“A Universal Jam”, Teto Ocampo

Ernesto ‘Teto’ Ocampo. Photo credit: Carlos Solano.

Ernesto “Teto” Ocampo. In memoriam (1969-2023)

Interview and comments © Sara Ríos and Juan G. Sánchez M.

Translated from Spanish © Jocelyn Montalban

If you prefer to read this post as a PDF, please click HERE

The crickets and cicadas awake in the night, the rattle follows the rhythm of the jungle, and suddenly a sweet flute, a human blow vibrating within a reed; music born from the longing to follow the vibration of the earth, the percussion of the Amazonian forest. These are some of the images that traverse those who listen for the first time to “La llamada” (The Call), the first track of the album “Copoazú” by Hombre de barro (Mud Man), by the Colombian musicians Ernesto “Teto” Ocampo, Urián Sarmiento, and Juan Manuel Toro. There is no sheet music to follow this paleo-futuristic rhythm, only improvisation, whistling, intermittence, and blowing.

The Hombre de barro album was what led us to interview Teto, at his home in La Candelaria neighborhood of Bogotá in mid-June 2015. Our intention at that time was to publish the interview the same year along with a review of the album, but we never sat down to organize the material. Perhaps, we did not fully understand the ideas that Teto was sharing with us. Years passed, and Teto passed away in 2023. Today, we recover the recording of the interview and share and comment on some excerpts in this tribute by Siwar Mayu to Teto Ocampo and Hombre de barro.

Teto was a composer, arranger, guitarist, and sharu flute improviser. Whether for the reader who is just discovering Teto Ocampo’s work or for those who have been enjoying his projects for years, in the end, it is his music that best explains who this musician from Río de Oro, César (Colombia), was; from the Colombian folk music of “La Tierra del Olvido” (The Land of Forgetfulness) by Carlos Vives to the paleo futuristic jazz of Hombre de Barro and Mucho Indio, passing through the tropical rock of Bloque de Búsqueda and the electronic cumbia of Sidestepper.

↳ “Farewell Teto” is a tribute from Carlos Vives to his friend.

Teto Ocampo was also, or above all, an improviser, as he emphasized in our interview: “When one improvises, one can only play what one plays, what one knows how to play.” For Teto, in the art of improvisation, the sound is free, it connects with the moment as if a voice were dictating to the musician what comes next. Teto improvised, as he explained to us, not only on notes but also on musical modes and phrases; he improvised as if being carried away by a river, “playing music,” not “touching music” (from the Spanish “tocar música”.)

It is precisely improvisation that inspires the album “Copoazú” by Hombre de Barro: “Basically, we are a group of friends who are musicians,” Teto told us, “good musicians who enjoy playing together (…) We are musicians of music. We are improvisers. That comes in large part from jazz.” In 2013, Ernesto “Teto” Ocampo, Urián Sarmiento, and Juan Manuel Toro gathered to play together in the Amazonian forest: “We went for a week, we stayed in a Maloca [ceremonial house], that’s like the civilization (…) Then we went to the middle of the forest where there is nothing, and we set up a camp there with a solar-powered studio, so we could record and we recorded many takes of many things, many hours, every day, for a week.”

↳ HERE you can listen to the album “Copoazú” by Hombre de Barro

The album was recorded with the assistance of Wuapapura Music Stream Earth, who have a solar-powered mobile studio for recording in natural spaces, and with the Fundación Raíces Vivas –a project that works with Indigenous communities in the Amazonian region– who facilitated the intercultural dialogue and the permits for the meeting with the Tikuna community of Puerto Nariño (Amazonas, Colombia). Reflecting on the result, Teto remarked: “We are surprised by what sounds there. We do not even remember playing that. Many were improvisations, let’s say, inspired by the surrounding (…) More than an exchange, it is the musicians finding themselves with the forest (…) The fact of being there and playing was a spiritual performance.”

When one listens to “Copoazú,” one is left with many questions, such as how the decision to undertake this project was made, or what the motivations of the musicians were. This is what Teto shared with us: “It is interesting to go and make music with the jaguar. To make music with the guacharaca and all those birds and insects. It was beautiful. When we entered into a trance with them, it was incredible. At night it was difficult.” The immersion in the Amazon was precisely an encounter with the music that is part of the daily life of the jungle communities. In addition to the flapping of wings or the friction of cicada legs, some songs from “Copoazú” feature the counterpoint of Tikuna songs, performed by Doña Alba Lucía, specifically related to the harvest of the chontaduro (when it is sought out, when it is cut, when it is prepared), and with the seed of the huito, from which body paint is extracted.

As seen in the video prepared by Wuapapura (see below), before venturing into the forest, the musicians worked all night shredding the huito. With its juice, the Tikuna elder painted their bodies and gave them their clans. “It’s like smearing on a mango,” Teto said, laughing. Teto’s clan was the ant, he told us. As the day passes, the paint becomes darker, until it’s “black black” at night: “This is done to enter the jungle. This is done to protect yourself from pests, and so the jungle recognizes you. If one does not have a spiritual attitude and respect, the forest can kill you, spit you out…”

↳ This video was produced by Wuapapura, and gathers some images during the recording of Copoazú in Puerto Nariño.

How does life change after a week in the middle of the Amazonian forest? What remains, what images, what sounds, what thoughts? This is what Teto told us:

“Life changes… all that’s left is gratitude. To be nothing, just an ant in that green sea. Here [in Bogotá] everything is so independent, wandering alone, not caring about friends. But no, not there, if you get lost, you are left alone, no…, there the best thing is to be able to be with your friends. Fire, for example, becomes very important. Many lessons learned.” 

Teto Ocampo

“Was there any existing concept before recording?” was another question we asked, to which Teto clarified that the music we hear on the album is the product of what emerged along with the soundscape of the forest. Some songs were born there, and others were built with arrangements and notes brought from the city. In both cases, the sounds of “Copoazú” seem to mimic the sounds of the forest or, at least, to enter the same rhythm. This is how Teto explained it:

“That was the exercise we were going to do. We are aware that the universe is making music all the time. Every minute there is music, and one can catch it. Music is passing through here, through life, through everything, a man hammering, the church bell, the dog that passed by. Some things are louder than others, the hammer is louder, the dog has pads on its feet and walks on them, but it’s also making sound, it’s just that one does not hear it all at once, but the dog has a rhythm it needs because there’s something over there, another person has a rhythm he needs because who knows what is calling him there, here the minibus stopped and then the guy on the other side honked, and just like this everything is connected. And besides that, it is not just the sound, it’s everything, it’s peace, love, light, tranquility, insecurity, they are cosmic waves that are not only on earth, right? And that is a tremendous power of healing if one manages to enter this rhythm. Music is that capability of healing oneself and of healing others. And that’s the way, making it possible for oneself to enter, and for people to enter into that universal jam.”

Teto Ocampo

The day we interviewed Teto, he received the remastered file of the second album of Mucho Indio, another of his collective projects. At the end of the interview, he left us with his music; and now that we think about it, perhaps we were some of the first ones to listen to the album. It is inspired by the ancestral music of the Ikv, Wayuu, and Nasa peoples, accompanied by paleo futuristic notes and scriptures, which was the methodology Teto used. This is what he shared with us in 2015:

“I have a group called Mucho Indio. (…) (…) Here in Mucho Indio, I’m searching for the spirituality of this music, and I am not so much jazz-oriented, it is more minimalist, much more simple harmonically, less complex. I am looking for the brightness, that does not lose the brightness, because that is music that makes you glow. So there are no solos, very few improvisation solos because that is full of ego, right? It does not have to be like that, but it bothered me, in the end, I ended up discarding the solos.”

Teto Ocampo

↳ Listen HERE to the complete album from Mucho Indio

While we were listening to his music, we told Teto that some tracks by Hombre de Barro and Mucho Indio reminded us of India, and that perhaps there was wordplay precisely between “indio” (as Indigenous) and “India” (the country) to which he responded: “What Hombre de Barro or Mucho Indio have most in common with Indian music it is not the music, not the melody, not the rhythm, but the purpose, they resemble each other in purpose, which is not like Western music, whose purpose is blurrier, its purpose doesn’t seem to be spiritual (…) The songs of the Indians [Indigenous peoples] are for making invocations, not for playing just anything, so in that way they resemble each other.”

At this point of our interview, Teto told us that, in addition to his cumbia heritage, seventy percent of his personal archive consisted of music from Africa, India, Turkey, and Mongolia; non-Western sounds. And amidst all of this: jazz. For him, it was essential to emphasize that Bogotá was an avant-garde jazz city: “a lot of people making very unique music, something terrific is happening here and people do not know.” For him, Bogotá had a jazz scene far superior to what can be found in other jazz cities in the world: “Every time I give an interview I say that because I am interested in people knowing. There’s an education problem here.” Bogotá jazz musicians perform alchemy with their music through experimentation with Indigenous or folk songs, producing or “liberating” creative paths. In this urban crosscultural space, minimalism and spiritual quests serve as the bridge between diverse musical traditions. Beyond harmony, rhythms, styles, and genres, Hombre de Barro and Mucho Indio demand from the listener an experience that surpasses mere listening, a sensory experience that speaks to us of non-human languages. As Teto told us:

“The music of powerful plants, for example, that’s not in the books, that can only be created by making music and ingesting plants. I think there are many people who are making new music, incredible music here, that I believe are making that music because they have taken yagé, like Toro, Urián, Héctor Buitrago, people who are in the ceremony, who know what a ceremony is and why people are in the ceremony ingesting plants. One ingests plants to heal, and the music one makes after healing is to share that healing and heal others as well. So that’s the thing, at the end of the day, it is healing. That’s it. Music can heal, and if music can heal, music must heal. I mean, I do not want to make music that makes people sick, why would I want to… So I do my best to make music that heals.”

Teto Ocampo

Throughout the musical legacy that Ernesto “Teto” Ocampo left, we can travel around the world and perceive how everything is connected through sound. One of the musician’s pleasures was precisely to record the soundscapes he encountered on his travels: “Sunrise is great because the birds sing, and you realize the tremendous difference between one place and another.” Thus, through the music of life, we learn to perceive and recognize the territory we inhabit as humans; the pleasure lies in making music that resonates with these soundscapes.

From music to territory and identity, at the end of our interview, Teto gifted us a reflection beyond music, one that touches creativity in all its directions, as well as Colombian and Latin American identity in all its wounds and futurities. Speaking about the struggle of the Indigenous peoples of the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, and how they have known how to resist, but also dialogue with the settler, he told us:

“…I committed myself about ten years ago to reclaiming the sacred territory, not only that of the Sierra, but now meditating on what sacred territory is. It is not just the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta and those farms. Sacred territory is music, it is sound, or not just sound, but what lies behind the sound, I mean that spiritual purpose. What is the spiritual purpose if we don’t know? Ah, well, it might restore many things, languages, concepts, weaving, food, medicine, natural law, rights, family, life in the community, the maloca, the mamo [the elder], and his political leadership. That’s where music was left with its fair share. So the music I make does that, because I am committed to that cause, which is political, philosophical, historical, and music is its language. So I make music that is political even though it does not have to speak. That politics is the new mestizaje. It is the reverse of the mestizaje. Here, there was a biological mestizaje, but there was no cultural mestizaje. The Spanish raped the Indigenous women, and they forced their children to live as Spaniards, but second-class Spaniards, they did not let them into their house, so I am creating the new mestizaje, based on respect, on the power of coming together, of bringing two things together…”

Teto Ocampo

We are left with that invitation, Teto, to reclaim the spiritual territory; to create music, fabrics, poems, films, and dialogues that help us remember who we are and who we can be. That is a great political act. Thank you, brother, and have a good journey towards the brightness.

For more about Teto Campo, Hombre de barro, and Mucho Indio

For more about the interviewers

Sara Ríos Pérez 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.

Juan Guillermo Sánchez Martínez was born in Bakatá/Bogotá, in the Colombian Andes. He coordinates the online multilingual anthology and exhibition Siwar Mayu, A River of Hummingbirds. He has published several books of poetry, including Uranium/Uranio (Japan 2023). He works on the crossroads between Indigenous art, literature, and science. He recently co-edited the open-access volume Abiayalan Pluriverses. Bridging Indigenous Studies and Hispanic Studies with Gloria E. Chacón and Lauren Beck (Amherst College, 2024.) He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Indigenous Learning at Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, Canada). 

About the Translator

Jocelyn Montalban was born in Ontario, Canada, where she currently resides. Her parents immigrated to Canada from Guatemala City in 1997. In 2023, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in criminology from Lakehead University (Ontario, Canada). She is currently studying to obtain a master’s degree in Social Justice Studies. Her research focuses on Indigenous issues in Canada. In her free time, you can find her traveling or hiking in the mountains.

Un jam universal. Teto Ocampo © Sara Ríos an Juan G. Sánchez Martínez ~

Siwar Mayu, May 2024

A Universal Jam © Translation by Jocelyn Montalban

Art as Self-Discovery and Healing. Joseph Lane

Turtle Island © Joseph Lane

Interview and comments © Jocelyn Montalban

Original art © Joseph Lane

If you prefer to read this as a PDF, please click HERE

Joseph Lane Nindiznikaaz (Nin-Di-Shni-Cause) is an Ojibwe artist from Thunder Bay, Ontario Nindoonjibaa (Nin-Dough-n-ji-Baa). Joseph attended the Visual College of Art and Design (VCAD) in Vancouver, British Columbia where he was able to explore various art mediums including traditional 2D animation, storyboarding, sculpting, 3-D modelling, and life drawing. Joseph graduated as a rigger in 2016. A rigger is a professional in charge of creating and configuring the control systems that allow characters and objects to be animated in an animated production. A rigger is essential to bringing characters and objects to life in the animated world, ensuring they can move expressively and believably. Today, Joseph creates art pieces digitally using the ProCreate graphic design software. Throughout his journey, Joseph has discovered the power of art as a critical tool for personal expression, healing, bridging cultures, and as a catalyst for community engagement. 

“I am a 32-year-old Ojibwe artist. When I was young, I never thought that my doodles in my school notebooks would turn into me becoming an artist selling my work. I grew up as an urban youth born in Brampton, ON, and moved back and forth from Thunder Bay, until I moved here at the age of 12, so I had very little exposure to my Indigenous culture growing up. Growing up we didn’t have much, my mom was always working, my father was always working but was in and out of my life for the first 15 years. My Kookum (Grandmother) on my father’s side was MaryJane Mainvillle, she was a survivor of the Residential school system.”

Joseph Lane
Turtle © Joseph Lane 
“This past summer I had purchased a turtle shell from a vendor at a pow-wow. I looked for what animals I could see in each shell. This is the shell I chose. This is to show just how beautiful and artistic the world around us is. I may have changed some of the lines on the turtle’s back but If you look at the actual shell you can see the image.” Joseph Lane

I met Joseph in February via a video conversation, during which he discussed the life experiences that brought him to where he is now in his creative path. He eloquently expressed how digital art has become an integral part of his life and has helped him deepen his connection with his Indigenous culture, something that was not always prevalent growing up as an Indigenous youth in an urban environment. It was not until Joseph began this journey of growth by way of art that he started to unearth the buried parts of his trauma, thus gradually crafting together the mosaic of his healing process.

“My family has struggled with generational trauma due to the residential schools; this caused a lot of issues with my cultural identity at a young age, especially growing up in an area like Brampton where there are multiple cultures. When I was younger, I was always taught “Someone has it worse than you”. Although this is true in certain circumstances, it reinforces minimization of personal struggles, suppressed emotions, perpetual comparison, and self-criticism. It wasn’t until I started this art journey that I began to heal from all my trauma.”

Joseph Lane
Ying & Yang © Joseph Lane
“This piece is inspired by another culture. To me the symbolism in the yin and yang design, it’s all about balance. In my culture, it is represented as the Medicine wheel.”  Joseph Lane
Nipi © Joseph Lane
“This is a piece I made to enter a contest called “water is life”. I did not win unfortunately but this piece represents how water is essential to life. From the newborn child in its mother’s womb, to the smallest turtle in the pond, to the man on the moon, Everything is affected by water.” Joseph Lane

As countries worldwide confronted the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, a period of uncertainty and disarray, life for Joseph underwent an unexpected turn, marked by great loss and personal anguish. Amid the backdrop of global upheaval, Joseph was presented with two harrowing events that would alter his trajectory. 

“Fast forward to the beginning of the pandemic, I had two major events happen in my life. My cousin Eddie ended up going missing, we spent two weeks searching through the bush. His remains were found the following spring only 10 km from where we were looking but in the opposite direction. During this time, we had an elder with us (for me, what I learned is that an elder is someone in the community with a great spiritual connection with A-ki [the land] and the creator). We had found what we believed to be a sasquatch (Sabe – “Saw-bay”) footprint. I’m a size 13 foot and this was at least 1 inch longer than my shoe. The elder wanted to see the print, he offered a song that he said he was gifted from Sabe in a dream. This was an incredible experience, the trees and wind just carried the elder’s voice. When the elder first began to sing, you could hear something big walking in the bush line, it walked until it got to just out of sight, sat down. It listened to the elder’s song, got up, and walked further into the bush. 

This experience is what started my art journey, but at this point, I was still unaware how much this would really ignite the artistic side of me.

During the first year of the pandemic, I suffered a ruptured disc in my back, this caused me to be bedridden for almost a full year. While still dealing with what had just happened the summer before, this caused me to fall into a very deep depression. I was put onto medication, but this only made my situation worse. I missed a dosage, and it caused me to reach that ledge of making a choice. It was during that split second I decided I wasn’t done, I ended up weaning myself off the medication and started to draw. This was when I started to see how healing art can be, and it doesn’t even have to be good art, that will come with time.”

Joseph Lane
Lonely © Joseph Lane
“This piece was one of my first pieces I really enjoyed. It allowed me to reflect on my life. This was at the point where I reached that ledge. I felt so alone. This isn’t a sad piece, it represents a sad time, but it also shows strength and resilience, to seek out different forms of healing and work through the trauma. I think to me this piece was to show people that you are not alone in your journey, do not be afraid to ask for help.” Joseph Lane

Reflecting on the progression of his artistic journey, Joseph recalls the humble beginnings of his artistic endeavours with humility and appreciation. The distinction between his early pieces and his present array of creations serves as a moving reminder of the transformational power of perseverance and fervour. While revealing the continual hurdles caused by recurring back problems, Joseph finds consolation and strength in his capacity to overcome hardship and has since rediscovered his enthusiasm for sports and physical fitness. Emboldened by his artistic development, Joseph has ventured into new creative worlds, shifting from digital art to the tactile medium of painting, while also pursuing further education to become a teacher. 

Growth © Joseph Lane
“This is one of my pieces I did for pop culture. It was made when season 2 of the Mandalorian was released. It was to show the growth in the character and how he was able to strengthen his connection to his “culture”. I also found out recently that Star Wars is actually based on Indigenous stories.” Joseph Lane

Concentrating on the influence of his creative journey, Joseph acknowledges its dual purpose as a catalyst for personal healing and a channel for building meaningful connections within the community. Joseph considers his art as a passport to inquiry, which allows him to go to different regions and immerse himself in the vast tapestry of world cultures and artistic traditions. Driven by a genuine desire to elevate and empower others, Joseph sees his art not just as a form of personal expression, but also as a platform for advocacy and social change, hoping to leave an everlasting mark of kindness and compassion behind. 

“My art has not only allowed me to start my healing journey, but it has also been able to make so many connections in my life and allow me to become a humbler person. My aspirations for my art are to travel, I would love to be able to travel to different communities and learn about other cultures and art forms. I enjoy being able to make money off my art, but it is not my goal, I enjoy meeting people and sharing stories. Having people come back to my booth and tell me how much they enjoy my art is an amazing experience. I also want to become a voice and advocate for people, my overall goal with my life is to help others succeed and make life better for all.”

Joseph Lane
Un-named © Joseph Lane
 “This piece I never gave a name to. The intention was not to make a piece to sell but to make a piece that could show people how my brain works when I look for animals inside of others. My art is a conversation piece, I want people to see things that maybe even I missed.” Joseph Lane

Joseph Lane’s story serves as a poignant reminder of the transformational power that comes from embracing one’s artistic path. As he continues to navigate the complexity of life and artistry, Joseph encourages others to follow their artistic pursuits, believing that each person possesses the capacity to weave beauty and significance into the fabric of existence. With this philosophy as his guiding light, Joseph encourages everyone to find their medium, explore freely, and revel in the delight of the artistic experience.

Joseph reminds us…

“Art is all around us, EVERYONE is an artist. If you want to get into any art form, just do it. Don’t be afraid to “fail.” It’s through our failures that we learn. Even the greatest artists in the world all started from stick figures. You just need to find your medium. Explore, and enjoy the journey.”

Miigwetch bizin-da-wiyeg (Me-gwitch, Bi-zin-da-we-yeg)!

For more about Joseph Lane

About Jocelyn Montalban

Jocelyn Montalban was born in Ontario, Canada, where she currently resides. Her parents immigrated to Canada from Guatemala City in 1997. In 2023, she obtained a bachelor’s degree in criminology from Lakehead University (Ontario, Canada). She is currently studying to obtain a master’s degree in Social Justice Studies. Her research focuses on Indigenous issues in Canada. In her free time, you can find her traveling or hiking in the mountains.

Art as Self-Discovery and Healing. Joseph Lane © Jocelyn Montalban

Original Art © Joseph Lane ~ Siwar Mayu, April 2024.

Memory of the Skin-people, Hubert Matiúwàa

© Translated by Paul M Worley and Melissa D Birkhofer

The yopes: Mbo xtá rída/Skin-people

During the Pre-hispanic period, the Mè’phàà language was known as Yopi, and its speakers were called Yopes or Tlapanecos, a name derived from the cacicazgo or chiefdom where they lived. Tlapaneco became the most important name for official histories, given that the name Yope became associated with a group of rebels whose Yopitzingo chiefdom was able to maintain its independence during the era of Mexica expansion and staged numerous bloody rebellions in the defense of its territory during the colonial period.

These cultures were named from how they were known: their economic activity, the characteristics of where they lived, and important events that happened to them. This is how they became toponyms that understand their territorialization. Following this logic, the place where the Yopes lived was called Yopitzingo, and Tlappan-Tlachinollan was where the Tlapanecos lived. 

In his Historia general de la Nueva España, Fray Bernardino de Sahagún states that the Tlapanecos and the Yopes are one in the same:

The Yopes and the Tlapenecos are from the region of Yopitzinco; they are called Yopes because their land is called Yopitzinco, but they are also referred to as Tlapanecos, which means, “rusted men,” because they are that color. Their idol is called Tótec Tlatlauhqui Tezcatlipuca, which means, “colored idol,” because the clothing it wears is red. The idol’s priests wear the same color, as does everyone else in the region. They in particular are rich, and speak a different language than the one spoken in México.  (Sahagún, 1830, p 135). 

En Mè’pàà, mbúinùù means “rust,” which is surely what they used to paint their faces, as in the representation of several Yope people seen in the Tudela Codex1. Painting one’s face also held a religious meaning, but we don’t know if this was widely practiced, as in the two volumes of the Azoyú Codex Tlapanec people are not represented as being painted. In other codices dealing with Nahua history, a mask covering one’s eyes symbolizes the morning star (Venus), which coincidentally is associated with the oldest lineage of Tlapanecos: “called Quahiscalera or Tlahuiscalera (lords of the “dawn” or “sunrise”) that probably goes back in timbrine to the rulers of Temixlican…that lineage adopted the name Temilitzin” (Dehouve Op. in Gutierrez and Brito, 2014, p. 36). 

Within this logic of naming according to “doing” or “being in a place,” the Yopes were known for rituals that were related to skin, which they performed in ceremonial centers they had established, such as Tehualco or “House of the Sacred Water,”2 where they performed rituals to Xtóaya’ “water skin,” one of the most important deities in their culture. Today Xtóaya’ symbolizes fertility and abundance, and rituals associated with her are related to the earth changing its skin, the dry season, and the rainy season. The dry season is represented by the deity Àkùùn èwè or “Lady Hunger,” who is expelled in a rite that consists of making a doll, binding its feet and hands, and taking it to the river, where it is drowned in the mouth of Xtóaya’. In the creation story, Xtóaya’ is who cared for and brought up À’khà “the sun” and Gùn’ “the moon,” who in turn generated the movement that gave rise to time and made life possible. Xtóaya’ also cures the sick, calms people’s tempers, and brings the rains for planting. The Xtámbaa “Skin of Earth” ceremonies are made to her. 

1 A pictographic manuscript made by Indigenous people in the Colonial Period during the 16th Century.
2 Today this is the most important archeological site in the state of Guerrero.

The contemporary Náhuatl word xipeua means “to peel” or “to skin,” and yopejtle or yopeuhtli means, “to remove.” We can thus infer that Yopitzingo, the town of the Yopes, is related to ceremonies of flaying.

It is feasible that the word “yopi” or “yopime” is a synonym of “xipe” (flayed) and that it is made from the contraction of the Mexican verb “yopehua,” which means “to skin something,” and which can be translated by those who have something flayed from them, i.e. the flayed. It is likely that the Mexica baptized populations in the South as the “Yopi,” those who “remove the skin,” and this may be one of the reasons why they have such respect for them, to the point that they feel that a marriage between their daughters and the Yopis elevates their social standing. (Vidal, 1987, p 11)

Historians mention that the origin story of the god Xipe Ttotec takes place in the territory of the Yope people and that he was worshiped in a number of different cultures, each one reinterpreting Xipe Totec according to its vision of being and doing in the world. For the Mè’phàà the skin is the heart of everything that exists.

However, the group that lives in what today is known as Tlapa de Comonfort, Guerrero, is known as Tlapanecos, a term that comes from Náhuatl. The root of the word has two possible interpretations: the first is that tla comes from tlalli or “earth,” pan is a locative indicating place, and neco, which translates as “dirty” (the origin of the word “neco” is related to chichimeco, which means dirty dog or painted dog); the second definition is that tlapan means “back,” with the word tlapaneco meaning “with a dirty back” or “burned back.” Both words were used and evolved as a pejorative way to refer to the Tlapanecos as “the people with painted faces,” “the people with dirty faces,” “those with filthy faces.” 

The ancient glyph for Tlapa appears on the obverse of folio 3 of the Azoyú Codex, with its toponym represented as a red circle that can be interpreted as “red earth” or “russet-colored earth.” One of the names by which Tlapa is known is “place of the red earth,” and can refer to the activity carried out by its inhabitants, that is, “the place of the dyers.”

In the Mè’phàà language Tlapa is known as A’phàà, a word associated with terms such as A’phàà or “wide” and màtha A’phàà or “wide river,” which can be the origin of this word given that Tlapa is crossed by two large rivers which are today known as the Tlapanec River and the Jale River. From this, we can deduce that the demonym of mbo mè’phàà “the one who is from Tlapa,” can mean, “people of the wide river,” which would be a name that reflects the characteristics of where they live. 

Linguists from the region affirm that mè’phàà may also be derived from the word mix’bàà, which they translate as “dirty,” “painted,” or “blackened,” a characterization of the Mè’phàà that appears in the majority of old documents and which, as previously stated, would correspond to the toponym Tlapa. In oral memory, it is said that the ancient Mè’phàà had the ability to pass through the earth itself. 

The three possible meanings of the word mè’phàà, whether “painted people,” “people who paint,” or “people of the large river,” correspond to the demonym of the place (Tlapa), which given its importance was applied to the people there, the same as Yopitzingo. Through our research here we propose that in the nickname “skin people” which is used for us Mè’phàà, the word xtá “skin” is the origin of the philosophy that unites all the dialectical variants of our language. 

In our region today the place where we live defines the dialectal variant of mè’phàà, as the people who create names for where they live, for example: mbo wí’ììn is the demonym of the municipality of Acatepec, with wí’ììn  meaning “place of reeds.” In Náhuatl, on the other hand, Acatepec means, “hill of the reeds.” People in the municipality of Tlacoapa call it mbo míwíí, which means, “place of chiles,” and which comes from the planting of chiles as an economic activity, such that the demonym corresponds to, “gente of the land of chiles.” In Náhuatl Tlacoapa means, “half of the great cliff,” tlajko-apan “half-canal,” or “place in the middle of the woods,” tlakotl-apan “stick-forest.” 

In the same way, Malinaltepec is where the mbo mañuwìín live, with mañuwìín meaning “place where cords are twisted,” making reference to an economic activity from the past, and so the demonym means, “people from the land of the twisted cord.” In Náhuatl Malinaltepec means, “twisted hill” or “twisted grass.” 

On the other hand, Tlapa has a long history of being under siege. Take the actions of the Mexica army in 1447, for example: 

After 1462, the state of things underwent a qualitative change, as it appears that its leaders negotiated a pact of cooperation with the Mexica, which avoided open war with the Triple Alliance for 25 years and helped double the size of Tlapa-Tlachinollan’s political space. Finally, owing to factional infighting and conflicts surrounding succession, Tlapa-Tlachinollan’s internal cohesion and political unity were weakened, and it was conquered militarily by the Mexica in 1486. (Gutiérrez and Brito, 2014, p. 27)

Following the death of the ruler “Rain” of Tlapa-Tlachinollan, who had diplomatic relations with the Mexica, in 1477, Mexica military incursions intensified. Sources such as the Tlapa-Tlachinollan codices indicate that the conquest of this territory was achieved in the year 7 Deer, or 1486. For their part, according to Sosa and Michel (2012), Mexica sources mention, “the sacrifice of Tlapaneco captives in the temple of Huitzilopochtli.” In addition, “The Annals of Cuauhtitlán state that on the date 7 Rabbit, said captives were taken during the conquest of Tlapa. The Mexica year 7 Rabbit would correspond to the Tlapaneco year 7 Deer or, as said before, 1486” (pg 14). 

Mè’phàà, Náhuatl, and Ñuu Savi cultures all converged in Tlapa, each one with its own political system, confronted by expansionist conflicts and constituting a “large, highly complex political unit […] that extended across some 4000 to 6000 square kilometers” (Gutiérrez and Brito, 2014, p. 27). At the time of the Mexica invasion, Tlapa could not unite politically and militarily to defend itself. By comparison, Yopitzingo was distinctly Mè’phàà and was able to remain an independent kingdom.

Illustration by Víctor Gally

The Yope, who from oral histories we have referred to as mbo xtá rídà or “skin people,” and the Tlapanecos or Mè’phàà from Tlapa, have diversified their forms of resistance, first in opposition to Nahua expansion and then in opposition to the Spanish: 

Ten years after the Conquest, the insurrection of the Tlapanecos certainly did not make life easy for the encomendero of Cacahuatepec, don Diego de Pardo. In March 1531 don Diego wrote to the México’s accountant, Rodrigo Albornoz, to inform him of the rebellion. When he asked the Tlapanecos, “Why they are doing so many terrible things,” “They responded by asking me why I asked them to say anything, that I didn’t know that they had never wanted to serve Moctezuma who was the great Lord of the Indians, so how could I expect them to now serve the Christians; they had always had wars, and they preferred to die in them and so show who they are.3

3 From a document found by Francisco del Paso y Troncoso in the Spanish archives. Published by the National Museum of México on the occasion of the First Congress of Mexican History in 1933. It can be found in Paso y Troncoso (1905) Suma de Visitas de los Pueblos, in Papeles de la Nueva España, Madrid, t.I.

According to the evidence found in the Azoyú codex, we can infer that the Mè’phàà had been engaged in a war of resistance to defend their territory well before the colonial period. There is a sustained memory of the invasion, and the terror and fear have passed from the Prehispanic period down to the present. The war now is for control of the territory on the part of narco-traffickers and extractivist multinationals. 

Knowing our history enables us to understand the relations of power that shaped the identity of our People, which is why we are invisibilized and denied by official history. Our history was stigmatized and an alternative narrative was created to divide the Tlapanecos and the Yopes, as if they were distinct cultures, erasing their past and negating the memory of their long history of resistance. 

When the priests came to evangelize our culture during the colonial period, the Mè’phàà People who did not convert to Christianity were called devils, cannibals, or people who skinned others, and for this reason, they were killed. Given that they continued their resistance, a narrative of hate was created around them, with the priests feeding this terror to prevent the distinct Mè’phàà communities from allying with one another, and under these Manichean tendencies, they marked the history of the Peoples who rebelled against evangelization. 

Memory of the Skin-people

In oral memory, they say that there existed the mbo xtá rídà (from the Mè’phàà: mbo “people,” xtà “skin,” ridáá “hanging” or “intertwined”), who spoke a variant of ancient Mè’phàà and had the ability to stretch out their skin. There are innumerable horror stories about them. For example, they say these people would ask to stay the night in someone’s house and would stretch out one of their ears to make their bed, stretch out the other for a blanket, and when the night was over they’d get up to steal children and eat them. 

Oral narratives exist for a reason and have a purpose: to turn memory into action. The hate towards the Yopes that was fomented ended up demonizing their rituals, in which they flayed their enemies in combat. Dressing themselves with that skin gave rise to a number of stories, stories that sought to colonize the collective imagination of the survivors of the town of Yopitzingo such that they would be persecuted and murdered by their own people. 

Today mining companies have an interest in the region where the Mè’phàà people live: 

Over the past few years, the territories of the Indigenous Peoples of the Mountains and Costa Choca in Guerrero have attracted the interest of the mining industry owing to the 42 mineral deposits found there. The Federal Government has granted around 38 different 50-year concessions to companies to undertake the exploration and exploitation of the Mountain region’s mineral wealth without taking into account the rights of the Nahua, the Mè’phàà, and the Na Savi. According to the mining titles 200,000 hectares have been given over to the mining industry, all of which are currently being explored. (Tlachinollan, 2017, p 6)

And even though some towns have sought relief from these activities, as in the case of San Miguel del Progreso,4 which was the first town to successfully defend itself against the mining industry in México, the problem continues as these mining concessions have not been definitively canceled.

4 For more information, see: Tlachinollan. (January 28, 2022). Informe. Júba wajín: Una batalla a cielo abierto en la Montaña de Guerrero por la defensa del territorio y la vida. 

As these mining projects are carried out,5 and as has happened in other parts of the state of Guerrero where the mining industry operates,6 they will displace the region’s inhabitants, introduce organized crime, prohibit forms of worship, agriculture, and hunting, all of which will end up impacting and destroying the knowledge and identity of our communal way of life. 

5 Tlachinollan. (28 de enero de 2022). Mapa de proyectos extractivos de minería en Guerrero y en la Costa-Montaña. 

6 Mining companies that operate in Guerrero are: Leagold, Gold Corp, Newmont, Minaurum Gold, Newmont Vedome Resources and Hochschild Mining, Torex Gold Resources. Considered until 2015, “The largest gold mine in Latin America and the foremost source of gold on a national level, it is located between the towns of Mezcla and Carrizalillo, Guerrero.” It is one of the zones with the highest rates of violent crime committed by gangs who coexist with the state-sponsored armed groups and are under the protection of the police. 

In 2012, on being confronted with the threats of extractivism and the sacking of natural resources, the Consejo Regional de Autoridades Agrarias en Defensa del Territorio (CRAADT; Regional Counsel of Agrarian Authorities in Defense of the Land) was formed in the Mè’phàà community of La Ciénaga, in the municipality of Malinaltepec, and is a model organization in the struggles for land in México. 

In the Mountains, you are constantly subjected to harassment by paramilitaries, the military, and criminal groups, who use violence to dispossess people of their land. These groups are employed by the mining companies to displace entire communities, sowing terror and death, so that they can finally take control of the territory. And even though in the Mountains, where Xtóayà’ lives, people continue to resist and control these groups of criminals (which exacerbates the violence along the border), we, the people who live here, ask ourselves, “for how much longer?”

We must add to this context the ruptures and violence that occur within communities, conflicts over boundary lines, violence, machismo, the inequality that gradually leads to femicide, and daily beatings that become embedded illnesses that end the lives of women. 

Similarly, the division caused by political parties generates ruptures in communal thought, as each party seeks power and seats in the assembly where relationships of friendship and camaraderie are controlled. This generates tears in the fabric of the community and therefore the common good, which prevents us from confronting collective problems and facilitates the dispossession of our lands and local knowledges. 

Illustration by Víctor Gally

We must rethink the relations of power and how we have normalized them within our communities. Our struggle to revindicate and defend our territory requires us to come together in the fact of communal social injustice. To do this, we must understand our history as much as possible and put the official story of colonization on trial, questioning the stories from oral memory to re-educate ourselves, bring evidence against, and denounce the local caciques who have corrupted the power within our communities. It is necessary for us to think from ourselves, as xtá “skin” who care about resolving the problems confronting our community.

Our ancestors survive in each one of us, in every action that we take to dignify life itself, the heart of the mbo xtá rídà still beats in the voices of the mountains, and in the histories of the many Peoples who continue to defend themselves against organized crime and extractivist industries. 

For more about Hubert Matiúwàa and the Skin-people

About the translators

Melissa D. Birkhofer is a settler scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor in the English Department at Appalachian State University where she teaches courses on Latinx and Indigenous Literatures. She co-authored the article “She Said That Saint Augustine is Worth Nothing Compared to her Homeland: Teresa Martín and the Méndez Cancio Account of La Tama (1600)” published in the North Carolina Literary Review with Paul M. Worley. Her article, “Toward a Feminist Latina Mode of Literary Analysis in Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents,” was recently published in Convergences. She was the founding director of the Latinx Studies Program at Western Carolina U and is a co-director of the e-journal Label Me Latina/o

Paul M. Worley is the Chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Appalachian State 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.

El cómo del filosofar de la gente piel © Hubert Matiúwàa

Siwar Mayu, March 2024 ~

“The Yopes”, and “Memory of the Skin-people” © Translated by Paul M Worley and Melissa D Birkhofer

Seven poems, by Gloria Cáceres

From Musqu Awaqlla (2021), and Yuyaipa k’anchaqnin (2015) © Gloria Cáceres Vargas

Selection, and translation from Quechua © Fredy Amílcar Roncalla

If you prefer to read this as a PDF, click HERE

Gloria Cáceres Vargas is an Andean educator, narrator and poet. In Peru, she has worked as consultant for the Intercultural and Bilingual Education Office of the Ministery of Education, and as Dean of the Social Sciences and Humanities at Enrique Guzmán y Valle National University of Education. In Paris–France, she has offered Quechua courses at the National Institute of Languages and Civilizations (INALCO); as well as Spanish and Latin American civilization courses at the University of Paris 3 Nouvelle Sorbonne, and the University of Cergy-Pontoise. She has published Reqsinakusun (1996), Munakuwaptiykiqa (2009), Wiñay susqayki (2010), Yuyaypa k’anchaqnin / Fulgor de mis memorias (2015), and Musqu Awaqlla / Tejedora de Sueños (2021). She translated into Quechua Warma Kuyay and other stories (2011) by José María Arquedas. The following poems from her last two books were selected and translated from Quechua to English by Fredy Amílcar Roncalla. The eroticism of this poetry–attentive to the voices of the wind, the rain and the sacred mountains, Apus–empowers the voice and body of Andean women, and the richness of the Quechua language to sing them.

Puquy mitapa saqaqay rapinkuna

Puquy mitapa saqaqay rapinkuna
Vivaldipa musikanman
Hanaq pachapa waqaynin chay puquy mitapi
maypi urmasqa rapikuna
llimpisqa pampata awanku
yupiyta chaskinanpaq.

Violinkunapa tunadanwan
sunquypa patpatninkunawanpas qispirimuni 

kuskasqa chakiywan tusunaypaq
chay llimpillasqa pampapi.
Sallqa sunquytaq
kuyakuyta munapayaspa
Hatunkaray tunada
puriykunata huk kitiman
Chaypim arpapa violinpa
miski waqaynin
llaqtaypa uchuk paqchanpa
musikanwan musquchiwan.

Aysachakuq musikam,
Vivaldipa wata mit’ankunawan
karumanta hamuspa
ama waqaspalla, niñachay
sunquyta ninku.
Huk puquy mitapa rapinkuna, mawk’ayaspaña
wayrawan maymantachá hamunku.

Fall sounds

Gentle sounds of autumn
fill me with
Vivaldi’s music.
Falling leaves of celestial sounds
weave a colorful tapestry
for my steps.

This realm of color
is where my feet dance happily
following violin melodies
and my wild heart
yearns for love beat
by beat.
This great song
brings my path to realms
where sweet harp and violin notes1
remind me the sounds
of my town’s small waterfall.
That uplifting music
makes me dream about Vivaldi’s stations
while your distant memory
comes around and says
Don’t cry no more, dear.

Suddenly aged
the autumn leaves
travel with winds
from unknown places.

1 Most indigenous traditional music in Peru is played with harp and violin. It is also said that musicians learn their melodies in sacred waterfalls (translator’s note.)

Parapa sunqun tapsikun 

Parapa sunqun tapsikun
chillikukuna mana usyaq
llakinta takiptinku.
Parapa sunqun llakikun
pisqukuna qasikayta maskaspa

Parapa sunqun upallakun
timpupa marqankuna
mana llakikuspa muyuykachaptinku.
Parapa sunqun kusikun
killa hunt’api mana samaspa

Ñuqataq, parapa sunqun kayta munani
qamwan musqukunaypaq.

The rain’s heart trembles

The rain’s heart trembles
when the crickets
sing their infinite despair.
The rain’s heart is saddened
when the birds leave
looking for peace.

The rain’s heart becomes silent
when the arms of time
turn around over and over.
The rain’s heart gets happy
when we dance under
the full moon.

And I want to be the rain’s heart
to dream about you.

Parapa llimpin

¿Ima llimpiyuqmi para qaraykiman chayaptin?
¿Ima llimpiyuqtaq ñuqapa qarayman chayakuptin?

¿Ima llimpiyuqtaq llimpikuna kachachaykunapas,
pukllaysapa kuyakuyninchik tinkuptinku?

Huk kutikunaqa parapas ninapas kanchik,
hukkunataq qawapayaq mancharisqa phuyukuna.

¿Ima llimpiyuqtaq pacha, para wayllukuptin
kuskachakuq kusikuynin tusuchiptin?

¿Ima llimpiyuqtaq mayu llapanta aytiptin
para mana riqsisqanman ayqikuptin?

Huk kutikuna wayrapi puqpu kani,
hukkunataq llimpipa llipipiqnin.

¿Ima llimpiyuqmi qiwa chaskiwaptinchik,
maypi kuyakuyninchik maytukuyta maskaptin?

¿Ima llimpiyuqtaq manchakuyniy munakuyniypas
kawsaypa k’anchaqnin wañukuchkaptin?

Huk kutikuna hanaq pacha uqhusqa ch’imsikunawan
rupayniykunata qasillachin.

Rainfall colors

What is the color of the rain when it reaches your skin?
And what color is it when it reaches mine?

What is the tonality when our sparks and color
get mixed in our playful loving encounters?

Sometimes we are rain and fire,
and some others shy clouds afar.

What is earth’s color and the loving rain
when they dance their encounter happily?

What is the color of the river that cleans everything
after the rain leaves to unknown places?

Sometimes I am an air bubble,
and some others a spark of color.

What is the color of the foliage that welcomes us
when our passion seeks shelter?

What is the color of my fears and tribulations
when the light of life fades away?

Sometimes the universe calms my fire
with subtle humid gestures.

Now the rain has arrived dressed in light
illuminating my solid shadow
and bringing the messages of the Apus.2

Infinite rain of color!
Your heart is the color of the one who loves you,
generous and beloved rain.

2 Apu refers to the local gods, mostly guardian mountains (translator’s note.)

¿Pitaq kani?

k’anchaptin llantuyta maskakuni
qawarikuspa k’atatani
ch’in niqpi sunquykita

Intipa sunkanpi
musquyniy k’añakun.
Hanaq pachapa llimpi uchpakuna
tuta cayanankama mayt’uykuwan.

Urqukunapa kallpan
mana llakikuspa saqiwan.
kachiyuq wiqiywan
chinkaq yupiykunata aytini.

Mana usyaq kusikuywan
tusustin suyayki.

Yachankiñachu kunan
¿pitaq kani?

Who am I?

I look for my shadow when the light shines,
and tremble seeing myself.
I hear your heart

My dreams burn
in the sun.
Colorful ashes in the sky
cover me until nightfall.

The power of the mountains
depart mercilessly.
I rinse my lost steps
with salty tears.

I am waiting for you with a dance of infinite joy.

Now, do you know who I am?


mayuqa karunchakuspa
qasilla tukuq

Ichaqa chayqa

Mana imanaykiqa
manañam tapsiwanchu.
Chayqa chipayllam

When I look for you

When I look for you
the distant river becomes quiet
just like your heart.

That is just
a contest
between you
and my desire.

Your indifference
no longer bothers me.
It’s just a trick
to make me want you.

¿Chaypiraqchu kachkanki?

Sichus takyi manaña
iñiq sunquykita takinchu,
Qamqa, huk wayllukunawan.
Ñuqataq, kaypi, qunqayniykiwan…

Mayuhinam kawsay
richkan patpatyastin
sapa muyuriyninpi
K’iriykunata hamp’istin.

¿Chaypiraqchu kachkanki?
Manañam uyariykichu.

¿Ichapas pasapuniña
huk tiqsi-pachaqunaman?

Are you still there?

If my voice no longer
sings to your heart,
What am I to do?
You have other loves
And me, here, forgotten.

My life flows
like a river
trembling in each meander
and healing my wounds.

Are you still there?
I no longer hear you.

Perhaps I have departed
to other realms.

Kaypiraqmi Kachkani

Kaypiraqmi kachkani
Apukunata suyastin.
Karumantam hamuchkanku
sayk’usqa, maqanakusqnmanta.

qichusqa yuyayninchikrayku.

Ichapas nimuwanman
takiy kallpachasqankuta
ichapas munachiwanman
kuyakuq puka rosas waytata.

Tiqsimuyu patanpi
wiñay unanchayninta suyani.


I am still here

I am still here
waiting for the Gods.
They are coming from afar
tired of fighting each other.
They fought
for our dreams
our children
and our dispossessed memory.

Maybe they can tell
if my singing makes them stronger.
Maybe they could make me want
a loving red rose flower.

At the outer limits of the world
I wait for their eternal mandate.


