Mishki shimi rimaykuna: Voices From Contemporary Kichwa Poetry


Pechoamarillo, Kitu (yellow-chest) © Yana Lema

Compilation, comments, and images by Yana Lucila Lema

Poetry translated from Spanish by Carolina Bloem 

Comments translated by Anya Skye Tucker

The further we move away from life

the more we grasp for her

the more gods are dying

the more we ache to write about them



When we talk about poetry in our language, I mean the runa shimi or kichwa. I feel that the word poetry falls short of embracing everything that is poetry in daily life and in the festive. And I say short because for ancestral peoples, poetry is not only about verses written alphabetically on paper.


Far from idealizing the Kichwa culture, their aesthetics and communicative forms, I want to point out that I have been able to encounter so much poetry in their rituals, songs, dances, and day-to-day speech, which I perceive they collectively make, unmake, and recreate. 


So I’ll say that contemporary Kichwa poetry, of alphabetic writing, is only one of the resources, made ours, to tell beautifully our ancestral memory and our present memory. 


I would also say that we are still here, between the technology of writing and the frenzy of modernity, and that we have also faced death in this era, as many nationalities have lost human beings in this emergency. 


Many have passed away in the midst of the current crisis, precisely because of the losing of other living beings, and with them their names, their languages, their forms, and ultimately their necessary presence for the harmony of life and the richness of language.


For this reason, I say that as the further we move away from life, the more we grasp for her, and the more gods are dying, the more we ache to write about them.


Then, the poetic Kichwa word calls on us not to forget, to have in mind these other forms of life, of knowledge, of aesthetics and sensibilities. 


Mishki shimi rimaykuna / Voices of sweet words, a collection of contemporary Kichwa poetry, unveils these voices that seek to tear down borders, to make us present, to resist, to continue being. 


Here there is another resistance, a literary defiance forged from diverse voices, with different styles, woven from self-learning, from hearing the ancient words, but above all full of quests. 


Some texts I will share below are included in some anthologies of poetry by Indigenous peoples from Ecuador, published between 2011 and 2016. Some others are collaborations for this collection, whose authors I thank for their friendship and trust. 


This showcase has two moments which, in my opinion, could help understand Kichwa poetry and its margins. 


Ozogoche-Chimborazo © Yana Lema


PART 1


The first part relates with authors that appear in the 1980s, together with the critical activist struggles and those who made visible their work in the 1990s and after.


From personal conversations, I know that almost all of them wrote for themselves, without intentions to publish or make writing a profession, but rather for personal hobby, complementary to their professional work. It could be said that we know each other, or I know them because we have shared the informal literary scene. 


They are artists that refer strongly to revitalizing memory, ancestral knowledge, worldview, and the Indigenous movement advocacy. Also, many have or have had close ties to rural spaces, though this cannot be generalized.


Some are bilingual teachers who write in Kichwa and self-translate into Spanish with the purpose of insisting on the value of a language whose literary value has historically been doubted. Their work are memories, words, sounds, and sensibilities, protected and archived, but also hidden and rejected. 


The most important author of this time is the Otavalo Kichwa poet Ariruma Kowii, who wrote his first work Mutsutsurini (1988) just in Kichwa, as a symbol of resistance to the disappearance of his tongue. Afterwards, his works were published in Kichwa and Spanish. Parallelly there are other authors who have no published full books, but do appear in anthologies with bilingual texts. Among them are:


Tayta Chimborazo © Yana Lema


Aurora Chinlle, Kichwa Puruwá 

(Chimborazo Kichwa)


Lorenza Abemañay


Patsak, patsak watayantami

kanpak shutika yawarpi.

Kanpak sinchi yuyaywanmi

warmikuna kawsarinchik.


Mama Lorenza, atik Lorenza

shilshiwan willak, atik warmi

wasinpi yuyayta tarpuk mama

wawanta yachachik mama. 


Tsalakunapak millashka

runakunapak kuyashka.

Warmikunapak yuyarishka

wawakunapak yachashka


Guamote kinkrikunapi 

silsilwan willarkanki

Lorenza Peña warmiwan

runakunata hatarichirkanki.


Sinchi sinchita kaparishpa

mallku shina pawarkanki.

