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

About the author:

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


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

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

Tamyawan Shamukupani /Living with the rain

1

chay lusiru kimirimukunmi
kintikunapash ña pawanakunmi

pakchata yallik ñuka shunkupash wakakunmi

chay kanpa shimiwan allpata mutyachishami

wayrapash ñukanchikwan pukllachun sakishunlla

-ama manchaychu

nachu urkukunapash kuyarinmi

nishpami ñuka mamaka- nin

1

Morning star comes by
and the hummingbirds fly around

my heart roars louder than a waterfall

I will water the earth with your lips and mouth

It is time for the wind to play with us

do not fear:

even the mountains
love each other

my mother said

2

ñawpa mamakunapa makikunapi
katik wawakunapa makikunapi

uchilla ninakunashinami
puka mullukunapash

cuentakunapash punchalla rikurinakun

inti llukshinkakaman
inti washakunkakaman tushunka

shunku kushikuchun
kutinpash pukuchiyta ushankapak

2

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

shine golden mullu* shells
like small suns

the silver beads will dance
until sunrise

and sunset

bringing happiness to our hearts
so they flower again

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

3

kunanka ñukawan
ñuka ñawi rikuypi tiyakuy

kanpa maki awayta rikukusha
nachu hawapachapi nina puchkakunapash watarinakun

nachu paykunallatak uchilla ninakunata
ñukanchik shunkukunatapash watachishka

3

Stay now
looking at me in the eyes

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

those hands
perhaps the only ones tying small suns**

for our hearts contentment

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

4

kayna puncha
kayna chishi

kayna tuta

ñuka shuti kanpa shimipi
kanpa llakta ñuka ñawipi

ñawpa ñawpa punchakuna purishkami kashka

ñukanchik makikunapi hapirishka munay
ñukanchik llaktakunamanta makanakushpa puriwan paktay

chay puncha
chay chishi

chay tuta

kanpa shuti ñuka shimipi
ñuka llakta kanpa ñawipi

ñawpa punchakuna purishkami kashka

chiri wayra chawpipi ukllariy
aycha ukupi chay tukuy makanakuykunawan paktay

kunan puncha
kunan chishi

kunan tuta charichishkaka

ñuka llaktapi kan chulunlla
kanpa llaktapi ñuka chulunlla

kunan kunan purishkami kan

uchilla ninakunalla tutapi
shuk makanakuykunapash ñukanchikta tarimushkami

kanta ñukata ñukanchikpa chikan llaktakunapi

4

Yesterday
last evening

the night holding 

my name in your lips
and your land in my eyes

come from very old times

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

the other day
and evening

that night holding

your name in my lips
and my land in your eyes

are a more recent story

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

today
this evening

and the night still holding 

your silence in my land
and your land in my silence

are even a smaller tale

like a night with small suns
guiding our future struggles

for our lands

5

kan ñuka suni akchata llampuchishkata yarinirakmi

ñuka rinripi

kanpa uchilla wankarpash wakakunrakmi


5

I have your hand going through my hair

and in my ears

the sound of your small drum

6

suni akchayuk
raymi kushma churakushka mamakulla

chishikunapi kanta shuyanchik

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

wawakunaman kushikuyta
kanpa mishki shimita apamupay

imashina sisakuna pukuchun tamyata shuyanchik

shina kantapash shuyanchikmi

shamuy sumak tullpukunayuk

kawsak rumikunayuk mamakulla

6

Venerable old lady
long haired lady

Dressed like you are going to the town celebration:

we wait for you
as the evening sets

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

bring your sweet words and happiness
for the infants

we wait for you as the flowers long for the rain

just come, old lady

with your beautiful colors
and your stones full of memories

MORE ABOUT YANA LUCILA LEMA

About the translator:

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

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

CHONON BENSHO, Ucayali, Peru

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

Embroidery

Maya Kené

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

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

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

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


Koros Kené

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

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

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

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


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nane

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


Oil paintings

Jene ainbo

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


Kené Rao Numa

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

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


Samatai jonin nama

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


Rao Nete

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


inin nete

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


Joa nete

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

Shipibo Manifesto
An explanation of the ancestral use of Ayahuasca

Transcript: Yoyokai Conversando

Achu Kantule, Guna Yala, Panama

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

By Juan G. Sánchez Martínez / Translated by Catherine Thompson

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

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

Watch the talk on Youtube

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

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

Check out the collection of molas at the Smithsonian.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learn more about Achu Kantule 

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

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

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

❁❁❁

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

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

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

❁❁❁

Poem 6

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

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

Espi-kjijiteketes,
Ma’jipajita’siw.
Espitutmikewey kina’matneweyiktuk eyk,
Aq kinua’tuates pa’ qlaiwaqnn ni’n nikmaq.

**

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

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

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

❁❁❁

Poem 10

Ai! Mu knu’kwaqnn,
Mu nuji-wi’kikaqnn,
Mu weskitaqawikasinukul kisna
mikekni-napuikasinukul
Kekinua’tuenukul wlakue’l
pa’qalaiwaqnn.

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

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

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

**

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

How frustrated the searchings
of the educators.

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

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

❁❁❁

Poem 14

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

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

Teli-ankamkuk
Nkutey nike’ kinu tepknuset
Wej-wskwijnuulti’kw,
Pawikuti’kw,
Tujiw keska’ykw, tujiw apaji-ne’ita’ykw
Kutey nike’ mu pessipketenukek
iapjiweyey.

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

**

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

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

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

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

❁❁❁

Poem 19

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

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

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

**

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

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

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

❁❁❁

Wenmajita’si

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

**

I am filled with grief

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

PDF: Rita Joe poems English/Mi’kmaq

 THE TRANSLATOR

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

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

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

Poems from Telar Luminario/Weaving Light (2013)

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

PDF: 6 poems from Telar Luminario/Weaving Light

More about the poet:

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

About the translator

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

Daniel A. Molina Sierra- Bogotá, Colombia

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

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

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

Learn more about Daniel’s work