For more about Gloria Cáceres Vargas

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 foundin the virtual ayllu: Hawansuyo Peruvian Bookstore, Churoncalla.com, y Hawansuyo.blogspot.com

From Musqu Awaqlla (2021), and Yuyaipa k’anchaqnin (2015) © Gloria Cáceres Vargas

Selection, and translation from Quechua © Fredy Amílcar Roncalla ~

Siwar Mayu, January 2024

“Dance is My Vocabulary”, Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo

“La danza es mi vocabulario”, Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo © 

Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

Translated from Spanish © Jocelyn Montalban

If you prefer to read this post as a PDF, click HERE

Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo is part of the Kanienkeha:ka nation (Mohawk), and the Kahnawake community, located close to what is today known as Montreal, across the Kaniatarowanenneh river (the big waterway), commonly known by its colonial name “St. Lawrence River.” Barbara is a choreographer, dancer, and director of the A’nó:wara Dance Theatre, where she creates experimental pieces that fuse Indigenous perspectives on Canadian history with powwow and Haudenosaunee dances, contemporary dance, and diverse dance styles such as hip-hop, and ballet. Barbara studied theatre at Concordia University and at the Native Theatre School. In 2015, she was one of eight dancers invited to participate in the first hoop dance competition, as a part of the Gathering of Nations in New Mexico, the largest powwow in all of Turtle Island (North America.) Barbara also collaborates with various organizations, including La Danse sur les routes du Québec and Indigenous Performing Arts Alliance, with whom she facilitates intercultural educational spaces and supports Indigenous artists across all of Canada. 

I met Barbara in the Longhouse of Kahnawake in the summer of 2023, while participating in an intercultural gathering with Kanienkeha:ka artists and educators. As part of the guest speakers, Barbara shared one of her hoop dances as well as a short-movie: Smudge, Dancing the Land. In the fall, we met again–this time virtually–to talk a little bit about her perspective on dance, so we could share her experiences with the Siwar Mayu project:

“…dance can touch people on many levels, not just on an intellectual level, you know, as reading an article. It also can touch people on emotional levels. And maybe you can even say spiritual levels (…) Dance is my vocabulary, the vocabulary where I am very comfortable, so the more words, the more moves that I know, and the better I can express things. These different vocabularies can be read by more people as well, you know. So that’s why I like to mix a lot of styles…”

Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo

As we can experience in her 2017 McGill University performance (see above), coordination and technique converge with color and beat in the hoop dance, all together in the midst of a circular movement of both body and story. Before her performance in Kahnawake, Barbara warned us that everybody in the audience would likely weave a different story throughout the dance, or at least would identify different beings or scenes from the natural world. Indeed, hoop dance is highly narrative, and allows simultaneous times and spaces: a butterfly, a canoe, a harvest, a mother carrying her daughter. In this thought-provoking space, there is a connection with the ancestors and with the land, but–as Barbara clarified to me–in the moment of a performance before a cross-cultural audience, her intention distances from the ceremony, although it is inevitable that some aspects of the ceremony slip through her performance. 

“I have encountered people who would like to keep powwow dance separate from other kinds of dance, and I respect that. To me, there is a value in keeping a more pure form. I also think it’s important to evolve because I think all these dances came from their environment at the time. And, you know, where did that time start? Where did that time end? Is it just a glimpse of a 100 years or a glimpse of 500 years? Who knows, right? We don’t know. So to me, we’re just continuing what we’ve always done, which is creating our dances from our environment in our experience as Indigenous people.”

Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo

Through the transformation of Indigenous cultural expressions, new generations may find an art form which they can identify with, and then receive “tradition” from this dynamic environment. Furthermore, Barbara’s dance is a powerful tool to break stereotypes that classify “Indigenous art” as “folklore,” since these dances are, at the same time, ancestral and contemporary. This aspect is clear in the short-movie Smudge.

Choreographer and dancer: Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo. Director: Pepper O’Bomsawin.
Music: “New Women Song” by Cris Derksen featuring Jennifer Kreisberg.
Dancer and additional choreography: Marshall Kahente Diabo.
Director of photography and promo photo: François Léger Savard. Editor and colorist: Eric Morel.

In the middle of the global pandemic, during the time of social distancing, Barbara had an idea for Smudge, a piece in-between film, dance, and intergenerational healing. While walking in the forest behind her house, she felt the need to dance with the land and to reconnect with the trees and insects through movement and her body. One location of Smudge is that forest. The other location is the McCord Stewart Museum and its “Wearing Our Identity” exhibition, on which Marshall Kahente Diabo, Barbara’s son, tries to reconnect with the pieces and regalia exhibited, out of reach on the other side of the glass showcases. 

“… one of the themes around this film is that when our culture isn’t accessible to us, when the land is no longer accessible to us, what do our beliefs, practices, and ceremonies mean? If you can’t access that, you know, you can go through emotions. But what does that mean? And so to have our clothing, our culture behind glass cases, inside, not outside, I found that was the perfect location.”

Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo

The contrast between the museum and the forest, the son and his mother, the inside and the outside, oblivion and memory, is powerful. Despite this apparent contradiction, both dancers communicate with each other through dance, and build an intergenerational vision: perhaps the certainty that we are all one with nature, and that everything is in a state of movement, the sap of a tree, traditional practices, atoms–as Barbara reminded me. At the end of our short interview, I asked Barbara if she had any advice for the young artists who may one day read this text. In response she said: 

“…we’re all born with gifts, and we’re on a journey to discover what our gifts are. So just be your authentic self, and there is a place, an important place for you.”

Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo

¡Fie Nzhinga, Barbara! Thank you. 

For more about Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo

For more about Juan G.  Sánchez Martínez

Juan Guillermo Sánchez Martínez was born in Bakatá/Bogotá, in the Colombian Andes. He coordinates the online multilingual anthology and exhibition Siwar Mayu, A River of Hummingbirds. He has published the following books of poetry: Uranio (2023), Bejuco (2021), Salvia (2014), Río (2010), and Altamar, awarded with the National Prize in Colombia in 2016 (University of Antioquia). He is the author of Memoria e invención en la poesía de Humberto Ak’abal (Abya-Yala, 2012). In 2019, he co-edited the volume Muyurina y el presente profundo with Quechua writer Fredy Roncalla (Pakarina/Hawansuyo), and he is currently co-editing Abiayalan Pluriverses. Bridging Indigenous Studies and Hispanic Studies with Gloria E. Chacón and Lauren Beck (Amherst College, 2024). He is an Associate Professor in the Department of Indigenous Learning at Lakehead University (Thunder Bay, Canada). 

The translator

Jocelyn Montalban was born in Ontario, Canada, where she currently lives. Her parents immigrated to Canada from Guatemala City in 1997. In 2023, she obtained a Bachelor’s Degree in Criminology from Lakehead University (Ontario, Canada). She is currently studying to obtain a Master’s degree in Social Justice. Her research focuses on Indigenous issues in Canada. In her free time you can find her traveling or hiking in the mountains.

“La danza es mi vocabulario”, Barbara Kaneratonni Diabo © Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

Translated by Jocelyn Montalban ~ Siwar Mayu, January 2024

Tobacco Blood. Javier Jayali

Sangre de tabaco © Javier Jayali. Común presencia, 2023
Tobacco Blood © Lorrie Lowenfield Jayne

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Javier Jayali is originally from Cota (Kundurmarka, Colombia). He is a writer and an educator of literature and orality. He studied Literature at the National University of Colombia. For years, he directed the creative writing workshop Tejedores de historias (Story Weavers) at the Public Library of Cota, from which he published the poetic anthologies Cota se cuenta en copla (2020), Cuerpos y palabras (2021) and Senderos, resiliencias y otros espejos (2022.) Since 2018, he coordinates Fiba we, a research and pedagogy traditional lodge for community practices. He is the founder of the Cota Literature Network (2020-2023), as well as the Andean music collective Sikuris del Majuy (2018-2023.) He is a farmer, cultural organizer, and community leader. The following poems were selected from his book Sangre de Tabaco, a unique volume in the recent literature produced in Bakatá/Bogotá, the fertile valley of the condors, the ancestral Muisca territory.

Kusmuy (House of Thought)

everything has its place and desire
its movement and word
in the house of thought.
all has its story, its pattern
its purge for life and a right to silence.
Everything has its limit too
invincible aloneness, confusion
impossible understanding.
Somewhere someone seeks
reconciliation and a place,
common lineage in the countryside
a lane on the path and the nearness of the hillside.
Someone seeks to exist
seeks their spiritual name
their fish or worm clan
and a sense of their abyss.
Someone seeks a home for their visions
a divining rod for their intuition.
Everything seeks the secret forge
to display their courtship
and their shroud,
the feverish balm
to dance their first dance,
the fertile corner
to share isolation.

There is an open door
the wood spreads out its arms
and the homefire beats like the tongue of a drum:
Welcome, welcome,
to this chink in the finite
though standing so alone
a straw peaked roof on stilts
has been for many dreams
a compendium of the cosmos
a breviary of the dawn
and a library of fires.
The house of thought is open.

Hoska (Rapé)

Be calm
tobacco carries the hummingbird spirit
comes close with its sifted song and pow-
dery feather.
Crosses your nostrils like a gust and aurora
brings present
–echo, buzz–
the beat of its wings pollinates the mind.
Runs through the brain
tames the voices
who lie in wait like angels
and the past eases
and the future awaits.
From its emptiness a crevice greens.
The body feels its own time,

Walking Seated

The tree trunk
my ancestor
whose dream is a place
to go forward sitting.

With my body seated
and my mind walking
I am a a vein of the tree
an appendix of the earth.
And I am
with poporo
with mochila and sash
and spindle in my hand
–and without these things–
with a brilliant breast
collecting stars and silences.

I am also
with my splintered glance
legs bound with veins
tongue forged
with a wrinkled sadness
and fury;
I am upon a ceremonial stool
(an extension of flesh)
heart seated deeply
blood flowing
in front of a fire.

Whole or in pieces
everything and all am I
if I have space to speak
to confide or be silent
strike a chord or call out
because I have body and place
my soul, a seat.

I am, perhaps,
–upon a cosmic stool for musing
drawing on tobacco
telling a tale
or suffering–
vestige of the tree
action springing from thought.


For a long time he tended
a rotten fire
at his walls
a flaming tuber
death sun
that devours amygdalas
and aborts the wind.
within the bloodstained veins
the word
the pyrite word
the obsidian word
the magma word.
The word?
–timid, teimid, tamid–
a fossil preserved
in volcanic urns.
He waited a long time
like a star
that burns as it dies
and as it dies, it names.
In this way the forest birthed the word,
unconscious, crestfallen.
The gorge
was once crater,
laid out and defeated
to whom the hummingbird
offered tobacco seed, tobacco dust
medicine from air
balm from the word.

Flames of fire
now blanket the volcano.

Canopy of Birds

I have in my vertebrae
a canopy filled with birds
who nest and forage
whose songs are presences,
lucid or terrible.

They later throng to my breast
sometimes all of them
sometimes none
and these ones,
these who don’t emerge
who do not migrate through the veins,
or are more like fruits of the tree,
or abstracts,
they also sicken.

Suspended in air
many have died
tremulous with hope;
some others persisted
their feathers turn to air
their latency, idea.

Always, they hope
that from my mouth will stretch forth
the ancient heavenly vine
that binds time to the world;
perhaps a question, a response,
a page and a pen,
a couplet,
a whistle from the wooden flute.
The juices from the coca and tobacco
show the way and free them..

The Rock of Confession

On the mountain, first and foremost, permission
with a barefoot soul, without notions imposed.
I offer yarn and corn husks, I remember the path.
I seek the rock of confession.
I speak with her:
like the primate who only recently descended from the tree
but also like the spores on the fern.
And I come again, as I have come before
I come to surrender, to feed the mountains
and return to the world weightless.
I want to descend lighter,
walking seated, with an empty mochila,
I return.

The andean chameleon glides between the cracks.
The highland eagle passes before the rock.

Fire Dream

Dreaming displays
of those things that have not yet happened
of that which has not yet been
and yet exists.

Smoke seems like
the fire’s dream,
the fire dreams.
He dreams of an open house
of hands spread with sandy clay
of ears of corn
and owls
and Andean colored flags at dusk.

If there are words, the fire rests.
If silence, he dances.

The questions seem to be
the dream of thought,
Thought dreams:
“Which dream do I need?
The tall flame that kindles or frees?
The medium flame that observes and contains
or that slow one that gives out?
The ember that subdues yearning to lethargy
or that one there that calms the suns at the dying of night?

smoke embraces the rays of light.
The fire dreams
the dream of the ancient one:
“another existence exists.“


The sowing season arrives
and the seed falls from the water.
The fist of the universe opens
the rain returns with its outstretched palm.
We put on the plumage of birds
and wait to be born anew.
The sun will wait for us
as it highlights its eternal analemma.
We will be there
and we will know that we’ve said what we never wanted
to say
that we have been unjust with the living
that we have postponed the postponed
that we have seen the river paved over
that our eyes are worn out-diminished.

We have waited for the new sun.
The day lasts as long as the night
and the awakening as long as our fears.
We will make a cosmic contract
and a sowing of purpose:
we’ll ask the voices in our minds to rest
give ourselves time and discipline
consume what is necessary.
We will sink our hands in the ground.
We’ll make an offering.
The equinox sun will watch us be born.


The cord and the placenta
that some sowed and buried
that were robbed from us or that we lost
becomes visible with the thread in our hands
a thread that creates its history of itself
like the ring of a tree
like the myth
like the story of country folk.

The threads and color
knot together
to make a mochila
weave the visible
the memories and the tangible.
Moving inward they weave emptiness
space and form
the invisible:
a grave in the earth
memory to remember
and a query:
What do you want to carry and how much can you bear?
to go through the world
without origin?
The mochila is a placenta
united to its umbilical cord.

For more about Javier Jayali 

About the translator

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

Sangre de tabaco © Javier Jayali ~ Siwar Mayu, December 2023

Tobacco Blood © Lorrie Jayne

Sky Woman Story. Kahente Horn-Miller

Sky Woman’s Great Granddaughters: A Narrative Inquiry Into Kanienkehaka Women’s Identity © Kahente Horn-Miller, 2009.

If you prefer to read this as a PDF, click here

Kahente Horn-Miller is of Akskare:wake (Bear Clan) descent from the Kanien:keha’ka (Mohawk) Indigenous community of Kahnawake, a First Nations reserve located near the city of Montreal, on the banks of the Kaniatarowanenneh (great waterway) known since colonization as the St. Lawrence River. Horn-Miller is an associate professor at Carleton University’s School of Indigenous and Canadian Studies, in Ottawa, Ontario, in the Algonquin Territories, where she is also the first Assistant Vice-president, Indigenous Initiatives. Horn-Miller is a collaborative artist who presented an exhibition entitled “My Mom, Kahntinetha Horn, the ‘Military Mohawk Princess'” at an Ottawa gallery in 2018. 

Horn-Miller’s Sky Woman story is a first-person version of a creation story that has many earlier versions, but never in the first person. This tale, part of the oral literature of the Indigenous people of Abya Yala, is the story of the genesis of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) people. Horn-Miller says that her version came to her suddenly in an intimate moment with her daughter, and she felt a compelling need to write it down. The Sky Woman Story is also part of her PhD thesis (Concordia University, Montreal, Canada, 2009). When presenting her version of the story, Horn-Miller’s performance is quite striking.


Sky Woman’s Story

I am the daughter of the Great Spirit. I am Sky Woman. I was born in the Sky World far above the earth at the beginning of time many centuries ago. As a child I was known as Mature Flowers. I was born with the caul covering my face, which made me very special to my people, the Sky Dwellers. I was expected to do great things. My people believed that I had been born by the way of the spirits and not through a physical act. After my birth I was put into protective seclusion by my mother so that I would grow strong and focused. They call this being hidden under the husk, referring to the protective husk surrounding a cob of corn. My uncle, my mother’s brother, was given the duty to advise me and prepare me for adulthood. When he died his body was put at the top of the Great White Pine tree, where he continued to keep a protective watch over me. When I needed his guidance I would call his name three times and climb to the top of the tree and we would talk.

My life in the Sky World was happy. I remember that there was always enough food to eat and no one ever got sick. There was no jealousy or hatred. Every person I knew had special talents and gifts that were nurtured and used for the good existence of everyone. When I and my brothers and sisters were young my mother would carry her babies on her back in a cradle board and hang it in a tree as she and my father worked alongside the men and women of the Sky World cultivating the corn, beans and squash. When I was strong enough, I began to work in the gardens with everyone else. I learned from all the women, and whom I called ‘mother’. I would also help my mothers and sisters in the preparation of the foods. I never wanted for anything. Everything was provided for us to survive. It is said that all the plants and animals that exist on the earth are the same as the ones that exist in the Sky World.

One day, everyone in the Sky World was summoned by The Keeper of the Celestial Tree or Tree of Light by a messenger who came to the people. When the people went to see him, they were told that a dream needed to be deciphered before the flowers on the tree stopped blooming forever. If this were to happen, there would be darkness that would disrupt creation in the Sky World. After this event great calamity and hardship would come and things would change forever. The meaning of the dream, it was told, would have an effect on everyone in the Sky World. Many people tried to interpret the dream but failed. The Keeper tossed them into a hole near his tree that led to the world below where they were transformed into new beings. My mother went to the council but didn’t bring me as I had asked. As a young adult, I was too distraught at having to be involved in such a great responsibility as dream interpretation. I wanted so desperately to be a child for much longer. I went instead to see Uncle at the top of the Great White Pine.

I walked through the forest, watching the light and shadows through the trees as I thought about the dream and the council. When I arrived, I slowly climbed the Great White Pine. To reach the top took all my strength. I pulled myself up onto one of the topmost branches and I saw Uncle lying there.

“Uncle,” I asked. “What should I do? A very important meeting has been called. The Keeper has asked the People to help him interpret an important dream. I don’t want to be burdened by such seriousness. I am just a child.”

“It is almost time for you to fulfill your destiny,” he told me. “You are almost old enough, you are almost strong enough and you are certainly wise beyond your years. Soon, you will be asked to go to the Keeper of the Tree of Light. When you go, tell him who you are and that you have come to help him. Tell him you have the power to bring new life to the blossoms that light up the Sky World.”

Uncle instructed me that the Keeper and I would look over the things that had been thrown out of the Sky World and were coming to life in the world below. Uncle cautioned me closely.

“Do not sleep on any mat he offers you.”

I looked at Uncle with questioning eyes, but I nodded my head in agreement. Little did I know that once the creative process began, things would change in the Sky World and the world below—Light would dim in the Sky World as light grew below. Only when light began to dim below, then the light would renew itself in the Sky World, which I couldn’t understand. Uncle told me of many other things that would occur when I went to see The Keeper. I listened closely because I trusted and loved Uncle.

This story I am telling you is one that comes from my long memory, the memories of my children, and the collective memories of my many great granddaughters. I can look back on my life and see it with such clarity, as if it happened yesterday. The memories are vivid and still very much alive, kept in the minds and hearts of my descendants. Through them, I pass on my knowledge.

As I climbed down the Great White Pine and walked away back to my lodge, I felt calm for the first time. Shortly after I arrived home, Mother came back from the council.

“We were not able to help The Keeper,” she told me. “So those of us who were left, we talked amongst ourselves. Daughter, we all know you are meant to do something special. People of the Sky World have counseled and we agree that when you are old enough, you are to go to The Keeper of the Tree of Light to help him interpret his dream so that balance and light will remain in the Sky World.” 

I looked at her with wondering eyes but I didn’t question her. Uncle had prepared me for this.

When I was old enough a messenger came from The Keeper, a feast was to be given and I was invited. I went to see the Keeper of the Tree of Light as instructed.

“Who are you?” he asked. “What are you doing? Why are you doing that?”

“I am the girl they call Mature Flowers. I have come to help you as Uncle instructed me.”

I continued.

“I heard you were giving a feast.”

The Keeper seemed to know me as though he had been expecting me. I was surprised when he told me that I was the reason for the feast. He looked at me and smiled.

“You were born with a great gift. You are the Sky World’s only hope of keeping the Tree of Light lit.”

As he said these words, he pointed to the blossoms on the Tree of Light. I looked at them closely, cradling one in my palm. I saw that their beauty and light was dimming. The Tree was beginning to die. I felt saddened by their dimming beauty. I had tears in my eyes.

“How is it that I can help you?”

The Keeper told me to prepare for the feast some mush made from chestnuts that we would eat together. As I was cooking the mush it sputtered and stuck to my body, burning me. I didn’t cry out but whimpered under my breath in pain. My breath came in small short gasps as the white hot searing pain of the burning mush brought tears to my eyes. I held back my tears and continued to push the air through my teeth as I worked to prepare the mush. When it was finished I called out that the mush was ready. When The Keeper saw me, he was shocked to see my burned body.

“The mush sputtered and burned me. I am in pain.”

The Keeper immediately called out two white dogs that came forward and licked the mush from my body. As the dogs’ tongues cleansed my body I remained motionless and didn’t wince. With the dogs’ saliva coating my burned flesh, I began to feel less pain and my skin began to heal quickly. Their work brought me peace.

When I was well enough, I brought the mush into The Keeper’s lodge and we sat to eat. We ate. As we ate, The Keeper spoke:

“Many people are on their way to play a game called The Little Brother of War.”

“The game will divert my mind from the problems at hand. I will ask that you not speak to anyone who comes to play or to watch the game. If you do this then you can stay.”

I agreed to his request. We finished our food and walked to a clearing a short distance away. As we walked I could hear the voices of the men calling to each other over the field. As the game went on, many of my people came up to speak to me but I remained silent as requested. It was hard for me to do.

After a while, The Keeper asked me to go to the stream and get him some water. I found the stream and crouched at the shore as I filled a wooden bowl. I stood up and as I turned a player came up to me and asked me for a drink. Naturally, I replied that he could have some. Suddenly a cold feeling came over me. I realized that I had broken The Keeper’s request that I not speak to anyone. I refilled the bowl and headed back to The Keeper. He was angry with me for disobeying his request and he sent me back to my mother with instructions.

For more about Kahente Horn-Miller

Sky Woman’s Great Granddaughters: A Narrative Inquiry Into Kanienkehaka Women’s Identity 

© Kahente Horn-Miller, 2009 ~ Siwar Mayu, November 2023

Tuuch, óol, and poetry. Pedro Uc

El ombligo maya, óol, and original poems © Pedro Uc

Selection and translation from Spanish © Melissa Birkhofer and Paul Worley

If you prefer to read this post as a PDF, please CLICK HERE

It is with great enthusiasm that we present this selection of story-essays, and poems by Pedro Uc. As a bilingual writer (Yucatec Maya, and Spanish), Pedro’s translations blurs the boundaries between literary genres and philosophy. In translating word/worlds such as “óol” or “tuuch”, this literature builds a linguistic bridge between two ways of being-in-the-world. By searching for the right expression in European languages to explain ancestral words, Pedro Uc delves into analogies, poetic images, and expands the perception of the reader. The following selection opens with a story-essay about the tuuch, the belly button, the connection of the newborn with the earth; it follows by a “poetic-intercultural glossary” around the óol, being-spirit; and closes with a selection of poetry. 

Siwar Mayu is grateful to the author and the translators for their generosity!

The Maya Belly Button

He cannot control his searching hands, his fingers, nor the threads of the palm as he makes a traditional hat, weaving them together. His feet seem to command him to walk deep into the forest despite how difficult it is. He’s unable to firmly stand on the ground, his eyes are like a pair of guardians in the mooy1, the sacred precinct of the midwife who, with such mastery, and so delicately, takes a piece of warmed cotton and rubs around the belly button of the newborn who in turn seems to appreciate this little bit of warmth around where his life began. The young farmer is a father for the first time, nine long days seemed even longer to wait for one of the most important sowings of his life, the tuuch2 of his recently born son; the knowing look in the gaze of his wife who is a new mother is no small thing. Words seem unnecessary, as their faces speak during the rite of póok tuuch3 held by the Chiich4. All their family, friends, and neighbors know that the ceremony has started and will take a few days. Meanwhile, the aromatic herbs prepare to purify the road that Yuum iik’5 begins to signal the great encounter with Yuum K’áax6 y Yuum Cháak7. Today is the great day where we plant the mystery of life, where we plant the connection with the night so it can dawn.

Jpiil, as they called Felipe in his community, was ready to receive the tuuch of his first son from the hands of Chiich, the grandmother, so he could take it to Yuum K’áax. His parents told him that his own umbilical cord lay in the basin of a cenote, under a huge ceiba tree that seems to be the grandmother of the great jungle. Today it is a place known as a sanctuary where people can carry out ceremonies connected to the life of the milpa.

Our grandmothers and grandfathers say that Mayas like them cannot understand life without the forest, without the cenotes, without the plants, without the rain, without the wind, and without the land, because Maya women and men are born from the land, they are like the trees. The forest is a community, the old trees are the grandparents, but the children and grandchildren are also there, even the newly born. That’s why it is inevitable that we should plant the táab8 that connects human beings with the forest, the wind, and the water. U táabil u tuuch chan paale’ tu ts’u k’áax unaj u bisa’al mukbil ti’al u p’éelili’ital tu ka’téen yéetel le kuxtalilo’9, is how the nojoch wíinik10, the eldest women and men advised us. Once cut from the body, the child’s umbilical cord should be taken immediately to the heart of the forest to the Yuumtsil. It should then be left there to recover its connection with life, so that the new child can be one with the forest, with the milpa, with the water, with the land, and with the wind. 

1 Corner of the house
2 Umbilical cord
3 Warmed umbilical cord
4 Grandmother
5 Father-creator wind
6 Father-creator forest
7 Father-creator rain
8 Cord
9 The child 's umbilical cord should be buried deep in the heart of the jungle so that it can once again be one with life. 
10 Older person who is morally responsible

This is the part of lived Maya spirituality that has been dimmed via colonization today, though it remains alive and even in good health in some communities. Among Maya families, the midwife or even the new mother gives recently born girls and boys the póokbil tuuch between the first three and nine days of life, until the child’s little umbilical cord falls off. It is then carefully wrapped in a piece of cloth, in a banana leaf, in a jolo’och11, or in a bit of cotton and carried off by the father or grandfather to the oldest part of the forest to be planted, maybe at the mouth of a cenote, under a ceiba, or another similarly symbolic tree. 

The point of that rite is to connect the newly born child with nature, with the earth, so that it is never fooled, so that it is never wounded, so that it is never abandoned, so that it is never sold, but lived in and with, so that it is respected, cared for, caressed, and to live communally with her. The child whose tuuch has been planted is naturalized in the territory, is received by Yuum K’áax, by Yuum iik’ and by Yuum Cháak, the child’s flesh is made of corn and its óol is its memory. It will grow under the rain, it will rise up like the wind, it will remain firm like the great ceiba, the great grandmother, which is also a táabil tuuch of the community that has been planted by the Yuumtsil to be the midwife of Maya families, who receives in her lap the grandchildren who arrive like seeds planted among her enormous roots where she broods over them like a hen caring for her chicks under her wings.

The colony has created a new version of this celebration, as has always been the case with strategies of “evangelization,” destroying what is original and building its temple, its theories, its beliefs, its interpretations from the rubble. It affirms that when the child’s umbilical cord is carried off and left in the forest, doing so combats any fear the child might have of bad spirits, monsters who live in the forest. Doing so confronts ghosts and evil winds. 

11 Corn husk

There is nothing more false or violent than this story, as planting the newborn’s táab tuuch in the forest has nothing to do with avoiding fear, but quite the opposite, it is done to reconnect the child with the earth and nature, to make the child a sibling of the birds, the animals, the trees, the water, the night and its knowing silence. Some families plant a girl’s táabil tuuch underneath the ashes of their hearth to reconnect her with the fire, tortillas, food, firewood, the three stones that are the fire’s home. The táabil tuuch is the cord of life, it is the kuxa’an suum12 with which human life is tied to non-humans and the spiritual, it is the union of the particular with the whole and the whole with the particular, and parallels how Maya language itself is born from a discourse that communicates with everything that inhabits our house which is the forest, the milpa, and the land. This is why land is neither sold nor rented, it is the house of our táabil k tuuch, our kuxa’an suum.

The umbilical cord is something the Xtáab shares with us, it is the cord of the Xtáabwáay13,  or the cord of mystery, of the transcendence of life through death, of the satunsat14, of the dark, of the night, where life and light itself, according to the Popol Vuj15 is born, it is where you have contact. This is why many times the newborn’s tuuch is given to a hunter, as someone who can go to the oldest, most mature, purest part of the forest,  as he knows the trails of Yuum iik’ and the house of Yuum Cháak in the heart of Yuum K’áax, he takes it upon himself to carry that kuxa’an suum to plant it in the forest, deep in the jungle, tu ts’u’ k’áax16, and so he finds in the energy of his óol17 a new path to arrive even to the child’s puksi’ik’18 and place it in the same temple of the community of men and women who are made of corn.

The words that the one who sows the cord says to the Yuumtsil19 on burying the táabil tuuch are part of the sujuyt’aan20, the words which should only be spoken when you are making an arrangement with the Yuumtsil, and in this particular case with the Xtáab who is the grandmother who provides the cord with which the child’s tuuch is woven, the man or woman who opens a little hole in the earth in which to place the cord, calling on our father and mother creators so that the “winds” know and recognize the newborn as it is no longer attached to its mother and has been temporarily disconnected from the Yuumtsil, now returning like a seed so that in its heart can be born the promise to care for the land and be cared for by the land through a perfect connection through the kuxa’an suum

12 Living cord
13 Mystery mother-creator
14 Labyrinth or Xibalbaj.
15 Sacred Maya text
16 Heart of the forest
17 Being-spirit
18 Heart
19 Father-creator
20 Pure speech

It takes between three and nine days for the táabil tuuch to fall off of the child’s body. Jpiil was desperate, unable to wait much longer to reconnect his son with the mother ceiba, with the spirit of nature, with the song of the birds, and with the dignified strength that the animals of the forest possess. Only when that cord has been planted can he return to the peace of the family, which is why they firmly say among themselves as part of their testimony that a special breeze enters the farthest corners of the house’s mooy where the child has been enveloped in the hammock to be embraced and nursed by Xtáab as a sign of this connection. 

Where is the tábil u tuuch of those who sell the land? The women and men of corn ask, are these not the same ones who lost their tuuch in a political party? Did they leave it in a textile factory? Did a strange colonial faith take it from them? The poorly named Maya train has been dug into Maya lands to unearth and destroy this cord of life, it has stretched out its criminal rails, it has grabbed the cord of life of many Maya communities and stripped them of their táab, and in front of our protests, every turn of its wheels seems to say, “it’s useless, it’s useless, it’s useless.” 

The ashes of the kitchen’s hearth are empty, the ceiba’s roots that were woven with the táabil tuuch or kuxa’an suum of Maya children have been profaned in many communities that have been flattened by the train’s left wheel. However, some milpas are beginning to spring up, it has been a year of abundant rain, the cicada has not stopped its ik’ilt’aan21, the fireflies remind us with their lights how to make a brighter light as they look for us, find us, and as we create community again. The sakbej22 that plows through the firmament is full of stars, a táabil tuuch that we see in the sky. 

21 Poetry
22 White road-the Milky Way



The following terms such as Che’ óol, P’éek óol, Jáak’ óol, Ja’ak’saj óol, Náaysaj óol, Sa’ak’ óol, Ma’ak’ óol, Tooj óol, Yaj óol, Ok’om óol, Saatal óol, Chokoj óol, Síis óol y Ki’imak óol are commonly heard in the everyday tsikbal or conversations in communities in the Maya territory of the Yucatán Peninsula. Take note of the constant presence of the sound óol at the end of each of these terms in the list, which could even be much longer. Here óol is a kind of signal or warning about the kuuch or weight of this ancient word, as the nojoch wíinik call it. 

Today the Maya language is seen as diminished, as having receded before the dominant language, but this is not an issue of the present. Rather, this is the result of 500 years of colonization, evangelization, and persecution of Maya language and culture. In this colonizing context, we see ourselves challenged to decolonize the Maya language, doing archeological work on our knowledge and our words, removing the rubble of history to find not only the material vestiges but also the linguistic monuments, like óol, which the colony has disguised as meaning “soul.” This current essay is a small step towards an archeology of these words and their decolonization. 

Óol is one of those so-called untranslatable words that you cannot render into Spanish because it seems the concept of óol does notexist in the dominant language. Some fall into flippantly affirming that it means “spirit,” others have said it means “soul”; in doing so they would cover it with the shade of evangelical Christianity, and certainly one has nothing to do with the other. The thought here comes straight from the Maya heart, and itself can be understood, depending on the context, as mood, energy, being, origin, identity, sprout, emotion, strength, beginning, health, etc. When placed at the beginning or end of another word as in the list above, it helps to specify the sense in which it’s being used. It is not limited to that, however, but rather opens onto extensive symbolic, political, psychological, spiritual, or philosophical planes. I’ll briefly comment on the meaning of each of these thoughts without any intention of exhausting its kuuch, that is, to illustrate its meaning but not limit it, although I believe this will be very difficult to do, at least for a single person, no matter their knowledge of Maya language and culture, given that these knowledges are by necessity built in community. 

Sometimes you may hear someone say, óol pichi’ woye’ (this place smells like guayaba). The meaning of óol in this case is aroma, smell. Rather it should be understood along the lines of, “this place has the essence of guayaba.” When you hear óol in chukej, conventionally, óol in this case is understood as “almost,” “at the point of…,” as in “I was about to trap it,” but what it really means is, “I pursued its being.” As you can notice, to pursue the óol is an emotional challenge, and in my reflections here I will give you a brief tour through a few words that can help you understand the depth and breadth of this thought. 

Che’ óol is a word that is normally understood as meaning raw, unripe, not full, smelling of immaturity, or rough; but it’s when we want to refer to something in its natural or primitive state, without having been touched but not yet ripe, we see that this expression is possibly derived from the story of the second creation of the men of che’ or wood in the Popol Vuj. So “che’ óol” has the essence of wood, from this frustrated or unfulfilled creation, which can also be seen as immature and primitive. Maybe that’s why when we say che’che’ (wood wood), which is usually translated as raw, we are also describing something that is not just raw, uncooked, or immature, but is also very simple, common, basic, or primitive that it could have become qualitatively valuable but has not or has simply stopped developing. Che’ óol is something insipid, without aroma, flavor, or a refined essence. Rather, at its core it is ordinary, rustic, and crude. 

P’éek óol, is generally translated as hate, but is better understood as rejection, revulsion, or scorn, p’eek meaning not accepting or discomfort, that is, its essence has to do with being unsociable, disagreeable, intolerable.

Jáak’ óol is commonly translated as fright, but I have to clarify that the general translation we have today from Maya to Spanish is crossed with a colonial spirit that restrains it, fences it in, diminishes it, and limits it to its more pragmatic aspects to remove the philosophical, symbolic, artistic, and spiritual strength and power from these words. Fear of losing the language of conquest led the first translators to deny the spiritual or political sense that our Maya words have. Jáak’ óol also means admiration, recognition, it’s the capacity to be shocked by reality, it is a philosophical posture, the product of deep observation, if anyone wants to make a more literal translation, it would be waking up one’s being, waking the soul, activating who I am, shifting my attention, warning of risk, putting my being before reality, among many other possible ways of understanding jáak’ óol.

Ja’ak’saj óol is a noun, the being that causes a certain reaction of shock, admiration, or fear. In general, this term refers to invisible beings given how its meaning has been diminished, but its kuuch encompasses everything, material or immaterial, that is capable of causing shock, admiration, or moving the most basic emotions of humans, animals, and even birds. A  Ja’ak’saj óol can be in a cave, in the dark, in the jungle, in the darkest night, in the body of an animal or a person, and is not only related to what is seen as “negative.” It is also present in the plain light of day, in plazas, on the streets, in schools, in meetings, in art, in science, in one’s thoughts and common places. For example, in my community there is a cenote called Xjáak’saj óol, not because it is threatening or causes fear, but because it is home to a natural phenomenon you do not find in other cenotes: there you can hear space sounds or something that sounds like enormous birds among other things that generate shock and admiration. 

Náaysaj óol, is regularly translated as “neglect, betray, and distract” but has more to do with dreaming beautifully. The term náay has to do with dreaming beautiful, happy, or agreeable things, so Náaysaj óol is the creation of a delightful fragment in the middle of a danger, exhaustion, or a routine. It’s also similar to having fun. When children are bored in the company of adults, it’s recommended that you make them a náaysaj óol.When someone creates a work of art outside of their daily work in Maya you say, táan u náaysik u yóol. It also means creating good dreams for the óol, it is planning, proposing, projecting, it is describing the future because it is already passed, it is like when we look at millions of butterflies going South, we do not guess they leave because of the rain, it is the past that shows us the future, it is a náaysaj óol, it is an awakening of sensibility, intelligence, creativity. 

Sa’ak’ óol is conventionally or colonially translated as activism when applied to a person, when they are called activist or hard working. It is possible that the word comes from saak’  which translates more or less as unease, but what it really means is restless or enterprising. Maybe it also comes from Sáak’, which is the name of the locust, an insect that never stops or rests from the time the sun rises. It’s always flying about and always eating. If this is the case, sa’ak’ óol would be like a visionary person, lively, energetic, active, with both personal and community-oriented initiative. For example, Jsa’ak’ óol is a person who is not content to plant common seeds like corn, beans, and squash in their milpa, and so plants a number of different seeds, up to sixty kinds in a single field. They might also plant fruit trees at home, have a job not directly associated with the milpa, actively participate in the organization of their community, and always be generous with people who need their advice or support with difficult situations in the community. We cannot limit the word Sa’ak’ óol to simply activity, as it connotes movement, dynamism, implies having a broad perspective, being uncomfortable with tedium, with routine, with things as they are, and with the leisure that so damages the youth of today who are abandoned to an educational system that does not educate, but limits creativity and sa’ak’ óol. In our territory there are towns named for the importance of living water such as Sa’ak’ óol ja’, which out of sheer laziness has been written down as Sacola by colonial forces that, intentionally or not, have rendered such meaningful names ridiculous.  Sa’ak’ óol ja’ is water in a state of permanent movement, creative water, active water, uneasy water, stunning water that excites, that loosens inhibitions, that raises the spirit, that warms you. In some Maya communities people with these characteristics are nicknamed, Sa’ak’ óol Ja’.

Ma’ak’ óol, is a word that has been translated more or less as lazy or idle, although it literally would be, “without spirit, without breath, without being.” It applies to people who are conformist, trivial, unpleasant or not critical. It ks a strong expression, because its equivalent is “to not exist”; it can be understood as without existence, as óol is existence or essence, such that ma’ak’ óol is someone who has no existence, is a being without being. It is a negation of something fundamental, like not caring if it is raining or the sun is shining, if the oceans part or if it is lightning, if it is sunset or dawn, nothing can make them change their “affected existence.” These people are not capable of thinking for themselves, they live far outside of the life of the community. People who no longer hold corn in their hearts are ma’ak’ óol, they are like malleable objects who seem to always be waiting for handouts. Even so, they are not even capable of waiting, given that waiting is too much for their frivolity. In lively Maya communities, a ma’ak’ óol is looked down upon, is someone who causes worry, and is the subject of community meetings and family discussions where people debate how to wake them up. Every time a young person is incapable of being moved by reality, they are seen as a waste, and people look for alternate means to breathe life into them, to wake up their óol.

Tooj óol: While this can be translated as physical health, it goes well beyond this limited sense, and in reality does not simply refer to the physical body but to that entity which we call óol. Tooj literally means without curves, straight, a straight line, a path in which there are no accidents, potholes, deviations, or mud. This is why, according to Maya thought, something that is in prime condition enjoys balance and has nothing out of place; this is how health is understood in Maya thought, as what really gets sick is the óol and this is expressed through the physical body, in the flesh which is a kind of blanket that dresses and protects the óol. A person in a state of tooj is one who is healthy on at least three plains: physically, morally, and socially. A ma’ak’ óol, for example, cannot be tooj óolal. People who are tooj óolal promote good health and a good diet, as well as what is uts, what is ki’, what is  ma’alob, what is tooj in what we would refer to in Spanish as the sphere of morality. They are also promoters of tsikbal, péektsil, payalchi’, k’áatchi’, k’uben t’aan, ki’iki’t’aan, and tsolxikin among other celebrations and festivals of the word. Perhaps this is why our greetings go beyond “good morning, good afternoon, and good evening,” and have a direct connection to health. We say, “bix a wanil” or “bix a beel” because we always want to know how the human, spiritual, and communal state of the person is. And it should always be tooj óol.

Yaj óol: is usually translated as sadness, which is relatively accurate. However, it goes beyond this quick translation. Yaj is a word that is used when someone has a wound on their body or skin, or when they have an infection, and there are other words used to describe pain. In this case, when we say yaj and it is accompanied by óol, we are saying that one’s óol is hurt in their body or has been polluted or has an infection. From there it can be translated as “to miss,” and it is common to hear a mother whose child has migrated to another country say, “in yaj óoltik un waal,” “I’m suffering from a wound in my óol,” meaning “I’m sad,” “I’m missing someone,” or “My wounded óol pains me.” You say all of this and more through the expression yaj óol. When people fall out of love, there is a death or a loss in the family there is yaj óol, a strange pain that is not in the body’s flesh but in the óol, which is a person’s true being or essence. 

Ok’om óol: This thought refers to a condition of permanent or chronic sadness; it is like saying, my being is continually sobbing, it cannot stop crying. When someone’s life is upset by a pain that could be the loss of a loved one, the loss of a crop due to a chance event or something sinister like a prolonged drought, being consumed by locusts, or being hit by a hurricane when things are just starting to sprout, then you experience ok’om óol, a sadness or permanent pain in which you lose your appetite, your happiness, creativity, and many times even your hope. Ok’om is a word of profound meaning, as it does not describe just any sadness, as it is not fleeting or ephemeral. It is not light, and means one’s essence has been impacted for a long time, and may not recover.

Saatal óol: Although this is regularly translated as crazy, in reality it is much more than that, and better applies to a person who has fainted because of epilepsy, or has been left immobile because they’ve been hit, or fallen. A saatal óol is someone who is confused and unmoored in their life, in their decision-making, someone who is intentionally irresponsible in situations that demand seriousness, being forthright, and clear. It also applies metaphorically to a person who uses a lot of humor when they talk and sarcastically laughs at reality, mostly at the people around them. The word also applies in terms of health, humor, art, ethics, and uncertainty. To me, reducing its meaning to crazy imposes an impoverished, colonial interpretation of the word’s true meaning.

Chokoj óol: This is one of the most common expressions in the daily life of a Maya community and derives its importance from many of the activities that people carry out during the day and even at night. It can be translated as the warm state in which a person finds themselves, and literally means, “hot being.” For example, when a child wakes up and is not permitted to get up and leave the house immediately, but has to sit and cool off for at least ten or fifteen minutes, as they run the risk of being hit by the cool morning air and getting sick because they are in a state of chokoj óol, that is, they are hot. After each activity, including sex, at home or in the milpa, a person enters into a state of chokoj óol, and if they go out and are hit by the cool wind they can fall ill because the two most important states in life, hot and cold, are opposites. If a person comes into contact with these their óol is directly impacted as they generate an imbalance and so the person gets sick. This is why it is important for the person to wait for their chokoj or heat to diminish and balance out with the temperature of the weather before they undertake another activity related to the cold. Chokoj óol usually only applies to health, although metaphorically it can be used to refer to someone who speaks illogically or fallaciously, nonsensically, or overly idealistically. 

Síis óol: This word applies to a coolness in the environment, but it goes beyond this common usage, as it also describes the ideal state of a person in which they can undertake any kind of activity without there being any risk to their health or, better said, their óol. In general people who wake up after having slept all night, have just arrived from the milpa, have finished making tortillas, etc., are in a state of chokoj óol. As such they need to refresh themselves or to find their equilibrium before undertaking a different activity in which they need to be cooler, or choj óol, such as bathing themselves with cold water or drinking ice water. We say, unaj u síiskuntik u yóol, so that they are not impacted by the violent collision of hot and cold. It can also be used to talk about homosexuality, as you say that someone is a Jsíis óol, or a person who typically has a cold óol, that is passive and without a more masculine aggression. This does not imply that this person is bad or contemptible, it simply means that this is how they are, their state of being is different. It is not a disadvantage or something to correct. Síis óol is fundamentally an expression used in the context of health and is the counterpart of chokoj óol. The two must be coordinated for one to have equilibrium and good health.

Oksaj óol: The word meaning “to believe” in Maya was so dangerous to the colony that people tried to minimize it to the point that it almost disappeared. People Mayanized Spanish, such that most of us who speak Maya today use the term kréex (note: from “creer” in Spanish) to refer to the verb “to believe.” Of course, this is not Maya, but the mayanization of creer. The colonizer wanted to make sure that Maya people believed in his dogma like he did, and could not take a chance that something of such relevance for the control of people’s minds would function even better than a chain in his hands or a gallows to control the recently conquered Indians, could be left unchecked. Belief is very important, which is why it was necessary for people to stop believing in what is Maya and to begin to believe in the “values” of the colony. As Javier Sicilia has said, “Perversion begins through language. Once normalized, then a perversion of acts will be seen as normal, and people will not even blush before the horror.” Memory, however, is unconquerable, is rebellious, it resists. Our ancestors guarded the scraps of this word, but with the full weight of the concept and its full meaning, bestowing upon us oksaj óol as it is registered in the Cordemex dictionary. Today many of our elders when they feel they are being questioned unsheath their memory and show us their lightning-sharp oksaj óol. This word can be literally translated as placing the óol, accepting what is in front of you as valid, sharing in a sense of equality, making what is not ours ours again as they say in Spanish, interiorizing something but not as something artificial but like the graft of one plant with another so that they are a single life. Therein lies this term’s danger insofar as it encompasses a way to live one’s life, signifying a so-called “buen vivir.” One doesn’t believe just anything, first, the thing must be believable, at the least it has to be ontologically real, evidence must be present. Evangelization has dogma at its core, and it is only believed through sword and flame. When these are withdrawn, that faith trickles away with the blood running out from our Maya óol. This is why today many Indigenous communities carry a Catholic image in their processions, but the óol of that image is the Maya face of the creating Mother or Father. This is why Landa held his auto dá fe. He was a coward, insecure, dogmatic. He did not learn that the Christian faith proposes a way of life, but rather found religion, political and economic power, the anti-Gospel. He did not want to take any chances with oksaj óol, and preferred to listen to the kréex. Today oksaj óol as a Maya word, as Maya thought, as a Maya heart, enjoys good health, has started to emerge from the caves, from under rocks, from cenotes, from the forest and from the songs of birds like the Xk’ook’

K’áat óol: This word translates as plea. While this is a decent translation, I think that the word’s kuuch is not fully present in Spanish. If it is translated, it is only partial, and the word loses its strength. K’áat is to ask for, but not just anything. Here, what’s being requested is the óol, the being, the will. This thought applies when among the Maya someone asks for something of great importance, something transcendent. It is common only in the ik’ilt’aan said by the Jmeen to the Yuumtsil when he presents them with an offering or celebrates a ritual. What is being asked for is not just any favor, it is not an object, but the total will of someone in such a way that what they can give is not in itself what is being asked for, but his or her very being. In fulfilling or consenting to this request, everything else one could give is of lesser value, because he has given to the petitioner what he has asked for, and he has asked for his óol. 