Chaymantami allpayuk kanchik

Shinami kishpirirkanchik.


Waranka pusak patsak kimsapi

Jacinta Juárez, Margarita Pantoja

Baltazara Chuisa warmikunawanmi


Lorenza Abemañay


With your knowledge

women undertake

Hundreds of years disgraced

today we have freedom.

Victorious mother Lorenza

You warned the entire family

Holding onto the pulley 

You instructed every child. 


They, the settlers  hated you

They, the indians admired you

They, children are observing

Us, women envy you.


Through the hillsides of Guamote

To the beat of the immense garrucha *

With Lorenza Peña to your right

You directed ten thousand Runakuna. **


With your outcry “let’s revolt”

You flew like the sinchi mallku ***

To recuperate our lands

Our defamed dignity. 


The mutiny of 1803, ended your image, 

With mother Jacinta Juárez, 

Margarita Pantoja and Baltazara Chiuza

were bruised to protect warmikuna. ****


* Garrucha: used to serve to punish Indigenous peoples

** Runakuna: it means “human being”, however it can be used as “native people”, in this case the Kichwa people themselves.

*** Sinchi Mallku: powerful condor.

**** Warmikuna: women.

Mama Cotopaxi  © Yana Lema


Lourdes Llasag, Kichwa Panzaleo

(Kichwa Cotopaxi)


Ushushiku


Amapola sisashina, kanpak samita kuyani

Nayana chirlilla yakushina, tuykunapak kawsaypak

Guzhul muyuntitak yaku ukuta purik

Enamorada tukuy ruraykunapi

Laglag mana tamyashpaka chakishkakanki

Anchuchik, ñuka nanayta apak.


Ñutita


Love, like the poppy flower, I love your natural smell

of crystal clear water, vital for life

spin, spin without growing tired, around the world

in love with the things you do

slow like the afternoon rain

air that calms my pain.


Saraguaro earrings © Yana Lema


Luiza Gualan

(Kichwa Saraguro)


Sinchi warmi *


Warmi allpa maki, nina shunkuku,

allpapachata chuchuchik wachak mama,

hatun mamakunapak ñawpa rimay.

Shimikunaka, kikinpak takipi wakaypipash mana wañun,

achikyachik kishpirichiy muskuykuna.

Sara chukirawapash sisa warmi,

muskuyta awak.

Kikinpak hatun taytakuna tarpuna allpamamaka,

kishpirishka rikcharishka warmimi mañakun.


Woman hands of land, heart of fire, 

breastmilk that nurtures the world, 

ancestral language of the grandmothers. 

In your song and your tears voices don’t fade, 

dreams of light and freedom.

Woman tassel of corn and chukirawa, **

weaver of dreams.

The land your grandparents cultivated, 

is calling for that free and awake warmi. 


* Sinchi warmi: strong woman. 

** Chukirawa: flower from the paramo (high treeless plateau in tropical South America.)


Tayta Imbabura © Yana Lema

Segundo Wiñachi

(Otavalo Kichwa)


Malkuta  tapuy


Ninan malku huchapash kachun kay tapuykunamanta kishpichiwanki

Pita kay allpa mamapika kanta puntaka sarurka kawsarka

Pita kay yakutaka kararka pimantata kay sara muyuka mirarishka

Pita kay kwychitaka shuyushka imamantata kay yawarka tukushka

Pita kay wayusakunataka apamurka maymantata shamurka

Pita kay urkukunataka wasichishka chukllamanta kushni llukshikshna kushninahun

Imashpata kay  walunyashka yakutaka yawar kucha nin  

Imashpata kay waykukunaka ninan haka tukushka

Imashpata kay pukyuka  larkamanta pakcha  tukushpa kawsashna Kallpahun maymanta rihun maypita chinkarin maypita tukurin

kanmi shimi millmalla huntashka mishukuna wanchinkapa maskanahukpipash sinkapi satishpa pakawashkanki kishpichiwashkanki

kanmi yachanhi imashna kay allpa mama kallaripi kashkamanta imashna unkuchishpa tukurinahunchimantapash

ninan malku nara chinkarispallata kampa pakashpa wakaychishka yachaykunata ushaykunata willachiwanki ñukapash shamuk wiñay wawakunaman willachinkapa

kan chinkarikpika pita tapuytapash ñana ushashachu

ñuka kawsaywan chinkarishpa kanshnallatachu hawa pachaman

pawashpa kawsankapa rina kani imata nishpami tapuni

ninan  Malku


Ask the Condor


Powerful Condor even if a sin forgive me for these questions

Who before you has stepped has lived on this land?

