaves prayed over your wounds.

The ants chased down bits of your flesh

to give you one last breath,

to hide you in nostalgia,

and harden your fingers’ resolve. 

They followed your gaze to end

the night our grandmother would be born in your eyes,

counting the stones say you laid

as you spun your name in bullets. 

The xtálítí passed through the mango trees

asking the rain to stop,

telling it not to wait for you,

as your strength clung to its wings

and your final memory sprang from the throne of its voice. 

A chasm swallowed the silence

as we gathered your bones

you were the fallen trunk

whose roots held my body. 

IV
 
Nìgùwaán wandá
nithèèn rí niwá’xnáá,
nida àjmà rí ma’nè gìgáa nìmià’ ná xoxtà xò’.
Ná xkuaá
nimbaá xàbò ràkoo matsíkhá ndéla,
khamí ma’nè ka’wùù i’dià,
mbawíín nìniñaan ná xuáá,
xóó kàmba’tha idaà’
nàtiaxíí ajwàn’ rí brakha ná gù’wá dxákuun
rí nì’duù ngámí ja’nii.
Rí magòò majnguàán’,
nìwátán’ gajmíì wáyò angìán ló’ tsí mañuwìín,
nìrugwaá gajmàá yujndà’ khamí a’wóo xkamída,
jamboò xkuaá ná nìwàtatxíkurigàà xuwià’,
idò nìtangiìn ná jàmbaà ìtsí bi’mbi,
dàtià’ ló’ nigwiín jañiin mbro’on
asndo nè’nè ríná rajúun gájmàá iya idúù.
Dxoò, ná xpápa xò’ rígu jèñò ajngáa wíyúú xuajiàn ló’,
ikhaa ska rí nixpí’tá itsáà.

IV

The crows came

to tell us you’d been shot,

that they had lit your soul on fire

by carving vines in your chest.

No one in Santa Cruz del Rincón

wanted to clean your blood

or mourn your body,

so you lay alone in the plaza

watching the bells

chew on their own fear.

People from Malina came down on horseback

to bury you.

Between the dust, the rifles, and the thunder,

they gathered up what was left of you

and returned up the twisted stone road,

our father carried you all night

his tongue turning to salt.

Brother,

our shoulders bear the town’s silence,

our wounded skin pierced by your broken bones. 

V
 
Mi’txà nidxá’nú ná mañuwìín,
xì’ñá ló’ nibrìgwíín gájmàá rè’è rí kíxnuu
khamí gúni rí mà’nè gamaku mikwíí,
xó ma’ nánà tsí nènè mbájàán,
nìmbrá’à nàkwá gájmàá iná skémba khamí iná láxà,
rí maxná nè xè’ khamí rí mà’nè nè asndo xó rí tàjáñáà’ xóó,
rí mà’tá nè rí xùù xuwià’ ngrigòò ná namàá.
Ná gu’wá ló’,
ndiyoò nìtsíkáminà’ siàn’ ná inuu ifíí,
ndiyóo nìkaxii àkhà’ ná awún guma,
khamí ná nànùu à’diá tsí nàngwá ni’goò màtànè nuwììn
nìtsíkáminà ixè rí nìndiàwà ló’
Rí magòò mudiìn ná jùbùún xi’ñán ló’,
nimbrá’án gájmàá àgú,
idò nìkaji’daán ná jàmbaà wajèn,
nìtsówòò i’dià agòò èjnà,
ná mbámbá nìkarawajwíìn
ndiyàà xùún khamí nìtsakhuramaà,
i’dià ni’thá xò’ rí xkwanii nùradíín angià’ ló’ tsí tsinìñà’ mijná,
mi xkwanii nandúùn mùradíín xugíín ijíín xuajiàn ló’.

V

You arrived with the dawn

and the elders received you, offering flowers

and smoke to the heavens,

the women who raised you wrapped your feet

with lemon balm and ceiba leaves

as a way of saying you had not died,

that the smell of your body was still walking around Ciénega.

At home I saw the skillets burn with rage

the tortillas swell in the sun

and in the whirlwind of the son you never met

the wood’s prophecies burned.

They wrapped you in a straw mat

to sow you in the womb of the elders

and brother, you dripped every few steps during the procession,

your face told us that cowards murder through betrayal

and that through betrayal they’ll kill our town.

VI
 
Náá màxkamàà rikaà’
xugè’ rí nìruthììn inuu yúwáà’ rá,
gajmàá xndú ajwàn’ nìxpí’thán
ná jùbà’ rí nìraxnì’,
nidùù nítú ñawàán
numuu ndiyúún rí màxáxkamàà i’dià,
khamí màxágajàà siún’
idò matsúù mbro’òn rí maxígú ló’.

VI

Where will I find you flowering

now that they’ve severed you from the vine?

They used lead to spread you across

in the land you gave me,

buried your veins

so your blood wouldn’t be found

and fuel our rage

in the unsleeping night. 

VII
 
Ná xíní rawun è’èn
ndiyóo nìnujngòò èwè rí nìrugàrá’án,
rí nàthangaà mbámbá gòn’
ná jàmboò xnu’ndàà rí kíxnuu.
Tsaá mà’níín ñàwán’,
ñú’ún ná rígà gu’woò yujndà’ rá.
Mbá’yáà xàñú’ idò makhàá mbi’i rí ngúwán,
ná awúun tsínà’ nàgumà dùùn
rí nàruwáà i’tsáà’
ná awúun mbáñò rí nàguxìì tsígo xuajiàn ló’.