Alab óol: I’m unsure exactly what the word alab means. Maybe it comes from a lost root or maybe it has been mutilated via processes of colonization. Current thought would hold that it means “hope,” which is no small thing, and what Maya culture understands by this word is the possibility that someone is favored and feels accompanied by another being, or hoping that someone perceives their potential. While it is common to see children as our alab óol because of all the collaborative activities and help they give us at home, when they are older and they are the new roofbeams of the house, this term does not stop applying to them. This line of thought is used a lot within families and the collaborative relationship that a Maya person has with the Yuumtsil, and it is common to hear a farming family say that Yuum Cháak, Yuum iik’, and Yuum K’áax are their alab óolal. It is a word that is slowly losing its way among the Maya People, given that the People are slowly losing their hope as a culture and a nation. 500 years of conquest and colonization have weakened the People’s alab óol, but today we are gathering up its fragments that have been scattered across the hot dust, like hoping for the first rains of the season.  Yaan u alab óol le alab óol ti’ Yuum Cháako’.

Ts’íib óol: This word has a very heavy meaning, literally meaning “to write the óol.” It is usually translated as “desire,” but as you can see, ts’íib óol is a much more powerful image, it is the attitude of someone who hopes to write about their own óol. We are all writers, we all desire. To the extent that we keep desiring, we fill the white pages of our future history, even if this sounds paradoxical. Desiring is writing on our being, on our spirit, on our energy, on our emotions, on our dreams. on our will. What is desired is not something trivial, superfluous, tasteless, or ephemeral. Rather, what is desired or written is transcendent, stunning, perennial, ubiquitous, powerful, and above all communitarian. The Maya ts’íib óol is only found in those expressions, acts, and sounds that add to life, writing on the óol is to trace a road, to rehabilitate our path, to create community, it’s learning from the animals with their feet on the ground, their óol, from the birds who call to Yuum iik’ every sunrise and sunset, it’s helping Yuum Cháak paint the rainbow.

Ki’imak óol: This is perhaps the most commonly said, commonly heard, and most circulated expression in Maya communities. Although it literally translates as happiness or felicity, it communicates much more than that. It is derived from the word ki’, which means delicious, agreeable, and pleasant. I’m not sure if the suffix mak comes from mak meaning “cover” or máak meaning person. Perhaps it refers to what one is doing or the condition in which a particular being is found. What we Mayas understand by this expression is that someone with ki’imak óol is in perfect harmony with life, with nature, with their community, and with their own body. It’s what we say when we are healthy. It’s not limited to an action like laughing or dancing, its scope is a form of life, which when we greet someone at any time of day we ask about their óol, “bix a wanil” is what we immediately ask. If they are in balance they respond, “jach ma’alob, ki’imak in wóol.” If they are sick or have personal problems or problems with the community they say, “ma’ jach ma’alobi’, ma’ jach tooj in wóoli’.” Ki’mak óol is not just a state of being, it is equilibrium, it is peace, it is the responsibility one assumes, it is the correct answer to the question, it is the fulfillment of a mission, it is harmony in one’s home, with the community and the environment, but principally with the Yuumtsilo’ob that create the setting in which ki’imak óolal is possible. 

The colonization of the Maya language consists of trapping and tying up its óol. The conquistador did not try to disappear its sounds, but rather to break the meanings it contains, like what happens today with cell phones when you change their internal chips: they lose their identity despite the fact they appear to be the same. A Maya language that consists of an empty body only serves to promote tourism, to put people who stammer on display. Academies offered by the oppressor are not schools but mausoleums, and they are of no use to those of us who are in the process of revindicating the Maya óol. We must change the paths of  Yuum iik’Yuum Cháak, and Yuum K’áax so that in the midst of this darkness they can revive the óol of our Maya language in which justice, the arts, politics, and above all philosophy and thought, or better, óol itself, can sprout again. Only in this way can our communication with the onomatopoeic words of Xk’oo’ok’ and Yuum Báalam be re-established. 

Here are a few more words in which óol appears:  K’áaj óol, Jóomsaj óol, Péek óol, Xul óol, Nak óol.



Máax ku yok’ol
tu tikin ja’il u yich ts’uju’uy,
te’el ku bin u júutul yóok’ol cháaltun
tu’ux ma’ tu jóok’ol u mootse’.

U polokil
u wi’ijil mejen j ma’na’ paalal.

To’ok ti’ob tumen ts’u’util
u ki’ichpamil u na’,
okla’ab ti’ob tumen tuus
u mu’uk’a’anil u k’ab u yuum.

Tu ka’analkabil yicho’ob ku jojopaankil le junkóots ts’íiba’:
“In yuum,
ba’axten mix juntéen ok’olnak a wich,
ma’tech wáa a wi’ijtal beyo’one’
wa tikin u ja’il a wich beey ts’uju’uye’.

Ba’ale’ bix jach xáanchajak u yáalal,
bíin a k’a’as le ken ku’upuk u yiik’ maya t’aan.


Who weeps in the  ts’uju’uy’s23

dry tears? 

A drop roll across a stone slab

where it will never take root.

It’s the hungry

obesity of a motherless child.

Snatched up by indifference,

a mother’s kindness,

hidden behind a lie

the thighs of a weakened father.

From the corner of his eyes, a fragment pours out:


Why do your eyes never fill with tears?

How do you satisfy your hunger?

Or do you just not have tears like the ts’uju’uy?

I hope that drop doesn’t take much longer,

that it at least arrives before the Maya wind.”

23 A thrush-like bird

Náay in lu’umil

Ta paten tu yáam u k’ab juntúl xlóobayeen
ku tsolik u k’u’il u paktal beey yúuyume’.
Tu muuk’ u yóol juntúul xiib ta pulaj wenlil ti’e’
ta sakankuuntaj in wíinklil,
beey máax wi’ij ku máan tu yich jump’éel péenkuche’.

Bejla’e’ chéen p’iis u yokol in wenele’
ku t’a’ajtal in wook,
ku meyaaj in k’ab,
ku suut in wóol,
ku jóok’ol tsikbal in piixan.

Yaan máaxe’ sáansamal áak’ab u kíimil
le ken lóocha’ak tumen u k’aan,
ma’ teen yuumil le su’tsilil je’elo’,
in lu’umile’ in náay
mix bik’in bíin in p’at tu k’ab j táanxlil.


You shaped me in a young hand, 

like yúuya brooding over her dreams. 

You loved my body

with the strength of a man bewitched

like hunger for a warm tortilla.

Now, as I’m taken over by sleep,

my feet regain their life, 

my hands work, 

I recover my senses,

my soul unleashes its words.

There are those who die every night

when their hammock whispers to them,

but I don’t suffer that shame, 

dreams are my territory,

and it will never be held under another’s pen.

J Kolnáal

Ta wiiche’ j maya kolnáal,
ma’ chéen je’el ba’axak u yichaankil ja’abine’,
wa kokojkil yéetel u yiche’
táan u wojik u kúunche’il a naal,
wa loba’an yéetel u le’e’,
ma’ táan u yelel ma’alob a kool,
wa ma’ piim u yiche’,
ma’ táan a najmatik a kool.

U yichaankil ja’abin tu ts’u’ yáaxk’iine’,
ma’ chéen u t’aan u mu’uk’a’anil u yóoli’
u yaayan Yumtsilo’ob ti’ teech j maya kolkaab.

Ta xikine’ j maya kolkaab,
ma’ chéen je’el ba’ax u yok’ol ts’uju’uye’,
wa yaayaj ok’ol ku beetike’,
ts’o’ok u yajtal yáaxk’iin tu yich,
wa láalaj súutuk u yok’ole’,
táan u péeksik Yuum Cháak.

Wa ma’ tóoknakeche’ j maya kolkaab,
t’ab a taajche’,
u yok’ol ts’uju’uy tu ts’u’ yáaxk’iine’,
ma’ chéen u yaayaj óolalil u tiknil u ja’il u yichi’,
u yaayan Yuumtsilo’ob ti’ teech, j maya kolkaab.


In your eyes, Maya farmer,

the ja’abin’s fruit isn’t boring,

if it is abundant,

it sketches out your granary,

if its leaves are sad,

your milpa will not burn well, 

if its fruit is scarce, 

you won’t have a milpa at all.

During times of drought the fruit of the ja’abin

isn’t just a sign of its spirit, 

it’s the voices of the Gods speaking to you. 

The cry of the ts’uju’uy isn’t boring

to the ears of a Maya farmer,

if it holds a lot of pain, 

the drought has wounded its eyes

if its cry is intermittent

it is preparing for rain, 

if you have not prepared your milpa

you need to light your torch. 

In times of drought the ts’uju’uy’s cry

is not just the dryness of its tears,

it’s the voices of the Gods warning you, Maya farmer.

Sujuy siip

Ba’ax bíin k kóoyt ti’ teech Yuumtsil
wa ts’o’ok u kiinsa’al u yóol k ixi’imil.

K o’och sa’e’ yéetel glifosato ch’ujukkinta’an,
k o’och iswaaje’ máaskab pak’achtik,
k o’och kaabe’ chuja’an u pu’uch tumen táanxelil mola’ay,
u le’ ja’ase’ petrolizarta’an,
le turix kanáantik ka’ach le ts’ono’oto’
k’e’exo’ob yéetel u dronil kinsajtáambal,
x nuk ya’axche’e’ jo’ok tak u moots
ti’al u pa’ak’al jump’éel máaskab j okol iik’,
aj k’iino’obe’ chéen chak pol ch’oomo’ob
yáax talik xkíim ba’alil.

Ba’ale’ woy yaan a ka’anche’ile’,
u nukuch mu’uk’a’an máaskabil le museo’
ma’ tun tsa’ayal yéetel u k’olopil k ja’abinil,
ts’o’okole’ k sujuy siipe’ yaan u ka’ ch’a’ik u yóol.

Offering to the Lords of the Forest

What can we offer to you, Lords of the Forest,

if our corn is GMO?

Our atole is sweetened with glyphosate,

our iswaaj is of industrial plastic,

our honey bears the seal of a strange foundation,

our banana leaves are full of oil,

if the fireflies that guarded our cenotes

have been replaced by military drones,

if mother ceiba was worn out

by a metallic conquistador of wind,

the “aj k’iin” are truly red-headed vultures

that announce the first news of death. 

But we are left with your altar,

the metallic structure of a museum 

will bow before the thighs of the ja’abin,

and our offering will recover its Maya strength.

Maya kaaj

Xik’nal u bin u t’áalal a wook ta lu’umil,
beey u ts’íibtik u k’ajlay a ch’i’ibal.

Sáansamal u máan u yich Yuum K’iin
ti’al u mol u tsikbalil u nojbe’enil a nooli’.

Yáanal u bo’oy xya’axche’ ka ts’apik
u tsolxikin u j chak wíinikil lak’iin.

Yuum Kíimil kaláantik ma’ u la’abal
u juum u k’aayalilo’ob u ik’ilt’aan a chiich.

U xunáanil áak’ab jit’ik u muumum xa’anil
u póopil a jayk’iintik u yi’inajil a t’aan.

Tu ts’u’ u noj k’áaxilo’ob a na’ate’
ti’ ku yets’tal u koolil u yi’inajil a t’aani’.

Maya Town

Your feet fly across the earth,

which is how the memory of your lineage is written. 

The sun’s eyes walk every day

to harvest your grandfather’s history.

Under the ceiba, you gather the words

of the red man born in the east.

The guardian of death protects

your grandmother’s epic song from waste. 

The sentinel of night weaves a petate

for maturing the seeds of your words from young palm leaves.

In the middle of your wisdom’s tall jungle

sits the corn of your tongue.


Ik’ilt’aane’ ma’ jobon chuun che’i’,
u t’a’ajil u yóol a na’at j Meen,
u k’aayil a wéensik Yuum iik’,
u xuuxubil a táabsik xaman,
u kilim a péeksik nojolil cháak.

Ik’ilt’aane’ ma’ u juum u jéek’el k’abche’i’,
u joma’il u yi’inajil a ts’íib aj its’at,
u páawo’il wooj ka k’eyemkuuntik,
u táabil u kuuch a aa’al t’an,
u chúujil u síisis ja’il a paak’al.

Ik’ilt’aane’ ma’ u yéets’ tusbe’eni’,
u suumil u xanabk’éwelil
a xíimbatik u jolbeel a wook,
u j bobat t’aanil u péektsil u ch’i’ich’iyaankil
u tomojchi’ a xtakaay wíinikil.

The Wind’s Voice

The wind’s voice isn’t a hollow trunk: 

it’s the vitality of your knowledge, j Meen, 

it’s the song you carry to Yuum Iik’, 

it’s the whistling you use to enchant the north,

it’s the thunder you use to bring down the south rains.

The wind’s voice isn’t the crack of a falling branch:

it’s the joma’ of your words’ seeds,

it’s the colorful sabucán of your pozole,

it’s the mecapal used to carry your words,
it’s the gourd of cold water of your planting. 

The wind’s voice isn’t a false echo: 

it’s the cord on your sandals

you use to make your path as you walk

it’s the prophetic word of good news, 

it’s the omen in the xtakaay’s call.


  • Aj k’iin: Maya priest
  • Aj Meen: priest or Maya healer
  • Iswaaj: tortilla of green or tender corn
  • Ja’abin: kind of tree that functions as an agricultural calendar
  • Joma’: kind of gourd cup used to offer pozole
  • Ts’uju’uy: a very skinny thrush
  • Xtakaay: a yellow bird said to alert you of things
  • Yuum: guardian
  • Yuum Iik’: guardian of the wind
  • Yúuya: golden oriole

For more about Pedro Uc

About the translators

Melissa D. Birkhofer is a settler scholar and Visiting Assistant Professor in the English Department at Appalachian State University where she teaches courses on Latinx and Indigenous Literatures. She co-authored the article “She Said That Saint Augustine is Worth Nothing Compared to her Homeland: Teresa Martín and the Méndez Cancio Account of La Tama (1600)” published in the North Carolina Literary Review with Paul M. Worley. Her article, “Toward a Feminist Latina Mode of Literary Analysis in Julia Alvarez’s How the García Girls Lost Their Accents,” was recently published in Convergences. She was the founding director of the Latinx Studies Program at Western Carolina U and is a co-director of the e-journal Label Me Latina/o

Paul M. Worley is the Chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures and Cultures at Appalachian State 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.

El ombligo maya, óol, and original poems © Pedro Uc ~ Siwar Mayu, November 2023

Selection and translation from Spanish © Melissa Birkhofer y Paul Worley

The Memory of Plants in Three Poems of Gloria Mendoza Borda

Dulce naranja dulce luna © Gloria Mendoza Borda

Introduction, selection and translation from Spanish © Andrea Echeverría

If you prefer to read this as a PDF, click here

Gloria Mendoza Borda (1948) is a renowned Peruvian poet from Puno who currently resides in Arequipa. She joined the Carlos Oquendo de Amat Group in the 1960s and has published Wilayar (1971), Los grillos tomaron tu cimbre (1972), Lugares que tus ojos ignoran (1985), El legendario lobo (1997), La danza de las balsas (1998), Dulce naranja dulce luna (2001), Mujer, mapa de música (2004), Q’antati deshojando margaritas (2006), Desde la montaña grito tu nombre(2013), Amtasiña (2013), and Mi abuela, mi patria (2018). In the three poems below, included in Dulce naranja dulce luna (2001), Mendoza represents how plants communicate their memory. Three of them: the cherry tree, the avocado tree and the honeysuckle. These texts provide an ecological vision based on Quechua-Aymara forms of knowledge that transcend the anthropocentric perspective. To initially approach these poems, perhaps the best thing to do is to ask yourself: what do these plants communicate? What vision do they convey about the passage of time? What forms part of their memory? I invite you to read these poems within the historical framework of the political violence that affected all of Peru, and especially provincial cities and rural communities in Peru during the Conflicto Armado Interno (1980-2000). As you will notice, these plants cry and suffer the passage of time, nostalgically remember the past, and communicate their experience about traumatic episodes that happened in this context.


The Cries of the Cherry Tree

I am the old cherry tree

who saw them grow

as artists

I also knew how to be an artist

I also knew how to be a river

phosphorescent birds

would stay in my currents  

they made nests with dazzling weeds 

and they sang to life

my roots

keep moving forward

through the underground

I cry in the name of mother earth

in the skin of the boys


the desolation of the courtyard

I cry

on the posters

that they hung

on my mutilated arms

“Protest against the Cherry Tree’s Death”

I cry

because I don’t know the reason

why did they destroy my branches

I cry

in the name of the white doves

(those who came from the Plaza Mayor

they will no longer be able to shelter from the sun

under my shade)

I cry

because the sound of the boys’ pan flutes and guitars

stayed in me

they played in my lap

during the sunsets


I exist 

in our memory

I exist

I am the invisible cherry tree

that keeps them company

my fruits used to adorn

girls’ heads

that took shelter

in my skirts

why did the ax become enraged

with my silence?

from my invisible image

I predict life

I light the fire

my currents grow

I also feel bird 

I also feel man

I also feel artist

I also feel river.

Listen to Gloria Mendoza reading her poetry in Spanish

Looking for the Avocado’s Path

In these times

I did not bear fruit

it’s true

but my leafy green inspired

announced a time of hope

I tried to get closer to the sky

I walked more than a hundred years


towards the immensity

I flourished on the cliffs of silence

only the trace of my forms remained

the semi-destroyed sculpture

looking for my lost path

and the dismayed look

of my friends

I am the result

of changes and death.

The Honeysuckle’s Agony

Mother and lady


I cry my green agony

drunken my flower


the morning 

I scream

I implore

they don’t listen to me

I sing in the language of the green


and weak

my skin 

in other times

my fruit was honey

as a child

the sculptor Jorge Mendoza

took one of my branches

and soon

ran with my scent

looking for his mother

I was born

before all of you

‘the house of art’

came later

in my roots

lives the story

of men

that passed through

and left

I still exist

a cable

covers my fingers

crosses my feet

I hope the crows

don’t eat my leaves

in each contour

of my path

there is a wire

at each knot

I break and twist

I look at the blue sky

the song of birds

accompany my green symphony

wild dance

my heart

the wound

it won’t let me walk

a terrifying shadow

covers my eyes

from the sun

A white dove

drinks water

in the pool

in the well

the mirror

of my image

the water

doesn’t reach

my insides

I’m hung

from the throat













without truce

oh perfection

I cry my green

from so much spiraling

death stalks me

but does not find me

here I am friends




silent witness

youthful dreams

students go on strike

for struggles and triumphs

for permanent creation

for happiness


I cry

my green agony




For more about Gloria Mendoza

About the translator

Andrea Echeverría Langsdorf is an Associate Professor at Wake Forest University. She earned her doctoral degree in Latin American Literature and Cultural Studies at Georgetown University. She is the author of Yeyipun en la ciudad. Representación ritual y memoria en la poesía mapuche (Editorial Universidad de Guadalajara, 2021) and El despertar de los awquis: migración y utopía en la poesía de Boris Espezúa y Gloria Mendoza (Paracaídas Editores & UNMSM, 2016), as well as of several academic articles published in journals such as Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, Latin American Research Review and the Canadian Journal of Hispanic Studies. She is currently working on a book that studies Mapuche visual art.

Dulce naranja dulce luna © Gloria Mendoza Borda

~ Siwar Mayu, October 2023

Introduction, selection and translation © Andrea Echeverría

Ponca Lunch Hour Poems – Cliff Taylor

Ponca Lunch Hour Poems © Cliff Taylor

If you prefer to read this as a PDF, click here

Unforgettable characters, enlightened by random revelations, cross the coffeeshop, the sidewalk, the freeway while Cliff Taylor records them through narrative-verses and laughter in his Ponca Lunch Hour Poems zine. In the first page of this zine, hand written, we read:

I wrote these poems in the Spring of 2019, after my girlfriends and I moved to Astoria, Oregon.  Some I wrote at work, some at the coffee shop before work, some in Tokyo, some while traveling back. I am a Ponca Indian so a lot of them are about my tribe, our people, how we see and experience the world. I am also into comic books, horror movies, and just everything to do with art: so expect to find some of that in here too. I would love for some of these poems to become your friends on an unexpected day or night as you’re busy doing your thing or taking a well-deserved break. I hope you like them.

Thanks, Cliff. 


It took us three months and a total of two cars to 

drive across the country and move from New Orleans 

to Astoria, Oregon, a city neither of us had ever 

actually been before. It was epic, unforgettable, 

exhausting. Our second day here, while I was on 

the sidewalk outside the coffee shop smoking, a big 

tattooed dude walked up to me and asked, surprising 

me like birdshit in my eye, “Your name wouldn’t 

happen to be Cliff would it?” i rocked back; how 

could anyone here know me, let alone this guy?

Then I flashed: I remembered this guy from high 

school, he was a classmate, a punker and skateboarder, 

20 years ago back in Columbus, Nebraska. “Ken?”

I asked back. “Ken —?” It was him; he owned 

the three stool walk-up noodle shop two doors

down from the coffee shop. Having not crossed  

paths in 20 years, he recognized me. I pointed 

to our packed car and told him that we’d just moved 

here, yesterday. “Welcome to Astoria,” he said, 

friendly as I remembered, “This is maybe one of 

the most beautiful places in the country. Glad you’re 

Here.” We talked and smoked and I was kind of stunned, 

dazed, transported into the surreal nature of the mystery 

of why we’d come here, to Astoria, this place we’d never 

been before. My ancient past had sent a messenger 

to welcome us to our freshest chapter, to shake our 

hand in the middle of this great unknown. For the 

rest of the day I was speechless with the magic of it 

all, a cheetah wandering a woodsy wonderland, an 

Indian in full regalia on Ray Bradbury’s sweet Mars. 

We’d been delivered to the right stretch of earth;

We were drinking our coffee right where we were 

meant to. Miraculously, we’d arrived.


Cliff Senior

I wish I remembered more stories 

from my grandpa (who doesn’t, I guess).

My mom would often comment on how 

he talked so quietly you could barely

hear him. My little brother spent 

more time with him that I did, as he lived with him for awhile when 

he got out of juvenile detention; he 

has some good stories and they’re 

all new to me. Sometimes at my 

gas station Indians I didn’t know 

would come in, learn who I was, 

and tell me stories about my 

grandpa’s house back in the day;

“There was always a big pot of 

soup on,” they’d say; “He was 

always feeding everyone who stopped 

in”. I remember visiting him on 

my way up to Sundance, hanging 

out with him in his bedroom 

when he was on oxygen. He sat 

up and lit himself a cigarette, 

handed me one when I asked for 

One. He was on his way out; this 

was the kind of smoke you couldn’t 

regret. “So what are they gonna 

do, pierce your nipples?” he asked.

Yeah, something like that,” I 

said, smiling. I wonder what 

story my grandpa would share 

if he heard me read this poem. 

I wonder what he would share 

if he could only share just 

one. Grandpa? You’re up. 


I talk with this elder who has diagrammed, 

mapped, and database every earth-mound in 

America. It’s staggering. There are shapes 

of every imaginable variety. It’s been his 

 life’s work. He hands me the zip drive with 

everything on it. “It’s yours now,” he says. 

“When I was young I was told that this 

was my calling. When I got old they told 

me that it would be the next person’s calling 

to know what to do with it.” I drive along 

the coast with my two dogs, heading towards 

a thunderbird’s mound in Oregon; its eye 

is a somewhat well-known mountaintop. 

“I guess it’s our turn now,” I tell the dogs, 

ocean visible through the open window. 

“Let’s go see what this thunderbird has 

to say.” 

Signals and cages in the Seattle Art Museum

I had just hopped off the Greyhound 

and, walking around, I bumped into 

the Seattle Art Museum and saw that 

there was Indigenous exhibit.

I wandered in, began to ascend the 

Stairs. Then, like an out-of-the-

blue gunshot in the YMCA, I was 

hit by this grief of the spirits, brought

to the verge of tears. I kept it 

together, proceeded forward, went 

into the exhibit. A few minutes 

in I heard the spirits tell me to 

sing a song for all the spirits that 

were boxed inside this place, 

enmeshed with the displayed objects 

and unseen. I was young, too nervous 

to upset all of the interested browsing 

that was going on; I was asked but 

not strong enough to do so. I saw 

the living shamans’ rattles, ornate 

paraphernalia and utensils, big hides 

and pots that were so potently 

not inanimate. Half of me was a museum-goer, 

half of me was a Sundancer seeing everything 

with ceremony eyes. When I left 

I thought, Someday I’ll write about this.

Wandering aimlessly down the street, 

I thought, People should know what 

Indians experience when they encounter 

their stuff still being held hostage. 

We took him back to our place so he could shower

This was in Standing Rock when all the shit 

was going on. He tells us about all sorts 

of stuff that I don’t think most anybody 

would believe. Prophecy. A multi-dimensional 

 coded mythology. What he was told on the 

hill. His grandma feeding little people who 

came to her windowsill. A cave in the Andes 

where leaders from all over the Western Hemisphere 

deposited objects for a future Age which is 

taking place right now; the objects he saw 

in the cave, what he came back with.  Unbelievable 

stuff; but there are spirits in the car with us 

as we drive him to the casino and so I’m paying 

real close attention to everything he says.  We 

drop him off and the night is cinematic, hyper-

real; everything on fire with meaning; tomorrow 

we’re going to ceremony and I can only imagine 

what the spirits are going to say about all 

this. I get out of the car and shake his 

hand, give him a copy of my little book. 

“I’ll pray you find those things you’re looking 

for,” I say. “I’ll see you around, brother.”

100 years of visionary memories

I remember literally staggering out 

from behind my gas station’s counter 

and falling to my knees after having 

finished Gabriel García Márquez’s 

One Hundred Years of Solitude. It was 

almost 4 AM, my morning customers 

were about to start coming in. The 

masterpiece had slayed me, had rocked 

me; this was what literature’s true 

greatness and power felt like. 10 

years later I still find myself 

thinking what I thought when 

I rose from my knees and just stood 

there looking out into the mystical 

Nebraska dark: now all I need 

to do is write a Native book like 

that, a world-changer like that, 

and that shouldn’t be too hard, 

should it? It’s doable, right?


I helped this old man, Myron Longsoldier, 

with his sweat for 13 years; from age 22 

to 35. I’d get off work at 7 AM, go home 

and sleep for an hour, and then drive out 

to the sweat and get the fire started. I learned 

what humility was from him; it was a quality 

of the heart; it had a palpable, tangible 

texture. Myron grew up speaking Lakota, 

had gone to prison, was an ex-alcoholic, 

a Sundancer, a leader in the community.

He’s retired now, is on oxygen, can no 

longer pour sweats. When I post about 

going to Tokio he comments that I better 

wear my best Indian clothes that I got and 

to give em’ hell, whatever that means. Once 

as he was praying with the first seven stones

I saw all of his prayers coming out of him, 

like a big twisting smoke coming out of his 

face and front; animated energy traveling 

up. I think of him while facing the shelves 

on a quiet Thursday evening, turning and 

stacking the cans to get them just right. All 

these ones I ‘ve known, I think; May I please 

never forget them. 

My Tokyo Lightning Book 

I picture myself writing a book about 

everything that happened in Tokyo. I’ll 

illustrate it with drawings of the city, the 

people I met, the beings I saw; and all 

the images will crackle and shimmer. Every 

full moon the book will grow hair and 

transport you into a real single moment 

for as long as you’d like; you, Liv, and the 

Bigfoot who came with me; dancing 

joyfully for Nipsey; the romance of standing 

on the train with your partner on the other 

side of the planet. Cool older folks 

will give it away on Halloween.  Daring 

souls who wander into caves will find 

it mysteriously on their person when they 

reemerge. It will spread the word on 

how to equip and prepare oneself for 

participating in large-scale ceremonial 

work purposed towards the healing of 

countries, cultures, and time; with a 

detailed account of Fukushima, WWII, 

and what happened with the 40 or so of us 

during our ritual. It will fit in your pocket, 

like The Little Prince. It will function as 

the perfect leveling-up gift between friends 

transitioning into lovers, or allies, or mates 

for life. It will be code in Japan for 

someone who travels with the medicine 

that the Gods and Goddesses wish to see 

flower again. It will be a shrine for the 

little people, the Other World. And 

When people read for a second time 

another copy will appear on a swan’s 

back and right before that swan dives 

a child will see it and know that 

somehow they have to save it. 

For more about Cliff Taylor

Ponca Lunch Hour Poems © Cliff Taylor

~ Siwar Mayu, September 2023

Wallmapu ñi tukulpazungu, mapuzungun witrapuratungey / Memories from Wallmapu, the Mapuzungun Rises

© Piam told by Cornelio Puelman in 1987 

© Introduction and translation from Mapuzungun by Sandro Rivas Pichicura and Violeta Percia. 

© Pictures Violeta Percia

© Translation from Spanish by Lorrie Jayne and Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

If you prefer to read this as a PDF, click here

Piam are the stories that are passed from generation to generation, and reveal meaningful events in the Mapuche’s history. Many of the piam happened in the historical time of the persecution and genocide of Mapuche families during the so called “conquest of the desert,”perpetrated by the Argentine nation-state between 1878 and 1885. Piam are a type of counter-history and counter-memory that stand counter to the official history of that invasion and colonization of Puelmapu, Eastern Wallmapu, Mapuche ancestral territory, in what is now known as Argentine Patagonia.

Unlike academic and well-documented studies that confirm state terrorism in Argentina, piam, as oral histories, are passed from generation to generation, or are recorded, and they reconstruct a specific time. Here we offer one of these piam, transcribed for us to counter forgetfulness. As they are told to us and as we hear the piam, we believe it: we don’t need to verify it because we know that it happened in this way and it is in the collective memory of our people.

Although they seem like stories from a remote past, they are current for today’s generations. They are revitalized in every new gathering, because the signs of those events are part of a symbolic and effective violence that renews the invasion daily. For instance, in the Villa Llanquin rural elementary school, there is a human skull on display in a glass case. Until recently the skull had a sign that said “head of an Indian.” Another example is that a lake, a city in Patagonia, a train line, and many streets and parks are named after Julio Roca, the Argentinian Minister of War, who led the invasion of Wallmapu, and who continues representing Argentinian society. Furthermore, there are several equestrian statues of Roca in uniform throughout the country, one which is even located in the Civic Center of Furilofche City–an emblem of the power that is exercised today against the Mapuche nation in their own territory.

The following piam, told by Cornelio Puelman, was told to him by his grandfather, who belonged to the generation that witnessed the beginning of the end of that ancestral world that was once still free and autonomous. Puelman belongs to the generation of grandfathers and grandmothers, chachay ka pu papay, who left this world around 2011. Daughters and sons, nephews and nieces of Puelman’s generation are now mothers and grandmothers, fathers and grandfathers of the generation who are revitalizing the language, the land and the memory, and who are speaking Mapuzungun, a language that suffered from the Argentinian policies of the silencing and prohibition of Indigenous languages. 

The story that Cornelio Puelman is telling us is not an isolated one. Stories like these have been heard in many places, such as among the Rankülche in the Province of Buenos Aires, or in the Pewenche areas, as well as in other regions of Wallmapu where people witnessed similar events.

These stories are told in Mapuzungun with the grammatical suffix “em” or “yem”, which is used to report something that is old or that is no longer here. It also carries a connotation of sadness and nostalgia for that world that is gone. It is customary in  Mapuche philosophy to reflect upon the kuifike che yem, because Mapuche thought is always thinking toward the past, on what the ancestors would have done if they were here in the present. This is a way for the ancestors to continue speaking to the present, so that the past returns and the circle closes. This is why it is important to rescue this piam. 

PUELMAN CORNELIO ÑI NGÜTRAN ~ English version below

Feychi zungu ta mülele faw mu, fey mu ta müley ta tufa zungu. Fechi zugu ta mülele, inche ta laku zuam ta ngülam ta tufi. Ngey mapu em ta tufa mo, inchiñ ta kupay ta winka chew weshake kuzaw ta kupay. Müley ta kulliñ. Inche ta mülen…, inche ta ngen mapu, fey entuy taiñ paisano em. Inche ta nielay ta fey paisano em. Inche ta feychi zungu, ta niey ta tio em. Kupaygün kupay winga inche nga entunge mapu pi em,  entunge mapu.

Fey miawngey mapu em, pia em, winka. Tüfa mari kiñe tripantu nien, mari küla tripantu, miawunge mapuzuam. Entuy mapun tiewtüfa kangelu mapu tati.

Consejalu ka winka entungeiñ mapu em. Ka winka mapuche tiew mülele, küme rüpü tüfaw pülle, inche feychi kampu, inche ta rangi pingey mu, tüfaw mu ta entungen, piam . Fey mo ta inche ta em.

Amuen tüfy ta tüfachi tüken ta tüfy, ta tüfachi mapu, fewla tañi mapu nien. Tükulen fewla ngülam müten kampu ta tafy, anay. Femgechi ta conseja ñi ta che, fey ta consejo feyta küme amuy ka. Consejaniele che inchiñ taiñ paisano em. Kiñe ta ka pülle amuy ka anüy ta kay müley pu che. Fey mu ta inchiñ ta winka ta kiñer, pim, pülle ta winka. Kom fey mincheawchi amuley, fey mu ta winka awüwün ta kelluy ta tüfey.

Así es.. unos con otros los winka no se tratan de joder. El paisano trata de joder al que está bien, trata de joderlo. El winka no, el winka se ayudan unos con otros, al jodido lo ayuda, por eso levanta, y nosotros no. 

Felelay pues… felelay, felelay.  

Inchiñ müley ta tüfey. Ilkungey feyta müley ta che ta tüfey. Feychi wule ta trawayu kom ta kiñelzungu pülle kom fey pülle. No, trawayu inche kupalan, inche amulan, well weza zomo, tiew weza ka mo ngelay ko ka tiew nielu lelfun mew. Fey mu ta tripalay fey. Kiñelzungu ta pilen, fey kiñelzungu, ¡ta müley fey! –¿Amuay pülle? –¿Amuayu? –¡Amuaiñ! 

Fütra kuifi ta müley pichi paw llazkünun ta tüfi. Fey mu ta tripalay ti pu che. Inchiñ taiñ mapuche ngeiñ ta tüfa. Kom ta feychi kiñelzungun ta nielay. Kiñe ta kay zungunge kangentuy ta ka zungu ka rakizuam müley. Fey mu ta inchiñ küme kuzawlaiñ. Küme kuzawlaiñ.


Kuifikeche müna malleo, kelluy, kelluwiñ; fotüm, ñawe, malle kiñelzungu, pi. Itrokom feley ta tüfy. 

[…] Antiguamente estaban todos unidos, todos unido. ¿No ve? Hoy estábamos conversando cuando yo tuve conocimiento tendría unos 10 años, 11. 

Pütuiñ may, ngolliiñ, zunguiñ. Peleao, peleao may tati peleolaiñ tati. Küme nguntrankaygün, tayültuku faw, tayültuygün, ngollygün, ulkantuygün, paylanaygün, pero weza zungulay. Fewla, kiñentuku pichikeche, pichikeche wüneltun me quieren pelear. Fey winkangefuy ta tüfey. Eso ha sido antes así.

Kuifikeche müley inche ñi fütra laku em nomen nga cruzafiy, rumen nga trentrenün zafiy, pi. Chew wefürpun pun gelle fulle, epu gelle fulle. Tripay nga lewfun mo nga amuaygün kiñe ngillañ engu. Kintuy nga chew müley rume nentuy sale fey mu tüfay müley pi, fey mu akufuy ñi puwükey.

Inche nga pikey ñi fütra laku em. Puwi nga winka nga inawlfiy katan ñi kawell pi, mollfunkawell mu nga bebiiñ. Müley nga la kulliñtufuy iloentufiy fey ñi fütra laku em zomo nga kütrangeiñ, fütra nga kütrangeiñ laku em tañi kushe laku em. Femgechi nga rupay pikey fütrakeche. Fewla nga ngtrumka mu ngelelle nge che koilaniefige “inche pelafi koila tati”, pingen tati. Así fuy.

Yo digo así fu. Son mentiras, dicen, yo no lo he visto. Pero uno que ha conversado está como un libro abierto, mi hijo. Clarooo… eso contaban los antiguos, que sufrían tanto, comían caballo muerto, punzaban su caballo. Si iban diez personas, diez kawell punzan, y si no, no alcanza la sangre. Mollfüñ kawell para matar el hambre. Si estaban sin comer, ellos, van dos, tres días, si no matan ningún bicho tienen que punzar el caballo. Punzan al lado de la vena. Si lo punzan del guargüero por lo menos cuatro litros de sangre sale. Ahí van tomando en jarro, sal y sangre, sal y sangre.

Pasaban tanto hambre porque tenían que andar disparando. Disparaban cuando vino este… ¿Cómo es que se llamaba el que vino a acaparar el país acá? ¿Los españoles? ¿Colón…? ¿Cristóbal Colón no es? …No, Roca, cuando vino ese.

Ka müna weshaley winka.

Una vuelta creo que kuifikeche piam müleygün, müley ta wütan, wütan ta müley. Amuaiñ fey mu winka nga müley fey mu, inche nga lay nga ñi pu che, pi. Nga kasike amuaiñ nga ñi kasike kechu mari …kechu pataka …kechu waranka wentru, piafi em. Kechu waranka wentru, piam,langümeymu, piam. 

Tranawüftuy nagtuy, nagüntun, nagentual. ¿Chumafungechi? Trafyeymu lanza mu trawil mu.  ¿Chumafuy? Traka mu müley tralkatuy. Kechu waranka piam lay.

Cinco mil personas le mataron al cacique. Murieron, dicen. Que le dijeron un wütan, wütan antes de ir hubo, un wütan. Y wütan es cuando le late un brazo o le late donde quiera, y le va ir mal, no, no vaya. No, voy ir nomas. Voy a atropellar a los winka, decía. ¿Que van a hacer con los Remington de los winka? Los agarraron en fila, así los mataron. Caían como pajaritos. ¿Y las lanzas y las trawilche, qué van a hacer los paisanos? Cinco mil mataron, dicen, volvió con mil. Seis mil personas, creo que atropellaron. ¿Qué va a hacer con el winka?

Wütan mu piam mu. Müley ta müley ta zugun wentru zomo fey zugunge. ¿Chumngechi amuan ta tüfa? ¿Küme amuan ka weza amuan? Weza amuaiñ, pita, weza wütan. Weza amuaiñ. No, amuan müten. La wütantufe le había dicho, la adivina ya le ha dicho que le va a ir mal. ¿Y usted cómo sabe?, dice el lonko. Venían por él. Si yo tengo un wütan, zugun wütan, zungulu wütan ¿küpaley winka? Küpaley. Wütan ta tüfy, küpay nga tiew. ¿Chew küpaley winka? ¿Küpay winka? Küpaley ta winka ta tüfa. 

¿Mirador pürayaiñ? May, püray mirador. Püraaiñ mirador piam. Resultó ser un mirador, para el sur. Püray nga, piaeymu. Küpaley winka püralu winka tüfa mu imulüy kümey kura kay lamngümaiñ winka. 

Küpay, piam mu. Küpaley, piam mu. Küpaley, piam mu, pu winka. Küpaley winka. Itrokom kelü rangiñ, kelü rangiñ. Tiew faw küpaley tati. Püraley ñi kiñelke pu che, los matan. Kansau pi ta winka, müna kansau. Katripel, katripeliel lanza mu, winka piwke lanza mu. Püraiñ. Rupay winka. Rupalu winka, si disparalew kawellun wiñotuy. Volvieron para atrás otra vez, en el mirador.

Antiguamente, eh, cuando andaban disparando de la expedición, subieron para el cerro y dice que si llegan a subir vamos a hacer rodar una piedra desde allá arriba. Van a pasar, llevando caballos, gente, y cuántos. Püraley winka, püraley antü. Pülle nga ta antü ta purraygün lamgümfiy. 

Si llega la hora suben. Todos no van morir, algunos dos, tres pueden subir allá, los matan a esa gente, van a salir disparando. Püra antüley che. Chumgechi nge montuy. Montuy. Feychi zapiley. 


If we were to talk about this matter that we are dealing with here. If we were to talk about this topic, my grandfather would give me this advice. We were the keepers of this land before, but the winka [non-Mapuche] brought bad works wherever he settled. Before there were animals. And being here…, and being from this land, the winka took the land from the Mapuche, as we were here and of this place. Those things didn’t happen among us. That was how my late uncle told me. They arrived, the winka, and although we were from here they took the land from us–they say–that’s how they took the territory from us.

The old ones used to say that the winka were trying to get land. I was eleven years old, I was thirteen, and they, the winka, were going around with the intention of taking land. They took away our rights to our land and to other lands as well.

The winka had been instructed to take away the old lands from us. Also the winka took the land of those Mapuche who had been on the good path, or that field in the middle. I remember those sad memories.

When I first came to this land where I am now, I planted this. Now I have this land. I only have this advice about the land: sow, friend. This is how people used to be counselled, so you will continue to be fine following this advice. The old Mapuche used to counsel us in this way. Some of them went and settled near the winka, and there were all the people. It is said, then, that we and the winka began to be together. The winka all went one on top of the other, so if a winka is harmed by himself or by others, they help each other, that’s what they do.

That’s how it is… the winka don’t try to screw one another. The paisano tries to screw someone who is doing well, they try to mess him up. The winka, no, the winka help one another, they help the one who is screwed, this is why they go forward, and we don’t. This isn’t any good…. It’s not good, no good at all.

We live in this way. There are folks that get angry, folks that are just like that. If someone says:

“Tomorrow we’ll get together to address the same question-united- one with another.”  

“No, I’m not going to get together, I’m not going… suddenly my wife is sick, the one from over yonder is still ill: I don’t have water.” 

So the matter never comes out. I would like to bring these things out all together, united. In this way, if someone says, “Let’s meet over there?” Everyone answers, “Come on! Let’s go!”

In former times, we nearly grieved over these things. Now these folks don’t come out. We are Mapuche here. We no longer have matters that we work on all together. When there is a concern, it is not like it was before, things are different, it’s another kind of thinking. So we don’t do good work, we don’t work well.

The old folks. The elders, those who came before, cousins, uncles, helped one another, we helped ourselves together. The sons, the daughters, my uncle, they walked all together as if they were one, they say. All of them! That’s how.

Yes, that’s how. Because before, I was already forty, and even so my deceased father told us what to do as if we were children. “Do this!”, he ordered, and I did it.  He wasn’t my father, he was my uncle. And today a fifteen year old son, what does he do? If he wants to do something, he does it, if he doesn’t want to, he doesn’t do anything. How are things going to go well in this way, my Friend? It’s because of that that it goes so badly.

…In the olden days, they were all united, all united. Can’t you see? What we just said, when I would have had understanding, I would have been ten or eleven. Sure, we drank before, we got drunk, we talked. But fight? Fight amongst ourselves? No, no, we never fought. We had good conversations, then we’d start the tayül, sing the tayül, sing romanceadas, and rest.1 But there weren’t any problems. Nowadays the kids drink and the first thing they want to do is fight. This comes from the winka. That’s how it was before.

1 The tayül is a ceremonial and sacred song. Every element of nature has a sacred song: the lake, the river, the rain. People also have a tayül. The romanceadas are spontaneous songs that relate to or narrate everyday  situations and are told in a sharing and funny way. Sometimes they are sung in counterpoint. There are many kinds of songs about a diverse range of situations that are sung as romanceadas. 

(Puelman now tells what the violent occupation of the territory was like and about the stalking and persecution of families during the invasion of the Wallmapu. He also tells the stories that he has heard from his elders.)

His brother-in-law was who crossed my great-grandfather over to the other side of the river with just enough to cure him, the elders say. Even though it was night, and they were two, they crossed to the other side. They came out of the river, and he and his brother-in-law went on together. They looked for any way out,  this way, they said; that’s how they got there.2

2 For the Mapuche worldview, rivers should not be crossed at night. The situation of persecution described is so desperate that it forces them to transgress that rule.

That’s how my deceased grandfather told it. Then, later, the winka arrived there. They told of times when they were being persecuted, and they pierced their horses, they, my grandfather and his wife, found dead animals and ate their flesh. These things suffered. Many torments were set upon my deceased grandfather and paternal grandmother. In this way they got on, this is how I was told the elders survived. Even though I tell it now, people say that I am lying. “I didn’t see that,” they say ”It’s a lie.”

I tell this story and they say, “They’re lies, I’ve never seen it.” But those who have spoken are like an open book, my Son. That’s what the old folks said, that they suffered so much, ate dead horses, pierced the flesh of their own horses. Ten people would go and pierce ten horses, if they hadn’t, they couldn’t have reached enough blood. They drank their horses blood to stave their own hunger. If they didn’t eat for two, three days, and they didn’t kill any other animal, they had to pierce the horse. It is pierced on one side of the vein. If the horse is pierced by the guargüero, you get at least four liters of blood. Right there they drink from a jug: salt and blood, salt and blood.

They suffered so much hunger because they had to shoot as they went. They had to flee, escaping when the… what was he called, the one who came to devour the Mapuche nation here? The Spanish? Columbus? Was it Christopher Colombus? No, Roca, Roca it was . That winka was real bad.