Who has gifted this water spring?

Who created this originary grain called corn?

Who has designed this rainbow?

Who has made this blood?

Who has built these mountains like huts with plumes of smoke?

Who has brought these rats? Where do they come from? What is their origin?

Why is this lagoon called Yawar cocha?

Why are these creeks so deep?

Why is this river a live current?

Made a floating cascade

Where is it going where does it get lost what it its end?

Powerful Condor your nose was my refuge

When the bearded ones where looking for me to slaughter me

Only you know how was the creation

And why are we sick now with the smog pest?

Oh powerful Condor! Before your extinction

Tell me your secrets you have reserved

Of your wisdom of your power

To be able to pass on to my future generation 

If you get lost I won’t have who to ask to

When I die maybe I will go to the infinite sky

Where a lot of living beings exist flying like you



Tayta Chimborazo © Yana Lema


Rasu Paza

(Puruwá Kichwa)


Pachamamapa sisa


Maykan chikan chirimuyupa ñawpa pachapichari kanpa rimaytaka uyarkani.

Maykan kullkishina, rasushina  allimanta rikuk Mama Pachapichari kanpa ñawikunataka rikurkani.

Maykan waranka watakunachari kashka kanka.

Maypitak karkanki, maypi. Imatak karkankiyari, waranka wata ñawpaka.


Ñukaka kan armachun, kan upyachun, chuya achik yakumi karkani.

Allimantami tukuy churana illaklla ñuka kayman shamuk karkanki.

Ñuka kay, kallpakuk mayuman rishpami armak karkanki.

Kipaka ishkay makiwan hapishpami upyawak karkanki.

Kanka, ñuka kanpa tukuy ukuktapash, ukkutapashmi riksichun sakiklla karkanki.

Chay kipaka, kanpa ñutuklla ukkupa, munaypa milkim ñukapi llutarishpa sakirik karka.


Chaymanta pachami kanpa rupak sumaymana chuchukunapash

ñukapa kisha tukurkakuna.

Ñukapa kawsaytapish punchan punchanmi

kanpa yura mallkiwan awashpa rik karkanki.

Kanpa aychaka wiñayta mana wañunchu, shamurayakunllami.

Kunanpash, ñawpamanta shamushpami kutin kaypi kanki, ñukapa karawan, ñukantin.


* Milki: perfume


Flower of mother nature


In which of the remote times of chirimoya did I hear your voice?

In which time, maybe, did I meet your face when Mother Cosmos was gliding slowly like silver, like snow?

How long ago was it?

Where were you, Where! What were you thousands of years ago?


I, so you can drink, so you can bathe, was the transparent water. 

Slowly you came to me without attires.

You bathed in the torrential river I was.

Then you satiated me holding on with both hands. 

You, with insistence let me know your body and essence. 

Then your soft and delicious perfume remained adhered to me. 


Since then your beautiful and warm breasts

became my abode.

My life was weaving day after day

with the branches of your tree. 

Your flesh never dies, it returns time after time.

Today also,  you arrived from infinite time and are present, stuck to my skin, you and me together.


Saraguro Tupu © Yana Lema


Inti Cartuche

(Saraguro Kichwa)


Akapana


Akapanami kanika

urmamunilla shina yarin

maykan kucha chaskichun illanmi.


Rasuyachik wayratami uyani

wiksataka kushikuywan shiktachikta rikuni.


Shina kakpika ñukaka,

–urkupak churi,

waykukunapak wawa kashpa–

shuk ñawpa kacharpayakuta,


chushak kayta

allpakuyuyta kinkurik suni asiriyta

runtu kachun nishka shututapish uyachini.

Wayra, imapaktak pukumuwankillayari,

akapana muyutaka ñuka ukupimi ña charinika.


