“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. 

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)


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

We were born in her deep bowels, 

Incubated with the humidity of rain and rivers. 

Fertile seeds we are. 

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

fire is our grandfather, our mother earth.

Water and Air are our Ayllu, 

from there we come, to there we will return. 

Our body is seed. 

We resurge, go through cycles and not die. 

We are fertile grains of abundant harvest, 

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

Ñakchasisa © Yana Lema

Inkarri Kowii

(Otavalo Kichwa)

Runa *

I want to go back 

To my roots, 

To return to my mother, 

I no longer want to be her son

I want to be a part of her, 

I want to be a part of myself

Mother offended and abused, 

I want to feel her pain and suffering

I need to be land once again, 

To be fed by the sun and

The rain, 

To see the moon every night, 

I need to stop being human, 

And turn into everything

And nothing, 

In the subjective of


I want to be tears of the land

I want to be the cry of my


I want to be what I am, 

The being of myth, 

The one of the beginning

Of the story, 

I want to be, 

I want to be runa…

* Runa: people.

Purakilla © Yana Lema


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

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

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

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

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

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

About Yana Lucila Lema

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

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

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

About the translators

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

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

Dreaming of being a poet. Humberto Ak’abal

El sueño de ser poeta © Humberto Ak’abal. Guatemala: Piedra Santa, 2020.

Introduction, selection and translation from Spanish

by Gloria E. Chacón and Juan G. Sánchez Martínez


Humberto Ak’abal (1952-2019) was a self-taught bilingual poet (Maya K’iche ’/ Spanish), and a plural voice translated into Japanese, Hebrew, Arabic, English, French, Italian, Scottish with worldwide recognition. From his first books in the nineties (El guardián de la caída de agua, 1993) to his last works (Bigotes, 2018), his voice challenged divisive academic labels that seek to define “poetry” or “indigeneity.” Inspired by the sounds of his native language, Ak’abal found the balance between formal experimentation (onomato-poetry, gestural poetry), oral tradition (oraliture), Mayan spirituality, and world literature registers (from Matsuo Basho to Gonzalo Rojas). Questioned and celebrated at the same time by readers and critics in universities, cultural magazines and poetry festivals, Ak’abal was and continues to be an inspiration for several generations of Latin American/Abiayalan (not just indigenous) writers.

With the permission of his family, today we publish in Siwar Mayu one of the stories included in El sueño de ser poeta (“Dreaming of Being a Poet”. Piedra Santa 2020), a posthumous book that brings together his reflections and memories as a maker of word-braids (pach’um tzij), who believed in intercultural dialogues despite racism and classism throughout our Latin American societies.

It is sometimes omitted that Ak’abal was also a storyteller, and books like De este lado del puente (“On This Side of the Bridge”. 2006), El animal de humo (“The Smoke Animal”, 2014), and this posthumous compilation are proof of his multi-genre works. For instance, these stories manage to capture the medicine of laughter, that which is capable of healing even the absurdity of colonial logic and its narrow understanding of education and gender. In times when throughout Abya-Yala and Iximulew (the land of corn), we are unlearning stagnant labels of identity, Ak’abal’s voice illuminates like lightning from the bottom of this simple story about his hair.

Humberto Ak’abal at the Rodolfo Robles Highschool. Quetzaltenango. August 6, 2018.
A thousand students were listening attentively to him.
The self-taught poet has returned to the school as a teacher.
© Photography by Daniel Caño

My hair

“People are born without teeth, without hair and without dreams,

and they die the same: without teeth, without hair and without dreams ”.

Alejandro Dumas

My grandparents on my mother’s side had long hair. In a distant memory I remember great-grandfather –he used to wrap his white hair around his crown, and put his hat on that white bundle.

Mother wanted me to continue the tradition of my  grandparents. There were some reasons for having long hair: it prevented you from being a stutterer, ghosts would not bother you, and “because that’s why hair grows.” My mom wove two braids for me because my hair was abundant. This lasted until I was seven years old.