One time I think that the older one, they say, who had a presentiment, a hunch, there was a wütan, when a part of a muscle pulsates.3

3 The wütan is a pulse in the muscle that is interpreted as a premonition, a sign. Having a pulsing beat on the left side of the body is considered a bad omen.

“Let’s go then, because the winka, who killed my people are here,” said the Ionko. “Let’s go,” said the chief, “with 50…500…5000 men,” the grand Ionko said. They say they killed 5000 men.

One after another they lined them up on their knees and shot them down, downhill. What were we going to do? They went with lances and trawils.4 What were they going to do? The winka were armed and they fired. They say they killed 5000 men.

4 The trawil is a weapon with a single stone that has a slot in the middle where a rhea or choyke tendon is tied.

They said that he had a feeling, a hunch; he felt a wütan before going. And the wütan is when you feel a pulse in your arm, or a pulse anywhere, and it lets you know that things are going to go badly for you, so don’t go. 

“No, I’m just going to go,” they say the Ionko said. “I’m going to trample the winka,” he said. 

But what were they supposed to do against the winka’s Remingtons? They lined them up. That’s how they killed them. They felt like little birds. With lances and trawilche? What were our countrymen going to do? They say they killed 5000. He came back with a thousand. I think they killed 5 thousand. What could they do against the winka?

They said that he had a feeling, a hunch. The chief brought this news to the community, and they discussed: “What do we do with this? Are we going to do well or are we going to do badly?”. 

“It’s going to be bad for us. That hunch is bad presage, it’s going to be bad for us”, they told him. 

The wütantufe, the one who interpreted the sign, had already told the lonko that it was gonna go badly. 

“And you, how do you know?”, they say the Ionko demanded. “If I have a feeling, the feeling, what the pulsing says is that the winka is coming?”

“Yes, they are coming. This presentiment is that they are approaching from over there?”

“Where are they arriving? Are they coming here?”

“Yes they are arriving,” the wütantufe told him.

[In another persecution that the Mapuche families suffered on the prairie it is told that they said]

“Should we climb up to the lookout?” 

“Yes, let’s climb up to the lookout.” “Let’s climb on up!” they say they said. 

It just so happened that there was a lookout, to the South. 

“Climb up!” they shouted. “When the winka arrive and are climbing up we’ll roll down a hefty rock, that’s how we’ll kill the winka.” 

[He sings] “They’re coming, they say they said/ They’re approaching, they say./ The winka, they’re arriving, they kept on saying/ The Winka comes.” 

Half the people were covered in blood. Here they come! They climbed on up. Those that climb up are killed. They say that the winka were tired, very tired. With their spears they went for their necks and their hearts. That’s how it happened for the winka that climbed up. When the winka passed through, they had to run away, they returned riding. They retreated again, in the lookout.

Long ago, when they were fleeing from the expedition, they climbed into the hills. It is told that they said if they manage to climb after us let’s roll a good-sized rock from above. They’re likely to go by with horses, people, everything. And if the winka should come up, their hour has arrived. If that day arrives when they come up, they’ll kill them.

If they go up once they reach the lookout, not all will die, some, those who go up. Two, maybe three, will keep on climbing, they’ll be killed, they’ll be the ones to be killed, shot. That’s how it went at that time, that’s how the Mapuche people saved themselves. That is how they freed themselves. That was the way they took care of themselves.


Cornelio Puelman is Teodora Puelman’s brother. His mother was a machi, that is, a traditional Mapuche healer. He lived in the area of Fütra waw, fütra lelfun mew, in a rural area located in the prairies, near Comayo, Puelmapu, today the Province of Río Negro, in the so-called Argentine Patagonia. He belongs to the generation of grandfathers and grandmothers who left in the 2000s. Many of his great-nephews and his descendants continue to live in that area known as Línea Sur. They are reclaiming their Mapuche identity and the Mapuzungun after years of “shaming policies.”

Sandro Rivas Pichicura was born in Furilofche, Nawel wapi lafken mapu mew, in Puelmapu, also known in Spanish as Bariloche, Province of Río Negro, in Argentine Patagonia. His father was born in Fütra ruiñ, Cabestro Quemado. His mother was born in Pilawe. Both–Fütra ruiñ and Pilawe–are located in the rural area of the great prairie of the so-called Línea Sur. He has been a member of different Mapuche organizations and is currently an activist for the revitalization of the Mapuzugun. He teaches Mapuzungun at the Highschool Level and works in different linguistic revitalization projects. He has worked as a radio communicator and has participated cultural innitiatives, such as the microdocumentaries Mapuzungun. El habla de la Tierra.

Violeta Percia was born in Buenos Aires. She currently lives in Nawel wapi lafken mapu mew. She is a poet, audio-visual artist, and scholar. She works as a professor of Literary and Comparative Studies at the University of Buenos Aires. She studied film at the Cuban EICTV Alternative Cinema. She recently translated and wrote the introduction of I Am a Damned Savage, by the Innu writer An Antane Kapesh (2023). She also has published Ideorrealidades. Poemas y papeles dispersos de la obra futura de Saint-Pol-Roux (2013); El narcisismo del arte contemporáneo de A. Troyas y V. Arrault  (2020), the poetry books Clínica enferma (Buenos Aires, 2003), and Poesía del Tanti Rao (Mexico DF, 2019); and the novel Como nubes (Córdoba, 2021).

Memories from Wallmapu, the Mapuzungun Rises © Piam told by Cornelio Puelman in 1987

© Introduction and translation from Mapuzungun by Sandro Rivas Pichicura y Violeta Percia

© Pictures by Violeta Percia

© Translation from Spanish by Lorrie Jayne y Juan G. Sánchez Martínez ~ Siwar Mayu. September 2023

indinawemaaganidog / all of my relatives

“indinawemaaganidog / all of my relatives” from Islands of Decolonial Love. Copyright © Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, 2013. [ARP Books, Winnipeg]

If you prefer to read in PDF, please CLICK HERE

From the counter-cover of the book:

“Leanne Betasamosake Simpson’s lovingly drawn characters work hard to preserve their innocence in a world where irony and cynicism would be easier. They spend a lot of time travelling: on land, on the water, through space and time–in cars, trucks, fishing boats, canoes, and in their minds: between bars, forests, reservations, curling rings, kitchens, lakes, and highways. These exquisitely rendered journeys become symbols for our desire to understand and never stop learning, no matter the cost. There is heartbreak here but also many moments of fleeting grace, and a wry humor that promises to keep us safe” 

–Ursula Pflug

“indinawemaaganidog / all of my relatives”

i am standing on the wharf in cap saint louis just wondering, when a guy i’ve never met shows up. you should know i make it a policy not to talk to people unless absolutely necessary which is judgmental and damaged and yes i miss out on possibility, but at the same time tricky people do manage on occasion to penetrate my aural perimeter. it all works out in the end. sort of. 

so etienne shows up and says allo and obviously he knows i’m not suppose to be there so i’m suspicious of what he wants. i tell him i want to see the seal colony even though that’s not what i want and that’s not what i am looking for. he immediately says he’ll take me. i ask how much. he says for free. 


nothing in life is free. the best things in life are free. there is no such thing as a free lunch. 

we walk down the dock and he offers his hand so i can step down onto the deck of the boat. of course i refuse and step down onto stacked broken plastic bins on my own because we need to get a few things straight right from the beginning and this is one of them. 

he starts the engine and i’m in the back with the gear so we can’t talk. it’s sunny and it’s windy and it’s perfect and as we drive away from the shore i think about dexter and all the possible scenarios. he interrupts, offering me a coors light iced tea and i take one on impulsive even though it’s only ten thirty in the morning and coors light is always gross. Suddenly we’re a mile off shore in the atlantic. 

we drive past a kayaker and kumbaya plays in my head and i stand up and wave like a happy person so he’ll remember me when the cops question him later. 

it’s only a few more minutes to the seals which are herded on a sand bar so they can catch the fish moving into the river with big tides. we get close and they stampede into the sea reminding me of dogs and sheep and buffalo and etienne ask me if i want to go farther. 

with the same impulse as the coors light iced tea, i say yes and he says he knows this place where there is a school of mackerel. we could fish because last night he was there and he caught a thousand pounds just jigging for them. i decide he is mi’kmaq because he could be and even though that probably means nothing it makes me feel less nervous. 

on the way to the mackerel, etienne tells me how the feds kicked his family out of the park and paid them three hundred and fifty bucks for their land in 1968 and then they bulldozed the house. i tell etienne that i know how that feels but i don’t think he believes me because he thinks i’m from toronto and i’m rich and judgmental and full of shit because that’s what people think when you say the word “ontario”.

etienne gets out the lines and in two minutes we know we’re on the school because we’re pulling in mackerel easy. he watches as i hold the hook and snap the fish into the garbage pail, which is my reveal. it’s sunny and it’s windy and it’s perfect and the arms of the day are wide open and no one has to be anywhere. i see a northern gannet and i love gannets because they can disconnect their wings before they plummet into the sea after a fish. imagine disconnecting a body part! the gannet swims over to the boat smelling the fish blood and etienne hands the gannet a fish and says “the bird is my family, all of this, the fish, the seals, the water–this is my family,” which is his reveal. 

our eyes meet because now he has my attention. i walk over and hug him and he is the kind of person that can give and receive a real hug and i’m not one of those people because my alarm system goes off when people touch me and i freeze up and shut down. this time that doesn’t happen. i decide to kiss him and it’s perfect and easy and we make out void of awkwardness but with a clearly defined beginning and a clearly defined ending. then he drives back to shore while i gut the fish in the back of the boat using his terrifyingly sharp knife, feeding the guts to the gulls and the gannets. he drops me off on the dock. we thank each other. we say goodbye and i pay attention to each step, instead of looking back. 


Watch ↳ here Leanne Betasamisake Simpson performing “Islands of Decolonial Love”

For more about Leanne Betasamisake Simpson and her art

Leanne Betasamosake Simpson is a renowned Michi Saagiig Nishnaabeg scholar, writer and artist, who has been widely recognized as one of the most compelling Indigenous voices of her generation. Her work breaks open the intersections between politics,  story and song—bringing audiences into a rich and layered world of sound, light, and sovereign creativity.

“indinawemaaganidog / all of my relatives” from Islands of Decolonial Love. © Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, 2013. [ARP Books, Winnipeg]

~ Siwar Mayu, July 2023

Woman Seed, Creation and Resistance in the Camëntsá Territory

Interview with artist Eliana María Muchachasoy Chindoy

Interview © Paula Maldonado. Valle de Sibundoy, Putumayo

© Translated by Lorrie Jayne and Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

I first met Eliana Muchachasoy during a trip to the high Putumayo region, as I was climbing the steep street that led to the Indigenous town center and following the path that went alongside the graffiti of a grandmother and a Camëntsá  chumbe (woven belt). I ran into Eliana, more out of luck than by chance, in the central plaza of Valle del Sibundoy, standing just in front of a little house on the corner that was covered with images of plants, animals, and portraits filled with colored paints. It seemed as if she emerged from the painting; in effect, she did, because I learned later that this was Benach, the gallery that she, together with Alberto Velazco, had founded. It was a place where Eliana could make known her own work as an artist, bring forth other cultural and artistic work from her community, and open a learning/pedagogical space of exchange between the children and youth of the valley. For Eliana, all of these activities form part of a common effort to strengthen the identity of her Camëntsá  community and to heal and protect the territory. A recurring theme in her work is the feminine universe, a theme which she has strengthened over the years with her lived experience weaving, planting, and practicing traditional medicine among her grandmothers, I invite you to continue to read a bit about her experience as a Camëntsá  woman, artist, and cultural organizer.

Eliana Muchachasoy has participated in multiple collective and individual exhibitions in places such as Mexico, Ecuador, and the United States. She makes her visionary objective known throughout the territory of Abiayala as well as in Brisbane, Australia, where, in 2018, she was invited to participate in an artists’ residence.

Weaving Good Thought © Eliana Muchachasoy. Acrylic on canvas. 100 cm. x 70 cm. 2017

PM: I suggest that you begin with a memory from your infancy that you consider to be meaningful to your experience as an artist…

EM: I carry with me memories from childhood of the house where I grew up in the company of my mother and my grandmother who are both weavers. Through weaving, I came to know the stories of my community as well as the magic of the colors between the threads. When my grandmother began to teach me to weave, she explained to me many forms, but it was complicated to understand the sequence of the line required to form figures, so complicated that I gave up weaving. I am not sure for how long I gave it up for, I think several months might have gone by before I returned to try again. To my surprise, my mother and grandmother came to me with the very same work that I had begun earlier, because that was where the learning process lay. I had to finish what I had once begun. What’s more, my Mama, then and now a  mother to the community, would give me crayons and tempera paints for me to share with the other children who were in her care. We would paint on cardboard and posterboard, imagining stories that we came up with together. In the same way, when I went with her to meetings for her work, she would take a notebook and crayons so that I could paint whatever occurred to me in the course of the meetings. I remember some of my sketches as well as the voices of her companions saying that I was doing it all very well.

Untitled © Eliana Muchachasoy. Mixed media. 100 cm. x 70 cm. 2014

PM: After completing your studies in Art at the Bogotá Campus of the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, you return to your community. What was it like to come back to your origins and what importance does it have in your work today?

EM:  At the time I completed University, I had stopped painting for a while because I felt a bit frustrated in that area within the Academy. The painting classes didn’t go well for me. I returned to my community with various expectations and connected to a photography project to help tell some of the history of the community. After a year in my territory, I had the opportunity to enter the teaching profession, where I taught artistic education for more than three years in the public school in La Hormiga, Putumayo. It was a learning experience, but the moment came when I needed to change my work. I didn’t feel a thorough calling to the vocation of a teacher, so I decided to quit and return to my community without any clear view of which path or project I would continue.

In this stage, as I contemplated or planned what to do with my life, I returned to weaving. I completed several woven bags, and some of my grandmother’s stories came to my memory between the colored threads. It was precisely in these days when I found some oils and a small piece of canvas that I had brought back with me years before from the University. The question and answer came to me at once, “Why not try again?” In truth, I felt the hunch as a sign, a message in color, but more than anything, as a gift that the land was giving to me. Taking up painting again meant returning to life; reviving the spirit of color that was sown within me, finding meaning in my path, understanding that this was the lifelong project that I wanted to undertake. From that moment forward, I have never abandoned the colors.

Fire/Spiritual Force © Acrylic on canvas. 100cm x 100cm. 2022
“When, from the ashes, memory awakens, we remember that our roots are sown to strengthen our spirit and continue the weave of life.”
Elíana Muchachasoy

PM: Is there some ritual or activity that precedes the realization of your paintings?

EM: Medicinal plants have always been present in my family and in my community- I have learned to make an offering whenever I am going to give expression to something on canvas. I like to light a candle, apply natural plant essences to the surroundings and on my hands; I give thanks to all of the spirits of the elders, the territory, and the elements of the universe for having, once more, given me the opportunity to flow through color. Painting is in itself a ritual that allows me to see the magic of color- this is the way that I feel in harmony with the space and with what I am doing.

Precious Medicine © Eliana Muchachasoy. Acrylic on canvas. 124 cm. x 115 cm. 2021

PM. In what manner are your visual works linked to your family’s traditional medicine?

EM. I feel as though my work is influenced by the land, the community, the medicine , the grandmothers, the grandfathers, their plants, their animals, their birds, their dances, their stories and chants which have come to form my memory and reached me in different moments during the realization of a piece. I have brought forth some pieces in the Malokas, where the medicine, or yagé, is shared, and have been able to see how people feel connected to the image- some say that they have had similar visions, others feel the magic within the work and dream within that magic.

Take Me Away © Elíana Muchachasoy. Mixed media on canvas. 100cm x 100cm. 2021

PM: How prevalent is self-portrait in your visual work?

EM: On two occasions I painted self-portraits, but I found them very complex to paint faithfully. At times, I take pictures of myself with some gestures that I would like to express and I choose these gestures as references.

PM: It seems significant to me that you, yourself, serve as the reference in some of your paintings, whether or not as a faithful or realistic representation. How tied are the themes in your work to your own life?

EM: Often people ask about the artist’s signature in a work of art although, really, the signature is on one and all of the brushstrokes expressed on the canvas. This is the way I often feel when I am painting. It is as if I am writing or painting a story; I feel as though I give all and make all of myself available in this ritual, so I do represent myself, not necessarily as an image that is faithful to my portrait as much as it is to my essence and my feeling. Sometimes I feel as if I am in blue or green rays that vibrate with the vibrant or fluorescent colors that dance in the dreamlike forms that I am creating.

Grandfather Frailejón © Elíana Muchachasoy. Mixed media on canvas. 100 cm x 100cm. 2021

PM: Do you consider your painting to have been part of your personal healing?

EM: Painting has allowed me to reach other worlds, to feel free, to be happy, to remember, to dream, to pay homage to different plant spirits, grandmothers, elements. Every work has allowed me to heal, to balance my world. The feeling of satisfaction I have with my creations has been marvelous- it brings me great happiness to be a messenger through my works. I truly feel that art in all of its forms has a healing mission; it allows us to weave the beautiful thought and feeling of the heart.

From the series Woman and Medicine © Elíana Muchachasoy. Acrylic on canvas. 130 cm x 180 cm. 2021

PM: The hummingbird is an animal that appears regularly in your paintings. Can you tell us something about this animal and the importance it has for you?
EM: Hummingbirds are abundant in my territory. Every day they come around my workshop where I paint. Their colors are very attractive. There are different stories and good omens that surround the hummingbird- a visit from one brings messages. The grandfathers say that they are the great messengers because they can communicate with the beings who are no longer around us on this planet,, and because of this I like to have their presence in my work.

Serie Botaman juaba- Thinking Beautifully © Eliana Muchachasoy. Mixed media. 2019.

EM: There is a series of works called Botaman juabn, “thinking beautifully,” that is dedicated to the hummingbirds. The woven colorful headbands or crowns represent the colors of nature, of our contact with the medicine and the Earth Mother, the thought that is woven between colors. The hummingbird is the messenger from our ancestors and the path of our elders remains woven in every territory- It is up to us to continue with this weave of life. Think beautifully, the ancestors say, because we are writing our own story in this universe.

Corent Shnan Uashbojnëshá – The Nettle is Medicinal © Elíana Muchachasoy.
Acrylic on canvas. 87 cm x 109 cm. 2019
“Nettle is a healing plant, for teaching and learning. It is used to heal the body, relieve the nerves, improve circulation- In the Inga community, nettle is used in some of their celebrations, such as the Atun Puncha. This plant has been present in the process of the transmission of the values of the Indigenous communities: when the time comes to reprimand someone, nettle is used as a plant of authority.”
Eliana Muchachasoy
Tobacco Flower © Eliana Muchachasoy. Mixed media on canvas. 87 cm x 109 cm. 2018

PM: Can you speak to us a bit about the medicinal plants that appear in your paintings?
EM: The medicinal plants that I have painted have held a close relationship with me; some have always been present in the garden, along the paths within the territory, within the sharing with the grandmother and grandfather wisdomkeepers, in the need for some cure. I have painted medicinal plants such as the yagé vine, bella donnas or protector plants, calendula, elder, nettle, chamomile, frailejones, and water willow,among others. Also, I have painted the better known plants in our vegetable garden such as corn, cradle potato, tumaqueño, chayote, and kale. I’ve used the leaves of some of these plants as templates and to achieve different forms and textures in my work.

“Woman life, woman healing, feminine power, 
wise grandmother who sowed your knowledge 
with the hope that it would flower in our generations. Today your seeds weave themselves in our Earth Mother.”
Eliana Muchachasoy

PM: There are various symbols in your paintings. Could you tell us a bit about them?

EM: Some of the symbols that appear in the paintings emerge from the figures that are expressed on the loom, such as the diamond shape, which for us is the origin of life. For example, in the work “Flowers-We Will Be,” the sun is represented by the diamond and its radiating lines. In this work, I paint about the way that our territories will bloom again, because we are roots.The thought which our elders sowed in every plant, every food, in every lunar phase has not lost its roots. The new generations have to allow them to be born again in the Tamabioy Territory. This diamond figure also appears in the piece, “Bëtsësangbe Benach,” the path of my elders, which shows that the territories are the fruit of the struggles of our elders, and that caring for them, protecting them, and knowing them is our duty. The fruit of the future has its roots in the past. Our gardens maintain the living memory of our grandfathers and grandmothers.

… Lately I have been working on muralism and I really like to capture symbols through stencils, it is a way of showing a little bit of what is captured in textiles by community weavers.

Bëtsësangbe benach, The Way of my Elders © Eliana Muchachasoy. Acrylic on canvas. 125 cm x 111 cm. 2019

PM: The garden is a frequent theme in your work. Could you tell us about the path of learning that you find there? 

EM: The garden or Jajañ is the place where food and medicinal plants are sown, the connection with the Earth Mother, the space of sharing, of listening to the voices of the birds and the spirit of the plants. The garden is the place for learning and the transmission of knowledge. In this space, I learned to feel the textures of the plants, to see the constant miracle of life that the Earth Mother offers us, to contemplate dawns and dusks observing the way in which my grandmother explained the hours of the day according to the location of the sun, and the sowing of plants according to the cycles of the moon.

Untitled © Eliana Muchachasoy. Acrylic on canvas. 60 cm x 82 cm. 2019

EM: I once did a piece called “Woman Corn.” Since the dawn of time woman & corn have survived, both seeds of life that cyclicly weave themselves to the lunar rhythm. Within the womb of time the seed of corn nourishes the spirit of the Indian people; the hand of woman transforms the sacred seed. Thanks to her the corn is eaten, drunk, laughed, sung, woven- the corn is dreamt. Woman-corn, woman seed, woman moon, woman-mother-daughter-grandmother, woman who sows and teaches to sow, woman who weaves her ancestral culture in the daily art of living, Woman Corn.

Corn-Woman © Eliana Muchachasoy. Acrylic on canvas. 84 cm x 48 cm. 2019

PM: In your work, there are certain elements from Nature associated with the cycles of women. Can you speak to us about the presence of these cycles in your pieces? 

EM: In my work, I constantly refer to woman as seed. In the poetic language of Nature, woman is the carrier of life, the seed that at once germinates and gestates life within. She is the way through which we come to know light, through gestation, and in art, the symbolism of death and life are constant forces within which we should move, we should create new worlds, new gazes, and this is  where the gaze of the artist becomes relevant. The artist should look, observe, see, and it is in Nature where we find the correct motivations to reveal ourselves, in the observation of Nature, held, detailed. In Nature we find the questions and answers that have accompanied us since time immemorial, and perhaps art might help us to understand the questions and answers -to feel them- interpret them. 

EM: The Camëntsá Indigenous woman–represented through different spaces as the protagonist of the living culture of her people–is the one who weaves and sows with other women  celebrating life and joining their steps in a single walk. In this way, Indigenous women weave our Camëntsá territory ancestrally, through thought and word.They are grandmothers who weave the path, and till the land, day after day, accompanied by the guidance of the moon and the sun. They who have survived and maintained their customs despite a process of colonization, they who have fought for their life and territory–the women who inhabit my colorful space. This is perhaps the reason why women are protagonists in my work, women as territory, the feminine as the sacred and the human, Earth Mother as a feeling, a dream, both as struggle and hope. Women and territory in unity.

Botaman Juabn Juashentsam, sowing good thoughts © Eliana Muchachasoy. Acrylic on canvas. 148cm x 52cm. 2018

EM: We are all interwoven. We are constantly weaving thoughts together, weaving words. We are a single universe. My grandmother wove her beautiful thoughts and words in my heart, and showed me the magic of colors through the threads on the loom, the miracle of constant life in her chagra (garden), and the dreamlike spaces through stories around the fire. Her beliefs and medicines are memories that fill my universe with gratitude for having her presence and company in my upbringing as a woman and artist. Her legacy remains in my mother, in my family, and in my hands. In the work “Sowing good thoughts” she is the woman at the center who shares the colored threads with other women. In several paintings I have paid homage to the grandmothers as knowledgeable women, sowers. In a piece entitled “Mama Mercedes”, I painted my grandmother as a way to thank her for her legacy.

Mama Mercedes © Eliana Muchachasoy. Mixed technique. 115cm x 120 cm. 2020
“Camëntsá woman, you are the most beautiful flower among flowers, knowledgeable about medicinal plants, your wisdom is full of love. Your mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart, ancestral Mother. Aslepay ainanokan, Mama Mercedes, for healing our paths and harmonizing with us so we think beautifully.”
Eliana Muchachasoy
Bëtsmamá, Grandmother. © Eliana Muchachasoy. Acrylic on canvas. 115cm x 120 cm. 2020

PM: Can you tell us about the link between the images you create and the visions that arise in the Yagé ceremony?

EM: Traditional medicine, specifically yagé, is part of the collective lifelong project of the community. Since we were children, the elders have shared this medicine with us to have a greater connection with the spiritual, with plants and everything that surrounds us. For me, this medicine has been a bridge to myself, to self-reflection, healing and spiritual strengthening. In my work I have not depicted yagé visions; my work is rather a vision with my territory, with the memory that I have been restoring and in which this medicine is also a part. My work is a contribution to the collective memory of my community.

"I dream among your mountains,
I dream among your roots,
I dream within the seed that germinates,
I dream on the calm water,
I dream in the day and at night,
Contemplating the miracle of life.”
Eliana Muchachasoy

PM: In your work, how do you build the view of the territory from feminine thought?

EM: This is a constant challenge to myself and my honesty. When reviewing my history, my body, my territory, I discover all the traces of my ancestors, my aunts, my grandmothers, my sisters, and the hands of my mother resting. Sisterhood –as it is known in the West– is part of our lifelong project. There is a feminine feeling in the Camëntsá sense of collectivity; there is a knowledge that is transmitted from generation to generation. Camëntsá time passes differently, -the time planting in the chagra (garden), and the time in the kitchen-fire. The woven time leaves its traces on the chumbe (woven belt), which we always or almost always wear in our clothing. Our songs and dances, in which all voices, the old and the new,  are repeated over time, sound together . My work is part of this fabric, I feel that I am just one more voice in this territory.

… The Indigenous feminine gaze is a collective one among both the elderly and the new seeds-the girls. In these ever-changing territories, in the face of new challenges, my body is not only inhabited by my ancestors; there is also a permanent risk of the extinction of my people. I believe that it has, to a large extent,  to do with the loss of identity, and this Indigenous feminine identity fights for survival in the face of the excess of information that overwhelms us today. The media, in its globalization, places the differences that are ultimately our essence at risk. We still have to break these “mirrors,”  and focus more on the reflections in water, fire, wind, and within, deep inside.

Catsbet, Full Moon © Eliana Muchachasoy. Mixed technique. 100 cm x 100 cm. 2021
“Starting anew as when we leave behind bad energies under the light of the full moon, with the power of water that heals and gives us life. The sacred plants rise up to heal and protect the woman who awakens today and allows the heartbeat to guide her consciousness. Love will be light on her path . ” Eliana Muchachasoy

EM: From the Indigenous perspective we consider our bodies as our first territory, and that is where we need to continue sowing self-love, the good living, the memory of beautiful thoughts, the meaning of being Camëntsá. I would then define my work toward one goal: to raise awareness around the feminine, and the Indigenous female territory as a social, political, aesthetic, economic and above all spiritual position.

PM: In what way does your work contribute to transmitting the traditional Caméntsá women’s thought?

EM: My art is the result of a permanent curiosity. Academia was only the continuation of a process that I had already begun in my territory, at home, with my family. My mother and my grandmother provided the tools, the spaces, the motivation, to be able to represent my indigeneity, my free feminine. Although I carry and represent them with pride and dignity– I am not merely the bearer of the arts of my community.  I also explore academia, aesthetics, politics, spirituality from an Indigenous women’s perspective. I have managed to rebuild my symbolic universe with various tools. I am an Indigenous woman artist who paints, sings, dances, weaves, makes video, photography, performance, murals and who also leads cultural processes within her community without ever forgetting her roots. Taking advantage of the opportunity of being an Indigenous Woman, I show my Camëntsá universe through my work. I only hope that this path helps other women to walk toward the art of their territories, so that they can find a lifelong project based on artistic tools, so that the memory of Indigenous communities survives over time.

Flowering from Within © Eliana Muchachasoy. Mixed media. 130 cm x 180 cm. 2022

PM: What impact have your work and leadership had on the men and grandfathers of your community?

EM: When I started looking for spaces in my community to display my work, I witnessed how the technique of my artistic proposals had not yet found its place to be appreciated, so the task became bigger. At the time of my first exhibitions, grandfathers, grandmothers, children, young people, and the community as a whole hadn’t had the opportunity to appreciate contemporary  art proposals, therefore many people did not last a minute observing my work, and the comments went no further than to say: “it’s very beautiful.”

"Sowing beautifully for harvesting beautifully
and thus flourishing in our passing through the Earth Mother.”
Eliana Muchachasoy

EM: Today there are different points of view, which differ by gender, because there are sexist perspectives that sometimes emerge from women, and I know men who manage to get closer [to my art] from their feminine-self. Therefore, I think that the gaze does not depend so much on biology, but on culture. If you ask me about the collision between the feminine models of thought and the hetero-patriarchal capitalism, then my answer would continue to be that my work is my lifelong project, and that in my territory, as in many others, there is an imbalance between the feminine and masculine, which is embedded in the ignorance of our rights as women, as Indigenous people, and even more so as artists. Culture is often a privilege, and women in my community have gained different spaces that allowed them to be visible. The fight for recognition is just beginning. My work is consistent with the nature of art, which is to generate changes, new paths must be sought; art is the vehicle of culture.

From the “Women and Medicine” series © Eliana Muchachasoy. Mixed technique. 125 cm x 115 cm. 2021
"Earth Mother, embrace me with your colors,
with sweet songs embrace me!
Yagecito, heal me with your colors,
with sweet songs heal me.
May the medicine survive
so we feel its strength in our roots,
for us to grow, heal, flourish, and live”.
Eliana Muchachasoy

PM: There is a fascinating exploration with color and fluorescence in your work. Could you tell us about these experiments with light and color?

EM: I define myself as an endemic-artist, and this particularity is explicit in my work. Every detail that I paint is familiar to me, it is close to me, and not just physically, but  in the dreamtime, the spiritual and, above all, in the worldview that belongs to Andean Amazonian peoples. It is within these visions where I clearly perceive my universe of colors, and I might say that this is limited because there are colors and shapes that I cannot represent in my art but still live in my life-experience. Well, the medicinal plants that are part of the ritual celebrations of my people are accompanied by dances, songs, and music. It is a whole experience that transcends reasoning, and it is from this abstraction that my light overflows over senses. Then, what I paint resembles a memory, a dream. What I paint in my being, I later translate it to the material, music, image.

(…) On the technical side, my time in the university –at the hands of mentors and artist friends who still accompany me in this exploration of color–has been my foundation for consolidating what I already knew since I was a child, which is that the Camëntsá colors are more vivid and vibrant. How we use colors is something that characterizes us from other peoples. The pinta [the yage vision that heals] has a lot to do with the way we perceive the world.

"A vision that heals,
a vision within the medicine,
with the spirit of plants,
the melodies of each being,
the blessing of the universe,
you're here, I'm here
honoring the land,
my body, my memory,
time and all the beings
who have built me.”
Eliana Muchachasoy

EM: In contemporary art, the works by Carlos Jacanamijoy, Luis Tamani, Alex Grey, Jeisson Castillo, Maria Theresa Negreiros, Olinda Silvano–to mention just a few examples–have influenced the way I work with the light as part of a vision, and the purpose that transcends the aesthetic. Painting the light, the inner light, painting it to see through, people’s light, their aura, their feelings, my own feeling- that is the magic that seduces me in each canvas. The fluorescence of the colors are like the dots shown at the beginning of a pinta [vision that heals] with yagecito. In these colors I have found a closeness to the ritual, an awakening that occurs when the image reacts against the ultraviolet light. When I feel that I have finished a piece, I love to get that divine surprise of the transformation of the colored lines when they are in the dark with an ultraviolet light.

PM: Is there a teacher who has particularly inspired you?

EM: When I saw the work of Olinda Silvano from the Shipibo people, I felt great admiration for her work, not just artistically but for her activism as a woman. The fabric that she has strengthened with other women in her community filled me with hope. Her work inspired me to continue in my own process with strength. 

We are life. We are Resistance © Eliana Muchachasoy. Photography Project

PM: Which other artistic mediums have you explored and how have they influenced your work?

EM: I acquired different tools in University that allowed me to continue exploring images. Painting, photography, video, muralism, illustration and music have been the fields  with which I have found the greatest connection. This exploration has allowed me to connect with women, girls, mothers, grandmothers, and young people from my community. It is through photography and video that I have also managed to be the voice of other women through their bodies, facial expressions, gazes, dances, songs, fabrics; when they are caught in an image, or when they are moving through the lens, I have been amazed by recognizing myself in them, feeling as a Camëntsá woman, and acknowledging the need of strengthening our identity and taking care of our territory and bodies. Awakening other gazes through photography has allowed the community to reflect on images from different perspectives about, and to see the state of art within the territory in more depth.

(…) When people visit our territory, they appreciate how art keeps the essence of the communities who inhabit it alive. There are entire families that specialize fully in carving, loom weaving, threading, or music. In this story I would like to make a parenthesis to thank the universe and the territory for the beauty of music. For several years, I had been feeling a sonorous call and I tried to get closer to that call by learning an instrument: the guitar. I have found much healing in music which has allowed me to share these feelings with other women. In the last two years, we have been weaving melodies and songs in a band with some women from my community, the musical group JASHNÁN, which translates “to heal”. We thank Mother Earth for our life, the elements, our taitas (both medicine men and grandfathers) and grandmothers. We understand songs as a way of healing.

Tsbatsanamamabiam Jabersiam / A song for Earth Mother © Eliana Muchachasoy.
Mixed technique. 118 cm x 125 cm. 2018

PM: How does your work impact the fabric of your community?EM: I feel that art is a constant sowing. It is the responsibility of continuing with the fabric that our ancestors started. Today my work has greater recognition in my community, and at the same time it has become a benchmark for strengthening our identity. There are many Indigenous-based artistic projects that need to be visible so that the world knows about our existence, worldview and social issues. This is why we felt the urgent need to have this space called BENACH ART GALLERY.

PM: Tell us more about the BENACH gallery project and its history…

EM: In my process as an artist, I have asked myself, why? For whom? Why do I want to make art? In my travels, I have seen art by many communities in the middle of museums in big cities where few people from rural areas have access; then art, the experience of art, is for the few. Based on these experiences, there is a need to show art within my territory, and give my community the opportunity to appreciate the different projects by local artists, nurture the public, and create a sustainable space through art in a community lifelong project. I believe that in this way we weave community and territory, and make a valuable contribution to the collective memory. 

Benach Gallery

EM: In the Camëntsá language, BENACH is translated as path. As an artist my lifelong project is linked to art, so this is the path that has allowed me to be the voice of my territory. During my artistic career I had some difficult moments. Initially there was no recognition of my work and it was precisely because I had not had the opportunity to exhibit my work in Putumayo.  These types of spaces that promote art did not exist. Benach Gallery allows us to promote local art. Nowadays, children and young people are receiving a lot of information through social networks and the mass media, and all this information builds their identity, their values and principles. Based on this reflection, Alberto Velasco and I decided to shape this initiative to continue weaving art with the community.

(…) Benach Gallery is a path that has made it possible to strengthen the artistic, cultural, gastronomic and economic fabric of our territory. Today we have different entrepreneurial projects that are being carried out in the territory, ways of managing a circular economy and supporting the local economy. We have organized several individual and group exhibitions with local and guest artists, and some institutions request our space to show their students the works that are being exhibited, thus understanding that art allows us to educate ourselves.

Bengbe uaman luare, Our territory © Eliana Muchachasoy.
Acrílico sobre lienzo. 100cm x 70cm. 2018
“Our territory always unites us.
We are the living memory of a community.
We are present, past and future."
Eliana Muchachasoy

EM: Likewise, art as a path of social transformation allows the lifelong project for children and young people from the communities to find a way to express and live through it in a healthy way. It is necessary to continue weaving the elders’ word and thought through art so that their legacy continues in the new generations. The dream of the Benach Gallery began several years ago but took shape two and a half years ago. There, we continually learn, explore, share, and appreciate other possible worlds.

PM: A year ago, there was a fire in the gallery, and as I understand it, there was a rapid recovery process due to the solidarity of many. Can you tell us about the learning behind this incident?

EM: On December 4, 2021, an electric malfunction caused a large fire in the gallery. We lost almost all material things and infrastructure. When we saw the whole space in flames, we felt that it was the death of the Benach Gallery. I had a nervous breakdown with the impact, and was left with only the clothes I had on. The nice surprise and the encouragement to restore the gallery again came from the energy of the people who had been part of Benach. Camëntsá people and peoples from other places demanded that the only art gallery in our territory return. I understood that a meaningful planting has been done in this space. We organized and carried out different activities to collect funds. Local artists, youth groups, relatives and the community as a whole supported us in many ways. Art itself helped to restore Benach Gallery. We did raffles for paintings, shared music, gastronomy, mingas (collective work), and barter. 34 days later, we managed to rebuild the space and open the doors to the public. We have not completely recovered from the material loss, but we felt a great satisfaction to be able to continue weaving art in this territory, contributing to the collective memory of our communities. Today, our social fabric has grown in the Benach Gallery; we have around 29 entrepreneurial projects in the region, and the name of Benach is renowned for its cultural value.

Eliana Muchachasoy © Paula Maldonado

For more about Eliana Muchachasoy Chindoy, her art and the Benach Gallery

More about Paula Maldonado

Paula Maldonado studied Philosophy at the National University of Colombia and graduated with a Master’s degree in Aesthetics and Art History from Paris 8 (Saint Denis Université). Her thesis: “Clichés of America, the impression of the imaginaries of power”. She has worked as a teacher, researcher, curator, and coordinator of seminars and workshops in different settings. She is particularly interested in the multiple links between art and cosmopolitics, pedagogy, community-based work, trans-disciplinary/collective creativity, Latin American art, Postcolonial Studies, and the anthropology of images. 

Eliana Muchachasoy and Paula Maldonado © Siwar Mayu ~ February 2023

Bird Spirit in the Wellsprings of Daydream. Fredy Chikangana

 Samay pisccok pponccopi muschcoypa / Espíritu de pájaro en pozos de ensueño ©  Fredy Chikangana. Bogotá, Ministerio de Cultura, 2010.

Translation from Spanish © Lorrie Jayne

If you prefer to read the PDF, please CLICK HERE

The literary work of Fredy Chikangana (Wiñay Mallki, root that remains in time) is fundamental in the history of contemporary Indigenous literatures from Abiayala (the Americas). His verses and essays mirror his life experience between community work and “walking the word” within cross-cultural spaces. From Chikangana, we have learned that “returning to ourselves” is always possible, and that the ancestral territories continue to speak the languages of the land, in this case: Quechua. With his flutes, poems and koka leaves in his chuspa (bag), Chikangana has shared his message of memory and unity from Chile to California, and from South Korea to Italy. Aware of the migrations of his Yanakuna Mitmak ancestors, his verses speak of chaskis (messengers), chakas (bridges), and exchanges. (Juan G. Sánchez Martinez)


callarinasha cusicuymanta huaccayripi
causaypiy llaphllahuachai puka
tukuna rumipi yana
paypicay yupaychayniok cayiniyokmanta uku pacha 
huatanima nukanchi yawar
waskakunawan huaymapacha.
phurupay tukanta
ima huacaychina llimpikuna causaymanta 
yakucapay munainiyok ttukiri
k ́apakpay yachikpayri tucuimanta quihuakuna
ima pusapayayman ananpachaman ukupachaman 
callpawan mosccoykunamanta.

Chaiman pacha quilluyana
rinacay tullu
jaika shimikuna pachamanta chhonccasca tarinakuna
nuka tikramuna caimán llapllahua
millma caimán, yakuman ima llancana aichakuna
nukarina takiman kcaytacunapura huailla quihuachaymanta 
micjunapak mosccutucuy runakunamanta
nuka tukuna kirushata uturunkumanta
taqui tutakunamanta tinya uyhuamanta
kenataquimanta tutaypachajahuaman
ukupachapita urkujatunmanta.

The Earth

The Earth

the beginning of happiness and weeping

within her lives the red placenta

turned to black stone, 

within her exist the rituals of the subterranean beings

that tie our blood

to the creeping vines of time.

Within that earth exists

the feather of the toucan

that keeps the color of life,

the free and restless water exists there

the aroma and taste of all the herbs

that carry us to heaven and hell,

we are there, you and I

with the strength of dreams.

Once the mouth of time has sucked them dry

our bones will go back

to that black and yellow earth;

we will return then to that placenta

to that feather, to the water that touches our bodies,

we will go and sing among the green threads of herbs

and feed the dreams of men.

Once again we will be the tooth of the tiger,

night’s poem, mare’s hoofbeat.

flute song in the deepest hours of night

within the depths of the great mountain.

Caykuna waskamanta sumaimana

Chaipi huchuy llanta chincashcca 
runakuna tucunaq pishcupi
illapay llimpirichakwan ninamanta 
jahuapi catanakuna wassimantakuna. 
Cahuapay puñuipay causaymanta 
callpanchay ñanpay
sonccopaywan pancalla achcallaquimanta.
Ary huaquin utiykuna
ashana japina tusuykuna millmacaymanta 
takipay mucmikuc
ñaupakunamanta cachakuna
richhaycunari runpanakuna
ima llimpiana millmapaymanta
kaykunashapay waskamanta sumaimana 
huarcurimakuna ananpachamanta
kaima maipiman uraikuna huañukuna
jahuinata tucuy mosccoykuna causaykunamanta.

Beings of the Tremendous Liana

In that lost little village

men turn into birds

light up with their fiery colors

above the rooftops of houses.

They look over the sleep of the live ones

so at dawn they might 

revive the way

with hearts made light of so much sorrow.

If one were to ponder them

they would understand the dance of their feathers

in the darkness

the silent song

of ancient messages

and the circular forms

that flash like lightning from their feathers;

they are beings of the tremendous liana

that hangs from the sky

that the dead descend down upon

to paint the dreams of the living.

Takimanta pachakuna

Saramanta nukamantaki
yakumantari noqa samay.
Kunantaki sarunhina paikunataki
sinchina muyu ttillayaima huañuykuna. 
Ary suttuina ima micunakuna pacchakuna.

Saramanta nukamantaki
yakumantari noqa samay.
Causay kunan tarpuymittawan cainamanta 
mishquikunawan atina hark ́aima huañuykuna.

Verses from the Earth

My verses are of corn

and my essence of water

I sing today as they sang before

like a strong seed that dodges death

As does the drop that feeds the fountain

My verses are of corn

and my essence of water

I live with yesterday’s seeding

with the sweet insistence that detains death.

Pacha takipa

Saramanta takiy nuqapi yakuri samay
Taki punchau ñaupakhina taki
k’ullu sonccohima muyu ima nima huañushca 
suttuyhinamicjuchiy pucuycuna.
Saramanta: taki, yaku, samai...
Causay punchau tarpunahuancuna cayna-punchau 
trigo parhuayna poccoy ima sisay pachacunapi.

Chants from the Earth

My songs are of corn, of water my essence

I sing today as they sang before

like the stubborn seed that refuses death

like the drop that feeds the fountain

of corn: songs, water, essence…

I live today with yesterday’s seeding

like the ripe ear of corn that blooms on the earth.

Nukanchis kan causay pachacaypi

Paykan cutanapaykuna quilluzarapay rumijahuapi 
nukanchistaquinakay quenawanihuan tinyacunari tarukamanta 
nukasinaiku shinkayanaiku manapacha
nukachana intita rinaima urkupaypi;
Nukasinaiku nukatusuikuni quenacunawan maquicunapura 
nukawan haku cahuirinahuan pachaukupimanta
pupumaypi inlli cayanaima apanainukari
pachayta Maipú nukausana huañushkuni
nukachaskinakay cushiwan:
«¡Nukanupiana!» niy taita Manuel «causaimari sarapay». 
«¡Nukanupiana!» niy mama Rosario «causaimari pachapay ima
Shuyanan tusuykay jahuapi huachuncuna 
nukasinaiku takinakayri huañushkuwan 
quenaswan machanchinan llaquincuna 
antuchiwan mishkichinam tutacuna 
«¡nukanupiana llakimana! caparipay
«ima nukancharinan causay pachaikay».

We Have Life on This Earth Yet

While they grind the yellow corn on the mortar

we sing with flute and deerskin drums

we laugh, and drink without haste

bid goodnight to the sun who flees through the mountains.

We laugh and dance, flutes in hand

go down towards the depths of the earth

by that warm umbilical that drags us toward 


towards that space where our dead ones live,

they welcome us with happiness

“Let’s drink!” says Grandfather Manuel, “and long live the corn.”

“Let’s drink,” says Mama Rosario, “and long live the precious land that warms us!”

And while we dance upon the furrows

we laugh and sing with our dead,

with our flutes we banish our sorrows

with chicha we sweeten the nights.

“Let us drink without shame!”  they shout,

“We have life yet on this earth.”


Tutamanta kaimi urkuspiri
punkucuna cay k ́anchachii chucchunari
llinpipaywan ninamanta
k ́atcukuna cunapay cahuana tocco huachuchaicaimi
 ima chacay tutayakuna rhupaypak sonkonukan 
runakuna huarmiri yanakunas
ima cay runa ima cay yanapana pachapaipi tutapaimanta 
shimi, huaccay asiri yakushukpi cushnimanta sancju, 
ninapaypi sha callanapaipi
callanapaipiri yana
panccaykuna kokamanta muyuima runpanapi
muyuina pachapay
machupay hamk ́ay panccakuna nina-hasttik
chaimanta apanasha pancakimsa shimicunaman 
mambiari cahuarayai usphakunaman
ccocuy kimsa pancca yuyo ninfita
yallinapay hauanta acchapaymanta
«raquiycamay» niy,
«paykuna munanapas mambiar»
phutuy ninamanta kcaytashuk cushnimanta
imakuna muyuy jahuapi uaikuna
paykan upiana ñanpay ananpachaman;
tapuna sunkupay payapaimanta
«¿kayma niyman ninapay?»
Tiyana chhinshuk paquinima jatapaywan

On Fire

Night falls in the mountain

Doorways brighten and quiver

with the brilliance of the fire

the cracks and windows are the lines

that cross the darkness to warm our hearts

The Yanakuna men and women

solidary beings in times of darkness

speak, cry and laugh in a river of thick smoke

Within the fire sits the clay basin

Within the basin of black clay

the little coca leaf spins in circles

just as time spins.