Uyariway!

chakishka panka shinami urmamuni

ñawpakawsaywan may hukushkami kanika.


Storm


Storm am I

and it seems I fall straight down

there is no lagoon that receives me.


I listen to the wind freezing me

cracking my womb with happiness. 


While I, 

-son of the mountain, 

grandson of the creeks-

whistle such an old farewell

an un-being

a long smile curving the earthquake

a drop thrown to become a hailstone.


Why do you blow, wind,

if I already have inside the seed of the storm?


Listen!

I fall like a dry leave

But I am extremely sodden of history. 



Pikul (“Milk Tree”) © Yana Lema

PART 2


In the second moment, there are the younger authors who are interested in writing with their face towards past poets, or just for personal necessity, or because they are linked with organizations and their struggle processes.


Many of them are students or professionals in different disciplines who, like the older generation, complement their professional activities with creative writing, and therefore they don’t have a regular literary production, neither do they have full books published, but they appear in anthologies of poetry by Indigenous peoples and nations.


Some of them have questioned what they call a “romantic vision” of the current Kichwa reality. Thus they poeticize the daily life from the here and now, and speak about the contradictions and problems they live in their territories or from the deterritorialization. 


Closer to urban spaces, they write bilingually or only in Spanish, since some of them did not learn Kichwa, or they have difficulty writing or reading it. However, they inlay Kichwa elements, figures, meanings, and words in their verses, which accentuates their uniqueness in the face of dominant aesthetics. Among them are:


Mama Cotacachi © Yana Lema


Diana Gualapuro

(Otavalo Kichwa)


Kushikuy


Pachamamaka ashka tullpukunata rikuchin

pachaka ashka wiwakunata charin

shinapash hatun yayakunapak ñawpapi tushun

raymitaka rundador nishkawan ruranmi

shinapash kushikuymanta kurishina rikurinchik

shinapash fawanakunchik pachata takarinkapak 

ña fuyuman chayashpa

lukanchik shunku kushikurka

fuyuka pampalla yuraklla

mana ima

yaku shinchiyashkashnalla rikurin


Happiness


World of colors

world full of beautiful animals.

Dancing next to my parents and grandparents

holding gatherings  with rondadores-panpipes. 

Shining with happiness

until we jump and reach the sky. 

When we finally arrive to the clouds, 

puffy, white as ice

we feel our hearts beat 

something that naïvely 

appears out of nothing.


Imbabura © Yana Lema


Achik Lema

(Otavalo Kichwa)


Chinkachishkanchik


Inti tayta sakinchi

killa mamata piñarinchik

Pacha mamata kunkanchik

Shina rurashpapsh

Paykunamanta kawshkinchik (…)


That Which We Lost


We desisted from the sun

We rejected the moon

We forgot Pachamama

Despite everything

For them we all live (…)


Otavalo © Yana Lema


Yolanda Pazmiño

(Otavalo Kichwa)


Warmi puncha


Ima punchapash kachun,

Awaki, inti puncha kankachari

Mana kashpaka Chaska puncha kashkanka

Hatun katuna ukupi runakuna rinakun, chayamukun

Shuk kari shayarishka runa, kunkullinawan

Chakata wityanapi shayarishka

Tawka runakunapi pantarikun

“shumak puncha Warmi”, shina uyarin

Chay pachapa, chay runaka karilla rikurin

Warmikunata puka sikunata karakun

Shuk sumak puncha kan: pusak pawkar puncha..

Kutin chay kuskata yallini

Mana pipash rikuwanchu

Warmi kani, shinapash chay runaka

mana asirinchu, mana sisakunata karawanchu, mana kushi puncha niwanchu.

Ñuka anaku, ñuka pachallina, ñuka wallkakuna mana rikuchun sakinchu.

Mana pipash rikunchu, chay runaka sisakunata

Asirikunata, rimaykuna wakaychikun.

Warmi kani, warmi puncha kan,

Kay punchaka sisakunawan raymita ruran, shinallatak runa warmikunata anchuchishpa.

Kay pachamanta mana kashpachari.

Ñuka runa kashkamanta mana sisata chaskinichu.