Back then, teachers would go from house to house, recruiting school-age children, and those parents who refused to let their children go to school, were put in jail.

Despite this warning, many parents hid their children in dry wells, large pots, or in the treetops. School was not well regarded by the elderly. They feared that the school would be a place “that would open children’s eyes and ears until, little by little, they would lose respect for their elders …” — and as things are going, I wonder if those fears didn’t have something prophetic.

Anyway, the teachers sneaked behind the house and saw me, so there was no escape. I was very scared, but my father encouraged me to go. They took me to sign up. And here is the first problem: the principal said that they would not enroll a girl in the boys school, and that I had to go to the girls one. The arguments of my parents became laughable for the principal, and they had no choice but to keep quiet –there were only two schools at that time– and I did my first grade at the girls school. The following year my parents explained again that I was a boy, but the management office said they would not register anyone who did not look like a man, so for the first time they cut my hair. My mother cried a lot and she tucked my braids between her pillow.

The elementary school years passed and my student days ended with them. I started working to help my parents, I forgot about the barber and my hair started to grow back. When I was seventeen, my hair was already quite long. My mother was happy because, according to her, I looked a lot like grandfather. At that time, the army recruited boys my age to take them to the barracks. It was sarcastically called “voluntary militia service” (this was a criminal hunt: young people were captured on market days, followed on the roads, chased down ravines and dragged by the ears, dragged by their hair, taken from their homes late at night, and carried almost naked and hauled in trucks like animals). And long hair on anyone was a sign that they had not served in the military. And although I was not supposed to serve due to physical impediments, the military forced me to cut my hair because, according to them, I was nothing more than a “beggar“, and if I did not cut it on my own, they would do it “because males have to look like men.” Very much against my will, I had to visit the barber again.

Six or eight years went by and my hair inevitably grew back. During those years, the internal war of the country intensified and I had to leave my town and go to the city in search of work, in whatever I could do: street sweeper, servant, loader …, any job because I was not (nor am I ) qualified at anything. And they didn’t give me a job “for being grungy,” because I looked like a homeless man, a street drunk, and had a slobby face. I had no choice but to cut it off.

After working ten years in the city, I stopped being a Jack of all trades, and returned to my village and grew my hair again. Around those days, my first book of poems was published and photographs of me appeared in the newspapers for the first time and, although it may seem a joke, some “critics” of Guatemalan literature jumped from their chairs and said that I had grown my hair “to be liked by Europeans …, to sell myself as Apache, or Sioux …, looked like a hippie, etc.” (The press archives these unusual articles on its pages.)

And now that I can finally enjoy my hair and have it as I please, not only does it not grow anymore but … it begins to fall out!

For more about Humberto Ak’abal:

Chicabal Sanctuary, Guatemala (photography taken by Ana María Ferreira and Juan Guillermo Sánchez, 2006)

About the translators:

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

Juan G. Sánchez Martínez, 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 a professor at the University of North Carolina Asheville, in the Departments of Languages and Literatures, and of American Indian and Indigenous Studies.

Three mapunky poems: David Aniñir Guilitraro

David Aniñir Guilitraro. Quinta Normal Park. Santiago de Chile, 2013 © Andrea Echeverría

Introduction, selection and translation from Spanish by Andrea Echeverría

David Aniñir (Santiago, 1971) is a Mapuche poet and initiator of the Mapurbe aesthetic, a poetic vision that explores the heterogeneous perspective experienced by some migrant Mapuche in the city. In effect, this poet proposes a ground-breaking discourse that communicates the experiences of the Mapuche who live in the city of Santiago today, while resisting their invisibility. He has published three collections of poems, Mapurbe. Venganza a raíz (2005, 2009), Haycuche (2008), and Guilitranalwe (2014) and currently lives in Santiago. Recreating elements of Mapuche orality, Aniñir participates in poetic recitals making use of performative resources.