The elder toasts the leaf and stokes the fire

then brings three leaves to his mouth and

chews the coca looking down upon the ashes

he offers three tender leaves to the fire

passing them above his head

“We must share,” he says

“They, too, want to chew.”

A thread of smoke rises from the fire, takes a turn ´round the kitchen

as it makes its way towards the heavens.

Grandmother’s heart asks:

“What could the fire have spoken?”

A silence abides broken 

by the crackle of dry kindling.

Yuyay yakuk

Cuyak llakta
yanacunas huañuk ñoccanchic shimi rimai purinam. 
Cuerpo yaku licha purina
waiku yuyai
huaira wiñay shuchuna.
Ima yaravi
ñampi ttica maythu quinquinam yaravi
waikus pas urkus cay
yanakuna quilla yachina
inti k›uichi waiku runa.

Memory of Water

Throughout these lands

wander the voices of our deceased yanakunas

The river is their body-they walk with

the memory of water

trembling like a tree in the wind.

This is why I sing

that the flowers and pathways may sing

mountains and lakes

that the moon may know that I am Yanakuna

man of water and rainbow.

Quechua sonccoycaimi

Purinaymi caranuqapi
takipay pisccomanta hullilla tamiakuna 
pponccopay yakumanta chakracunapi 
runari ima purichiy puyu huaylluy.

Quechua sonccoycaimi

imaraykucaina tutakuna nuqapi huakyay 
imaraykukunan chekchipay hanapacha nuqapitapuy 
imaraykupaccarin katin taki
jahuapi usphayaykuna.

Quechua wairacaimi ima cheqquechiy kcaytakuna chakatana 
tutacunapi misterioninari.

Quechua nimacaymi huarmimanta
chaycama yuyai illaypicuna cuyaymantan
manña tullpacunamanta... manña pachakunamanta 
manña ñankunamanta.

Quechua iphupaycaimi paccarincunamanta 
ssimiri ñukanchimanta huañushca.

Quechua sonccopaipi
ima shaikuna pincuylluri tinyapura 
caballupaypi pachamanta sacha 
k ́apayhuan kiñiwa kamchari
 maipi rimay: ñukanchi maiki, 
ñukanchi cara, ñukanchi rimay, 
ñukanchi taki, ñukanchi atipacuk.

Quechua pachamamacay
cunuyachinakuna llapllahuakuna
ñoqari huachana pachaman
shukpi minka atipanakuymanta killari wiñay.

Quechua is my heart

Within my body lives

the song of birds announcing the rain

the pool of water in the garden

and the man who passes by caressing the mist.

Quechua is my heart

for yesterday the night called me

for today the grey in the sky asks me

for tomorrow I will keep on singing

over the ashes.

Quechua is the wind that scatters the threads of the weave

in the mysterious night of candles and oil lamps.

Quechua is the silence of woman

while she dwells upon the absence of her beloved.

at the edge of the tullpa: the stones who keep the fire

…at the edge of the earth

at the edge of a path.

Quechua is the morning dew the voice 

of our dead ones.

Quechua is the heart 

that shakes between flutes and drums

in the neighing of the millenium

with the smell of kiñiwa

and roasted corn,

where we still say: our hands

our bodies, our voice

our music, our resistance.

Quechua is the earth mother

to whom we belong

who shelters the placenta

and delivers us to the world

in a minga* of struggle and permanent moons.


* minga: andean tradition for collaborative effort and community work.

For more about Fredy Chikangana / Wiñay Mallki

Samay pisccok pponccopi muschcoypa / Espíritu de pájaro en pozos de ensueño © Fredy Chikangana

Bird Spirit in the Wellsprings of Daydream © Lorrie Jayne ~ Siwar Mayu, November 2022

“Sanchiu”. Dina Ananco

Original poetry in Wampis © Dina Ananco

Introduction, selection and translation from Spanish © Katia Yoza

If you prefer to read as PDF, CLICK HERE

Dina Ananco is a Wampis and Awajun poet, translator, and interpreter. She has a BA in literature, and a Master’s degree in Peruvian and Latin American literature from Universidad Nacional de San Marcos, in Lima. She participates in poetry readings and academic events in Peru and internationally. She will be representing Peru at the Guadalajara international book fair in 2022.

Sanchiu (Lima: Pakarina Ediciones, 2021) is the first published book of poems in the Wampis language. The Wampis people are located between the south of Ecuador and the north of Peru, and they are part of the Jibaro linguistic family. The book is a bilingual edition in Wampis and Spanish, and the author translated her poems into Spanish herself. “Sanchiu” was the last name of Ananco’s grandmother, who appears on the book’s cover. This collection of forty poems is a tribute to the Wampis women which makes visible their strength and suffering, as well as current challenges inside and outside of the communities.. The poems follow the Wampis literary poetry form called “nampet” and their celebration of singing anywhere with nostalgic emotion, tenderness, humor, and dubious tone.

Kiarai, etsa kanak weakai,
ameka utñaitme
turasha Nantu wainiakum
nantu takatin nekapeakum
shir wake mesemar utñaitme
Antakrika utmain utñaitme
Jika jikamat utñaitme
Urukamtain utea, tamaka;
aishri Nantu ajapa ikukmau asa utñaiti
turamin aiñawai uun aiñaka
Yuwisha suritujakmau asa,
shir yurumin asamin,
suri asamin, aishrum ukurmakin tutaiyaitme.
Miñasha, ishichkisha, ashismasmeksha ujattsakia
tui nuwe penkermarisha aa
wisha ichinkachin najantan unuimartaj
Yamaika, ichinkachika, pininchika najantaka shir nekatsji.
Nuwech iñaktursakia
miñak iñaktursakia,
wisha unuimartaj.


In the evening, when the sun goes to sleep,

you usually cry

but when you see the Moon

when you feel the full moon

you sob, longingly.

We could cry listening to your weeping.

Nostalgically you cry.

Why does she cry? when we say;

because of the abandonment of her husband Nantu cries,

the uun regularly tell you.

As you are stingy with the pumpkin,

as you are a good eater, 

because you are greedy, your husband has left you, they tell you. 

Warn me too, even if it is little, whispering, 

where there is real clay

that I might learn how to make little vessels. 

Now, we don’t know how to make the little vessels, not even the pinin.

Show me the little clay;

only to me show it to me,

so that I too can learn.


Nantu: the Moon

Uun: Elders 

Pinin: vessels made of clay in which the wampis drink water or masato (traditional drink made of yucca).

Atumsha urukarmetsu
Atumsha urukarmetsu,
Wika, wampis anentaimtan wakeeruta jajai
Wampis nuwajai metek
Wampis, papin universidad aujsaujai metek
Wampis nuwa uchirtinjai metek
Wampis nuwa aishrinñujai metek
Junisa pujaun tarach, akiitai tura patakemtai numi jinkaijai najanamujai iwarmameajai
Uuntur usumajakarua imanisan usumeajai
¡Ipak atsawai! Turasha wene yakatai kapantuwa juketi
Wener penkerchia ju najenchjai nakumkam shir juwawai
Wiichur esarman atian, espejonam iimajai
¡Añawa! Arutmarua
Ee, ju jaanch penkerchia jujai wampisaitjai
Nakumameajai wakantrun facebooknum iwaiñaktasan
1 horasha nankamatsain 5 mil “ti penkeraiti” tau awai
Nukap atsuk, wichauwaitjai,
Yaunchuk uunnaka yajá ukukin nekapeajai, ijusan pujayatkun
Yapirun nijaran, tarachin awikan
Sapat tacortin aiña auna weamajai
Turan vestido kapamñun nunkuajai, tarachjai metekmamtin ati, tusan
Nunkutai kurijai najanamun nunkuran, akiitaincha winchan akian wajajai
Shiram wantiniajai
Wampis anentaijai anentaimsan, tajai,
Nakumamkan Instagramnum iwaiñajai
Eme jaiñawai aaiñak
5 mil “ti penkeraiti” tau awai
Atumsha urukarmetsu,
Wika juni junin yamekjai
Waurkamñu nekapeajai
Aya jamain nekapeajai
Turasha juna atsumajai.
Pujuttrun kajinmatkishtajai, tukin
Bañonam enkeman tarachin nunkuajai
Lima tsetsek tepeamunmasha suijkisha shir emajtatsui
Ti penker iwarnarjai, peetain ashi jukin
¡Chichakai nakumrukarti, tusan, wakerajai!
Urukukitaj nuna shir awantak, naka jirkiarti, tusan
Miña pujutruka juwaiti, tusan, eme aneasan iyajai
Kakaran chichajai
Ashi uwejan awatturaiñawai
Kame, wariñak chichaj nunasha shirka nekatsjai
Chichamu amukamtai
Tarachin, akiarmau tura peetai aiña nunaka awiran mochilanam, bolsanmaksha chumpiajai
Yapirun nijajai, celularan achikan, nui internetnum taxin seamin
Miña anetairjai vino umartasan
Kashin tsawak
Periódico suramunam tura internetnum iwaiñamunam naka jiniajai
Tikich, yaktanmaya iimaru aiñajai
Aujai chichaman jimartuktatjai tachamaitkun
Nui wajajai, tarachin nunkuaru
Uuntur uruk usumajakarukit nuna yapirui epesan
Nui wajajai, wisha yakitaj nuna nekamattsan
Tsawan urukukit nui wisha metek juwajai
Wakantrui tura numparui juajai wii shuara jaanchrinka, wishimenka
Atumsha urukarmetsu
Wika nekámatsjai
Turasha shir nekapeajai
Ashi nunkanmaya
Kankape ejetumainchau
Suwa Kuwankus waja iman

I don’t know about you

I don’t know about you

Sometimes I feel like thinking as a Wampis

Other times as a Wampis woman, 

Wampis university student 

Wampis mother

The Wampis lover

Suddenly I wear tarach, earrings, necklaces and seed bracelets

I paint my face with my ancestors’ lines

No achiote! My red lipstick is enough

That wine-colored eyeliner that leaves my full lips pronounced

It’s a party!

I let my long hair down and I see myself in the mirror

I’m Wampis

Oh, my god

Yes, I’m Wampis in this beautiful outfit

I take pictures for my social media

In less than 1 hour I have 5 thousand likes

Suddenly I’m not me,

I feel far away from my ancestors, but I see myself so close 

I wash my face, I get undressed

I put on my heels

And the red dress to keep the color

My gold necklace and shiny earrings dangle from my ears

I look beautiful

I think in Wampis and say to myself 


I take pictures and post on my Instagram

Everyone compliments me

I get 5 thousand likes

I don’t know about you guys,

But this routine makes me tired

It drives me crazy

It overwhelms me

But I need it

So I don’t lose the habit, saying 

I go into the bathroom and put on tarach

Even the sweat betrays me in the Lima winter.

I put on my best suit and the best accessories

I need the cameras at every press conference!

I need that lens to exoticize me on the front page

And I affirm that this is my culture and I am proud of it

I raise my voice

Everyone applauds me

Sometimes, I don’t even understand what I’m saying myself

The conference ends,

I take out my tarach, my necklaces and my feather earrings and put them in my backpack, my purse

I wash my face, ask for a cab by app 

And off I go

I go to drink wine with my lover

The next day

I’m on the front pages of the printed and digital media

At the side of the authorities

Nothing compromises me

There I am, with my tarach

With the lines of my ancestors on my face 

There I am, searching for my multiple identity

That serves me for action in every circumstance

With the color and the smile of my people in my soul and blood

I don’t know about you, 

But I don’t recognize myself

And I prefer this way

To be from everywhere

With an endless root

Like Suwa in Kuankus


Tarach: traditional dress of Wampis women.

Achiote: Tree whose seeds are used to dye people’s faces red.

Shirmaitjai: I am gorgeus, I am beautiful.

Suwa: Huito, a tree whose black seeds are used to dye hair and the face. It was a woman before turning into a tree.

Kuankus: Goangos river. It is next to Rio Santiago and belongs to Morona-Santiago in Ecuador. It was the ancient land of the awajun people.


Ame jiimin miña uuntru pujutin nekawaitjai
Chichamrumin wari jintak wekatusuitam nunasha wainkauwaitjai
Uruk maaniñak armia
Imtichirisha urukuk armia
Warichiñak yu armia
Tuin yujau armia
Amiña chichamrumin nekawaitjai patarun
Antukuitjai anentan
Mushutkauwaitjai tsaankun
Ame aja awamuka penker, nupasha takajat ayayi
Anentin asamin
Anentruam yurumak, kenke, inchi arau asamin
Anentruam uchiram irusam pujújakuitme
Tikich pujutnum weakum ankan ukurkiñaitme
Uchiram, tirankim tura tiranmi uchiri aiñasha
Yamaisha ya aujmatsamtaiya
Uuntrusha uruk matsámajakarukit nunasha antuktataj
Ankan ukurkiñaitme ju nunka jui
Turasha, anentairuinka tuké pujame
Wii atsumakaisha


In your eyes I learnt the history of my ancestors.

In your word I saw the roads you traveled

How they faced their enemies

What their little faces looked like

What little things they ate

Where they walked

In your word, I met my family

I listened to the anen

I inhaled the tobacco

Your field was so beautiful, it invited weeding

Because you possessed the anen

Because you sowed yucca, sachapapa, sweet potato after singing the anen

Singing the anen you had your children united

You left an emptiness in me when you went to the other life

To your children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren

To the community

Who will tell us now

The feats of the ancestors

You left me alone in this territory 

Always living in my heart 

You are there when I need you

When I feel sad

When I cry

When I suffer from being far away

You are always there

Because you are strong

Because you are a Wampis woman

Because you are Awajun woman


Anen: Sacred Wampis and Awajun chant. It can be transmited from deities such as Tsunki or Nunkui.

Nunkui: Female Wampis goddess who taught women the anen and how to domesticate plants. 

Sachapapa: A tuber that is similar to potato.


Iwarmamrau, natsanatsamtau,
shiram tura penkeri.
kinta sanartamunam waureawai
nuke yairach aiña nuna uchupiak;
shuiñan yumirin
napaka nitasha nampenai 
kankaptinchau, ima nekas nawe aramsha urukawaintak
kanawertinchau, uwejtin akusha.
unuimaru, wishiwishi jas, 
shuar nankamaun aujeawai
Tuké jasa wajasti tu yuminramu asa
akiachmaitak jean kuitameawai.
Aneetairin tura aneshtai aiña nuna
pujutin kuitameak.
Kampuwarin tukumruiñawai arantsuk,
kankape iwaramu aiña nuka utaiñawai
neajkin wainmainchaun akakeak
Iñashinka nukumawai
machit awatti, tusa.
Awatmauka kashi tsawak esameawai.


Elegant, shy

bright and beautiful.

It flirts before the evening breeze

that cools the tiny leaves

while the bees become intoxicated

with the honey of the grape berries.

I wonder:

What would he do if he had feet and not roots?

if he had hands and not branches?


always smiling and polite

greets every passerby.

Condemned to remain still,

He watches over the house without pay. 

Watching over the health of his lovers

and the unloved.

They kick the trunk without a laugh,

the ornamented roots groan

slipping imperceptible tears.

Their body wiggles

dodging the machete’s edge.

Each wound is renewed at dawn.

He tells me of his indecent adventures. 

His fear of deadly diseases.

The man’s casual hit with a chainsaw.

No one knows his future.

Neither do the leafy trees

despite their experience

of yesterday and their years to come.

Yaunchuk urukuk ayam nuka kajinmatkim
yaki ekemsam, shir irkattsam aeskartame.
Kajeawastai tumain sukurkateame.
Jika jikamtatsuk nekapeatai tumain akaame.
Nuniakmin kuntuts nekapnitji.
Yaunchukka, iya junin asam,
nunká pujujakuitme.
Iya junin asam, nunká wekájakuitme.
Turasha yamaika, apumasam yaki eketeame,
kajeawastai tumain, kajeachiatam.
Nunisam ejemsam,
yumijai manin ájaku asam,
Nii yutain etsanteakminka
“yumi ipameawai,
etsa uteawai”, tiñaitji.
Nunisam irauwaitme nunkasha.
Nunismetsuk yumisha irareamtai.


Forgetting how you used to be

Sitting on top, staring at us, you burn us.

As if you were angry, you burn us.

You come down like you’re homesick.

I am sorrowful when you do that.

Since you were like us in the old days,

you lived on the earth.

Because you are like us, you used to walk on the earth.

But now, you are up there as a boss,

as if you were upset, without being upset. 

So being,

as you used to fight with the rain,

if you shine when it rains

“the rain heralds the bad omen,

the sun cries,” we used to say. 

You visit the earth this way. 

Surely this is how you visit the rain.

For more about Dina Ananco and her book Sanchiu

For more about the translator

Katia Yoza is a Ph.D. candidate in the Spanish department at Rutgers University and a University and Louis Bevier Fellow. She is currently co-organizing the Andean and Amazonian Studies Working Group at Rutgers. Her research focuses on Amazonian textual and visual narratives on indigenous cosmovisions involving urban, public, and global audiences. She has a MA in Comparative Literature from the University of Paris IV–Sorbonne and a BA in Hispanic Literature at the Pontifical Catholic University of Peru. She has taught literature and Spanish courses to undergraduate and high school students in the United States, Peru, and France and worked in public humanities through local associations and NGOs in the United States. She also published a collection of short stories about animals from the Amazon rescued from illegal trade.

Sanchiu © Dina Ananco

Introduction, selection and translation from Spanish © Katia Yoza ~

Siwar Mayu, October 2022

Remembering the Andes in Cherokee Territory.  Byron Tenesaca

The Breedlove Brothers © Byron Tenesaca

Photography and Original Art © Byron Tenesaca 

Interview and Commentary © Juan Guillermo Sánchez Martínez

Translation © Anya Skye Tucker

When living far from the place we are born, it is always heartwarming to encounter a person who, like you, knows the experience of migrating, and remembers similar places to those that we ourselves long for. On June 6th, 2022, we met with Byron Tenesaca, a Kichwa artist and educator, in the Botanical Gardens of Tokiyasdi (Asheville, North Carolina.) While we walked, we recognized some of the plants, making connections with the Andes. Thus it was proposed that we hold an interview about his creative process, among languages, territories, and techniques. The following are some excerpts from the interview. 

Byron Tenesaca is a visual artist and bilingual educator who resides in Western North Carolina. He was born in an ancestral community in the Ecuadorian Andes, to a family of basket weavers and farmers. He was raised there by his grandmother, with whom Byron learned the system of reciprocity that exists between human beings and the mountains. At 11 years old, he journeyed with his grandmother to the United States to live with his biological mother (both of them fundamental in his work). After graduating from Western Carolina University (WCU) in 2015, he was selected for an artistic residency in The Bascom in Highlands, NC. His passion for art and education has brought him to take on roles such asSpanish language interpreter, children’s art teacher, Spanish teacher in secondary school, camp counselor and, most recently, HiSET instructor. Byron has a Master’s degree in Comprehensive Education from Western Carolina University. Recently, Byron was one of the 50 artists selected to be part of the inaugural exposition Appalachia Now! of the Asheville Art Museum. 

 Remendando la Llachapa Vida. (Patching the Llachapa Life) A brief documentary about María Francisca Guamán Morocho (Mami Pancha), an immigrant with a rich Andean heritage who now resides in NC.  © Byron Tenesaca

Juan: I always ask guests to introduce themselves, and to tell us the name of their territory. 

Byron: My name is Byron Tenesaca, I come from a Kichwa-Kañari community in the Andes, from a region that is today the South of Ecuador. I come from a family of weavers, farmers that have preserved tradition through food, and through being in harmony with the environment, dedicating their life to the good living for the future.

Juan: I was looking at your website, and I saw that you work with painting, photography, drawing, and digital design. What is your relationship with art, with creativity? How is it connected to your being, with your life?

Byron: Since I was little I’ve been drawing. When I went along with my mamá-abuela (mother-grandmother) to sell baskets in the city, I remember I collected little drawings, magazines that I found on the ground, or graphics that caught my attention. Then I went home, and on lined paper from my sister’s school, I drew them, I passed them to the paper on the window. I had a collection, already big, of comics. I also grew up tugging my mamá-abuela’s skirt, and when she weaved I was there at her side, always cared for by my mamá-abuela. 

Remendando la Llachapa Vida. (Patching the Llachapa Life) A brief documentary about María Francisca Guamán Morocho (Mami Pancha), an immigrant with a rich Andean heritage who now resides in NC.  © Byron Tenesaca

As children are in many transnational families, Byron was raised by his grandmother in Ecuador and later joined his mother in the United States, who had migrated North earlier. Byron told me that his mother used to send back packages with clothes for her children, games, sometimes important residency documents, and a video cassette…

Byron: And this cassette we put on the TV and we saw a woman talking in the mirror. At that moment, we didn’t know what this really big machine was that she had on her shoulder. She spoke and told us things. My grandma told me: “Look! This is your mama. One day, you are going to see her. Tell her hello!” But in my mind, I watched this video and all I really saw were hands and a really big machine, and in my child’s mind I said:  “Well, my mama is part robot. I have a mom like a robot…” (laughter…)

Between laughter and heaviness, Byron told me how difficult it was to arrive in Turtle Island (North America), a place unknown to a child of 11 who had until-then lived with his mamá-abuela in the Andes. Byron did not first end up in the mountains of North Carolina, but in the piedmont. Soon, the routine of going to school and staying cooped up in the afternoons contrasted with the liberty that he’d grown up with: going to the river to swim and fish. The years passed, and he finished studying at the University of Western Carolina, a great opportunity to meet the mountains again. He had wanted to be a doctor (from the influence of his mother), but soon he was reintroduced to art. 

Byron: Through art, I can learn more of anything, philosophy, math, anything. I began going to exhibitions at the university, and I joined the art program, and I don’t think my mom liked it (laughs…). Painting called to me strongly, and later photography, and from there came design. But I focused more on a dreamworld, and worlds in between here and the reality in which I grew up. Maybe a purpose of photography is that of going and taking pictures and speaking with and meeting different perspectives. 

In this search, now in the last years of university, Byron goes to live further into the mountains and meets some of the members of the Cherokee community.

Byron: I remember in high school, we learned about Native peoples, but it was different, I hadn’t learned about the Cherokee community. So I went and talked with Cherokee friends of my age, and it was interesting that I found more connection with this community than the Latinx or Hispanic community with which I had grown up with. I liked their weaving a lot, because when I saw them I said “it’s as if I was still watching my aunts, my grandma, weaving”. So this curiosity called me to learn a little more about the Cherokee culture. And the more I learned, the more I went back to my childhood. (…) The concept of “latin” and “hispanic” is something new and created here, and I’m not against it because I appreciate how it creates dialogue among organizations, but also it leaves out indigeneity. It’s like building a church on top of a huaca (a sacred Andean place), right? It’s as if we were only here since your country became independent, but if you go further, you learn that no, I am not what they call an “alien” (laughter…). Learning beyond the Aztec, for example, my Kañari culture which goes further than “the Inca,” this gives you more strength. Colonization has erased a lot, but where feet touch the earth, there we belong. 

As we see in Byron Tenesaca’s photography included here, there are series that capture events here in North Carolina (landscape, forests, overlays in Photoshop), but there also are series from the Andean communities of Ecuador. This double gaze of photographer and artist makes this work unique because it comes and goes between the solitary and the community. Thinking of this, I asked Byron: “from the eye of a photographer, how is this experience? Do you feel that the light, or the relationship with the camera, changes by being here or there?

 Andes: Cañar-Azuay © Byron Tenesaca

Byron: Maybe I have a bit more confidence when I feel comfortable there, for the familiarity. Here, what I have photographed is people, who at first are strangers, but after dialoguing with them, if there is the opportunity, I create a type of documentary photography of my experiences. I have also photographed places, above all during the artistic residency in The Bascom in Highlands. (…) And in this solitude, when being in a place so immense, natural, I went to places always documented by tourists, whose photographies have a certain type of light, a certain type of angle, so I went to these places during the rain or when no one was there, or after the rain, or at sunset. It is a different space (…)

Western NC, 2016 © Byron Tenesaca

Byron: There is a series that I call “Human Mounds”. I was reading a little about the mounds here in North Carolina, a mass of dirt, shells, and so many things that Native peoples here used to make these mounds. And this idea stayed with me, because also in these places there were remains of people, so I focused on this, in the human being as organic, as another knot in the fiber of nature, pachamama, so I represented it as a fruit in a fetal position, and I only photographed the back because it has a certain shape that is like an echo of the mountains, and then I overlaid this image in different places. This made me remember where I saw this shape before, why this idea was born, and it is where we call zambos (squash). I was also reminded of my aunt, who had a disability in her body, and my grandma always had to bathe her, as she could not stand up straight but always had to be in this shape (hunched over). So she bathed her, so I remember from an early age this image of the rounded back of my auntie. (laughter)

Human Mounds © Byron Tenesaca

Kay Pacha © Byron Tenesaca

Juan: This exhibition, “Human Mounds” is related to the one titled “Kay Pacha”,  which also has the same shape of the naked body in the fetal position, but now as a drawing.

Byron: Yes, this image goes from photography to drawing and later to printmaking, and I overlay it with the foods I grew up eating, and that are present in our region, creating a type of visual harmony, but also a harmony between the human being and plants. In cultivating your own nutrients, there is reciprocity between the body and the plants and the mountains. From mountains, water is born. There, we cultivate, and it feeds us. We eat a little bit of the mountain, and we transform ourselves into the mountain, and when we die we return again to the mountain (laughter). It is this space of living beings, that is Kay Pacha. 

Juan: From what you are telling me, it is as if the encounter with the Cherokee community, and your exploration through art, has taken you back to the Andes. Do you feel that art has guided you toward remembrance? That the Cherokee territory has opened space for you to remember?

Byron: Yes. I think it is in a line of one of your poems where you say “Andes Apalaches”. Because of this, I stayed here after studying. It reminds me of where I was born, beside a river, together with the mountains (…) And there are many similarities. The more I learn about Indigenous communities from here, it becomes more remarkable the wisdom and the way of life from my childhood (…) Right now, I am learning more about weaving. The project I recently finished was 12 little baskets of paper, with my drawings, and on the base, which is the most important part of any basket, is the portrait of my family, which represents what has kept us together, the women of my family. And on the sides are some drawings of corn, or choclo, how we say it there, and also beans, which we call poroto, and potatoes, and zambo. The rim had to be shown to me by my aunt via Zoom. Really, one learns by seeing, they never tell you like this, like that, so it was hard for my auntie to guide me through the camera: “Grab with your left hand and with this finger, and you have to take it up or behind.” (laughs) it took me about six hours to weave one from paper, and I didn’t like how I’d done it, so I tried it again. And the third time, yes, I finally liked it. And the fourth was the first one completely finished. And now, I can make a basket in two and a half hours.

4 generations of basketweavers © Byron Tenesaca

Juan: Weaving is very present in many of your projects. Sometimes it could be a weaving of lines, sometimes a weaving of materials. And of course, I see that you are weaving a bridge between the Andes and Appalachia. How is this process of weaving for you?

Byron: Weaving is not only art or handicraft, but a moment for reflection, and for creating a space for your own and your family. I realized that here in Cherokee, just like in my family, we weave in community. You don’t weave alone. You are always with your aunts or your mother. And the children are around, playing. Here you create a space for reflection where you talk of ideas that maybe you can’t speak of when you are in other spaces. I was reflecting on how my grandma loaded so many baskets on her back to sell in the city. And how smart she was, going from house to house. The goal was to sell them in the city, but she began selling them as soon as she’d left the house, and when she reached the place she had to sell them, she was left with only one! (laughter) So we bought the essentials: lard, sugar, salt, panela (a block of cane sugar), because the rest we did not need. So I reflect on all of this while I weave, and in the connections with the communities here, after discussing with the Cherokee weavers Mary Thompson and Faye Junaluska.

Juan: I’d like to close this short conversation with a question about the future. How do you see this rebirth of many young people, who like you have grown up in the North but are reconnecting with their peoples? How do you see the future of these exchanges between the South and the North?

Byron: I would say that the future is in the past, as some elders say in some conversations I’ve heard. In order to create a future we must keep the past in mind. Of course things change, but learning from our errors and from the history of the first peoples (…) For instance, something like Indigenous justice. Here in the United States, prisons poison humans instead of healing them. Education that is focused on capitalism also does it. So as a teacher, I have an important role, in some way or another influencing the next generation. (…) Before, the governments held a certain control over our peoples because they couldn’t read, and they had them sign documents and things like that, including the father of my grandma, who was chosen to get some land for having lived all of his life working there, and the day he was going to receive it, the landowner told him to sign some papers because the laws had changed, and he made him sign. He gave him a little money and told him not to come back. Today there is resistance. To fight the system, we need to know about the system (laughter…). I feel optimistic for the changes, but being conscious about where we are. 

Byron ended our chat with the following message against machismo and patriarchal sexism: “The woman always has the role of keeping everything together (…) For this, I thank all of these women, mothers, grandmas, warmis that like the mountain, the Apus, nourish us so that we may continue with a future.” Illuminating with his art and his ancestors, Byron walks and creates today in Tokiyasdi (Asheville, NC) and reminds us of the importance of women: her stitch in the communal fabric and her strength to sustain family. His invitation is to plant from the seed, throw it some soil, compost, water, accompany its process with our hands and intentions, to finally harvest when the cycle closes. So we can see it with our own eyes and appreciate the miracle and the abundance of life on the Earth Mother. 

More about Byron Tenesaca, Cherokee weaving, and the Kichwa community in the United States

●      Sitio web de Byron Tenesaca

●      “Cherokee artists hold family, land and community in handmade baskets”, Rachel Greene. 

●      “Indigenous languages are at risk, but this NY group is doing something about it”, Demi Guo

About the translator

From the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina, Anya Skye Tucker only hopes to learn as much as she can from others. The Andes have been very kind to her. 

Photography and Original Art © Byron Tenesaca ~ ~ Siwar Mayu, September 2022 

Interview and Commentary © Juan Guillermo Sánchez Martínez ~

Translation  © Anya Skye Tucker

4 poets from the Cultural Gathering of Native Women

“Yomoram jyayappapä’is jäyätzame”

Selection © Paul Worley and Carolina Bloem

If you prefer to read this selection as PDF, please CLICK HERE



[Published in Denver Quarterly]

The language in me/ is old/ though I feel new to it/ my palate warping/ a metal over flame/ I practice the sounds of animals/ their names/ almost ancestral/ like they know I am trying/ yona (1) / the first word I ever knew/ bear/ some kind of witness/ to a sloppy rebirth/ I have told a lover/ I will name a child/ tsisdu (2) / because it is good/ to be quick & small/ & aware of your surroundings/ I will ink the animal’s likeness/ on the inside of my wrist/ a reminder/ my body cannot be trusted/ to reproduce/ anything/ but words 

  1. yo-na: bear [Cherokee, eastern dialect]
  2. g-stdu: rabbit [Cherokee, eastern dialect]



[Published in Puerto del Sol]

I split/ my tongue/ down the middle/ not like a snake/ but like two rods divining/ taste top 

& bottom lip/ in unison/ find the water there/ the ore/ curse a lover/ & love him to death/ 

I want a little of everything/ heads & tails/ sides & sides/ of two languages/ my mother’s 

tongue/ colonized/ & the tongue of her mother/ chased to mountain side & frozen stream/ 

really my tongue is the ouroboros/ marrying in a wet mouth/ trying to find some infinity/ 

where no words/ nestle under burial mounds 


In Which I Am a Sum of Parts
[Published in Southern Humanities Review]

2 corn seed necklaces 
hang on the back of my door

along with 2 medicine bags
made of tiny glass seed beads

sterling silver & turquoise 
bolo ties

	(nothing crafted
	by my own hands)


Another lesson

my ancestors hid in mountain
caves & confederate uniforms

my many-greats grandfather
was given the English name Nimrod
b/c aren’t we all mighty hunters

& it is likely my blood is altered 
or diluted somewhere in Oklahoma 
b/c not all ancestors were so lucky 
        (if that is the term we’re using
	& the fact cannot be ignored—

	I am diluted down to the card 
        in my wallet which states 
        my blood as a percentage)


While I was cleaning 

my grandmother’s house

I found a box of tears


I was barely a teenager

the first time I remember

visiting the reservation

my grandmother left

decades prior

her brother & brother’s 

wife tried to educate me

commented on my lack—

how that was the first time

I tried & gave up beading—

disillusioned when

the belt I made broke


My first lesson     was corn seeds

their grey hard form      imperfectly round

how they were     solid manifestations

of every Cherokee tear     rained

along the trail


The scientific name for corn seed

is many syllables but here

we’ll call it Cherokee Tear

it is easy to string onto necklaces

but should not be confused

with seed beads which come

in varying degrees of tiny

plastic & glass 


The last time I was on the rez
it was not for an introduction
but a burial

& I bought beads in colors 
I found comforting

along with needles

thin strips of leather

waxy manmade sinew


Tears do not equate mourning 

but I take the pad of my finger 

press against a duct & hope 

to find some hard blockage

induce a kind of birth





On my way to you 
I pass a field full of sun,  
gold on gold,
and remember your saying
you are descended
from Mayans

Sun/sun dance

I grasp at happiness 
as if for bright coin
from a well for wishing
You tell me instead to hope 
and say to follow the sun
like these flowers in lambent light



I am far from 
mound and mountain
              On these Northern Plains
the wind never ceases,
susurration like the ocean
Astonishment at pelicans
white, not the brown ones last seen 
               over Atlantic waves
Dissonance of familiarity
in strange place 
               Light insinuates late, aubades early
Wait til winter, you warn me
I learn new language 
for this landscape: coulee and kettles
badlands buttes and bluffs
              An eagle dives for prey
grander than ever imagined
Bison trundle over earth
A lone horse stands backlit on a rise
My mouth tries to form the word
for horse in your language: xaawaarúxti’
              but I still face East to sing 
my morning song in Cherokee
On dusty road framed by primrose
I find three yellow stones
tiny jewels of sun I pass on to my son
before his flight Northeast
               Pelican in pond extends enormous wings 
as if to put on coat or cast off cape,
or rather, as if measuring span 
between its existence 	and my insistence
               on not entirely imagined kinship
both of us between homes
and on the way 
                                 to somewhere else



This wind whittles down to essential form
Riderless horses returned from Little Big Horn 

Always we are pulled towards the idea of home
Water and wind form cannonballs of stone

We trade words of greeting: NAheesa atistit/osd sunalei
Wind loosens our hair, growing out after grief

Shame burns like flares on the Bakken 
Wind tosses flames like horses’ manes

In Germany, sirocco from Spain a soft caress
Distances deceive in this vast space 

Palms almost touching, energy palpable 
To track Aurora, I download an app,

imagine us lying magnetized under neon skies
You say the Missouri is called the Great Mystery

I introduce myself as I would to any person
You point out strong current’s direction

under what I perceived as only swirling surface 
We remember flooding of ancestral 

homelands, dams built to harness force
while river and wind keep adjusting course



a man once slammed a fruit bowl against the kitchen wall & abuela learned how glass can give birth to small daggers. she replaced her husband for knives. holds a blade like a loaded gun. enjoys the chop of cilantro-bundles for caldo & people swear she got lawnmowers for fingers. in the backyard the trees shed fruit-baskets but abuela dislikes the rind. can scalp a pear’s skin in seconds. clean. you can see the sugar bleed off the slice. each hand a steady butcher. never once nicked a thumb. & for thirty years pierced meat. sliced basil. stripped salmon of its glittered-gills. then dr. gonzalez found her memory had carved itself pieces. she was handed plastic flatware. all her metal went dull. the good utensils for steak hidden. the house keys now chained to her apron & sometimes her mouth switchblades when the keys go missing. today at the grocery store i tell her stories about the palms she owns. how they once tricked a carrot to dance like bright confetti & abuela picks a fresh pear. the heavy end cleansed by the fog of her breath. she swears she’s always loved the fruit’s pale flesh. & her teeth a wooden drawer of machetes.




Butterflies inebriated, sloshed

spiraling upward from pools of water

holding fermented foliage we

passed by while canoeing on the Neuse.

Orange, white, yellow, blue, black, brown

speckled, swallow-tailed, patterned,

mottled, webbed flash and quiver,

fluttering fine, fly, pit painted lady mating ritual. 

Wrapping shyness with wing, undercover, under

folding blanket over lover. 

Liquid courage emboldens beginnings, above

happenstance provision, easy prey for

prowling bird, turtle, fish, crawdad, frog. 

The beauty of it all

in sunlightened wing shining, falling forward and 

back, up and down. Frenzy fantastic

color gentle, feathered wing too delicate to touch

without removing glide barb. Metamorphosed

just for this day

a metaphor, relational, 

for all that is good and will be. 

Butterfly girl wraps her hair into braided wing

flaps for future. Turns herself 

into  the softest touch, lifting and rising

everything around her, all that is good—

this is good— 

something they do so much

better than Human Beings

in natural accordance with traditional way

of the butterfly creation racing, 

occurring in this way, for her and for those following her.

Kama, kamama. Catch her

in the morning and

again at night, at midday she just floats by breezing.



It wasn’t socks missing from his feet, 

not elbow cloth unraveled unilaterally, 

not equal displacement of chin and brow, 

nor the eye that sat a bit lower on the right, it was his knuckle that made me weep, 

clove corners gone wayside, like miniscule meat  hooks clawed away bits of him each shift he made, invisible a timeliness unfurled. It was his muscle torn through, festering, the prosthetic hand, finger width dismay all across his attempted grin, left  there just like that, for anyone to see—it was his mercy. In the end we’re rarely beautiful, mostly placed  away from compromising situations into poses offsetting what has become of us in some gawker’s  unnerving eyes. Yet, he was, is, still here in mine, and I’m human because of it. Maybe only. Maybe.



The Trembling Giant Aspen / Bolivian massacre site 

Trembling giant  
 bulging under siege 

waving I spread 
 banned from streets 
perpendicular to leaf blade 
 havoc, natural gas 
petiole flattened 
 opposition pushing right autonomy 
rush, lift, breaking cover, tremble 
 on the fourth day of 

 hunger strike, assailants 
 lobbed a green grenade 
 forced to knees shirtless 
aspen man spreads uprising 
flowering, flower, 
spreading root sprout 
 where Morales has stayed 
biomass clone cross giant uprising  deeply rooted Indigenous 
growth  prevent Bolivia from splintering apart Pando/Pando 

 visiting Santa Cruz 
one hundred acres 
 dynamite blasts 
fourteen million pounds 
 public humiliation 

rooted eighty thousand years 
 fifty Indigenous mayors rooted  thirty Andeans killed this 
week  paralyzed borders  
 Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay 
clonal colony 
 colonial massacre 
singular genetic individual 
 Morales, an Aymara Indian, Pando/Pando 
 organized opposition, university  student conservatives, forced 
terrified   Indigenous people, to their knees  forced refugee people 
 apologize for coming to Sucre  forced chanted insults to their hero 
Evo  then conservatives set fire 
 to blue, black, white Aymara flag  seized hand-woven Aymara 
ponchos  Aymara people 

rhizome, basal shoot 
 shot, seven dead 
 peasant farmers 

organism overtaking 
 not supported by current evidence 
Fishlake quaking  
aspen life in largest 
 singular germination 
 Pando/Pando Pando/Pando


We were in a world, in a world. Sure we had our glyphs, but we were providential. Once, some alphabet believ ers, glass purveyors, Ursus Arctos killers, sent all bailiwick on cursed  course far faster gyration backspin, birling intrinsic angular momen tum—boson melts. Spinning, it careened away iceberg, iceberg, ice berg; glacier braced time traced yesterday unshakable base—all below  flushed alluvion torrent, Niagara pour, special spate, flux, flow, until  their coastal citadels moldered from cyclone, tsunami, hurricane gale.  Tornadoes tossed turf wherever they pleased. Eruptions molded Her  back into something She deemed worthy. Not to mention quakes. And  the people, the people, the People, pushed into cataclysm, a few generations from alphabet book imposed catechism, soon were calamity  tragedy storm splinters, fragmented particles of real past, in a world  gone away from oratory, song, oraliteratures, orations into gyrations  reeling. Soon hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot, hot. Hot, dying  mangroves, disappearing Waimea Bay, dengue fever, butterfly range  shift, meadow gone forest, desert sprung savannah, caribou, black  guillemots, bats, frogs, snails—gone. What will sandhill cranes crave?  Winged lay early. Reefs bleach. Rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain, rain,  snow, snow, snow, fires flaming fiercely, fascinated in their own re flecting glare. Marmots rise early. Mosquitoes endure longer, lasting  biting spreading West Nile. Polar bears quit bearing. Robins, swal lows, enter Inuit life. Thunder finds Iñupiat. Here, it is said, glyphs  left rock wall, stone plates, bark, branch, leapt animated into being,  shook shoulders, straightened story, lifted world upon their wing  bone, soared into Night, to place World back into socket eased sky— stilled us. Some say the soup leftover was worded with decolonized  language. Some say the taste lingers even now.

More about the poets in this selection 

More 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.

Paul M. Worley is a settler scholar from Charleston, SC. He is Professor of Spanish at Appalachian State University, where he serves as Chair of the Department of Languages, Literatures, and Cultures. Co-written with Rita M. Palacios, his most recent book, Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (2019), was given an honorable mention for Best Book in the Humanities by LASA’s Mexico Section. He is also 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 a Fulbright Scholar. Together with Melissa D. Birkhofer, he is co-translator of Miguel Rocha Vivas’s Word Mingas (2021), whose Spanish edition won Cuba’s Casa de las Américas Prize in 2016. He has also translated selected works by Indigenous authors such as Hubert Matiúwàa (Mè’phàà), Celerina SánchezManuel Tzoc (K’iche’), and Ruperta Bautista (Tsotsil).

4 poets from the Cultural Gathering of Native Women “Yomoram jyayappapä’is jäyätzame” © Paul Worley and Carolina Bloem ~ Siwar Mayu, September 2022

Myths, rites, and petroglyphs on the río Caquetá. Fernando Urbina Rangel

Photographs and Original Poems © Fernando Urbina Rangel

Selections and Introduction © Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

English Translation © Lorrie Lowenfield Jayne

If you prefer to read this as PDF, click here

Fernando Urbina Rangel is a philosopher, poet, photographer, and educator. For decades he has worked at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia where he has conducted classes, seminars  and research regarding  comparative mythology, orality, rock art,  Amazonian petroglyphs, and ceremonial  plants.  Urbina has authored ninety-five academic articles, eight books, twenty-five individual photography exhibits, two educational television series, and two radio series. Today, books such as Las hojas del poder (Leaves of Power)(1992), Dïïjoma, El hombre serpiente águila (The Serpent Eagle Man) (2004) have become classics in Amazonian literature.  Sown with mambe (coca powder mixed with yarumo ashes) and ambil (tobacco paste mixed with vegetal salt), and based  in the art of picto-poetry, rock painting, and rafue (powerful speech for the Murui-Muina) these works were visionary publications that wove image, poetry, essay, and ancient stories, destabilizing the urban word-centered hierarchies of Colombian universities. In Urbina’s work, the book is the coca tree,  the elders Don José García y Doña Filomena Tejada are the library,  and the university is the ritual dances and the mambeadero (the place where men sit to share mambe and words). Fernando Urbina speaks with La Gente de Centro, the People from the Center (Múrui, Okaina, Nonuya, Bora, Miraña, Muinane, Resígaro and Andoque), children of the tobacco, the coca, the sweet yuca, whose original territory is found in the interfluvial  Caquetá-Putumayo region (Colombia). These people have survived the Casa Arana genocide and continue to resist the siege of the petroleum industry, mining companies, narcotraffickers and Colombian Civil War. 

Fortunately, the vitality with which Fernando Urbina’s books retrieve the word, gesture, and rites of the Gente de Centro, and celebrate them in philosophy, poetry and art, has cleared pathways for the textualities and oralitures of Abiayala’s peoples. His interdisciplinary work recalls that for many generations on the Caqueta river, and still today, there are stone-books beneath the water, petroglyphs that emerge when the floodwaters recede to tell the original stories. His work also recognizes that “myth is the word revealed”, neither chimera nor anachronism, but instead, the present that sustains us and “in which one must suspend and linger”(Las hojas del poder).  

The photographs and texts that make up the video below are part of Urbina’s work, MÁS ALLÁ DE LAS MONTAÑAS DE UYUMBE (BEYOND the MOUNTAINS of UYUMBE)(“San Agustín”), sponsored and exhibited by ICANH in 2019 (Universidad Nacional) during the celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of the birth of Konrad Theodor Preuss, the founder of scientific archaeology in Colombia. This exhibition was based upon the notions of Preuss, the German linguist, archeologist and ethnographer, who proposed a study of religion and mythology of the Murui-Muina in search of keys with which to interpret the culture of  San Agustín (Alto Magdalena). The exposition signals  the Andean-Amazonian confluences between the ancient cultures of the high and low regions. It is worth noting that the Caqueta River’s headquarters are less than 100 Km away from the Magdalena River Basin in the Almaguer Knot (Colombian Macizo), the spot where the Andes divides into three mountain ranges.

The following excerpts were selected from the exhibition, BEYOND the MOUNTAINS of UYUMBE)(“San Agustín”). Established in the paradoxical language of the ancient stories of the Gente de Centro, Urbina finds a technique to weave his own basket: the synthesis  (Serpiente-Águila, Vigilia-Ensueño, Anaconda-Espiral)(Serpent-Eagle, Vigil-Dream, Anaconda-Spiral) Because of this, the reader of these vignettes will note that nouns appear insufficient, and that the use of the hyphen or capital letter is a strategy to emphasize mutuality.   In this poetic imaginary, no word (i.e. emptiness, point, firmness) has only one meaning, because each word is what it is and also the opposite: the creator is the created and vice versa, and whoever owns silence also owns speech.