Shina pusak pawkar punchata yuyarini.

Shinapash   anakushka, pachallinashka, wallka churakushka.


Women’s Day


It seemed like any other day, 

it could be a Monday, a Sunday

or maybe a Friday. 

People come and go at the mall.

Suddenly a man in a suit and tie

pauses at the bottom of the stairs

interrupts the hustle. 

“Happy women’s day!” I hear, 

While, dressed for the occasion, 

the man offers red flowers to women. 

-It is a special day: March 8th-

I keep walking by the place, 

nobody sees me. 

I am a woman, but the man with the tie, 

does not smile, does not offer me flowers, does not greet me.

My anaco, my pachallina, my wallkas, *

make me invisible. 

Nobody sees me, the man with the tie saves his roses, 

his smiles, his words.

I am a woman, it is women’s day, 

this day is celebrated with flowers and exclusion.

As if I do not belong to this space, 

My being does not deserve a flower.

That is how I remember March 8th, 

oh yes, with panchallina, anaco, and my wallkas. 


* Anaco: Kichwa woman dress.

Pachallina: Kichwa woman shawl.

Wallkas: Kichwa woman necklaces.


Kayambi Kullki (“Earrings”) © Yana Lema


Jenny Chicaiza

(Kayambi Kichwa)


Body-seed


We come from the silence of earth, to which we will return.

We were born in her deep bowels, 

Incubated with the humidity of rain and rivers. 

Fertile seeds we are. 


We come from the ember, of the air that calms, 

fire is our grandfather, our mother earth.

Water and Air are our Ayllu, 

from there we come, to there we will return. 


Our body is seed. 

We resurge, go through cycles and not die. 

We are fertile grains of abundant harvest, 

the elements live in us, that is how we live.


Ñakchasisa © Yana Lema


Inkarri Kowii

(Otavalo Kichwa)


Runa *


I want to go back 

To my roots, 

To return to my mother, 

I no longer want to be her son

I want to be a part of her, 

I want to be a part of myself

Mother offended and abused, 

I want to feel her pain and suffering

I need to be land once again, 

To be fed by the sun and

The rain, 

To see the moon every night, 

I need to stop being human, 

And turn into everything

And nothing, 

In the subjective of

Existence, 

I want to be tears of the land

I want to be the cry of my

Mother, 

I want to be what I am, 

The being of myth, 

The one of the beginning

Of the story, 

I want to be, 

I want to be runa…


* Runa: people.

Purakilla © Yana Lema


CLOSING WORDS


From diverse realities and different generations, the act of writing in a minority-ized language, or even just the act of writing from ourselves,  is both an act of individual sensitivity and collective political activism. 


While it is true that this poetry contains Hispanic poetic forms, they also wear Kichwa elements that are remembered, rediscovered, and reinvented in the act itself of writing.  

The Kichwa culture has a rich poetic tradition that the very characteristics of the language lend it, and it is not for nothing that the Kichwa/Quechua is considered by some scholars as one of the sweetest languages of the world. 


While it is true that we still need to take advantage of these linguistic benefits, and tend to a more abundant poetic production, the contemporary Kichwa poetry –from my perspective– already has a place-based and symbolic identity, related with its worldview and historic reality, bound strongly to political activism in the defense of memory, culture, territory, and language. Kichwa poetry expands from the ancestral to the present. 


In short, Kichwa poetic production is not homogenous in its aesthetic forms, neither in its contents, nor in the literary quality, even more if we are talking about translation or self-translation, where many authors encounter great difficulties. 


It is equally important to mention that not all of the Kichwa contemporary authors appear in this collection for different reasons. And I must say that sadly the literary production of the majority of these authors is sporadic. In all cases, it is encouraging for me that many Kichwa women and young people are writing, perhaps assuming through art and literature the collective responsibility of our continuity as Indigenous peoples and nations.



About Yana Lucila Lema




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

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


Read more about her here: 6 poems from Tamyawan Shamukupani / Living with the rain


About the translators


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.



From the ancient Appalchian mountains, Anya Skye Tucker has studied at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics, and the University of North Carolina at Asheville. Usually, you can find her scooping ice cream and learning from the beings of the world.