This poet encourages a mobile ethnic identity that is urban, rebellious and anti-systemic, so there is no doubt that his poems move away from the traditional representation of a rural Mapuche identity associated primarily with the natural environment of forests in southern Chile and the ancestral community.. Yet, the gap between these two different spaces of ethnic representation, the traditional and the urban, is not as wide as one might think initially. Aniñir incorporates elements from the Mapuche ritual tradition in his poems, such as yeyipun (prayer), pewma (dreams), werken (messenger), ngenpin (ritual speaker), and machi (spiritual authority and shaman), but he does this from a critical and innovative perspective. 

In his poetry he elaborates a conception of an ethnic self that refuses to merely reproduce stereotypes of indigenous identity to talk about his own process of ethnic identification. Instead, elements of the native tradition are integrated problematically in poems that reflect and question indigenous identity in an urban context, an identity that is located at the crossroads between the attraction of the city ​​and the vital need of admapu or set of Mapuche social and legal norms and customs, and between the difficulty of expressing traditional Mapuche concepts in Spanish and the inability to read or write in Mapuzungun. The following poems show how Aniñir includes important elements of the admapu in his writing and the paradoxes and contradictions that emerge from the (dis) location of these elements in the city. 

(With a glossary below)

Poetry to what I write

     Loneliness is also a tribute to the one who’s near


I say, I write and I repeat
this is a commission of past times
legacy by the nature of life
and the cosmic plans of my ancestors
this unaccustomed occupation
with no more tools than anger 
and something similar to what in soap operas they call love
(in these neoliberal days),
this large trace of leaves and heavy chested reflections 
I offer with my moldy hands and my cloudy soul
from facing my own shadow so much.

In my verses I sing
in my lines there is rhythm and they fly.
Sponsored by myself
brought from the peripheral umbilical cord,
that gives life to the goats that listen to my poems,
I raise this poetic universe,
from the Mapocho river down
on crystalline turds that sail to the sea.

Sometimes I have trouble lying orally
and I write.
That way my deception is beautiful
and the falseness doesn’t hurt. 

This Mapuche dressed in jeans
and T-shirts from American universities
confuse my inhabitant
a mix of northameraucano 
and mapu-urban.

What I don’t say is freed in my verse
for the problem of self-habitation
in writing exacerbates itself in speech
and the spittle is diluted. 


Inche ta Mapurbe tuwin
chew tañi lefpeyen kurra
I'm from a shitopolis
where the asphalt burns.

Native to death and life
Aniñir like a lying fox
sitting in the shade,
on the sidewalk,
testimony of muddy steps.

Güili as a life challenge
for my dogged old woman 
with nails full of blue ink
to write poems
or some curious movement of lights,
traro to fly over the land, its neon meadows
and its peripheral valleys
far away from the noise.

I don't read so much for self-motivation
thick books close on their own
when I reach for my cigarettes
or when I'm scratching myself,
I scratch and scratch myself
to bleed, to die
a tinted nail sinks into my flesh and buries itself.

And I scratch myself to the bone, to the marrow
liters of blood come off like guts
like an animal slaughtered on good friday
liters of blood and poetry wet the streets, the sidewalks and the earth
ñiachi rennets hang with my meat
blood with mud stop my steps,
I slide over already wounded poetries
falling at the gate of my house
which is a book ajar,

Turns out I'm from an ancient world
where the stars burned with light in the sky
like flames
eroding volcanoes kissed the clouds with their fire,
when it rained the light and fire made the flowers grow
and the earth was a garden.


Apparently I'm not the one who writes
poetry is who does it for me,
it comes looking for me wrapped in night
 and dreams,
cruelly it shakes my soul
I wake up with beautiful doubts
it is poetry who comes to me
babbling beautiful sarcasms 
of dead Mapuche who want to laugh
and weep for me in verse. 