Aracuara Canyon from The-Balcony-of-the-Stone Witch 

Everything was there and seemed complete

but no… nothing had a name nor a history

it wasn’t even the stuff of nostalgia

When the primordial arrived

—climbing the rivers

from the shores of the immense sea

it marked the place and made it the world,

multiplied it into myth.

recreated it into ritual

 donned it with the one hundred faces of remembrance.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel


The earth 

was wide and alone

everything there was soft

The Sun

with his fingers of light

began designing

-in the mud banks of the immense rivers-

the beings that populated

in name only

the dream of the Primordial Fathers

 High Noon,

the work charred

Turned into stone

the archetypes lived on

fixed forever.

(Based on the traditions of elder Enókayï, Murui-Muina ‒Uitoto‒ nation)

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

Hammer and Chisel

With what tools did they 

who first arrived

mark the landscape

to make it human, make it habitable?

Pounding the rock with the sharper rock

leaving a kind of silence   in stone

a silence of those who speak and endure longer than the word.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

Light and Shadow

Something with which to name the day of Man, ephemeral.

Something with which to name the shadow, the archaic

that which precedes all that exists.

Skin is the light  upon the dark rock; 

the deep night guards her entrails.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

The Mistress-of-the-Animals

In the inquiry

the Makers realized

Let’s  manage the form of the rock.

This one has the terrifying feature we dreamt

to be Gerofaikoño,  Frog Woman,

She will defend the animals;

contender with man in the cosmic battle.

 Mankind will not take precedence

destroying the homes of everyone.

chopping down trees, poisoning rivers,

killing the seed of the beasts.


Grandmother, —the granddaughter asked–

Why do the butterflies 

land on the heads of 


And the Great Wise Woman

Grandmother Philomena 


–-In earlier times, before the leather vendors

had  finished off the


the butterflies rested on the bench./-of-the-telling-of stories

the one which Jarayauma gifted the original cayman

           for helping him to cross the river,

during his escape from his wife,

–the Jaguar-Woman.

who replaced the fearsome 

mother-in-law whom he had killed.

 This little bench remained 

on the cayman’s head.

There the butterflies recounted myths

—myths of color and flight–

just like those your Grandfather tells

seated on the mambeadero.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

Leaping Quadruped

It is said that the word Jaguar means


He patrols and hunts a vast territory;

equal to the territory the people of the village manage

Because of this, the spirit of the tribal chief,

once he is dead,

-if he has been flawless in caring for his people–

will remain as an enchanted-jaguar

caring for the space marked by the tribe.

This is the reason to ask permission and make offerings

before entering to hunt in an unknown place.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel


–I am a line, but not just any line.

I am tubular like a blowgun.

My poisonous fang a dart;

What’s more, I ripple

and swirl into a spiral, think into being life and the galaxy.

I am the key to time because I shed my skin.

I dig the watery tunnels to reach to the depths

I creep over the earth

climb the tree

I rise, high and mighty, towards the heavens.

Devouring myself, I am a circle: I am everything and nothing.

“Food for thought,”the ethnographer would’ve said.

I am good at multiplying worlds.

I am the spring of symbols.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

Origin of Humanity

Father died in January ‘78

He had counseled me thus

(after seeing my photos of the Inírida rock paintings):

—Dedicate yourself to the works that would trace 

upon the everlasting rocks the Arcaica people.

It was in February,

above the torrents of  Guaimaraya

that I came across the petroglyph

that well reveals

the way in which the line of a wavy line transforms into a person.

This mytheme as well as its grapheme

is told and represented,  in a variety of ways

throughout the length and breadth of Amazonia.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

The Four Ancestors

I asked Elder, José Garcia

—Teacher, of the Féénemïnaa Muinane people–

what could the four snake-faces

forming a cross mean?

―¡Ajá! –he scolded.

—–You should know this.

That is an ancestral common dwelling.

Then, seeing that I was confused, he added, smiling:

—-Each of the four posts in the dwelling

is an ancestor-piece–of–snake…

It is a way to keep our origin firmly present.

© Fernando Urbina Rangel


In the air: the spell.

The word net…

And the gesture that interpolates

from each being an intimate secret.


upon the rock the signs were traced.

The dancing of the gesture


© Fernando Urbina Rangel          

Men Seated

The Father

seated within the Silence

ripened silences.

He had not yet invented the thunder,

nor the murmur of the wind between the leaves

 the roar of the jaguar

the eagle´s call

the thorn-like of the mosquito’s voice.

With whom can the God speak?

And then, he spied his shadow.

It was over there, seated as well

He invented the word and the echo answered

(echo is the shadow of sound)

— Now I have a companion!—Exclaimed the Father.

This is the way in which we were formed 

(We are the shadow and the echo of a God).

© Fernando Urbina Rangel

Two Seated Anthropomorphs Conversing


 Today as I add more years to the years you gathered

I can say, after nine five-year spans,

that I think I may have done it

whether well or no, I don’t know

but I tried to complete the charge you gave me.*

In some manner,

we will continue to share discoveries

within the circular current of dialogue.

My fleeting shadow

will soon become one with yours

and the two one with the immense

* See the poem “Origin of Humanity”.

 Bogotá- 2019

For more about Fernando Urbina’s work  and the Gente de Centro

About the translator

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.

BEYOND the MOUNTAINS of UYUMBE (“San Agustín”) © Fernando Urbina Rangel 

English Translation © Lorrie Lowenfield Jayne ~ Siwar Mayu, August 2022

Ecopoetics From the East and the South of Earth Mother

Original idea, pictures and interviews © Yaxkin Melchy

Translation from Japanese and Spanish into English by Yaxkin Melchy

Copy-editing by Sophie Lavoie

Translation from Spanish to Japanese by Chizuko Osato 大里千津子 and Mitsuko Ando 安藤美津子 with revision by Yasuko Sagara 相良泰子

Japanese version below ↴

Interview with Tokūn Tanaka, head monk of the Dōkeiji 同慶 寺 zen temple in the town of Minami Soma in Fukushima, Japan, and Pedro Favaron, poet, researcher, and medicine man of the Nishi Nete clinic in the Indigenous community of Santa Clara de Yarinacocha in the Peruvian Amazon. The photographs were taken in Minami Soma, Fukushima, and in the Indigenous community of  Santa Clara de Yarinacocha, Ucayali, Peru.

If you prefer to read as PDF, click here

South: Pedro Favaron, Santa Clara Yarinacocha Native Community, Ucayali, Perú

Yaxkin: Please introduce yourself

Pedro: I am a humble man on earth, who tries to keep a healthy body, a well-formed and active mind (simple and without entanglements), and a sincere heart. I was born in the city of Lima, the capital of Peru and, since I was a child, I felt the necessity to return to the earth. Also, from very early on, I sensed that Indigenous people kept a fundamental knowledge for reconnecting with the sacred network of life. My dearest moments during my childhood and adolescence were when I swam in the Pacific Ocean and when I walked its beaches at night during our family trips to the Andean desert and coastal valleys. Although I was lucky enough to get a Ph.D.-level academic education at the University of Montreal in Canada, my soul still thirsted for something that mere intellectual education could not give me. That is to say that I have no complaints about academic education in itself (except, of course, about the primacy of materialist positivism); but, in my understanding, current universities cannot meet the genuine necessities of our self-being. So, when I finished my studies, I came to live in the Amazon and married Chonon Bensho, a wise and beautiful woman artist from the Shipibo-Konibo people. She is a descendant of medicine men and women (Meraya) who, for many generations, have maintained the links between our world, the spiritual Owners of medicine and the ancestors. I have been able to learn at least a little of that ancestral knowledge and the spiritual connection that my wife’s grandfather (Ranin Bima) carefully preserved. My entire being has been renewed through the perfume of medicinal plants and the radiance of the Jakon Nete (the pure land, devoid of evil). Despite being a person of this time and experiencing, like the rest of society, the antinomies of modernity and the prevalence of cybernetic logic, I try to live in harmony between heaven and earth. It is from this harmony that we receive patients who ask for our help with humility and whom we attend to in the traditional way. Likewise, maintaining a dialogue with the forests and with the sacred network of life, I write poems, narratives, essays, and academic papers. I also make videos and films, trying to make a contribution to the world, sharing beauty and clarity to help these times marked by violence and confusion.

Yaxkin: Since you began to live in Yarinacocha, what is the current situation in the Peruvian Amazon?

Pedro: The lifestyle of the ancients has permanently disappeared from this world. There is no turning back. The media and new technologies have a profound impact on our lifestyles, on our aspirations, and colonize the unconscious of young people. Indigenous languages ​​are being lost and with them all their sensitivity: their intimate relationship with the territory, and the knowledge implicit in the language. On the other hand, deforestation and excessive depredation of lakes and rivers continue to advance, as well as violence. This is a point worth mentioning, since both assaults with weapons and house robberies have grown worryingly, in time with the rage in people’s hearts and witchcraft. People do not want to make the sacrifices that the ancients made to purify their hearts and learn how to bond themselves with the spiritual Owners of medicine and the Jakon Nete in the ancient way. Formerly, the few people who followed the ancients’ initiation paths did so to help their families and protect them. Now, on the contrary, the knowledge of plants is learned only for business, to give visionary plants to drink to foreigners, thus likening our sacred medicines to any other drug. When one wants to learn motivated by selfish desires, that person will twist their way and only learn the negative, thus becoming an antisocial person who fosters disunity. In the heart of the medicine man, generosity and spirit of service must prevail. If one starts in the traditional way, it is still possible to bond with the Jakon Nete. The world of the ancients has disappeared from this existential dimension in which we live, but it still lives in a parallel time-space to ours. If we keep our hearts pure, its light will awaken in us and it will give us strength and wisdom.

Yaxkin: In your vision, what will be the challenges for the community of Santa Clara de Yarinacocha in the coming years?

Pedro:  I believe that the greatest challenge of Indigenous families, in general, is how to survive while maintaining our cultural and spiritual differences, in the midst of the overwhelming homogenizing trend of globalism that wants us all the same, consuming the same, thinking the same, and wishing the same, disconnected from our own being and from the soul of the world. Is it possible for Indigenous peoples to participate in the market economy in a differentiated way, without losing their ancestral knowledge, their art, their language, and, above all, by preserving a harmonious relationship with the sacred web of life? I see that this is a major challenge, very difficult, but not impossible. I believe that this cannot be achieved if Indigenous peoples do not obtain a solid academic education. The problem is that almost all modern education is being used to eradicate peoples’ cultures and to discipline students so that they become functional to a system of exploitation of other human beings, and the rest of the living beings. It would be necessary to open up academic spaces: new technologies, modern sciences, and ancestral knowledge could be put into dialogue on equal terms, focusing on love and compassion towards human beings, the earth, and the rest of the sentient beings. I see, however, that, at the moment, the Yarinacocha region is very far from this possibility and that makes my heart grieve; however, I do not consider it entirely healthy to cling to that sadness, but rather we must look to the future with hope. Despite all the challenges and threats that stand against life in this time, there are also many people, from different cultures, who want to learn ancestral knowledge, and to seek more harmonious and beautiful ways of inhabiting the earth. What gives meaning to our lives is the service we provide to others. The light of wisdom shines for all those who sincerely seek to change their lives and heal their wounds, for people who work for the good of the sacred web of life.

Yaxkin: How could the spiritual vision of the peoples of East Asia enrich native communities and the mestizo Peruvian society?

Pedro: I have always sensed that there is an intimate relationship between the Andean-Amazonian cultures and the East Asian ones. In particular, in Peru, we had Japanese and Chinese migrations that were integrated into local cultures and whose contributions are evident in many ways (starting with cuisine). I feel that there is a kind of resonance and continuity. However, without being conscious and explicit about it, we cannot fully benefit from that relationship and what the spiritual traditions of the East Asian people have to teach us. I believe, for example, that the basic notions of Taoism are very close to the ancestral Amazonian sensibility: they seek humility, allying oneself with the movements of the cycles of nature without opposition, contemplation, and distancing from the National State. The Confucian ethic, on the other hand, that promotes selfless service to the State is quite absent in the Amazon (where nations without a State have prospered), although it is possible that something similar existed in the ancient Tawantinsuyo of the Inkas. Likewise, I believe that Chan and Zen Buddhism, with the emphasis on the return to our original condition, and understanding “satori” (comprehension) as an awakening to our inner truth, are close to the indigenous understanding of personal realization called “meraya.” The Buddhist emphasis on compassion and generosity is very close to our ancestral ethics: legitimate human beings (known as “jonikon” in the Shipibo language) should not be dominated by selfish desires, appetites, envy, or jealousy, but by a vocation of service and self-sacrifice in favor of their network of relatives and loved ones. At the same time, the Shinto’s understanding of nature’s spirits is really close to ours. My wife and I have a fondness for Studio Ghibli’s animations; we really like the intersection between modern and ancient Japan. I believe that this helps us to truly imagine our Amazonian modernity, one that can embrace the best of science and technology without losing its cultural and spiritual roots. Even Japanese painting and poetry are close to our sensibility. I think it would be very enriching to engage in a cultural, intellectual, and spiritual dialogue that does not need to be filtered through Eurocentric scholarship but rather can take place sincerely in an atmosphere of trust and understanding.

Yaxkin: Do you believe in Mother Earth? For you, what is Mother Earth, and from the point of view of the Shipibo-Konibo spirituality, how can we approach her?

Pedro: It is evident that the Earth behaves like a mother: her atmosphere embraces us like the uterine waters, she sustains and feeds us generously. In the same way, the Sun behaves like a father, who lights our way and fertilizes the Earth, making life possible. It is good to humbly acknowledge our debt to the founding elements of existence and our participation in the sacred web of life. We know, from the teachings of our ancestors, that all living beings, plants, trees, birds, the sun, mountains, stones, and rivers, have their own form of language, consciousness and spiritual life. The Great Spirit’s breath dwells in them and animates them. According to ancient narratives, in the past, all living beings shared the same original condition; therefore, we are all related and nothing is completely unrelated. Living beings participate in a sacred network and we complement each other. Humans cannot survive on their own, we depend on others. Therefore, we do not have the right to impose our whims or abuses on others, to the point of putting the continuity of life on the planet at risk. Health, in a holistic and comprehensive sense, requires us to live in harmony with the rest of living beings.

Yaxkin: How can we reconcile with Mother Earth?

Pedro: First, I think that we need to return to more austere lifestyles closer to land and plants. If one wants to reconcile with our mother earth, we have to slow down our worries and busy schedules, purify ourselves and return to the contemplative temporality of trees. We have to clean our retinas and recover our amazement by sailing the rivers in a canoe and walking under the green shade of the forests. In order to dialogue with the rest of living beings and experience unity with the sacred web of life, we must preserve ourselves in certain purity: eating healthily and lightly, renouncing the excesses of lust and selfish pleasures, breathing calmly, preserving the innocence of our heart, loving other beings, and letting our inner light to emerge. Our grandparents taught us precise words to converse with the rest of living beings. Our medicinal songs are like perfumed flowers that descend from the Jakon Nete to bless our world, calm sadness, and brighten hearts. Furthermore, I’m deeply convinced that the prayers of aints and sages are like invisible pillars preventing heaven and earth from mixing chaotically. We must preserve the balance and links between the visible world and the spiritual one. Human beings can only fully realize themselves if they receive strength, help, and wisdom from Master Spirits and the sages of the past.

Yaxkin: What is the role of poetry, songs, and arts in this reconciliation?

Pedro: The ancient Meraya were sages who healed patients with their medicinal chants. In other words, they were medicine-poets who healed with the vibrations of their voice. The suprasensible healing force comes down from the spiritual worlds and takes shape in the voice of the healer. This is a sacred poetry that purifies the body and mind, driving away evil spirits and fighting against witchcraft, restoring lost balance, and brightening the heart. We have been able to learn just a little about that heritage by continuing to practice it. These medicinal songs inspire the rest of our artistic practices. My wife and I believe in an art that, nourished by ancestral knowledge, territory, and the spiritual worlds, contributes to beautifying the planet, participates in the cosmic balance, and reminds us of having a good coexistence with the rest of the beings, showing us how to inhabit the earth in a beautiful, wise, and prudent way. I believe that at this time, when mental illnesses and the loss of our own humanity (under the primacy of cybernetics) are proliferating, art should lift us up and give us tranquility, love, compassion, and remind us about our own hearts. People are increasingly disconnected from themselves, from other beings, and from the sacred; our art seeks to be a medicine for these diseases and aims to provide relief to suffering.

Yaxkin: Please share your vision with a phrase or poem.


I spend my days
and nights
in a shelter
in the mountain

listening to
the liquid song
of the wild bird

and the deep and quiet
of the plants.

Alone, sitting 
under a tree
by the creek

vain desires
in the waters

that neither hurriedly
nor slowly,
run down into the big river.

How different
the world would be 
if my brothers

to the sweet rumor
of the creek

a spring
of love
at the base
of the heart.

East: Tokūn Tanaka(田中徳雲)

Yaxkin: Please introduce yourself

Tokūn: I am a monk in charge of a Buddhist temple in the city of Minami Soma in Fukushima prefecture. When I was in high school, I became interested in reading books about ancient Buddhist monks and began to study Buddhism. Since 2001, I have been living in this temple, dedicating myself to the practices that are part of our everyday life. Ten years ago, in this emblematic temple of our region, famous for its agriculture, fishing, and rich nature, everything changed enormously due to the accident at the nuclear power plant. My temple is located 17 kilometers northwest of this nuclear power plant [Fukushima Daiichi].

Yaxkin: Now, ten years after the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster of 2011, what is the situation in Minami Soma, Fukushima?

Tokūn: Before the earthquake, the population was about 13,000 people. Many of these people used to live with three or even four generations under a single roof. The history and culture that had been passed down from the ancestors were also highly valued. In the aftermath of the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant accident, people were forced to lead a life as “evacuees” for a long period of time. The radioactive contamination that followed the nuclear power plant accident was an especially new experience for all and therefore it was very difficult for us to respond to the situation. This contamination is invisible to the eye, has no odor, and cannot be felt. However, it turns out that it is actually there. Then, the Japanese government downplayed the problem by limiting itself to following the national plan for nuclear power plants. As a result, opinions on radioactivity issues were divided within the local community and between families, for example, about things like letting your clothes air dry or not, or eating your own vegetables grown in the garden. Also, difficult decisions needed to be made such as whether or not to return to our homes; these ended up opening up a huge spiritual fissure. Today, counting the people who have returned and the people living in the town, we are about 3,500 people.

Yaxkin: In your vision, what will be the challenges for the Minami Soma community in the coming years?

Tokūn: We have a lot of issues. The first one is the issue of our decreasing population. Now, in the district of Minami Soma called Odakaku, the people who have returned are 35% of the people who were living there before the earthquake, and the vast majority are elderly people. Therefore, in the next ten to twenty years, it is estimated that the population will diminish significantly. The second issue is the environmental problem. For example, this 35% of the population is carrying out the cooperative work that the entire community used to do for the maintenance of the forests, but since most of them are very old, the work has become almost impossible. As a result, the mountains have become wild, and wild boars and monkeys come down to the villages to plunder the orchards. It is possible that one of the causes lies in the increase of this animal population during the time when people were evacuated from the area. However, it is important to think that this is also connected to the fact that there is no food on the mountain. I think that is precisely the reason why these areas require careful care. The third issue is the heart and mind problems. The children who witnessed the nuclear power plant accident will soon come of age [* in Japan this is at 21 years old]. They have grown up seeing how the government has not taken care of the population of their towns, and how it has lied to only take care of itself (and the corporations). This government has unscrupulously lied, using a double standard that covers its true intentions [“honne”] with a language of appearance [“tatemae”], pleasing the strong and trampling the weak. The children who have seen all this bear wounds and therefore have no hope in society.

Yaxkin: How could the spiritual vision of Indigenous peoples enrich the vision and life of the Japanese?

Tokūn: I especially believe that the spiritual vision of Indigenous peoples is important because I care about the future of our boys and girls. Also, because of their posture of respect towards the Earth, as if she were a mother who should not be hurt. This way of thinking was generally shared by the ancient Japanese. Because Japan is a nation of islands, anciently it was highly valued to thank nature, the sea, and mountains for the blessings received from them. Things from nature were not taken in excess and were shared. After the industrial revolution, capitalist thought entered Japan. Despite the fact that we have been losing sight of things and falling into confusion, searching for our immediate benefit, I believe that the genes that were asleep within us have begun to awaken. I see as a hopeful sign people who, tired of living in the cities, seek a life in the countryside, or the fact that more young people are trying to make their lives smaller and closer to self-sufficiency. I think that is happening not only in Japan but all over the world at the same time.

Yaxkin: Do you believe in Mother Earth? For you, what is Mother Earth and, from Japanese Buddhism, how could we approach her?

Tokūn: Yes, of course. I am one more part of the Earth. If we take an apple tree as an example, each one of us is a fruit and the Earth is our tree. It is necessary to awaken to the consciousness that goes from the fruit to the tree. Precisely this tree is the shape of our future. I believe that if our consciousness from the fruit to the tree awakens, then a metamorphosis occurs like that of the caterpillar that becomes a butterfly, and we will be able to naturally solve problems. I think that the emptiness [空 “kū”] explained in Buddhism explains these things too.

Yaxkin: How can we reconcile with Mother Earth?

Tokūn: Meditating within nature. Walking. Going into the sea and collecting garbage. Planting trees and caring for them in the mountains. These things allow us to listen to the voice of the Earth, and be able to “tune into it” by synchronizing it to our own being. Through this attunement, it becomes possible to hear the voice of the Earth. I believe that even with these little things, our mother (Earth) becomes happy and, as we heal from our wounds, we gain the opportunity to recover our connection with her.

Yaxkin: What is the role of poetry, songs, and the arts in this reconciliation?

Tokūn: The energy of the arts is very great. More than a thousand words, just a photograph, a single poem that makes a person’s heart resound is not a small thing. The Hopis have also written about this in their prophecies. It is known that the authentic Hopis are educated with clear thinking, good images, drawings, and rigorously chosen words. Education, in this case, does not mean education in White people’s sense, but true education for peace.

Yaxkin: Please share your vision with a phrase or poem.


Soil for my feet
An axe for my hands
Flowers for my eyes
Birds for my ears
Mushrooms for my nose
A smile for my mouth
Songs for my lungs
Sweat for my skin
Wind for my heart  

Just that is enough.

Poem by Nanao Sakaki (1923-2008)

Thank you very much!


インタビュアーと写真 ヤスキン・メルチー







そのような教育システムについて何ら批判をするつもりもありませんが、現代社会が物質至上主義を優先することについては批判的な考えを持っています。少なくとも 現在の大学教育では私たちが本質的に必要としていることついては対応しきれていないと実感しています。













































                        訳  大里千津子 安藤美津子

                        協力 相良泰子


























田中:はい、もちろんです。 私たちは地球の一部です。














「これで十分」 ナナオサカキ











Thank you very much!!

For more about Yaxkin Melchy

(Mexico-Peru) He is a poet, translator of Japanese poetry, editor and researcher of ecopoetic thought. Yaxkin has a Masters in Asian and African Studies from the Colegio de Mexico. He specialized in the ecological vision of the Japanese wanderer poet and environmental activist Nanao Sakaki. Yaxkin is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of Tsukuba, Japan. He recently published Hatun Mayu (Hanan Harawi, 2016), Cactus del viento (an anthology of Nanao Sakaki’s poetry, AEM, 2017), Meditaciones del Pedregal (Astrolabio, 2019) y GAIA. Poemas en la Tierra (2020). In 2020 he wrote a column on ecopoetics and haiku for the magazine El Rincón del Haiku. Along with Pedro Favaron, they coordinate the “Cactus del Viento” ecopoetics collection of Mother Earth. He is a member of the Mother Earth Poetic Research Group. He publishes in his blog: https://flordeamaneceres.wordpress.com/

Ecopoetics from the east and the south of Earth Mother  © Yaxkin Melchy

~ Siwar Mayu, July 2022

The Marrow Thieves. Cherie Dimaline

The Marrow Thieves © Cherie Dimaline

If you prefer to read as PDF, click here

Story: Part One (novel excerpt)

“Anishnaabe people, us, lived on these lands for a thousand years. Some of our brothers decided to walk as far east as they could go, and some walked west, and some crossed great stretches of narrow earth until they reached other parts of the globe. Many of us stayed here. We welcomed visitors, who renamed the land Canada. Sometimes things got real between us and the newcomers. Sometimes we killed each other. We were great fighters —warriors, we called ourselves and each other— and we knew these lands, so we kicked a lot of ass.”

The boys always puffed out their chests when Miig got to this part. The women straightened their spines and elongated their necks, their beautiful faces like flowers opening in the heat of the fire.

“But we lost a lot. Mostly because we got sick with new germs. And then when we were on our knees with fever and pukes, they decided they liked us there, on our knees. And that’s when they opened the first schools. 

“We suffered there. We almost lost our languages. Many lost their innocence, their laughter, their lives. But we got through it, and the schools were shut down. We returned to our home places and rebuilt, relearned, regrouped. We picked up and carried on. There were a lot of years where we were lost, too much pain drowned in forgetting that came in convenient packages: bottles, pills, cubicles where we settled to move around papers. But we sang our songs and brought them to the streets and into the classrooms — classrooms we built on our own lands and filled with our own words and books. And once we remembered that we were warriors, once we honored the pain and left it on the side of the road, we moved ahead. We were back.”

Minerva drew in a big, wet sniff, wiped her nose across her sleeve, and then set about chewing the fabric once more. 

“Then the wars for the water came. America reached up and started sipping on our lakes with a great metal straw. And where were the freshest lakes and the cleanest rivers? On our lands, of course. Anishnaabe were always the canary in the mine for the rest of them. Too bad the country was busy worrying about how we didn’t pay an extra tax on Levi’s jeans and Kit Kat bars to listen to what we were shouting.

“The Great Lakes were polluted to muck. It took some doing, but right around the time California was swallowed back by the ocean, they were fenced off, too poisonous for use.”

I’d seen the Great Lakes: Ontario when we were in the city and Huron when we lived on the New Road Allowance. The waters were grey and thick like porridge. In the distance, anchored ships swung, silent and shuttered, back and forth on the roll of methodical waves.

“The Water Wars raged on, moving north seeping our rivers and bays, and eventually, once our homelands were decimated and the water leeched and the people scattered, they moved on to the towns. Only then were armies formed, soldiers drafted, and bullets fired. Ironically, at the same time rivers were being sucked south and then east to the highest bidder, the North was melting. The Melt put most of the northlands under water, and the people moved south or onto some of the thousands of tiny islands that popped up out of the Melt’s wake across the top of our lands. Those northern people, they were tough, though, some of the toughest we’ve ever had, so they were okay, are still okay, the takes tell. Some better than okay. That’s why we move north towards them now.”

Migg stood, pacing his Story pace, waving his arms like a slow-motion conductor to place emphasis and tone over us all. We needed to remember Story. It was his job to set the memory in perpetuity. He spoke to us every week. Sometimes Story was focused on one area, like the first residential schools: where they were, what happened there, when they closed. Other times he told a hundred years in one long narrative, blunt and without detail. Sometimes we gathered for an hour so he could explain treaties, and others it was ten minutes to list the earthquakes in the sequence that they occurred, peeling the edging off the continents back like diseased gums. But every week we spoke, because it was imperative that we know. He said it was the only way to make the kinds of changes that were necessary to really survive. “A general has to see the whole field to make good strategy,” he’d explain. “When you’re down there fighting, you can’t see much past the threat directly in front of you.”

“The Water Wars lasted ten years before a new set of treaties and agreements were shook on between world leaders in echoing assembly halls. The Anishnaabe were scattered, lonely, and scared. On our knees again, only this time there was no home to regroup at. Meanwhile, the rest of the continent sank into a new era. The world’s edges had been clipped by the rising waters, tectonic shifts, and constant rains. Half of the population was lost in the disaster and from the disease that spread from too many corpses and not enough graves. The ones that were left were no better off, really. They worked long hours, they stopped reproducing without the doctors, and worst of all, they stopped dreaming. Families, loved ones, were torn apart in this new world.”

The excerpt from The Marrow Thieves, by Cherie Dimaline, published by Cormorant Books Inc., Toronto, (Copyright 2017 © Cherie Dimaline) is used with the permission of the author and the publisher.

For more about the author

Cherie Dimaline is a member of the historical Métis community of Georgian Bay in the territory now known as Canada. On her website, her biography states: “I come from hunters and women who told stories and made their own remedies when they weren’t purchasing salves from the ‘peddler’ who would come across the Bay once in a while. Some remedies used holy water from the Shrine in town, others used water collected from the Bay on Easter Sunday. Many were based around onions and pine. To this day, my family hunts and harvests.” Dimaline is the author of six books but The Marrow Thieves, published in 2017, was declared by TIME magazine one of the best books for young adults of all times, among other prestigious prizes that the novel received in North America.  This science fiction novel for teenagers presents a future when Indigenous peoples are being hunted for their bone marrow. Dimaline presents an eclectic group of characters that get together and collaborate to hide from the danger; at the same time she presents the social and environmental problems that have led to the dystopian context of the novel’s reality. The second volume of this saga, titled Hunting By Stars, came out in 2021. 

The Marrow Thieves © Cherie Dimaline ~ Siwar Mayu, June 2022

A Selection of Contemporary Gunadule Literature

Photograph of a mola from Sue Patricia Haglund’s mola collection

Introduction, selection and translation from Spanish © Sue Patricia Haglund

Texts by Gunadule authors © Dad Neba Nelson De León Kantule, 

© Taira Edilma Stanley Icaza,

 © Cebaldo Inawinapi De León, 

© Atencio López, 

© Kinyapiler Johnson González, and 

© Maninaindi R. Roldan. G

If you prefer to read the PDF, please CLICK HERE

To be Gunadule is to be Gunayala and to be Abiayala/Abya Yala

Baba and Nana are supreme beings, our creators.
Abiayala/Abya Yala, known as saved territory and land of blood, is also as our brother, Dad Neba Nelson de León Kantule says, Abiayala/Abya Yala represents spaces “of fullness."
Abia - blood
It comes from the dulegaya language, dule language or also known as guna or Gunadule
Abe/Ablis is blood – and the word, Yala-land, mountain, continent, territory.
blood land; spilled blood and life blood.
Abiayala/Abya Yala is solidarity and collective, with collective solidarity we are similar to the earth, a land of fullness and life,
To understand the depth of Abiayala/Abya Yala, it is more than the four stages of the evolution of our worlds, it is the memories of our stories of Babigala, of Baba and Nana, of Ibeler and his siblings, they are stories of chaos and unification, of Biler and Ibeler, therefore, for us Dules, it is about relational positionalities.
Abiayala/Abya Yala exists.
It is not about ‘the Americas’. It is more.
Abiayala/Abya Yala, has always been alive and present.
Abiayala/Abya Yala is the evolution of development with collective solidarity, not the chaos of destruction, because as in the words of our brother, Marden Paniza, Gunadule musician and composer, it is to remind us that mer burgwega anmar namagge “we sing to not die” and in these we sing.
Anmar di, we are water
Anmar yala, we are land and mountains
Anmar ari, we are iguana
Anmar achu, we are jaguar
Anmar yaug, we are turtle
Anmar bansus, we are hummingbird
Anmar Abiayala
We are land of blood
Land of spilled blood, blood of life
We are a land of fullness
And we don't lack anything


Dad Neba Nelson De León Kantule*

Napguana Asociation

Indigenous peoples, development and Environment

After the United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in June 1992, it was a historic event for indigenous peoples and their rights in relation to the environment, where it recognized the indigenous peoples and their communities to the care of mother earth that they have been doing and the use of the environment. The importance of traditional knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples was recognized and the international community (states) committed to promote, strengthen and protect the rights, knowledge and practices of indigenous peoples and their communities.

Indigenous peoples continue to be targeted by those who promote alleged developments with globalizing plans, which in the long run further harm our precarious living conditions. All this happens in a convulsed world, where internal wars or wars between states are becoming a habit. In the same way, wars between the powerful (transnational companies) are reasons for the displacement of indigenous peoples in subhuman conditions, when they discover minerals, when they want to build hydroelectric plants and others, in our territories. (There are plenty of examples in Abya Yala (Abiyala), (America), the case of the Kuna of Mudungandi, in Panama, the Bayano hydroelectric plant, and the construction of the Barro Blanco hydroelectric plant.
Talking about development for the Indigenous Peoples does not only mean talking about investments and cooperation brought from abroad, it means, first of all, the recognition of their culture and traditions, which also involves respect for the ancestral technology with which our Peoples have survived.

Faced with this reality of the great changes mentioned, we indigenous peoples face these challenges and we have to prepare for those to come, without renouncing our roots or the principles that our ancestors bequeathed to us. Taking up the teachings of the great sages of our history, our identity, adapting them to the reality of the present, to project into the future.

It is time for the indigenous peoples to plant their own model, based on our organizational dynamics, with political, socioeconomic, cultural, religious, territorial and autonomy approaches, in short, the claim of our specific and collective rights, based on solidarity, equity, historically underestimated by the Uagas (non-indigenous).

We are not against development, we want development and remain indigenous. What we do not share and we do not agree with are the impositions of the Western development model, which have proven to be inoperative, outdated, which have caused ruptures and considerable damage to our political and social structures of our peoples. These models imposed on our peoples, migrations, changes weaken our cultural identity. The Uagas (non-indigenous) will always see the indigenous peoples as an obstacle, a barrier to development.

The indigenous peoples, in general, have a long experience in the management of natural resources, since we have lived since time immemorial in direct contact with nature, obtaining from it the necessary benefactors to satisfy our needs. Even though they have not defined the concept of sustainable development, they have been putting it into practice for many years.

Indigenous peoples have lost much of their territories in the name of development, and are at risk of further losing ancestral lands and sacred places, many of which contain the richest biodiversity in the world. Governments that have joined the Convention on Biological Diversity have an obligation to enact domestic laws or amend their constitutions to ensure the participation of indigenous peoples in the conservation and sustainable use of their environment.

I wonder what forests, what biodiversity do our countries sell or negotiate to redeem their foreign debt? We have rich forests, minerals, fresh water, seas, if we sell everything today, tomorrow we will also be poor and we will not have them to bequeath to our future generations, therefore we cannot say whether to make any investment thinking about today's hunger.

We indigenous people are going to accept investments in our region without any problem, as long as the investors are honest people and want to share the profits with us, those who do not make our brothers work so as not to pay them later... those who do not hide behind the politicians in power to insult an indigenous culture, those who have the patience of the indigenous authorities in the negotiations. We are aware of the wealth we possess, but the world does not end tomorrow and there will come other relatives of ours who will thank us for not having exhausted everything at once of what our Napguana (Mother Earth) bequeathed to us, mother of all development if we love and preserve it, or simply from human misfortunes, if as their children we do not know how to respect them.

All the demands of our peoples are fair and legal in light of international and national laws, agreements, treaties and other instruments that speak about the rights of indigenous peoples. We can mention a concrete example with the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, art. 32. Paragraph 2. The States shall consult and cooperate in good faith with the indigenous peoples concerned through their own representative institutions in order to obtain their free and informed consent before approving any project that affects their lands or territories and other resources, particularly in connection with the development, use or exploitation of mineral, water or other resources.

But the full recognition of the rights of indigenous peoples is not given clearly in all countries. For this reason, true recognition and not only on paper or laws, is the essential starting point to change along the path towards full development. Which means that we indigenous peoples have the full capacity to carry out our own development and that we are given this opportunity.

We only ask for the opportunity to at least be given to chart and choose our own destiny, based on our principles and cultural values, which have so far proven to be valid in our communities.

The main characteristic of indigenous peoples, unlike Western society, is that social systems are based on help, mutual protection, brotherhood and solidarity. That they do not need to be written in voluminous codes that in the end are not fulfilled, it is in daily practice that our people make it a reality, it is our way of life. Both the social, political, economic and spiritual aspects of life are vitally linked forming a unity.

For all that has been said above, I continue to maintain the principle of my Kuna teachers, for our parents, naskued (development) means producing the land and learning traditional knowledge for the benefit of all and not of a few, not to be rich individually, but to share it with everyone.

This value has kept us going despite the many changes that are happening in indigenous society. The Kuna cultural identity is still alive, will continue to be alive, as long as our peoples live together. The strength of our culture has persisted throughout history; the entry of some imposed models in the region has changed some things in our communities, and even so, it has not been able to change our being, we will continue to be Kuna.

This path is essential, considering the active participation of indigenous peoples, such as the Ngäbe, Kunas, Emberás, Nasos, Wounaan, Buglé, Bri-bris people.

Thus the participation of women, youth, the elderly and others. Whose contribution will allow the construction of a more solid, harmonious, and representative legal basis, the result of which will be a fairer and more balanced society, in the same way, the political will and tolerance of all the actors, to understand and accept the existence of this diversity of peoples. indigenous in Panama.

For peaceful coexistence and the construction of a true democratic society, it is essential to recognize and give value to the existence of indigenous peoples with their different values and interests, as well as to respect and tolerate those historical values and interests that distinguish us from others. Logically, a mere moral recognition is not enough; in a country like Panama, where different cultures coexist, it must be reflected in its legislation, in the constitution. There should not be a group that imposes its own norms and values of conduct and behavior on others.
* Dad Neba: In the Kuna indigenous language, it means, "Grandfather of the Plain", with that name identifies Nelson De León Kantule, Kuna indigenous communicator / Director of the Napguana Association. E-mail: duleigar@gmail.com and  napguanakuna@gmail.com


Photograph of a mola from Sue Patricia Haglund’s mola collection

Taira Edilma Stanley Icaza


I want to talk about the strokes
of my body
From the traces where I come from
From the source that drives
my starting point

Of my first spiral line
of my heritage as an indigenous woman
of my rebellion, my nahua and my mola
of the courage that runs in my veins
from Grandma Carmen and Mom

Let the strokes penetrate
my body
talk about heritage and our
From sisters Bertha and Marielle
let me scream and love

I want to trace my body again
and again
drink from the inna*
feel the holy river
get tangled up again in my strokes
plot and plot
until starting with the end point,
like spiral

*inna: corn juice, drink

El Luna 1925 and Wewe

Another night, one of those nights
Of love
where cries are whispered
sadness, tears and more tears
They shake and shake the sweat

Wewe*, try to flap the humidity
And with basil in their mouth
gives peace of mind
stop so cruel
action, outrage
and rape.

Their wings flap
And they calm the pulse
ears try to hear
forget, that one
Crescent moon

Their eyes when sinking give the message
the voice that comes from their wings
soothe the soul,
brother moon,
whisper to Wewe
Let's sing

*wewe: variety of small cricket that abounds along the coasts; sand flea.

Photograph of a mola from Sue Patricia Haglund’s mola collection

Cebaldo Inawinapi De León


An Di! 
An Di!
Water we are. Water we will be!
In a Kuna village a girl is born, and the midwife sings, the grandmother sings, they sing: We come from the water and with the water. Born from the fertile liquid of the placenta, which will later be fertilizer and will be sown (placenta and umbilical cord) in generous land, blessed by rain.
The girl grows up. One day, her body tells her that life is fruitful and for several days, the women of the village will bathe her daily in a surba –a sacred house made of leaves, words and a lot of love-, water and her and the words of the accomplices. and her desires and her dreams traveling through this sacred territory: her body!
Water and Word, tattooing puberty!
The woman goes to the final journey, the poet sings to her of her days and nights, and she receives the perfumed bath of flowers and plants and the last journey will be in the river of her youthful loves and planted in the generous forest... and she begins to navigate the sacred river that will guide her to the final Matria.
Water we are! The Greater Poet sings
Water we will be! The village sings.
A fruitful liquid brings us - in loving waters we love and create - and in a generous liquid we travel to the Final House!

Our Great Poets sing that a fine and magical thread unites, sews the waters of the rivers, the seas, the trees, the forest, the earth and its inhabitants, building a great network, balancing and harmonizing the sounds, colors and the fruits of the earth.

We are all One!

Song and art that our greatest creators, the Kuna women, have understood in a wonderful way, when they sew their dresses, their molas with colored fabrics where they tattoo their dreams, their desires, their stories and charms that come out of the left side of their chest and glide to the tips of the fingers.

And they continue it today, in these urgent times, their children, their grandchildren…harmonizing sounds, colors and dissonant things.

It is part of the larger network, of the universal fabric, balancing sounds, colors and flavors, and if one day part of the network breaks, we must quickly fix it, sew it, so that we can continue walking and rocking in this Universal Hammock, our Great House, Earth.

who orders the time? It is not the clock, it is the Word, it is the Language (I know I read it in some enchanted page of a beautiful book or in a song in some marine village) and it takes me on this urgent flight, to my days in the Big House, in the marine village, when the Great Poet, the Sagla sings and counts the days of the village, of the tribe, of the Earth,

because what inhabits and tattoos us is the time of speech, of words, of enjoyment, of the verb...reinventing worlds, word by word, creating magic...!



Photograph of a mola from Sue Patricia Haglund’s mola collection

Atencio López


I try to look
clouds and birds
at sunset,
but I couldn't.

my eyes blinded
delve further into
childhood memories
they won't come back

happy existence
in their laps
my future was formed
my hope.

of my life defoliate
flowers, dreams,
to accompany me

From the beach, sea,
I feel that something
turns off
I go around the world
carrying love,
and about them
I have to sleep

I feel love
but it overwhelms me
deep sadness
I hope the tears
wash away that bitterness
and may dawn
by your side
making love…


Nothing to celebrate
October 12th
start date
to genocide ever
in the history of mankind.

One hundred million human beings
led to the stakes
slaughtered and killed
in the name of god and the bible.

Kings of Spain
believing saviors of the world
inundated with human scum
our continent
human garbage
that wanted to delete
indigenous history.

From graves, forests,
rivers, seas and lakes
the slaughtered face
of grandmothers and grandfathers
they emerged to sully
Western pride, European pride
Abya Yala writes her own
history with an indigenous face
to the sound of the cry of


With music from ancient times
to the sound of flutes and maracas
I come drunk among fish
ocean smell
I bring before your altar
algae and flowers
that I pulled out
from the bottom of the sea,
I want to cry in your arms
And take your aromas and tenderness
to other worlds where I can
tell love stories
born on islands and beaches
under the raging sea
and a harsh sun.
Love of tanned faces
by saltpeter and starry nights,
memories and legacies
of our warrior ancestors.


From Sue Patricia Haglund’s mola collection, this mola is made by Rosa Lidia Gallardo, Sue Patricia Haglund’s cousin. The crab and fish mola is made by Gunadule mola-maker, Rosa Lidia Gallardo (granddaughter to Juan Gallardo, who is the brother of Sue Patricia Haglund’s grandfather, Ricardo Walker.)

Kinyapiler Johnson González


Suddenly the rhythms of troupes are heard,
the tunas**,  going up the street and down the street;
slippery ones come out on any street,
signal that the carnivals have arrived in Bannaba (1).
While, in the spirited and seductive Caribbean,
on the islands of the Tule Republic,
with pride the flags of the revolution are hoisted;
is the month of Morginnid e iba (2) is arinii. 
I have my red cotton shirt,
the urigan (3) are painted “enraged achiote”;
the fangs and hearts of jaguars, 
the claws and beaks of eagles came together.
The uprooted molas were stained with blood that day,
rings and winis (4) prohibited 
and scattered throughout the archipelago.
Forbidden to forget that date, tattooed on our hearts.
The jars of gabir (5) kicked and broken,
the braziers extinguished by boots,
the forbidden rituals,
split hammocks…
Never forget us companions,
that this country cost us blood
and it was not a gift from any government.
Alert, alert brothers,
Gabidamalargeee... (6)
Today the jars of the revolution
are fermented on each island,
to toast peace
to the heat of the totumas de gabir.
Today like yesterday we share that joy
together with our people,
because our eternal young warriors of 1925
planted their old hunting shotguns with a single shot,
but accurate as Igwaoginyabbiler's arrows,
the archer of the best marksmanship, brother Venus;
so that today his children and grandchildren can enjoy
and enjoy what we have...
¡Noggasdde, iddomalando, sioggooooo…nagase! (7)
Let's shout and toast with our grandmothers and mothers.
* arinii = iguana moon (month of February)
** the tunas = groups of people with song and music who dance in the streets with a drum ; dance and other instruments during the Panamanian carnival.
1. Morginnid e iba = Red Shirt Month
2. kuna warriors
3. beads
4. strong fermented drink
5. do not sleep
6. Kuna Toast: We have the gourd, let’s try, cheers…bottom’s up!

DIIANAI  (dulegaya)

“Iawala ganaggwa agdededi yalabali, 

Dada Nagibelele bega ulusumba sie nasaye, 

nue daggedi yalabali yee…” 

(Inicio del verso de Aggwanusa adaptado por mí, en el original dice “Pato Diolele”, donde digo: “Dada Nagibelele”

y en parte me inspiro en ese tratado de Aggwanusa, 

está dedicada a alguien muy especial).

Iawala gwenaddiye, bedi an idusad
nega sagla unni; andi bese gormaggenai,
be gammu ganse be ulusumba billinganba.

Inaulu dagge yobi bedi maigudeye,
gwena benunis nalleguemaisuli;
nii ulu obaggemaid ilaba nega duubali.

Nana Olonubdiigili, be ordiidina 
aryomegisa, ber gungidagge yobi; 
agddarmaggemai be ana gandi.

Nana Maninubdiigili, be maninisdii
suurmaggemai, ber maniale 
ber manidaggeyobi.

Nana Inanubdiigili, be inadii
wawadiggi ber inabisebdili yobi;
goggedili, nunabdili bunnogemainie. 

Nana Igwanubdiigili; be ganngued,
be sabed anga ugge;
bargaegala be nunis maniga sademalad.

Be inaulu wawanmaggemai nie;
suemola bedi yoemai,
be burba, Nan burba mogir inbaba.

Oloeaidiili be suggedi dinnaguemai,
anmar nuggi, gwenad an be daggsuli;
anai dii emi be ibagi, an bega soge Anna Diianai.


Big brother river, you who are before me
since the beginning of time; I invoke you,
to your tributaries to your subterranean origins.