VII

I saw your hungry isolation

pass along the blades of cane grass

every month, going down the roads of the dreams we told each other.

Whose colors will your hand wear,

Beyond the dust curtain?

The winter will sharpen my nails and strengthens my feet,

the clouds are made of scars

and gather your bones

into the folds of seeds.

VIII
 
Dxóo,
jayà’ xàyáa
khamí pañíti’ druwii,
khamí jayà’ ajwàn’ ki’níí asndo nákhi rí nidxúù,
rí màxpíta ga’kwìì tsí’gu,
jayà’ ajngáa rí nàguwíín wajèn è’nè,
jàyáa mángaa tsù’tsún tsí mba’yàá itsáà’,
ikhaa tsí magèwíin adíín siàn’ ló’
mí mastíngàà yujndòò xuwià’,
ná awùún ixè dxama,
ná awùún ixè kafé, ná rawùùn dxá’gu tsí ndiyáa xtáyáa
asndo náá nìrigòò nimià’,
jàyá mangaà mbá tsingíná rí nìxnáxìì inuu jùbà’,
mbá ndéla rí màtsikhá xuwià’ ló’,
khamí jagoò atsú tsí’tsún iya mikha rí ma’nìì rawàan’,
khamí jayà’ mangaà mbá xndú ajwàn’ rí mba’yáà mbi’yàa’.

VIII

Brother,

I’ve brought your poncho

to break up the years,

the kingfisher’s bandana

and the gun we’ve stained since you left,

I’ve brought this language that conjures the dead,

this hummingbird to find your bones,

to measure the worms of our rage

and scatter the dust of your flesh

among the banana trees

on the coffee plants,

on the lips of the girl you loved,

wherever your spirit walked,

I bring the sadness that I gave to the land,

a candle to light your skin,

three bottles to heal your mouth

and a bullet to look for your name.

IX
 
Natsíkáminà ndùù ná tsudùù xuajñàn ló’
rí nàmagwiì tsína’ èjnè,
xtaà ná mugíín ná nàwàa ina ló’,
rí phú gí’doo numaá ikhíín,
numuu rí nànujgàà xtiin wajèn ná rawun iya,
xó ma’ ikhúún nda’ñaá,
nda’yaá ajngáa wiyáa,
nda’yaá jàmboò skiyáa,
ná maxnáa tsiàkè mì’nà
inuu xàbò tsí nutsè xtángóo,
tsí nuxú’mii xàbò maxììn
ikhíín tsí nìrugwaà Inés gájmàá Valentina.

IX

The fog lights up

above the town,

boils in our scar,

you are wherever our faces come together,

you are missing from our interwoven lives,

I miss the absence of your rough silence,

I wish we could stand together and fight the people

who buy laws

and send soldiers to rape Inés and Valentina. 

X
 
Tsí jàyá iduu numbaa
nàniñùùn rí ná akwíin mbi’yaá,
masíàn mbi’yu ndo’on,
khamí ma’nìì xáñuun xìyú,
khamí ma’nìì iñùùn abò’,
á tsí’yóo,
rí xó inuu yúwà rí rígà ná júbàá ja’níí rá yè’
mbámbá a’wá ri nàguma ná xuajiàn ló’,
nàguma nè gájmàá xtatsíín a’wá,
mí gájmàá i’dià nàgumàà tòkayà
tsí nànujngoò inuu xuajen.
Dxóo,
i’wíín tsí nutha ñàjwíín gù’wá ñàjun
nùri’kwí ìxí,
nùtsángútigàá jàmboò àkwán
khamí ná ñawún ixè nurígwi xáñá rí nàstráka yodè’
tsí nà’nè xuàjin ná rakhóo numbaa.

X

The murders’ watchful hands

let the owls sing, the scorpions nest,

and serpents burrow in your memory.

Don’t they know that every vine

in the countryside looks like you?

every voice is made from your coat,

your blood becomes

rainbows that run through the town.

Brother,

other people are in charge of the workshop now,

they’ve changed the corn,

they’ve crushed the ant trails,

and they’ve taken down the nest the lark hung

to populate the blowing wind. 

XI
 
Agòò itsí na nagá’á mathá,
nàtanguún inuu yaja ri kíxnuu,
nàtanguún ná ñawún yàá,
ná awùún ixí,
rí magòò mà’nè màgajàà itsó rí ma’du rí ngámí.
Phú gàko rí ndi’yàà ló’
rí màtangaà iya rí màxmáto’o anjgáa ló’,
màtangaà nè gájmàá ajwàn’ xkarádí
rí nàxphí’ta itsí iduu abò’,
nàtangaà nè gajmíí xàbò
tsí nònè ndawìì gòn’,
tsí mà’nè ratòò ixè xàpho xuajñùún.
Ndi’yàá ló’ mangaà rí phú mbàà àkwiìn’ júbà
idò nàñawúún ijíìn,
mèdò awún xí nangwá ìnè nuwiin nè.

XI

Below the rocks where the river boils

I return to the counted beans,

to the squirrel’s hands,

to the measure of corn,

to harden the bones that bury our fear.

We found out it would return,

the water to choke our tongues,

the machine to split the serpent’s eyes

and dry out a raccoon

to decorate the tables at town hall.

We also found out

how the great Mountain

defends her children

in darkness, even if they don’t know her. 

For more about Hubert Matiúwàa

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 tsikbalichmaya.org), and with Rita M Palacios is co-author of 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.