Now I'm in front of you
defying the void
and the broadband technology that distances
now, high poetry
let's fight a duel
on the battlefield of the blank sheet
let's see who dies first
come challenge me
I have an ink dagger
that cuts across my blood
you have the toll on the imagination
love and hate
let us bleed in silence.

Pewma of the backside world 
Being you is evolution itself
being in you means suffocating with dreams
suffering in torture and not being diluted in your dream
where you build sphinxes and prehistoric jugs
there where the snake played with you in life
to be yourself is to be in you
and love myself, 
for you are in me
and it is the same.
It's to PENE-trate a world that's only for two
it’s to imagine that reality is imaginary
it’s to believe that I believe in you and you in me
it’s to walk through ancestral lands
and speak the language of immortals.

We are from an ancient world
where revolutions were not necessary
you washed your face in the river of truth
and I surrounded our animal brothers
because we lived with them.
That is how it was there
in the place where our bodies were 
other bodies we were the dark race of so many nights.

That is how it was there 
        naked of spirit
        naked of poetry
        naked of sadnisses.
That is how it was there
here I am only a dealer of psychotropic lines
I am the werken of your pewmas. 


        A machi in hardcore attitude 
         A daring good-looking punk
Unleashing her yeyipunk to the rhythm of the sun
                In moon code
                In star key
              With comets riff
      A machi in power metal attitude 
               with Newendy
       Stirring her trance in the mosh
       Jumping earth below, to the pit
Inland, to red, to where it all comes together
            A machi of the slum
       A drunk beautiful-muse mapunky
        Euphorikally Marichiwaniando
     Because you are just marichiwaneando
   With your brew of acid and sulfurik muday 
               Drunk of kuymi
 Dulcinea of the cosmogonic terraqueous fable
  A machi mapurbe with a surprised attitude
   With Kalku fiber by the bloody torrent 
       Ascending to high voltage Rewe
 And the thunder of voltages in the rainy night
   With the spiral of the Slam through foye 
         A Guakolda from the corner
               Totally Tough


admapu– Mapuche tradition and customs

foye– the Mapuche’s most sacred tree
machi– Mapuche shaman who has the task of healing the sick by using remedies, teas, prayers, songs and dances

kalku– a type of machi that creates evil spells

muday– fermented drink made ​​from wheat, corn and a type of pinenut

mapuzungun– the language Mapuche speak

ngenpin–ritual orator

perimontu– machi’s vision in a trance state 

pewma– dream or oneiric state through which Mapuche can access the Wenu Mapu and communicate with their ancestors

ngenpin– ritual speaker

rewe or rehue– altar formed by a trunk, tree or set of trees around which the nguillatun ceremony is performed


For more about David Aniñir

“We talked with the poet David Aniñir, one of the most important pens in the territory and creator of the poetic and aesthetic concept of Mapurbe.” Puentebtv

About the translator

Andrea Echeverría is an assistant professor at Wake Forest University and she received her doctorate in Latin American Literature and Cultural Studies from Georgetown University. She is the author of El despertar de los awquis: migración y utopía en la poesía de Boris Espezúa y Gloria Mendoza (2016) and Yeyipún en la ciudad: representación ritual y memoria en la poesía mapuche (forthcoming). She co-edited an issue of the journal Diálogo (De Paul University) dedicated to cinema, literature and art that denounces extractivism in Latin America (2019) and she has published articles in journals such as Bulletin of Latin American Research, Latin American and Caribbean Ethnic Studies, Latin American Research Review, and Revista Canadiense de Estudios Hispánicos.