You who cross like a great medicinal canoe,
giving away your milk to everyone
in each trip of the moon in its canoe through the sky.

Mother Olonubdiigili, your golden liquids
they travel, and fall radiant as gold on their way;
in your shining tributaries.

Mother Maninubdiigili, your silver liquids
They run and shine like silver
like argentas on the road.

Mother Inanubdiigili, your fragrant
medicinal waters such as essences of basil;
breaths of goggedili, nunabdili.

Mother Igwanubdiigili; give me your strength
and your love; to stop the merchants
who profit from your milk.

Your trembling medicinal canoe is;
with a rainbow mola outfit,
your strength, spirit of the Mother among the clouds.

Oloeaidiili your stream is drying up,
because of us, I no longer see you as a sister;
My friend water today, I tell you Anna Diianai (hello friend water).

Poetry 01


is the full moon

on your moon,

it’s your smile 

in my sadness,

it’s dawn

in my sunset,

poetry is the blossoming

of the dilla at dawnby dillanii… *

* dilla [dil´la] in Kuna (language) is palo santo plant, and dillani [dil´lanii] is the palo santo moon or the month of March.

Poetry 02

Poetry is the delicate

Kuna woman’s hands

that transform the threads and fabrics

in multicolored verses in their molas

at sunset in Kuna Yala.

And in her early mornings

her calloused hands lift the hot pans

to prepare breakfast

to the future slingshot rebels,

heirs of February 25.


Maninaindi R. Roldan. G


The universe and
their hugs manifest
in designs
in black symbols
in alchemical forms.

There are hidden truths
in its geometry / lines that join us

The recipient skin of legacies
serves as a fragile canvas
where they rest from their long journeys.

It is in it that they live/migrate/mutate
               	they return to being simple cosmic lines.

Next to my memory you are

You are the force that sustains my struggles
The hug that protects me from strangers

Your old war is today my shield
/ My award
Your flag ⎯symbol of rebellion and courage⎯ is my spear
That's why I thank you dear grandfather who inhabits my memory
That's why I thank you dear grandmother for your sacrifice

Today as children of February we fight to deserve your name
To rock the Matria that so many of us love

I wave the flag of rebellion
                              of the sacrifice
                                                  and life


We have the season of the hummingbird.

A season of sighs.

A season of echoes and nostalgia.
Of jar and song.

And in that space where time sings
you are the point of this hour

the minute in the cloud.

About the Gunadule Authors

Dad Neba Nelson De León Kantule is a Gunadule essayist, scholar,  and activist. His name, Dad Neba, in the Kuna indigenous language, means, “Grandfather of the Plain”, with that name identifies Nelson De León Kantule, great grandson of Nele Kantule, Kuna indigenous communicator / Director of the Napguana Association. E-mail: duleigar@gmail.com and napguanakuna@gmail.com

Taira Edilma Stanley Icaza is a Gunadule activist, poet and scholar. Taira graduated from the Bachelor of Science in Education with a Post-graduate degree in Higher Teaching. She is a member and activist of the Kuna Youth Movement (MJK) and other international indigenous organizations. She went to Bolivia to study for her master’s degree at the Universidad Mayor de San Andrés and works at the Office of Indigenous Peoples at the University of Panama.

Cebaldo Inawinapi De León is an author, artist, poet, and Gunadule anthropologist born on the Island of Usdub, Autonomous Region of Gunayala, Panama. Inawinapi lives between Portugal and Panama and is the author of the book My First Tree: An Sabbi Iduged (2019). He is also the protagonist in the film, Panquiaco, and is part of the documentary, LucíaMor: La Mola de Lucía. Learn more about Inawinapi here.

Atencio López is Gunadule from the Autonomous Region of Gunayala, Panama. He is an author, poet, and attorney for Indigenous, Commercial, Criminal, and Civil Law. He studied at the Faculty of Law and Politics at the University of Panama and obtained his Master’s Degree in Commercial Law at the Universidad Interamericana de Panamá. For several years, Atencio has held various positions in Panamanian and international indigenous organizations. Learn more about Atencio here

Kinyapiler Johnson González is a Gunadule poet, artist, and cultural activist. He was born on the island of Usdub, Autonomous Region of  Gunayala, Panama. He studied at the Faculty of Economics at the University of Panama. In addition, Kinyapiler served as administrator of the Guna General Congress on a few occasions, is a member and activist of the Kuna Youth Movement (MJK), and a founding member of the Ibeler Wagan Theater Collective.
Maninaindi R. Roldan. G. is a Gunadule poet, artist, and psychologist born on the island of Usdub, Gunayala, Panama. He studied at the University of Panama and has a degree in psychology. As an artist, he participated together with the Igar Yala Collective in the making of the film Burwa Dii Ebo (The wind and the water), an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival 2008. He is the author of the book, Demonios en mi desierto (2019).

For more about Gunadule art and literature

More about Sue Patricia Haglund

She is a Gunadule poet and scholar from Panama and the U.S., and holds a PhD in Indigenous Politics from the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa. She researches the works of contemporary Gunadule poets whose poetry reflect the cultural metamorphosis of the actualized transformation of Gunadule oral tradition and poetry that speak against colonialism and empire. Her poem, “Conversaciones con mi abuelo,” was published in the first anthology of Gunadule poetry, Antología de Poetas Kunas (Panama City, 2015), and she has published several book chapters in edited volumes, including Indigenous Interfaces: Spaces, Technology, and Social Networks in Mexico and Central America (2019).

A selection of contemporary Gunadule literature © Sue Patricia Haglund ~ Siwar Mayu, May 2022

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 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.


Kallari willkay

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.

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

(Kallari willkay)


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, 

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.


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.

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. 


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

there we cohabited
my sisters

it was the house
it is the house

root of
a human

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
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

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 
to set up
your wildest exhibition

for me
I just want the corner
from where I will
see you
my love
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

pieces of me
scattered throughout

I moved
by inertia

I left seeds
in some eyes
in some bodies

I left
almost empty

now I carry
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
surrounded by flowers
and tall trees
I only asked for a
roof and floor
I never had it
a provider
of certainty appeared
He daily
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
when I stopped
I realized
all the mirrors
I found my body
friendly and passionate
and it was enough for me

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
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
like them

Elena visits the house


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?


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.


The one I’m not

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
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



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


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


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


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


will you be my bride?


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



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:


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.

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’.


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. 


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.


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.

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’.


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. 

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.


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.


our shoulders bear the town’s silence,

our wounded skin pierced by your broken bones. 

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’.


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.

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’.


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. 

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’.


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.

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’.



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.

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.


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. 

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.
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.


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.


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. 

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.


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.

“Mona fueda bibɨrɨ kaɨ niya jȃna uai: diona – jibina uai.” Yorema: Kaɨmeramuy / Gilberto López Ruiz

“I learned to weave at my father’s side, at my mother’s side, seeing how he would pass the basket to my mother, the sieve for yuca flour, and after that, I learned weaving from other cultures…” Kaɨmeramuy

Artwork by Kaimeramuy / Gilberto López Ruiz

Comments and research by Camilo A. Vargs Pardo and Lina Mazenett

Translation from Spanish by Greta Trautmann and Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

If you prefer to read the PDF, click HERE

Mona Fueda Bibiri Kai Niya Jana Uai: Diona-Jibina Uai / Weaving from the banks of the sky

These words bring together the experiences of three people–Camilo A. Vargas Pardo, Lina Mazenett and Carolina Marín–while interweaving a dialogue based on different concerns and trajectories, with Kaɨmeramuy, who identifies as Indigenous muina of the Yorai clan–or People of the Stinging Nettle. In this piece we gratefully evoke his reflections and his willingness to share with us a dialogue guided by ambil (tobacco paste), mambe (grinded and toasted coca leafs mixed with ashes of toasted yarumo leafs), and caguana (traditional yocca drink), where words become textiles.  These conversations took place on the banks of the sky, in Mona Fueda, the estate of the Indigenous resguardo of Leticia, Amazonas, where he lives. In this text we weave a dialogue which discusses teachings about taking care of the body, the family, social relations, the natural world, all in communion with the spiritual realm.

We consider it is important to share our experience with the technology of weaving in these moments in which the world seems to be crumbling. Weaving has become a vital necessity: weaving new relationships with the others; that is to say with the beings of the forest and the river: the tapir, the ceiba, the stone, also with the family, the neighbors, the crops, our sustenance. Weaving in order to be hatched into this new time.

Kaɨmeramuy explains that a weaving is thought, felt, seen and then materializes. Once it makes itself seen to you, you must go to the forest to collect and retrieve the materials. In the forest you walk carefully because it is another environment and it is full of spiritual beings. You look, but you do not touch–advises Kaɨmeramuy.  Before daring to take the fibers with which you are going to weave, you must ask permission from its keepers. Once you have raised the request to the Father Creator (Mo Finora Buinaima) you return to the woods to collect only what is necessary for the envisioned piece. This then, is just going and getting what you have asked for. 

The forest beings have to recognize you so that there are no unforeseen reactions; for that reason before entering in the jungle you must bathe in the creek, then the water will transport the energy of the person into the jungle; the scent impregnates the plants and when these flower it is disseminated by the bees and other pollinators. Then, upon searching in the woods for the adequate materials for a weaving you establish a reciprocal relationship with the other beings that inhabit the forest. The jungle entities can thus recognize those who enter into their domain and they won’t feel resentment toward the foreign presence.

This type of protocol requires instruction and obedience: this discipline shapes the base of all types of balanced weaving.  Once back home, the weavers classify their materials, they sweeten them so that they become malleable, they cool them so that they won’t provoke an itching reaction ; thus, the indomitable energy of the fibers that come from the forest become tamed.

This means that weaving (the product) begins before the very act of weaving; the beginning is always much sooner and there is no ending. There is not then, a beginning per se; just various points of departure from which to begin. Weaving is formation, it is a technology for deploying dialogue and action without knowing beginning nor end; that is to say, recognizing that we are weaving just one spot in the center of that great and diverse existence. To weave is to organize thought; to prepare, to choose, to groom. To weave is to concentrate. To weave is to care; thus, it is medicine and healing. To weave is to check carefully the relationship between fingers, the hand, sight and heart.  The weaving is attention and patience.

The activity of weaving allows for evaluation and care of the body.  And of the spirit. You weave, you check your body, you mend yourself, you heal.  “You, how many times a day do you look at your toes?–asks Kaɨmeramuy–. With this question he tells us that the practice of weaving teaches you to check your body every so often; every ten minutes you have to adjust your body because the very exercise of weaving maladjusts it.  You have to change your activity, look in a different direction, do other activities. The body tends to get tired due to the effort; so it is necessary to listen to it and adjust it into a more correct position.  The result is no doubt gratifying, since through this exercise it is possible to see the mind, the body and the world within the weaving.

The weavings are at the same time screens, because they emit waves of light. A strong emanation, potent and blinding that reveals the force of another world.  This light is filtered until it reaches our reality. They say that it has even blinded some, for that reason the eyes have to look away from the hypnotism of the weaving, because just as with the light from cell phones or computers, the brightness of the weaving can blind. Furthermore, it is important to rest your eyes, so when you look at the weaving again you can see that what seemed to be fine, it is not. The error can be deciphered and then it can be corrected. The result must be perfect because it is an offering to the Father Creator and, at the same time, it is an expression of his work. The same thing happens when thinking.

Weaving is a body care practice. It also puts different bodies in relation with one another. The physical body is tested, as the hypnotism produced by the weaving can dissarrange it. The emotional body soothes. The spiritual body makes itself available to materialize the gifts of the Father Creator in a new body. In silence, the trained weaver listens to the sounds of the forest. Thus, in weaving, the senses are tuned to perceive the harmony of the surrounding voices. Sight, smell, touch, and hearing are sharpened.

Now, weaving is also a practice of restoring the social fabric. In the Amazon, among the People of the Center, basketry and fabrics for processing foods carry profound meanings related to building family and social relationships. Common alliances within the social fabric take shape through weaving. Kaɨmeramuy’s woven designs remind us of these dynamics, and reinforce kinship within contemporary Letician society. In the background of this picture, the weaving behind Kaɨmeramuy encaptures a cooperation agreement between CAPIUL (Council of the United Indigenous Peoples of Leticia) and the Colombian National University, Amazonian campus. This piece recalls a history in which the recognition and integration of Indigenous peoples by Colombian society has been marked by exclusion. At the same time, it proposes a pattern based on traditional codes and designs that make up dates and words in Spanish and Muina-Murui, integrating –in the weaving itself– multiple ways of producing knowledge. Following this perspective, weaving is a social cohesion discourse for cothinking a more inclusive university.

From another perspective, Kaɨmeramuy’s weaving designs reveal themselves as a manifestation of the spiritual world via his visionary meditation induced by knowledge plants, that is, his weavings represent messages found through the yajé’s (ayawaska) “drunkenness”. Information that comes from the spiritual world is filtered through the weaving designs. Key words in Spanish or Muina-Murui are interwoven with representations of spiritual beings –winged, anthropomorphic, and zoomorphic– that in turn make up different levels of perception and interpretation. For instance, when looking carefully at some of Kaɨmeramuy weavings, the image of a jaguar may appear lurking the observer’s bewildered gaze.

“The type of weaving sought in the spiritual realm is spiritual vibration. Understanding it, it is no longer human...” Kaɨmeramuy

To conclude, we quote Kaɨmeramuy’s response when we asked him about his experience with weaving. Reflecting on the image above, he told us the following:

“You need to have your body relaxed to get to this weaving. This comes from the beginning, from the very formation of the body –how it was woven–, from childhood, youth, until reaching adulthood. This is why among us, as we grow, we always exercise a lot: hiking in the woods, jumping, climbing vines, knowing how to collect wood, splitting firewood, knowing how to sit; always being active with your body. Also, much attention is paid to nourishment. Knowing how to comply with the diet according to age. This helps to relax the body. At my age, I do exercises that many youth and elderly can no longer do: stretching, rolling, doing abdominal crunches. They do not do it. Do you know why? Because they actually forgot that our life resides in maintaining the body weaving through this practice, so we can sustain a balanced life among the natural elements that we are part of, according to our clan. This implies having kinship with living nature, guided by the Father Creator through tobacco and coca, as well as the medicinal elements that we need in our experience as humans. In contrast, medicine is not needed in the spiritual realm. So if you commit with the medicine and the body balance, you transcend toward the spiritual realm. The body becomes like cotton. It transcends. In sum: you have to detach, renounce the material and physical, and thus become spiritually strengthened.

“ (…) Here I captured everything that was given in the stories and it is located in the spiritual realm. The two Majaño — eagle-keepers of the house– are above. The origin of life is symbolically in the center: the male and the female are represented on the mortar and pestle. The keeper of keepers –whose symbol is an angel– is below. The rest of spiritual keepers are next to him, carrying baskets with all the tools that they provide us. At his feet there are more keepers. And all of those stripes in the back take another shape when you observe from afar. All this encloses a being who is called in our language Jánayari or tiger, the Father Creator. At the bottom, I included an homage to my mother’s lineage Toira Buinaima. Around the weaving is our symbol. The stars are behind. This changes when you look at it from afar. It takes the shape of a tiger. Concentrate and it will wink at you. Everything starts from the center.”

About the compilers

Lina Mazenett is an artist and a specialist in Amazonian Studies at the National University of Colombia, Amazonia. Her work, co-created with the artist David Quiroga, addresses the interrelation between organisms and the resources of our environment –its distribution and re-signification through culture. She has experience in specific contexts such as collaborating with Indigenous organizations via transdisciplinary approaches. Her interests include: the relationship between art and science, the ecology of knowledge, Indigenous cosmologies, cognitive justice, technologies and local knowledge. Currently, Lina participates in Unfinished Live, an initiative of The Shed, New York City. She is a DAAD Fellow for the Master of Arts at UDK Berlin. In addition to her artistic practice, she participates as a guest in the online roundtable organized by Julie’s Bicycle, the British Council, and Fondo Acción, as part of The Climate Connection program. She was a fellow of the COINCIDENCIA program offered by Pro Helvetia Switzerland. In 2018 she won the Emerging Artists Scholarship offered by the Colombian Ministry of Culture, and was nominated for the CIFO Cisneros Fontanals Art Foundation Scholarship and Commission Program 2016-2017. Her art and projects have been presented in public and private spaces in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. https://www.mazenett-quiroga.com/

Camilo A. Vargas Pardo (Bogotá, 1982) is a PhD in Romance Studies-Spanish (Sorbonne University of Paris) and Amazonian Studies (National University of Colombia, Amazonia). In his doctoral thesis, he addresses the interdiscursive relationships between oral tradition and the literary production of contemporary Indigenous authors. He has worked as a professor at various universities in Colombia and France. He has participated in different projects related to training of teachers, and revitalization of native languages. His articles have been published in Canada, France, Brazil and Colombia.

About the translators

Greta Trautmann is an associate professor of Spanish at UNC Asheville. Within and beyond university assignments, she has always been active in theater, and community engagement through performance. She is a founding member and artistic director of TELASH which is committed to university and community cultural exchange through producing Spanish language theater.

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.

I am a Damn Savage. An Antane Kapesh

©  José Mailhot

Introduction by Sophie Lavoie

Excerpt from: Kapesh, An Antane. Eukeuan nin matashi-manitu innushkueu=I am a Damn Savage/Tanite nene etutamin nitassi?=What Have You Done to My Country? Translated by Sarah Henzi. (Waterloo, Canadá: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2020) Used by permission of the editorial house.

If you prefer to read the PDF, click here

An Antane Kapesh (1926-2004) is an Innu writer and activist from Québec, mother of 9 children and the first Innu woman to publish a book in Québec. She lived the first thirty years of her life traditionally as a nomad on her territory until the creation of the Maliotenam reservation near Sept-Iles, Québec, in 1953. For 10 years, she was the chief of the Matimekosh band, near Schefferville, Québec, five hundred kilometers north of Maliotenam. She never studied in White institutions and learned to write the Innu-aimun language in the seventies. The first book she published in Innu-aimun and French was I am a damn savage which came out in 1976 and denounces the colonialism in her lands using a deeply oral language. In 1979, What have you done to my country? was published in both languages. Using a children’s story, it tells of the dispossession of the Innu people. The author participated in the dramatization of her text a few years later.

Kapesh’s texts, which only came out in English close to fifty years after their first publication, are fundamental to understand the origins of decolonization work done by Indigenous peoples and break down myths about Indigenous peoples never having explicitly denounced the violence that was imposed on them by successive Canadian governments. Furthermore, Kapesh, as the first Innu women’s voice published in Québec, is an inspiration to recent generations of quintessential Innu writers such as Joséphine Bacon, Natasha Kanapé Fontaine and Naomi Fontaine.

I am a Damn Savage


In my book, there is no White voice. When I thought about writing to defend myself and to defend the culture of my children, I had to first think carefully because I know that writing was not a part of my culture and I did not like the idea of having to leave for the big city because of this book I was thinking of doing. After carefully thinking about it and after having made, me, an Innu woman, the decision to write, this is what I came to understand: Any person who wishes to accomplish something will encounter difficulties but nonetheless, she should never get discouraged. She will nevertheless have to constantly follow her idea. Nothing will make her want to give up, until this person will find herself alone. She will no longer have any friends but that is not what should discourage her either. More than ever, she will have to accomplish the thing she had thought of doing. 

Schefferville, September 1975

I. The White man’s arrival in our territory

When the White man wanted to exploit and destroy our territory, he did not ask anyone for permission, he did not ask the Innu if they agreed. When the White man wanted to exploit and destroy our territory, he did not give the Innu a document to sign saying they approved that he exploit and destroy all our territory so that only he might earn a living indefinitely. When the White man wanted for the Innu to live like the White men, he did not give them a document to sign saying they agreed to give up their culture for the rest of their days. 

When the White man had the idea to exploit and destroy all of our territory, he simply came to see us. After he arrived, he took us so as to teach us his way of life, he gave us all the things of his culture and he provided us with all the White man’s services: houses, school, health centre. If the White man taught us his culture and if he gave us all sorts of things- for instance the allowance he doled out once a month to each Innu family, the houses and different services he provided -it is because he wanted to make sure that we, the Innu, would remain in the same place so as not to disturb him while he exploited and destroyed our territory. By the same token, the White man wanted to kill our Innu culture at the same time as our Innu language. After he came to our territory, by taking us to teach us his way of life, the White man also took our children to give them a White education, solely to taint them and solely to make them lose their Innu  culture and language, as he did with all the Indigenous Peoples of America. (…)

The White man did not say this to the Innu. What he did not say was that he wanted to kill our culture without our knowledge, that he wanted to kill our language without our knowledge, and he was stealing our territory from us. 

Nowadays, he is the one who makes the laws in our territory and upon us Innu, he makes us follow his rules, like White men. We thank the White man for his laws and rules but they are of no use to us because we, who are Innu, we do not understand anything of the White man’s law anyway. May the White man keep for himself his laws and rules and may he use them for himself because it is of his culture. This is what I think. If nowadays the Innu were to make the laws that the White man had to follow, maybe he would not understand them, and would not be able to abide by them. Also, in Innu territory, only the Innu had the right to make this laws and to make the White men respect them so that newcomers would know all things; that they behave after coming to find the Innu in their territory; that they know how to handle firearms well so as not to shoot recklessly; that they not play with the Innu animals so as not to waste the Innu’s food that comes from Innu animas. This is the law that the Innu would have asked the White man to follow after his arrival in Innu territory.

If the White man had not understood these Innu laws and rules, and if he had not been able to abide by them, he would have returned to where he came from, where there are White man’s laws and rules.  If the White man had not understood the Innu law and if he was unable to abide by it, he would not have been able, either, to escape being harassed by the Innu. We, for instance, are truly harassed by the White men because they want by all means to be master in our own territory. But we are tired of being, for a number of years now, regulated by the White men. We are tired of being, for a number of years now, mistreated by them, and we are tired of seeing them, for a number of years now, disrespect us. 

If the White man came to us, it is solely to earn a livelihood. After finding it in Innu territory, the White man should have left them in peace, he should not have tried to govern them or tried to teach them everything. He should have said to himself: “When I arrived in Innu territory, the Innu were self-governed and self-sustainable.” This is what the White man should have noticed when he saw them for the first time. If the White man had kept his culture to himself, we too would have kept ours and today there would not be as many conflicts as there are between the Whites and the Innu.

The White man has always thought: “there is only me who is intelligent.” We are well aware that the White man goes to university and has a diploma. The Innu, whom the White man’s school system put in the zeroth class, also has a diploma but he, he never showed that he had one and it has never been of any use to him. When the White man met him in his territory, the Innu put his diploma away because, seeing the White man for the first time, he thought: “He is probably more intelligent than me.” This is why he put his diploma away. After the arrival of the White man, he started to observe him discreetly to see how he would act towards him. He wanted to see if the White man would harm him and if he would be disrespectful towards him on his own territory. After observing him for a few years, the Innu knows, today, that the White man thinks he is unintelligent.

The White man probably never knew that the Innu had a diploma: when he sought him out in his territory, the Innu hid it from him. But today, he is not embarrassed to show the White man that he too, in his capacity as Innu, has a diploma and he is not ashamed to assert its value. The Innu, he does not have a certificate to hang on the wall confirming he has graduated: it is in his mind that his diploma can be found. (…)


I am a damn Savage. I am very proud when, today, I hear myself being called a Savage. When I hear the White man say this word, I understand that he is telling me again and again that I am a real Innu woman and that it was I who first lived in the bush. And still, all things that live in the bush, that is the best life. May the White man always call me a Savage.

About the translator

Sarah Henzi is a settler scholar and Assistant Professor of Indigenous Literatures in the Departments of French and Indigenous Studies at Simon Fraser University. Her research focuses on Indigenous popular culture, futurisms, and new media, in both English and French. She is also Assistant Editor for Francophone Writing for Canadian Literature, a member of the editorial board of Studies in American Indian Literatures, and Secretary of the Indigenous Literary Studies Association. At the Université de Montréal, Henzi directed the first graduate program in Indigenous Literatures and Media in Québec (2017-2020).  Her translation of the first book published in French by an Indigenous woman in Quebec, I am a Damn Savage by Innu author An Antane Kapesh, was released in August 2020.

Lapü / Dream. Rafael Mercado Epieyu

Tanülia Tiko´u Epinayuu / Rafael Mercado Epieyu © Cartel Urbano‘s Art

Rafael Segundo Mercado Epieyu is a direct descendant of the extensive matrilineal clan e´iruku Epinayuu. He is a poet and writer from Manaure (La Guajira, Colombia), as well as a linguist from the National University of Colombia, with a Masters in Education (University of Antioquia.) He has experience in training processes with Indigenous organizations, associations and youth groups who belong to urban communities. He has worked on many community and film projects and has served as  a consultant and translator of his native language, wayuunaiki. In 2010, he received the National Award from the Colombian Ministry of Culture and the Caro y Cuervo Institute for his research entitled “Blazonry and Wayuu rock art.” He is currently a professor in the Pedagogy of Mother Earth Program (University of Antioquia, Colombia), and in the Ethno-education and Interculturality Program (University of La Guajira, Colombia). As a poet and writer, he has published: Narraciones indígenas del desierto –AKÜJÜÜSHI SULU´U SUUMMAINPA´A WAYUU (Norma, 2018), Sentimientos tejidos desde la oscuridad del vientre de mi madre (Antillas, 2009), y “Tü wuinkat shia akujaka süchiki we’iise / This Water Tells of Our Origins” (Indigenous Message on Water 2014). He has also published the following scholarly work: La palabra en la cultura Wayuu (Fondo Editorial Wayuu Araurayu, 2014), Diccionario Bilingüe Wayuunaiki – Español – Español – Wayuunaiki (Editorial Educar, 2009), and the articles: Educación Conquistada y Propia”, “Jóvenes indígenas y globalización en América Latina”, y “Ser Wayuu y la escuela tradicional de occidente”. 

Mayapo Salt Pit (Mma´yaapü: mound of earth formed by the breeze). Manaure © Rafael Mercado Epieyu

“Lapü / Sueño” © Rafael Mercado Epieyu ~ Siwar Mayu, July 2021

“Dream” © Translated from Spanish by Lorrie Jayne and Juan G. Sánchez Martínez

If you prefer, read the PDF HERE


Listen here to the voice of the author in Wayuunaiki

Tanülia Tiko´u Epinayuu. Yalashi taya Akuwalu´u, eere ichiijain tü palaakat sutuma suwawala jouttai. Tü pütchi yaainjatükat tashajüin akumalaasü sünainjee tü pütchi sümaiwajatü, nojotsü pütchin takumalain, eesü kojuyasü achikii eekalü tashajüin, ma´aka tü jaleekualüin tü wayaawatakalü au, jaralüin komotsoin waya. Shiaja´a tü lapükalü kama´anejeekat tü watüjaakalü au, tü sa´anasiasee tü jiyeekalü, tü jülakalü ta´in sünainjee sünüiki tü wayuu toushi Mejieriita, süchiki nülapüin chi watuushikai Ma´leiwa.

Wayakana wayuukana süikeyuu wuishii waya. Apünüsejese´e wamüin sa´inpia atpana. Apünüsejese´e wamüin sa´inpia ka´ula. Apünüsejese´e wamüin sa´inpia pa´a. Apünüsejese´e wamüin sa´inpia irama. O´ojushii joo waya süka´aya süpüla anainjanain waya sünain wakuwaipa.   

Sünainjee tü walapüinkat Wayaawata a´ulu alatajatetkat wamüin watta ka´i, müinka wayuule waya kaka´liainjanain süpa´a mma´kat, motso´opünainjatüle ne´e wama´a. Shia tü lapü aluwataakalü sau wakuwaipa wayakana wayuukana, wanaa sümaa sirumatajüin aikat, eere shiliwa´ala joo eere kashi. 

Jolototooshi shiinalu´u toula´ yüütataashi taya ma´aka yüütatain alekerü. Yaajechipata ne´e taya sa´akapüna tü atulushikat pütchi, katsa´ antawalin wanee jejerawaa sünain tache´e wanaa sümaa tatunküin, müsü shiekai sa´in aküjeein süchiki tü jülüjakat ta´in. 

¿Kasa jülükata ta´in? Shia sümaa shiain lapü kakumalain wakuwaipa. Jamüsa´a sa´anasiase tü jieyuukat yalejeejatü sünainjee lapü. Kamalainsüjese´e tamüin tü jieyuu wopuje´ewatkalüirua kasutatajataasü sükasulain uuchikat eere sukulemerain, eere jajatatairua tamüin shejejaaya tü ipa´kalüirua chinatakat, achüttutnawaikat sutuma wuin samaatüsü süchi´jeejat. Kachonweesü ma´in tü nale´elakat ma´aka perakanawa, jemetüsü ma´in tü süsanalaayakat na´in ma´aka joktai uuchejeekuat. Kamalainsüjese´e tamüin tü jieyuu anoijewatkalüirua, seeju natoutta mataasüka sa´in seeju süsii mokochira jee aipia, anacheinsü tü noukta ma´aka maloukatataain süsii ata´, samaatataasü seemiouse nawayuushe´in ma´aka ichi´iulia, maintataasü tü na´anasiesekat süka sükorolo soi jee shi´ira mo´uwa. Kamalainsü tamüin tü jieyuu cheje´ewaitkalüirua palaalejee, nousajaaya jee müsüja nanüiki palaatasü jemetüsü tamüin ma´aka tü kataakalü o´u tamüin, wattama´in saalin sukumaalaya na´anasiase ma´aka sukutulaaya nawayuushe´in, alika wa´i weinshi antawaishi tatchon Jepirachi sünain namülerain naya. Kamalainsü tamüin tü jieyuu wuimpeje´ewatnuukat, sa´anasiese jierü walunkaa nanaika eere palatatain wuin püloi, eere shi´iyalain nouppuna sünain kachepa pali´ise, akumalaasü wanee tatalataa tamüin püloina, teirakawee amüina monsomüinra´ane´e, ma´aka teirakain sümüin sho´owou ipa´ kama´anakat wachiki. Tü sa´anasiase tü jieyuukat akulaasü sünainjee eere jemeyuluin shiairua. Tü lapükat antüsü wanaa süma maintüin kasa supushua, wanaa süma e´erain jimatui. Yalejee shiinalu´ujee woula, jiettachonsü wasanalaaya wa´in waya atunkushiikana, wattasü türüttüin sulu´upuna wattashaana saalin wopu eepünaale süwataain jouktain sawaijatkat, shi´ipünawalin wane´ewai sukuwa pütchi chejeejatü nama´anejee naa ayolujaakana. ¡Wush! ¡wush! ¡wush! ¡wush! ¡wush! Majataasü shi´irainru´u süchiki sülü´üjalakat, sülatirüin süka pütchi samatüsü, pütchi jouktaleulajatü, suwalakajüin süka´ shi´irain sulu´upuna suikalüirua.

Süka tü jiettachonkat wasanalaaya wa´in waya atunkushiikana, sünain sulu´uin wa´in tü pütchi süma´leiwajatkat, süpüla waküjain joo mapeena sü´ütpa´a maachon siko´u, wanaa sümaa chiittajüin sünüiki jaisükat. ¡Chish! ¡chish! ¡chish! ¡chish! ¡chish! Müsü shiimata´ira sünain süchijirüin waya. Eere joo tü siko´uokat, nojolüiwa´a jayuuin, waapajüin pütchi süchiki lapü, laülaasü watuma wa´in sünainje waapajüin. Latu´u rülapü sünülia eere joo Lapü, yalalu´usaja yalapüna sulu´u süpa´a jutatui, nojotsü jaralüin erajüin eere, sümaa süttawalinja sünain antiraa pütchi wamüin wayakana wayuukana. 

Naa laülayuukana akaijawaishii süpülapünaa tü atünka. Kaitataasü yüi natuma. Joo sümüsain joo yüikat ounüsü sümaa pütchi nanüiki joo naa akaijüshiikana. Kalapünsü kasa supushuwa´a, jamüsaja yaawasan saajüin naküjala naa wayuu laülayuukana, chi Ma´leiwakai, nutkeje´erüin sünülia tü wuchiikalüirua. Antanuwaya müsüirua joolu´u. Antüshi ului, wainpirai, mo´uwa, nojotsü jaralüin ouneein. Atunkeesü wa´in mayaa müsüirua. Niyaka anülia ounüin kaarain. Chi nojoikai atünküin souka´i jee sawai. Ounajachi pia nümüin Ma´leiwasa, nümaka sümüin Lapü. Choujaashi pia nümüin mojusuma´in na´in sutuma nülapüinsa, nünta tamüin nüküjaiwa jamalu´ulüin, nümaka Kaarai nümüin Lapü. Anasü nümaka, manümüin na´atapaiwa taya, nutunkajaya nümaka Lapü. Antüshi Lapü nünaimüin Ma´leiwa, atunküshi nüpüla, nu´unaka Lapü. Jalashi joo nian nümataalaka nümüin Kaaraikai, yaajachiyüi atunkushi pia nuulia, nümaka nümüin, püsaaja sejee nia tamüin kateechi o´u joo taya nüpüla nümaka.       

Tawa´irüin, mi amigo. Tawaira territory. Alta Guajira.


My name is Tiku’ u Epinayuu. I can be found in Akuwalu’u, that is to say, where, by dint of the running wind, the sea waters change to salt. The words I write emerge from ancient words; they are not words which I have created. The origins of all that we know begins in the world of dream, Lapü. My thoughts spring from the words of my grandmother, Mejieriita, and from the stories of dreaming from our Grandfather Ma’leiwa.

We are grandchildren of the plants. A plant gave herself to us to quiet the heart of the rabbit. A plant gave herself to us to gentle and raise the goats. A plant gave herself to us to tame and breed the cattle. A plant gave herself to us to quiet and hunt the deer. We bathe ourselves in herbs that all may go well in our lives.

Beginning from Lapü we know what we will be in the distant days, whether we will last a long time on the earth or only a moment. It is Lapü who orders our days, during the cloudy night, the star-filled night, the night lit by the full moon. In the depths of my hammock, I fall away, Iike Alekerü. And so, I continue here within this weave of questions, although sometimes the voices my senses hear, as I sleep, try to help me to weave answers.

 What does my heart think? It thinks that it is Lapü who has created our essence. The beauty of women sprouts from the spirit of Lapü. I like the women from Wopumüin, a region with countless paths. The beauty of their smiles is reflected in the whiteness of the snowtops. In their roaring laughter I hear the murmur of  smooth stones watered by the cool waters of Süchimmá, also known as Río Ranchería. Their wombs are fertile like the snake Perakanawa. Their breath is delicious like the breath of the mountains, Uuchiirua. 

I like the Anoii women, a region of savannahs. Their breath smells of the flowery aromas of Mokochira- of the Guamacho, and Trupillo trees. Their eyelashes are the yellow of the tiny flowers of Atá, the pui. The shadows of their dresses are as fresh as if they were from Ichí ulia, the innumerable groves of Divi-divi. The silence of their beauty is adorned with feathers and songs from Mó uwa, the wild dove.

I like the women from Palaamüin, the coastal region. Their kisses and salty words give joy to my own life and words. Their gestures are as countless as the infinite ripples of their dresses. Every afternoon Grandpa Jepirachi comes to caress them with oceanic tenderness. I like the women from Wuimpümüin, the water region. Their Walunka beauty is filled with the mystery of desert creeks. When their faces appear, painted with reddish pali’ise stone, they inspire in me an emotion charged with the sacred energy of Püloi. I can only contemplate them, without so much understanding, just as when I look at Sho’owou, the stone that tells of our origins. A woman’s beauty is manifested in the land of her birth. Her beauty is like Lapü who comes when everything is quiet, when you feel that you are in the presence of silence alone. In the depths of our hammocks, at the gentle sigh of all we who sleep, Lapü runs the countless paths where night breezes rush and releases words that come from the ancestors. Wush, wush, wush, wush, wush. That is how Lapü goes on singing the stories she has brought. Lapü conveys messages in cool words: in summer words. It goes on spreading them in songs throughout the hammocks.

We keep these ancient words in our hearts so that we may repeat them later in the presence of our Grandmother Kitchen-Fire. She sparks her ardent words as she kisses us awake, saying “chish, chish, chish, chish, chish.” Right there where the fire is located, before dawn, we listen to words that tell about Lapü. Right there our hearts become wise. Latu´u rülapü is the name of the luminous region where Lapü is located. Somewhere, in the infinite space, it must be. No one knows where it is exactly. What we do know is that Lapü comes to bring us words of advice.

The wise old ones, before sleeping, smoke tobacco. They expand the smoke. The smoke rises with the words of those who smoke. All beings dream, so say the ancient wise ones. Ma’leiwa had summoned a meeting of all the birds. They all attended. The turpial, the palguarat, the wild dove, all arrived. “We have dreams,” they said. The curlew, he who never sleeps, day or night, was the first to dare go. “Ma’leiwa has ordered you to call upon him,” he told Lapü. “He needs you because his dreams are tormenting him greatly.” “May he reach me to tell me the meaning of these dreams,” said Ma’leiwa, according to the curlew. “Fine. Tell him to wait for me- not to fall asleep,” said Lapü. She came  to Ma’leiwa in dreams, but Ma’leiwa was sleeping. Upon seeing him asleep, Lapü returned. “Where is the one whom you went to find?” asked Ma’leiwa of the curlew. “She was here, but you were sleeping,” curlew told him. “Go and find her again. Now I’ll be awake.” Thus is the way the ancient wise ones say that Ma´leiwa conversed with Lapü.


Alekerü: is the daughter of Isashii (she is nature in its  purest state). She is the one in charge of teaching the Wayuu women the art of weaving: Alekerü is the grandmother spider.

Anoii: the verdant plains.

Ata´: a tree with yellow flowers, similar to the Cañahuate tree.

Ichi´ulia:  Ichii is the name in Wayuunaiki for the Divi-divi tree. Ichi’ulia refers to countless groves of Divi-divi.

Jepirachi: the Grandfather who possesses the knowledge of fishing and the marine world. Gentle wind that comes from the northeast.

Latu´u rülapü: luminous region within the infinite universe.

Ma´leiwa: for us, the Wayuu, four generations of creation exist. The first is born from the great mother, the mother of all mothers, the Grandmother of all of the grandmothers: Sawai-Piushi (Darkness-Night)- the constellations, sun, moon, ocean and land. The second is born of Mma (Earth), the plant world. The third is also born of Mma, the animal world. Ma´leiwa is the son of the earth with Juya’ (the rain); he is born between the second and the third generation of life. Ma´leiwa would be the Grandfather who, with the aid of Mma’ and Juya, is in charge of organizing the birth of the 4th generation of life, we the Wayuu.

Mejieriita: little gourd, possibly a compound name: Mejieetai (did not grow much), and  Iita (gourd made from the totumo fruit). 

Mokochira: the breath of Spring. It is a tree.

Mo´uwa: the one without eyelashes, this is the name of the wild pigeon.

Palaamüin: towards the sea.

Pali´ise: facial painting extracted from the plant called by the same name.

Perakanawa: is the name of the snake that symbolizes fertility; his habitat is the Ranchería river. Perakanawa may be the thousand year old name of the Titanoboa Cerrejonensis.   

Püloi: sacred feminine spirit, keeper of both the beings from the ocean and the desert.

Sho´owou: stone where the symbols of the e’iruku (clans) are engraved.

Süchimma´: where the foam from the salty water meets freshwater, the thousand year old name of the city, Riohacha, the capital of the Department of La Guajira. 

Tiko´u Epinayuu: Tiko´u means flaming kindling. Epinayu is an e´iruku (clan) and refers to those who have a spirit for clearing the ways. E´iruku signifies the extended family through the maternal line.

Uuchiirua: the mountains.

Walunka: ancestral woman who had teeth in her vagina.

Wopumüin: the innumerable paths that can be found heading south that lead toward the dominions of  Grandfather Epeyü (Jaguar).

Wuimpümüin: “wuin” and “pümüin” means water and towards the surface respectively; Alta Guajira is known as “towards the surface of the waters”.

© Rafael Mercado Epieyu

For more about Rafael Mercado Epieyu and the wayuu territory

“Toward the path of the waters”: From Uchumüin to Wüinpumüin. https://waterandpeace.wordpress.com/tag/rafael-mercado-epieyu/

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.

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. Recent work: Muyurina y el presente profundo (Pakarina/Hawansuyo, 2019); and Cinema, Literature and Art Against Extractivism in Latin America. Dialogo 22.1 (DePaul University, 2019.)

Poets of the desert. A selection of contemporary Wayuu writers

Kamaach. Wayuu territory © Juan G. Sánchez M.

Introduction, selection and comments by Vicenta Siosi Pino

Texts by Rafael Mercado Epieyu, Cristian Dumar Prieto, Qwenty López Epiayu, and Olimpia Palmar Lipuana.

Translated from Spanish by Carolina Bloem and Patrick Cheney

The Wayuu ethnic group inhabits a desert peninsula to the north of Colombia on the border with Venezuela. They number close to one million people, the majority of which speak Wayuunaiki and Spanish. The women are beautiful and it is common to see marriages between the arijunas (white man) and the Indigenous women. The men are battle-hardened; during the 16th-Century the European conquistadors were not able to subjugate them and had to enter into commercial negotiations with them. From the Spaniards they adopted horse and sheep; today goat rearing is the core economic activity of the Wayuu. Horses have been replaced by motorcycles, as they promptly embrace that which facilitates their lives. Their sweeping oral tradition contains their cosmovision; the ancient knowledge that responds to their souls’ queries is preserved in their mythology.

At the end of the 19th-Century the Colombian State established boarding schools so that the indigenous peoples would have to study at the elementary level; in these education centers administered by Catholic priests they tried to get them to forget the mother tongue, traditional attire and their native names.

In the first literature books where the Wayuu are mentioned, they were the guides that knew the desert nooks, the faithful servants or the uncivilized bellicose that impeded progress.

The National Constitution of 1991 declares Colombia a multiethnic and multicultural country. With this recognition, the advocacy of native languages begins. The Wayuu lose timidity and those that have obtained bachelor’s degrees or higher and mastered the Spanish language write stories of suffering, defeats, discrimination, unveiling the Wayuu heart; these stories are reminiscent of those traditional songs called jayeechi that narrated wars, abductions, hallucinations and forbidden love.

The resolute desire is to make visible this great nation, through a new and real history.

Using persuasive words that lead to reasoning, the Wayuu peacekeepers or pütchipüü prevent interclan wars. In this land a commitment made by word is inviolable; there’s even an ancient law that prohibits giving bad counsel, and if someone is impacted by a misguided recommendation the harmed must be compensated. Out of respect for the word, the Wayuu are not big talkers.  


Rafael Mercado Epieyu, from Manaure, linguist, Master in Education, professor at the University of Antioquia and researcher, brings the word to life in a poem:


Tü pütchikat chejeejatü eere eein

Suujulain tü lapükat 

Antüsü sümaa süsamala sütüna sawaikat

Süpüla shi´inanajüin tü jülüjakat sa´in tü kataakalü o´u

Sulu´u wanee müleushaata süi

Sukumala süpachera sajapü maachan,

Shia yala´ eere tatunküin. 

Yalasü yala´ eere tayawatüin sau

Sümaa eein süpüla kasuutalüin tü pütchikat

Ma´aka tü mannuuyakat eekalü

Sümaa süpüchiralaain sau uuchikat.

Tü pütchikat shia tü shiraira tü jemiai 

Shonnotokot sawai 

Ekerotokot sümaa süsamala sütalu´u mma´kay

Süpüla sümatüinjatüin sa´in süle´eru sulu´u eyüüin shia.

Tü pütchikat eesü shiwe´erain sulu´u wuishiin

Sulu´u süsiin, süsiichein, süsii

Yala´müsia´ ei´yalaain sa´anasiase sukumeraaya tü weikat mma. 

Tü pütchikat shia tü shi´irain talakat wuchiirua

Shia türa sükalirakat mma yonnototookat eekai türa watchuashiikat

Shia türa shipishana sütürala juya´ awalakajakat

Antakalü sulu´u jouttalin shia sünain wache´e.

Tü pütchikat shia supushua sümünakat tü palaakat

Antakalü sulu´u sütoloin sümaa kasuutain shia.

Tü pütchikat shia anaajaka tü watüjaakalü au jee müsüja tü wayuwaakat.

Tü pütchikat pia piakat taya tayakai.

Tü pütchikat wattasaalin süno´u, pushupushu süno´ukalia ma´in.

Majataasü sünüiki maachan tamüin

Wanaa sümaa tasaküin shia: ¿Jalejeekuat tü pütchikat?


The word comes from the regions

hidden in dreams

it comes amidst the cold wings of the night

to weave thoughts of life

in the immense hammock 

created by the skilled fingers of my grandmother,

that is where I sleep.

It is there where I have understood

that the word can be white

like the mists that sits 

and extends on the ridge of the mountains.

Words are the dew drops

that fall during the night 

and penetrate the land with their cold physique/body

to refresh their golden 

and warm mother bowels.

The word then germinates within the plant world

it transforms into blooms, flowers, roses

and that is how the beautiful smile of Mother Earth comes to be.

The word is the joyful choirs of the birds 

is grains of sand that dance with the desert wind

is the noise of the thunders that burst

and reach our ears in the form of a breeze.

The word is comprised of all the waves of the sea 

that arrive in white foam.

The word is where our wisdom and our essence are kept.

The word is comprised of you and of me. 

The word has many colors, but she is black. 

Once my grandma spoke to me that way 

when I asked her: Where does the word come from? 

The soul of the Wayuu people, once they die, goes to Jepira, a place in the middle of the sea where their deceased relatives are. Rafael Mercado Epieyu recreates this mythological place so that no one is afraid to cross its borders. 


Chayaa sajalatshimüin sümünkat palaakat eesü wanee mma

Eere sa´in wayuu waraimajataain so´opüna wanee anoii wuishiisü

Yonnototoosü sutuma shi´irain nükashainra taatchon molokoono

Talatüsüirua sümaa jaajatatain shiainrua sutuma nime´erain tatuushi utta. 

Yalayaa tü sa´inkalu wayuu amürajirasükalüirua 

Eeshii süpüla nayonnajüin sünain washe´inwaa jee sümaa chuttaain naya 

Nu´upala chii washi´ müloushikai Juya´. 