Words that heal: Aniceto and Célimo Nejedeka

Abuelo Aire Aliento Vida de Centro “Grandfather Air Breath Life of the Center” © Hernan Gomez De castro (chona)
Mixed technique; Ambil (Tobacco paste with salts),  and graphite and color pencils, on 300 gr Canson paper (medium grain)

Selection and introduction* by Camilo A. Vargas Pardo

In memoriam, elder Aniceto Nejedeka

Translated from Spanish by Sophie Lavoie

Illustrations by Hernan Gomez De castro (chona)

In these times of global panic caused by the pandemic, modern industrialized societies have had to alter the relentless pace that has marked the rhythm of urban centres. In this climate of anxiety, we ask ourselves about health and ways to fight illnesses. The recent publication of the book Cultivando la ciencia del árbol de la salud (Nurturing the science of the tree of health, 2019) by Célimo Ramón Nejedeka Jifichíu / Imi Jooi opens the field up to reflection when it asks: How do we nurture the science tree of life to live well?

This publication has been supported by the efforts of the editors and the illustrator: Micarelli, Ortiz and Gómez, who, during the presentation of the book, explained the minutiae of the process of writing and publication. Among other factors, they discussed the decision to use the term “science” in the title to “unsettle the established hierarchy between Western science and other ways of knowing, and, at the same time, to elicit a reflection on the end goals of knowledge” (p. 16, my translation).

The Gente de Centro [People from the Centre] is a cultural grouping made up of various ethnic groups (Murui, Okaina, Nonuya, Bora, Miranha, Muinane, Resígaro and Andoque) whose original territory is found in the Caquetá-Putumayo watershed. These groups identify themselves as the children of the tobacco, the coca and the sweet yuca plant. Grounded in the traditions of the Gente del Centro, the author shows a conception of health that is based on their origin stories. This contrasts with the general reaction we see in mass media: news insisting on horrific statistics that emphasize a system of care that is vulnerable because it is based on palliative treatments that only work to lessen symptoms. This book proposes a totally different direction since it stresses the complex interweaving of relations between health and language, wellbeing and words, the good life and the origin stories.

Célimo Ramón Nejedeka Jifichíu / Imi Jooi belongs to the Fééneminaa (Muinane) ethnic group, specifically the Ijimi Négégaimijo (Shade of Cumare) lineage of the Cumare clan. His mother is elder Aurelia Jifichiu, who has laboured in the area of language revitalization of the Bora, her ethnic group, as can be seen in the two publications she has authored: Iijumujelle akyéjtso uguááboju. Despertando la educación indígena Umijijte – Bora- por una abuela del clan oso hormiguero (Rekindling Indigenous Umijijte -Bora- Education by an Elder of the Anteater Clan, 2016) and Talleu iijimujelle uuballehi uuballejuune kuguatsojuune majchijuune / La abuela del clan oso hormiguero enseña cuentos, arrullos y cuentos del pueblo Piinemunaa – Bora (An Elder of the Anteater Clan Teaches Stories, Lullabies, and Tales of the Piinemunaa people, 2019).

Célimo’s father, elder Aniceto Nejedeka, received national recognition from the Colombian Ministry of Culture in 2017 for his dedication to the enrichment of ancestral culture of the Indigenous peoples of Colombia. As part of his efforts to strengthen the Fééneminaa (Muinane) culture and their traditions, he published Historia de los dos hermanos Boa / Taagai Buuamisi jiibegeeji (Story of the Two Boa Brothers, ICANH, 2012) and La ciencia de vida escrita en las aves (The science of life inscribed by birds), a work that was published in a series of articles in the magazine Mundo Amazónico (numbers 2, 3, 4 and 5).

These publications are tied to an oral tradition that has been looked down upon because of unfortunate historical circumstances, coupled with colonial processes and extractivism. The wisdom of these authors is supported, not by the bibliographical erudition of lettered societies, but in the practical knowledge gleaned from oral traditions. Thus, these books are the fruit of arduous labour in which different systems of knowing converge, leading to a cultural translation exercise that quantifies its epistemological value on written texts that attempt to reproduce the echoes of orality. These works are a true testament to the capacity for adaptation and the search for alternatives to sustain the cultural heritage of the peoples carried out by these authors.