Cha´aya sajalatshimüin sümünakat palaa eesü kasiin tü kanasü

Tü shi´inalakat maachan walekerü nü´ütpa´a chi ka´i chimitakai. 


At the end of the ocean waves there exists a place

where the souls roam on green flatlands

dance to the erotic rhythm of grandpa Molokoono-turtle’s drum

rejoice and laugh with the gracious words of bird grandfather Utta.

There, the lover souls

can dance naked and moist

in the presence of the great father Juya keeper of the rain.

There, at the end of the ocean waves are the flowery colors

that grandmother walekerü-spider weaves, in presence of the golden sun.  


Cabo de la vela © Juan G. Sánchez M.

In order to get to the community of Wotksaainruu, one must go through the desert of La Guajira, for an entire day; that is where Cristian Dumar Prieto Fernández from the Ipuana clan was born. Once he finished his post-secondary studies, with the momentum of his youth, he decided to travel the country. He dreamed of seeing new places, but once he was there he could only think of his ancestral lands and the poems his soul treasured. 


Taya wane mushale’e

Chii eirajakai Julu tü lapü wenshiijatkat;

Kanalashi tü pütchi anaskalu

Tü kamanewa joukaijatka.

Katunashi pia jupula awata wattamain juka

Nuchoin pia wane mushale kapulainshi.


I am a crested caracara bird that

Sings in its eternal dreams

Warming your being with fluid words,

Infinite tenderness,

Your day will break

You will fly high,

Because you are a son,

Of a gladiator caricare

Cristian Dumar knows the hardships of the long summers. He suffered through the thirst that parches the throat and makes the heart beat faster, the anxiety of the search for liquid in the artesian wells; he felt the hopeless pain. 


Oyolojashi jutüma jirakaya kaika,

joso’ joso’ musü tü ataka,

achechejasu tü potchikalu jau

Namuchi na tepichikana alejatsu malüïn.

Matsü jumoutekai tü nayolujuka

Eisalashi Juma josoin main tü neimataka junian atunka.

Mojusü main jain tü neika

Ayalajusü jutü piyüshï joukai

Nojoluinapa eirajuin na wuchikana wanajüma juwasalain tü piyushika.

Tü alawakat jia tü namuliainka.

Outa’a musia tü samatchika awasajasüne’e

Amatsajusü nain jütüma muyasü.

Ono’oweyashi noutkü

¿Alamüinya erajan?

Chaa wane mma ajalajusü nain wane jintüin.

Anika taya ananaja muin nau  najapu na ojonoshikana juchirua juwuira mma, aisü main namuliala

Juka jamuin mawuinralirü tü wainkat.

Onosu Juma tü müliatchikat malüinpa Jain anoishika tú mmpaka

¿Jama jolü?

Jamuinjatü waküaipa, majirashï waya wapüshuaya

Kasache wawaletka aka tü ata’a osojoikaluirua eh

Juma yalain ne wotüin mma tü katakalü o’ü

Jososhi chi luopü watkasainrukai.


Now that the gaze of the sun damages it without compassion,

The skin dries up little by little

Mud hardens up

The children’s pots come back empty

They fall asleep with dried lips

And disheartened faces.

The sad mother cries in the heart of the night.

The birds no longer sing at dawn

The felony is its misfortune and the aura evaporates 

It asphyxiates the imminent thirst, 

Others try to take flight

But where to?

Somewhere the hope of a child fades away.

What about me? I see the hands that perforate the earth’s chest

Trying to stop its few tears in ponds of hopes,

Not even our soul can cry…

It evaporates in silence, right next to dusk of the boundless desert.

And now what?

The question we all ask….

Who will clean the withered skin?

While pores of life filled up with dust

My creek Wotkasaainruu dried up. 


© Juan G. Sánchez M.

On the Zahino Indigenous reservation, to the south of La Guajira, lies Qwenty López Epiayu’s rancheria. She studied International Trade, but writing became her way of getting free and dreaming of some justice. She has participated in public readings, published in magazines and she works with Wayuu women, raising awareness of their rights.

Qwenty draws with words what is there in her heart, she wants a better lot for her people and she calls others to lay aside tepidness. But, if they don’t venture, she lifts up her voice for her siblings.


Your tracks harden charting impassable paths 

The art of weaving circular thoughts achieving disentanglement from indifference.

Exists perhaps a difference between being and feeling the purpose of the incomprehensible for a different world?

History has marked its fate and the cycles begin to unravel.

Neighboring Qwenty’s house lies the coal mine, open-pit,- the largest in Latin America. The racket of the barbaric mineral exploitation that does not rest, it robbed the Wayuu people of sleep. They are foreign companies who destroy the earth’s womb and with it the next generations’ inheritance, this Wayuu woman says it best in her poem:


Upon your skin’s debris I have laid down my cartilage.

Upon the depleted hope in waiting, I have lifted mine

Upon your cry I have cleansed the salinity of your eyes and I have felt them mine

So mine that I have transpired your solitude and you have taken root with a mighty force, to make heard your will.

Truth is concealed by the thundering of the engines that did not allow you to dream and it all became one eternal night

Between cycles of decay and dismemberment

Land coveted by foreigners and valued by natives, that do not cleave to the neglect of their memories and to the treasure of the coming generations.

Ay my Guajira, how many cries upon your soil

And the silences buried beneath Kai- sun’s view, that does not reveal sums for sleeplessness. 


Ranchería © Juan G. Sánchez M.

Olimpia Palmar Iipuana grew up in Paraguaipoa, a small group of country homes on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. She is a professional of Mass Communication, specialist in Human Rights, and member of the Communication Network Putchimaajana that has trained hundreds of Indigenous youth free of charge in the use of alternative media. She is a storyteller. Her sweet voice recalls the unease that assails the children in the rancherías, all the while revealing the secrets uncovered by the Wayuu people in nature.


It’s afternoon, in La Guajira a cool and humid breeze blows across the evening wind. From the roof of our yotojoro shelter we hang pots, skins, bags large and small, rolled up ropes, and that which stands out most is a large fabric that is on top of where we sleep; my grandmother put it there to protect us from the tuqueque lizards, centipedes and rodents that come close attracted by that type of wood. Right when the breeze conjures up a rain smell, Anuchan, my father, silently gets up from his chair wrapped in goat leather and he stretches toward the roof, with his hands he reaches a handful of fabrics and bags that cover a calabash bowl, that for many years was there hanging. I peer from my hammock and as I see the container in his hands, run to satisfy my curiosity.

My curiosity, which increases day after day, is the result of my hammock afternoons. I don’t remember when the first time was that I saw those fabrics suspended from the roof; when I would lie down at night I had the flight of fancy that when I was taller I would go through every one of the bags and pots that were kept there. Covertly I would make up stories about the secrets that my mother hid in every object from the roof.

My mother Saara ran to the yard, to meet my father, and threw upon the ground a large sheet that she also got down from the roof. I stuck close to my father to find out, firsthand, what they hid in the calabash bowl, it was like the unveiling of a secret. I saw that many seeds fell upon the fabric, my father bent over haltingly, as he’s almost two meters tall, same height I aspire to reach in my adulthood. Once they were on the ground he selected his preference of seeds: <It has to rain soon, the star Iiwa is already in its place>. He said to his faithful companion Saara.

She responded to him, but I wasn’t able to hear; the parade of butterflies totally attracted my attention and I was enjoying it greatly, some flew very low, almost stuck to the ground, others over the top of the prickly pears and the goat corral that we have close to the kitchen, they were innumerable and colorful. I began to run among them when I saw my father Anuchan, upset, collecting his seeds: <It’s no longer going to rain, there won’t be a crop either, Eleena come and put this away>. He ordered me.

I ran as fast as I could and grabbed the calabash bowl where the seeds were. Finally, one of the treasures from the roof was within my reach, they entrusted it in my hands. He knows that I’m not going to put it up, being six years old I’m not even half a meter tall, this is why after tasting the seeds, I put them in one of the bags that hang from the wall of our only room.

Just as my father had said, strangely, the clouds began to disperse, the breeze ceased to be cool and the smell of rain faded away, we now only smell the mazamorra with milk that mother is preparing on her blazing firewood stove.

Even though I like mazamorra a lot, that day I ate it reluctantly because I didn’t understand what father had done to make the rain go away; that was the great day that I was going to get to know the rain. Here, in La Guajira, the last downpour that fell was in the early morning of my birth. Sometimes even ten years go by without rain, which is why I still was not acquainted with that natural phenomenon. I was going to discover the use for the parcel of land that sits right before you arrive at the dry hole called jagüey. Up until now, I only knew that all that works with the rain.

My father’s prediction left me uneasy, but my childlike innocence stopped me from asking him, which is why I stayed quiet and preferred to imagine the rain like a generous man who had a herd of donkeys and went visiting house to house filling every family’s clay pitchers and jagüeys. My thoughts were more profound because I was even trying to get this generous lord called Juya some helpers.

Days later, the clouds formed again, the sky darkened; I was thrilled because now I could meet lord Juya. Suddenly, small drops of water began to fall from the sky, they turned into many in a short amount of time; it made me so sad that I started to cry because now those drops would damage the road and the lord rain would not be able to arrive to our house with his herd of donkeys and then I wouldn’t find out what that vegetable patch and the jagüey are used for.

I tossed and turned many times in my hammock, searching for the words and the manner in which I would tell father, meanwhile, the dragonflies wot’chonot entered the stage, my father smiled upon seeing them, his happiness was apparent, he hugged me and as if he knew I was in need of an explanation said: <The wot’chonot are sent by Juya, they flutter over the land to find out if we, the Wayuu people, the animals and the plants are thirsty and they tell him that we are no longer even visiting one another because we’re busy searching for water and like that, Juya makes the water pour from the sky so that our jagüeys are filled>.

I understood that those drops that fall are Juya. I dried my tears and stopped thinking about the herd of donkeys that would bring water and I began to swing in my hammock to enjoy my first rain.

Days went by and Juya returned to surprise us, this time bringing a lot of water, there was thunder and lightning, it seemed as if someone was splitting some giant firewood up there, the rain lasted all morning. In my house it was all about protocol: mother Saara took off my red manta dress and said: <Juya doesn’t like for people to dress in that color>. She also hid the knives and machetes: <He will think we are challenging him>. She commented as she wrapped them in some fabric and stuck them under the table.

In the afternoon, when the sun came out radiant, the three of us went to the conuco (parcel of land) to plant seeds; I climbed to top of a large tree and from there I saw the pond that before was dry had been filled with water; I told mother about my new finding, she smiled and told me big news: <We will no longer have to go far to get water on the donkeys, we will have it here, close, there we will bathe and we will take it to the house>.

Father interrupted our conversation to tell me that I had been born with my umbilical cord entwined around my neck and that meant that my hands would bear good fruit from that which I planted: <Many people will come to ask you to plant with them, they will pick you up early and they will bring you back in the afternoon, it is not a job, it’s sharing your gift with others>. He would tell me, while he put dirt on the seeds that I placed in the holes that he had made in the soil. As I felt that there was trust, I asked him about that afternoon when he got angry and made the rain go away, father Anuchan smiled and with an indulgent tone he told me: <Butterflies are also messengers from Juya, but they are bad emissaries, they’re liars, they flutter over donkey urine and say that we the Wayuu people don’t need water, then Juya doesn’t come, he goes elsewhere, which is why when we see them arrive we don’t rejoice, in contrast, dragonflies wot´chonot are good messengers, they always tell the truth and we rejoice when we see them>.

Little by little I learned that in our rancheria it is not only people that speak, but rather that birds can communicate messages, that the breeze can inform of a visit and that an umbilical cord entwined around a neck at birth will keep you busy every planting season, but, above all, I learned that Juya, is the water that falls from the sky and makes the land germinate, giving us an abundance of nourishment, helping us to live better.

That year there was a good planting season which is why I got to know the parcels of land of the Jusayu, Epieyu, Jayariyu, Apshana, of the rich and the poor: I made it all the way there with my miraculous hand that made all the seeds I planted flourish.

In the following months, herds of donkeys would arrive at my house coming from different rancherías, on their backs they brought bags of melons, watermelon, beans, pumpkin and even goat, mother received them for me and went to Maicao to sell them.

While we awaited her with the donkey to help her return home, father left me this reflection that from that day on guides my life: <From the butterflies you must only copy their elegant manner of flight, from the dragonflies wot’chonot the honesty, always tell the truth so that you bring about great joys>.

My mother returned with a load of food and yarns with which my first hammock would be made, from that time forward I assumed that for my parents I am the wot’chonot that brings about for them the most pleasurable joys.


A generation of Wayuu youth witness how their people and age-old territory are plundered, tarnished neglected, hence, in retaliation, they have taken up the word, and they have sprung up with poems and stories that speak of their philosophy, resilience and their value, and they have written them on paper so that they remain for centuries on end.

More about Vicenta Siosi Pino 

Vicenta Siosi, Wayuu of the Apshana clan. Professional of Mass Communications, winner of the National Award for Children’s Literature of the Atlantic, in Colombia and an honorable mention in the international competition Enka for Children’s Literature; she has been translated into French, English and Danish.

More 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.

Patrick Cheney has a Master of Arts in Latin American Studies from the University of Utah. He is a translator with experience in Spanish, Nahuatl, and Guarani. He has worked on abuse documentation on the Mexico-US border and also has experience as a Spanish-language medical interpreter. He currently lives in Salt Lake City and is a staff member at the Center for Latin American Studies and the Asia Center at the University of Utah.

Plains of Forgetfulness: Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez

Xti Saquirisan Na Pe / Planicie de olvido / Plains of Forgetfulness © Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez. Cholsamaj, 2020

Translations from Spanish © Paul Worley and Juan G. Sánchez M

Miguel Angel Oxlaj Cúmez is Maya kaqchikel, from Chi Xot (Comalapa, Guatemala). He holds a degree in Mass Media Communications from the University of San Carlos Guatemala, and a Specialization in Linguistic Revitalization from the Mondragon University of the Basque Country, Spain. He is a professor at the Maya Kaqchikel University –Chi Xot campus–, a union leader, and a social/digital activist for Indigenous languages. He is one of the organizers of the Virtual Latin American Festival of Indigenous Languages. Miguel is a representative for the Mayan, Garífuna and Xinka peoples (UMAX) before the University Reform Commission -CRU- of the University of San Carlos Guatemala, as well as a representative for the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and other Forms of Discrimination Movement, of the Public Services International Organization -ISP- for Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic. He is a member of the collectives: Kaqchikela’ taq tz’ib’anela’, and Ajtz’ib’. In 2009 he was awarded with the National Prize for Indigenous Literatures B’atz, Guatemala. He has published: La misión del Sarima’ (“The Sarima’s Mission”, narrative), Mitad mujer (“Half woman”, narrative), and Planicie de olvido (“Plains of Forgetfulness”, poetry.) His poems have been published  in digital magazines and anthologies in both Kaqchikel and Spanish. He has written about one hundred stories for the Guatemalan Ministry of Education’s textbooks, which have been translated into Maya languages such as ​​Q’eqchi ‘, Mam, K’iche’, Tzutujil, Q’anjobal, Achi, Ixil. He writes poetry and narrative, both in Spanish and Kaqchikel –his native language.


Rïn chuqa’ xinaläx kik’in ri kaminaqi’

xinaläx chuxe’ ri ruk’isib’äl q’aqajob’q’aq’ ri ruk’wa’n wi ri kamïk

ri q’aq’ nib’ojloj toq nkamisan ja wi ri’ ri uxlak’u’x

ri nima oyowal yeruxe’qeq’ej wi konojel ri rurayb’el ri qak’u’x

ri q’aq’ nkamisan ruk’ojon wi ri taq qachi’

xa xe wi ri kib’is ri xe uk’we’x 

nuretz wi jub’a’ ri maq’ajan

rik’in ri ruk’isib’äl taq kich’ab’äl

rik’in ri ruk’isib’äl taq kitzij

rik’in ri ruk’isib’äl kitzij ri xkijosja’ kan

rik’in ri ruk’isib’el taq kib’ixab’änïk

rik’in ri ruchoq’omalil ri kisamaj kichapon

Rïn yenwak’axaj wi

ja ri’ wi ri lema’ ri yinkiwartisaj

[ronojel taq tokaq’a’]

ja ri’ wi ri achik’ ri yennataj toq nsaqär pe

ja ri’ wi ri itzel taq achik’ ri yik’asb’an

[rik’in xib’iri’il]

kik’in ri tzijonem ri’ xinwetamaj ri sik’inïk wuj

rik’in ri ronojel re’ xinwetamaj xinsik’ij ruwäch ri k’aslemal

rik’in ronojel re’ xinmestaj ri kikotem

Ja k’a ri’

toq ri e k’äs pa kik’u’x

majun wi yeq’ajan ta

juk’a’n wi yetzu’n apo

yetze’en wi rik’in janila b’isonem

nikijalwachij wi ki’

nkikusaj wi ri k’oj ri kikusan konojel

yeb’ixan wi chi re ri amaq’ ri ya’on chi kiwäch

chuqa’ yexuke’ wi chwäch ri ajaw ri man itzel ta tz’eton

Ja ri kojqan 

xa xe wi ri yek’ase’ 

Ja ri toq xinch’akulaj ri kamisarem

ri kamisanel q’aq’ chuqa’ ri ajch’ayi’, rije’ ri’ xe’ok wetz’anel

ri kamïk xok nuchajinel


jun peraj chi re ri nuwinaqil

k’a tal tajin nisk’in

ri jun chïk tanaj

nrajo’ ta nuyupij jun runaq’ ruwäch chi re rik’aslemal

pa runik’ajal re jun li’an re’ rulewal ri mestaxinïk


I graduated with the class of the dead

I was born under a hail of gunfire

rifles were peace

the war crushed our dreams

bullets sewed our mouths shut

and the silence was only broken by the cries

of the disappeared

by their fraying voices

their last words

their murmured goodbyes

their final advice

their reasons for fighting

I listened to them

they were my bedtime stories

[every night]

they were dreams I remembered in the morning

the nightmares that awakened me


the histories with which I learned to read

to understand life

to forget about happiness


those who thought they were alive

kept silent

averted their gaze

smiled sadly

disguised themselves as normal

put on whatever mask was fashionable

sang the anthem to a country that had been imposed on them

and prayed to an authorized god

The only plan

was to survive

That’s how butchery naturalized me

how I played at bombs and soldiers

how death became my main babysitter


part of me 

keeps screaming

while the other

tries to wink knowingly at life

on the plains of forgetfulness

Pachäj, Comalapa, Chimaltenango (Iximulew/Guatemala) © Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez


Man ajtz’ib chuqa man aj pach’un tzij ta

rik’in k’a jub’a’xa tzalq’omanel

ruma re samaj re’

man choj ta chi yanojin chuqa yatz’ukun

k’o ch’aqa b’ey nakamuluj ri xk’ulwachitaj yan

ja k’a ri yatzalq’omin jari’ ri b’ama jantape’ 

Naq’asaj pa jun chïk ch’ab’äl

ri ruju’il ruka’ ri ati’t toq njok’on

ri ruju’il ri rasaron ri mama’ toq nuchoy ri ruwach’ulew

ri mank’isel taq samaj pa akuchi’ tikil ri kape

ri janipe’ ralal ri juq’o’ wok’al juna’ ri e ejqan chi tapäl

ri ruq’axomal ri jantape’ yatiko’n po majun achike k’oltiko’n nak’ul

Man ajtz’ib chuqa man aj pach’un tzij ta

rik’in k’a jub’a’xa tzalq’omanel

naq’asaj pa jun chïk ch’ab’äl

ri kiq’axomal ri nimaläj taq che’ ri xechoyoyex

ri ruq’axomal ri raqän ya’ etzelan

ri ruk’ayewal ri ajxik’ ri majun rochöch ta

ri xtutzolij ri qate’ ruwach’ulew ruma ri ruq’axomal qamolon

Man ajtz’ib chuqa man aj pach’un tzij ta

rik’in k’a jub’a’xa tzalq’omanel


Neither writer nor poet

maybe a translator

Because this work

isn’t just the act of imagining or creating

sometimes it’s recreating

but it is more translating

Translating to another language

the compass of my grandmother’s grinding stone 

the rhythm of my grandfather’s hoe

the chores in the coffee grove

the weight of five centuries born on a mecapal *

the pain of sowing so much and reaping nothing

Neither writer nor poet

maybe a translator


the silent groan of the fallen tree

the funeral lament of the polluted river

the miseries of nestless birds

the immediate defensive reaction of our wounded mother

into another language

Neither writer nor poet

maybe a translator

* Mecapal: cord rested on the forehead, used to bear a load on the back

La milpa, la vida (“Cornfield, life”) © Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez

Ri wati’t ri nimalaxel

Ri q’ijul man xtikïr ta chi rij

xpapo’ chupam jun rub’olqo’t ri ruxoq’op

xsach ruk’u’x chuwäch ri ruwachib’äl ri rupo’t

xsach chupam ri rub’eyal ri jalajöj taqruyuchuj rutz’umal

Ri wati’t ri nimalaxel

Ri ruponib’äl

Xetal ruchapom rupub’axinïk ri pom

ruchapon runojsaxik ri kajulew

rik’in rujub’ulil 

juq’o’ taq oq’ej

juq’o’ ruwäch b’ixanïk ri man e tz’eqet ta

rik’in k’a jun sutz’aj rayb’äl ri e oyob’en

Ri cera ri jalajöj kib’onilal

kichapon ruk’atïk ri kib’isonem chuwäch ri Tyox

nikisaqirisaj ri rokib’äl ri kamïk

nikisaqirisaj rupaläj ri meb’el ri xe tal k’o 

ri man nib’e ta

kichapon rutijik ri tz’ilan rurayb’äl 

re jun amaq’ re’

[ri man choj ta nk’oje’]

Ri kaji’ jäl (saqijäl, q’anajäl, raxwach chuqa’ ri kaqajäl)

xetal e k’o chuwäch ri Tyox

tajin nkichajij ri ruq’ijul ri wa’ijal

richin manäq xketoqa ta chïk

richin manäq xkemestäx

richin xkexime’paki natab’äl ri winaqi’

ri xeti’ojir rik’in kisamaj ri qawinäq

Ruxara ri k’äy

ruk’u’x ri q’ijul

ruk’ulb’a’t ri q’axomal rik’in ri k’ayewal

akuchi’ [xa jub’a’ ma] xe tal nasäch awi’

(richin akosik, richin ab’ey, richin ab’is…)

ri xara ri’ xetal yakon chuxe ruch’atal ri Tyox

ruchapon ruch’amirsaxïk ri b’isonïk

yerukuxka’ ri 


taq animajinäq

[ri majun kitzolib’äl ta]

Ja ri rij rupo’t

Loq’oläj sik’iwuj

akuchi’ xutz’ib’aj ri runa’ojil

akuchi’ xupab’a’wi ri ruch’ob’oj

akuchi’ xuyäk kan ri rumanq’ajanil

akuchi’ xerupach’uj ri rutzij

K’a xetal rewan ri ruk’u’x ri aq’ab’äl

tunun k’a paruwi’ ri ruch’atal ri Tyox

royob’en toq rija’ xtiyakatäj chik pe

richin ruq’ejelonik ri nimaq’a’

[bisbissbisssbis, bisbissbisssbis

bisbissbisssbis, bisbissbisssbis]

Rub’ixanik pa bisis

xetal nq’ajan kik’in ri q’eqal taq jäb’

nroq’ej toq ye’ik’o ri al

nxik’an k’a kik’in

nib’e, nanimäj

ruma man tikirel ta nib’an ri tiko’n

chi rij ruq’ab’aj

ma x ata chi rij ruxikin

Ri wati’t, ri nimalaxel

Ja ri’ toq xluke’ qa ri rij

ja ri’ toq xsach rutzub’al

ja ri’ toq chajir ruwi’aj

ja ri’toq xetzaq el ri reyaj

Ronojel ri’ man ja ta rurijixik xub’ij

man ja ta ri raq’ab’äl xutzijoj kan

Xa jari’ wi rusipanik xuya’chi re ri k’aslem

Jari’ ri ruwinaqil xutzolij 

chwäch ri jalajöj kiwäch taq kamïkri xepe chi rij ri ruwinäq

Rusemetil ri ruq’ab’aj

ri pa’k xel pe chi rij ri ruxtuxil

ri chikopiwinäq ruch’ami’y

ri ruchajil rupo’t

man ja’ ta ri ruch’ojixinik ri meb’alil akuchi’ xya’ox wi

man ja’ ta chuqa’ ri retal ri ruq’axomal

Jari’ ri rija’tz ri xutik kan

ri rayb’äl xretaj ri chuwäch apo

Ri wati’t ri nimalaxel

Ri q’ijul man xtikïr ta chi rij

xpapo’ chupam jun b’olqo’t richin ri ruxoq’op

xsach ruk’u’x chuwäch ri ruwachib’äl ri rupo’t

xsach chupam ri rub’eyal ri jalajöj taq ruyuchuj rutz’umal

My grandmother the nimalaxel [1]

Time could not stand her

it stopped in the weaving of her xoq’op [2]

it was confused by the code of her huipil

it got lost in the labyrinths of her wrinkled skin

My grandmother, the nimalaxel…

Her incenser 

continues erupting copal

saturating the universe

with the aroma

of a million laments

of a thousand shapeless songs

of a cloud of hopes

The colored candles

continue burning their silence before the Tyox [3]

lighting death’s arrival

illuminating misery’s persistence

consuming the illusion


of a people


The four ears of corn (white, yellow, black, and red)

remain, intact, before the Tyox

watching over times of hunger

so they are not repeated

so they are not forgotten

so they remain tied

to the memories of men

who get fat with the sweat of our people

The jar of k’äy [4]

nectar of time

border between pain and misfortune

[almost] mandatory point of disconnection

(richinakosik, richinab’ey, richinab’is…) 

kept in reserve beneath the table of the Tiox

aging sorrows

dressing the



[without return]

Her huipil, the rijpo’t,

sacred book

where she wrote her memories

where she engraved her thoughts

where she expressed her silence

where she gave shape to her verses

It continues encrypting the afternoon’s code

And folded on the Tyox’s table

It waits for her to wake up

for the morning ceremony

[hmmhmmmhmmmhmm, hmmhmmmhmmmhmm

hmmhmmmhmmmhmm, hmmhmmmhmmmhmm]

Her hummed song 

still livening up the pouring rain

crying as the falcons pass

she flies with them

leaving, fleeing

because no one can plant the seed

on the back of her hands

or behind her ear

My grandmother, the nimalaxel…

Her curved back

her lost look

her grey hair

her deformed teeth

were not the symbol of her old age

nor the signs of her sunset

they were her offering to life

her [human] answer

to the bloodbath of pillage

The callus of her hands

her torn heels

her chewed up cane

her faded huipil

Were not a complaint about her impoverishment

nor a testament to her pain

They were a planted seed

the mathematical projection of every dream she harboured

My grandmother, the nimalaxel…

time could not stand her

it stopped in the weaving of her xoq’op

it was confused by the code of her huipil

it got lost in the labyrinths of her wrinkled skin

[1] Nimalaxel, literally means “sister or older sibling,” but can also be used to designate ones who “help” the Texel. The Texel is the female version of a town’s cofradía. In other words, Nimalaxel is a position of leadership and community service. 
[2] Hairbrand with a strip of fabric.
[3] Tyox is the Kaqchikel-ization of the Spanish “Dios” and this is how one refers to the “plurispiritual” altar where Chiristian images and elements of Maya spirituality are venerated.
[4] K’äy: liquor, literally “burning water.” 
Richinakosik, richinab’ey, richinab’is: reasons often said before having a drink. Literally "for your fatigue, for your path, for your sadness..." 

Volcanoes Agua, Acatenango and Fuego (Iximulew / Guatemala) © Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez

B’ix qaya’

Ri achi xuk’ol xuk’ol ri’

k’a xb’os na pe ri k’aqatläj ak’wa’l

ri nipuxlin rutzub’al

Xutukukej k’a ruxe’el ri ruch’ab’äq ri ruk’u’an pa ruk’u’x

xub’än utzil ri rupub’, xirukanoj, xiril, k’a ri’ xiruk’äq k’a pe wakami

kik’in re juläy etzelaneltaq tzij re’

Ri nuchi’ ruk’ojonwi ri’

choj ja’e wi yitikir ninb’ij a po chi re

Xaxe’ wi nink’utula’ qa chuwe

achike choq’oma

achike choq’oma chuwe rïn

Xinya’ k’a chinuwäch chi nintaluj

rik’in k’a jub’a’ k’o ri ntikïr nutzolij tzij chi re


-Majun niq’a’xta chuwe rub’anob’al ri kaxlan ajaw- xub’ij toq xqachop qa ri ruwaxulan

¿Achike rub’anik nub’än chi re toq ye’apon chwäch ri kik’aqatil ri ajawarem chuqa ri k’utunïk ri meb’a’?

¿Achike choq’oma junam rejqalem nuya’ chi ke wi retaman chi man e junam ta?

¿Achike k’o paruk’u’x toq xetal yeruto’ ri ajawarem ri yatkitij, ja k’a ri chi re ri meb’a’ xa choj utziläj taq rayb’äl yeruya’ pe chi ke?

¿Wi retaman chi janila’ tz’ilanem xtik’oje’ ruma man oj junan ta xub’än chi qe, achike choq’oma man qonojel ta säq, man qonojelta q’äq, man qonojel ta qawinäq o man qonojel ta aj b’i la akuchi’la xub’än ta chi qe?

¿Nrak’axaj ta k’a ri qachaq’ qanimal toq yek’utun chi re jub’a’ paqach’ab’äl jub’a’ pa kaxlan?

¿Achike choq’oma janila’ xyoke’ toq xpe wawe’ pa qaruwach’ulew?

¿Wi nub’ij chi rija’ ajowab’äl, achike ruma xa xe’ k’ayewal, xa xe’ meb’alil chuqa’xa xe’kamïk xuk’ämpe chi qe?


Pan anin xinpab’a’ ri rutzijonem

man ninrayij yitzijon chi rij ri na’oj re’

kana’ ta ri natzijoj ri kamik’ayewal chupam ri kamik’ayewal

ruma chuqa’janila’  wi ninrayij ninwak’axaj ri kurij k’un

ri rub’ixanik runojsanwi ri k’ichelaj


-Nib’ix chi ri Israelí xek’ayewatäj juq’o’ juna’

röj ojk’ayewatajnäq juq’o’ wok’al juna’

chupam k’a ri q’ijul re’ xetal sanin chi qe ri nib’ix chi kij ri Israeli’

pa ronojel ruwäch ri qak’aslemal

richin manäq niqanik’oj ri qameb’alil qa roj

richin juk’a’n yojtzu’un chuwäch ri qak’ayewal k’o chiqawäch

¿Akuchi’ ek’owi ri kaqchikela’ taq Moisesa’ 

ri xkejote’ el paruwi’ ri Junajpu’ richin nb’ekiponij ri Ajaw?

¿Akuchi’ ek’o wi?

Nik’atzin chi yetob’os qik’in

richin nkik’ut ri saqb’e chi qawäch

richin nkitzalq’omij runa’oj ri q’aq’ chi qe

richin yojkelesaj chupam re k’ayewal

richin yojkik’w’aj chi kojik’o chupam ri kik’ palow

richin yojkik’waj chi nb’eqa chapa’ 

ri qak’aslemal


ri qana’ojil

ri qach’akulal

ri qulew

ri jantape’ qichin wi

Etaman jeb’ël

chi eb’osnäq chïk chuwäch re jun ruwach’ulew re’

kikolon chïk kik’aslem chuwäch royowal ri k’ak’a’ ajpop

po wakami xa tajin yejiq’

yejiq’ chupam re jun raqän ya’ ri etzelanel

¡Kan kekol tib’ana’ utzil!

Ri kurij k’un xutanab’a’ rub’ix

xub’än jun ti maq’ajan

ri raxq’ab’

numalama’ rij ri ch’eqel ruwach’ulew

Jun na’oj xik’o pa nuwi’


– Nib’ix chi ri maq’ajanil k’o pa ruk’u’x ri raxq’ab’

Jeb’ël akuchi’ ri sutz’ niqa paruwi’ ri ruwach’ulew


– ¡Tawoyob’ej na! – xcha’ pa oyowal

Ri maq’ajan man chi ri’ ta k’o

man xa xe’ ta chi ri’ –xub’ij– 

ri maq’ajan k’o chupam ri ruk’u’x

ri xti xtän ri xetzeläx

ri xtala’ ri xetzeläx

ri ixöq chuqa’ achi ri majon ronojel chi ke richin xetok meb’a’

ri ajtiko’n ri xmaj ri rulew

ri ixöq ajtiko’n ri xq’ol 

ri raqän ya’ ri xtz’ilöx

ri k’echelaj ri xtililäx

ri ruwach’ulew ri xpororäx

ri kurij k’un ri majun chïk  ta rusok wakami

Xa jub’a’ ma wi yojapon qa chuchi’ ri raqän ya’

ruqul ri jun qupib’äl che’

man nuya’ ta q’ij chi nak’axäxkib’is ri loq’oläj taq che’

xanupimirisaj ri kaq’ïq’

yeruxib’ij ri tz’ikina’ 

– ¿Napon pan awi’ re ninb’ij chawe? – xuk’utuj paroyowal

– Ja ri rat wik’in rïn oj achi’el junmay – xcha’

kan oj achi’el ruk’u’x rijuyu’

ja ri rat wik’in rïn oj juqun k’äy

kan achi’el ruk’u’x ri q’ijul

ja ri rat wik’in rïn oj chajinela’

niqachajij jalajöj kiwäch taq k’aslemal

rat wik’in rïn xa oj moch’öch’il

ojaj q’equ’n

oj ruk’a’tz chi re ruq’ajarik ri saqil 

rat wik’in rïn oj achi’el ri q’aq’

ojb’anön richin yojaq’oman

rat wik’in rïn oj achi’el riq’ijul

xojb’an richin man nipeta ri mestaxinïk

rat wik’in rïn roj ri aj

xojb’an richin man nqaya’ ta qi’

rat wik’in rïn roj ri ruch’ujilal ri ramaj

xojb’an richin man niqat’zapij ta qachi’

¿niq’ax pan awi’?

Ri q’axomal chuqa’ ri k’utunïk

ri b’isonïk rik’in ri kikotemal

ri rayb’äl rik’in ri q’axomal k’u’x

kichin juq’o’ ruq’ijul k’aslem

ye’anin chikipam ri k’uxuchuq’a’ ri qach’akul

juq’o’ mama’aj

juq’o’ ati’t

yech’i’an chupam ruk’u’x ri qach’akul

ke re’ k’a yesik’in:

tawelesaj chupam ri ak’aslem

ronojel ri xuk’ämpe chiqe ri majon ulew

ruma’ rutz’apen ri qana’oj

ruma’ niqatz’ila’ qi’ koma ri kityoxi’

ruma’ nimayon ri qak’u’xaj chirij ri pwaq

ruma’ oj q’olotajnäq koma ri manqitzij taq tzijol

kaxutun chuwäch re jun ruwäch k’aslemal re’

tamestaj ronojel ri ruq’oloj rusanin pan ajolom

tawetamaj ri qach’ab’al

kan takusaj k’a

tawetamaj ri qana’oj ri qab’anob’al

kan tak’aslemaj k’a

katzolin chupam ruxe’el ri qak’aslem

qawinaqir junchin b’ey…

– Tatz’eta’ rat – xinxoch’ij apo – 

¡ri Pixcayá nimarnäq!

– Man Pixcayá ta rub’i’ ¿man awetaman ta? – xub’ij pe

B’ix qaya’ keri’ rub’i’ paqach’ab’äl

“rub’ixanem ri qaya’

rub’ixanem ri qaya’

jeb’ël b’i’aj richi jun raqän ya’

 mank’o ta ruk’exel rub’ixanem

jun utziläj aq’om richin ri q’axomal …

K’a jari’ toq tikirel xqajäl ri qatzinonem

B’ixqa ya’

The man backed away

the rebellious child emerged

sparkling gaze

He shook the bottom up from the depths of his being

he charged, aimed and bombarded me

with these poisoned darts

My mouth was sewn shut

I could barely answer him in monosyllables

I just wondered


why me

Now I am sharing

maybe someone can answer him


“I don’t understand God’s role — he said while we began descending the slope

How does he manage to process in his office the whims of masters and the cries of slaves?

How can he give them the same amount of importance without flinching?

How can he support the aggressions of the impoverishing and sustain the impoverished with promises?

Why, I say, if he knew there would be so much inequity when he made us different, why didn’t he make us all white, all black, all indigenous, or all aliens?

Will he understand our Kaqchikel siblings when they pray in Kaqchiñol?

Why did he take so many centuries to come to our lands?

Why, if he claims to be love, did he only bring us death, misery and pain?


I interrupted him straight-out

I didn’t want to talk about it

it was like talking about war

in times of war

I also wanted to enjoy the song of the kurij k’un *

his trills filled the forest

* Kurij k’un: local pigeon. 


“They say that Israel was captive for 400 years

Well, so far we’ve been captive for 500

and such is the time in which they have imposed on us the same as Israel

in every space of our daily slavery

and so we downplay our condition

and thus we alienate ourselves from our own circumstance

Where are the Kaqchikel Moses-men and Moses-women who

will ascend to Junajpú and burn pom for the Ajaw? *

Where are they?

It’s imperative they appear

to guide us through the saqb’e **

to interpret the foretelling of fire

to get us out of this daily horror

to make us cross this sea of blood

and lead us to the conquest

of our lives




of this land

that was always ours


they already arose in this land of confusion

they survived the sword of modern pharaohs

but they are drowning

drowning in the river of repression

Somebody save them from the river!”

The kurij k’un had stopped singing

a small silence was made

morning mist

caressing wet earth

An idea crossed my mind

I tried:

“They say that silence is at the heart of mist

right where the fog sits upon the earth…”

* Junajpú:  Kaqchikel name for Volcano Agua (Antigua, Guatemala.) 
Pom: ancient Maya word for copal and incense.
Ajaw: expression to name the Creator. 
** Saqb’e: literally “white path.” Expression for the Maya “good living.” 


“Wait a minute! — he rebuked annoyed 

silence is not there

it’s not only there — he emphasized

silence is in the heart

of the girl who has been raped

of the child who has been abused

of women and men who have been impoverished

of the farmer who has been displaced

of the peasant who has been deceived

of the river who has been polluted

of the forest who has been riddled

of the land who has been looted

of the kurij k’un who has been left without a nest”

We were approaching the river

the scream of a chainsaw

silenced the sadness of trees

strained the wind

disturbed the birds

“Do you understand what I’m talking about? — he asked almost disappointed

You and I are a cigar — he continued

the pure essence of the woods

you and I are a shot of moonshine

the pure essence of time

you and I are guardians

guardians of different forms of life

you and I are shadows


imperative for the meaning of light

you and I are fire

we were made to heal

you and I are time

we were made not to forget

you and I are the pillars

we were made to fight

you and I are the madness of time

we were made not to shut up

Do you follow?

Pain and sorrow

sadness and joy

dreams and frustrations

of four hundred generations

they all ride on our atoms

four hundred grandmothers

four hundred grandparents

cry from our chest

and yell:

decolonize yourself

dereligionize yourself

dedocument yourself 

desinform yourself

rebel against this egotistical system

unlearn so much banality

relearn our language and use it

relearn our thinking and live it

return to your roots

humanize yourself…”

“Do you see it? — I interrupted

The Pixcayá river has grown!”

“It’s not called Pixcayá, did you know that? — he said

his Kaqchikel name is B’ix qaya’

the song of our water

the song of our water

a beautiful name for a river

a marvelous song

a balm for deep wounds…”

And right there we finally could change the subject

Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez



¿Jampe’ xqachäp ruk’oqpixik pa taq qak’u’x?

¿Jampe’ xqachäp ruk’ojoxik ruchi’ richin manäq chïk nich’o’n ta pe chiqe?

¿Jampe’ xqatz’apij qaxikin richin manäq niqak’axaj ta rutzij?

¿Jampe’ xqamestaj rutzuquxik?

¿Achi’el toq xqamestaj chi ri qati’t qamama’ xekäm ruma rukolik?

¿Achi’el toq xqamestaj chi toq ri juläy xkisok, xkipaxij

ri qate’ qatata’, ri qati’t qamama’

xkimöl ruchi’



chuqa’  xkiya’ kan kik’aslemal pa ruk’u’x?

¿Kan chanin xqamestaj chi ri nab’ey t’uj ri xuya’ riqak’u’x xk’oxoman paqach’ab’äl?

¿Kan chanin xqamestaj chi ri qach’ab’äl ja ri’ ri xojk’asb’an?

¿Kan chanin xqamestaj chi xqatz’umaj chi paq’ij chi chaq’a’?

Ri qach’ab’äl janila’ yawa’

ruchapon kamïk

nikäm pa qak’u’x

ruchapon kamïk 

chuchi’ taq qaq’aq’

pa ruk’u’x taq qochoch

Our Tongue


Since when did we start tearing it out of our hearts?

When did we sew her mouth up so she would stop talking to us?

Since when did we start covering our ears to stop listening to her?

When did we forget to feed her?

How did we end up forgetting that grandmothers and grandfathers died for her?

How did we forget that when she was hurt

our mothers and fathers, our grandmothers and grandfathers

took care of her

healed her

captured their own life in her words?

Are we going to forget so easily that our first heartbeat resonated in Maya Kaqchikel?

Will we forget so quickly that it was our language who gave us life?

Are we going to forget so easily that we sucked from her for days and nights?

Our tongue is sick

very sick

she agonizes within our hearts

she agonizes in front of the kitchen fire

in the heart of our homes

Sunset at B’oko’ ©Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez

More about Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez:

“I urge you, if I die, to live as happily as you can. I want you to be a good person, who works hard, who has joy in her heart, who is grateful, whose heart sings, whose lips whistle, and who has a smiling face. This is life, my child, this is how life is.”

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is ma1.jpg
Digital activism

Other Mayan artists featured on Siwar Mayu

About the translators

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.
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 Assistant Professor of Languages and Literatures at UNC Asheville. 

Xti Saquirisan Na Pe / Planicie de olvido © Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez

Translations from Spanish © Paul Worley and Juan G. Sánchez M. ~ Siwar Mayu ~ May 2021

Luis Chalí: Comic Maya

Jolom: labyrinth, Maya Ballgame ball © Luis Chalí

Introduction and selection © Rita Palacios 

Luis Chalí (1989) lives in Chi Xot (San Juan Comalapa, Chimaltenango) and he is the author of the Maya comic book Beleje Ajmaq. Through the comic, Chalí speaks from Maya culture itself, reevaluating history and opening up spaces to be able to dream and participate in a dynamic project that both writes and creates history.

The Maya comic book Beleje Ajmaq (9 sins, 9 pardons) is the creation of Chi Xot artist Luis Chalí. In the comic, the artist creates an entire universe ruled by powerful beings that inhabit and move across the three strata of existence: Xibalbá (the underworld), Balbá (the earth)  and Kajbalbá (the sky). The characters, places, events, and languages in the comic flow between fiction and history to create a multiplicity of worlds and realities from a Maya perspective. Chalí’s proposal consists of abandoning incorrect, racist, or romantic ideas about the Maya world, and instead he presents his own twenty-first-century vision inspired by Japanese manga, and reconstructs vital moments in the history of Maya peoples.

Chalí has conceived of nine sagas that correspond to nine key historical moments. In the year 2012, in response to the supposed end of the world as predicted by New Age Mayanists, he unveiled saga number five, the first of the nine to be published, Los señores de la guerra (The Lords of War). Chalí began in the middle, with saga number five, quite deliberately, paying homage to the tradition of comic-book story development and allowing for the possibility of prequels and sequels. Currently, 13 of 42 chapters of Los señores de la guerra are available in print. This saga looks at the conflict between Ajawarem, the Motul (Tikal) and Calakmul kingdoms. The saga begins with the creation of humankind from corn, shaped by hands by the grandmothers and grandfathers. In the chapters that follow, he introduces other characters, conflicts, weapons, war strategies, and a unique language, Kaqchikomon.

   Small Pantheon © Luis Chalí      
           Daily wear dress © Luis Chalí

The characters of Beleje Ajmaq are directly inspired by the behaviour and sensibilities of people in Chalí’s community. Most recently, thanks to an online call for volunteers, the artist created a number of characters modeled after real-life people, from Dxkanob, a beautiful white cat, to friends and supporters who want to see themselves in the comic book. The project goes beyond a physical representation of the model; Chalí is interested in capturing the models’ personalities to bring them to life in the rich universe of the comic.

Dxkanob, Jaguar Warrior’s pet © Luis Chalí

Los señores de la guerra is an introduction to the fantastic world designed by Chalí. Each element has a clear objective, a logic, and a unique function: starting with the simple gesture of beginning the saga with chapter zero, given the importance of this number in Maya mathematics; to changing readerly practices starting in chapter one, where the format of the comic book resembles a codex; to the use of Kachikomon, a hybrid language that originates from contemporary Maya Kaqchikel language that does not follow formal grammar rules from language academies; to the narrators, whose role is to introduce key information throughout each saga. Chalí, architect and engineer of Beleje Ajmaq, takes on an immense project that relies on Maya imagination, history, aesthetic, and cosmovision as its pillars to envision a past and write in the present in order to imagine a future.

Follow Luis Chalí on Facebook:

More about Rita Palacios:

Rita holds a doctorate in Spanish with a specialization in Latin American Literature from the University of Toronto. She is a professor of languages in the School of Liberal Studies at Conestoga College in Kitchener, Ontario. Her research examines contemporary Maya literature from a cultural and gender studies perspective. She recently co-authored a book Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (March 2019) with Paul M. Worley, in which they privilege the Maya category ts’íib over constructions of the literary in order to reveal how Maya peoples themselves conceive of cultural production.

Visit her at https://ritampalacios.com 

More about tz’ib’ and Maya textualities


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


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)


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.


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)


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.


chakishka panka shinami urmamuni

ñawpakawsaywan may hukushkami kanika.


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?


I fall like a dry leave

But I am extremely sodden of history. 

Pikul (“Milk Tree”) © Yana Lema


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)


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


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)


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)