The writing is thus woven into a type of larger basket (“canasto”) in which knowledge is found: knowledge about the chagras (polyculture crops), the traditional dances, the songs, the traditional cures, and all the other cultural practices that are still in use. This is a wisdom that, in the case of the Nejedeka family, finds its foundations in the Amooka ritual career in their maloca (ancestral long houses) in the outskirts of Leticia.

* Fragment from the book review “Palabras que sanan,” published in Mundo Amazónico 11 (2020): 122-125.

El bien y el mal “The good and the bad” © Hernan Gomez De castro (chona) 
Mixed technique; Ambil (Tobacco paste with salts),  and graphite and color pencils, on 300 gr Canson paper (medium grain)

Evolution of Knowledge of Life and its transmission to the Shade of the Cumare Lineage of the Cumare Clan of the Muinane ethnic group

By Aniceto Ramón Negedeka “Numeyi” (“Small Elder”) 

and Célimo Ramón Nejedeka JIFICHÍU “IMI JOOI” (“Pretty Bird”)

Fragment from the book: Cultivando la ciencia del árbol de la salud: conocimiento tradicional para el buen vivir. Celimo Ramón Nejedeka Jifichíu. Editorial curatorship Giovanna Micarelli, Nelson Ortiz y Hernán Gómez, (Eds.) Bogotá: Editorial Pontificia Universidad Javeriana, 2019.

In the beginning, there is the origin of Our Father (no one knows about that). Everything else is created from His breath-air.

He, Our Father, Breath of Life, became (a little later) Breath-Air of Word, and thus created the World and Humankind of the Beginning. The latter tried to destroy the Father’s Wisdom and mislead the World about its own origin. For that, He cursed Humankind and cast it away.

A long time later, Our Father directed his wisdom -using an inaudible word- to the spiritual and material (sweet, cold and solid) creation of the Planet. After creating it, He purified it, anointed it, blessed it and widened it.

After that, while in this comfortable, pure and secure place, He -using the same word- created all the fruit that are the richness of his creation: the ones that need to be sown (cultivated ones) and those that germinate themselves (wild ones). He baptized each one of these, purified them with the Water of Life and Growth that He created. With this Water of Live and Growth, He washed them, made them germinate, made them grow and made them multiply.

Then, He, Our Creator, through this Water, filled them with Breath of Creation, mixed them up and, just like that, scattered the seeds on all of the Earth.

He created everything that exists on Earth, as well as night and day and, once created, He blessed them, gave them the power to multiply and also granted them a place on the Earth.

Later on, He “humanized his image,” thus creating the Son of the Centre. Once created, He sat Son of the Centre down, gave him advice and entrusted him with the care of everything Our Creator had created on this Earth.

Then, Our Father Elder Tobacco Centre of Life returned to his world, the World of Breath, where He sat on the Bench of Life (cold and sweet bench of creation) and there he sat Our Mother down, to strengthen Himself from Her Breath of Life, to “humanize her image” and, thus, to create the Woman of the Centre, who would come to be the companion of the Son of the Centre.

Abuela Cuna de Vida, madre de todas las hierbas frías y los frutos cultivables y silvestres “Grandmother Cradle of Life, mother of all cold herbs and cultivable and wild fruits” © Hernan Gomez De castro (chona)
Mixed technique; Ambil (Tobacco paste with salts),  and graphite and color pencils, on 300 gr Canson paper (medium grain)

While He, Our Creator, dedicated himself to the creation of the Woman of the Centre, the World of the Beginning again took power over this planet: misled it, tarnished it, filled it with all sorts of wrongs, including tarnishing the Son of the Centre. Seeing this, He, Our Creator, interrupted his work and, without even anointing her, without purifying her, without blessing her or baptizing her, He made the Woman of the Centre descend to this Earth, and He sat her in the Centre.

So, during a long time, the Earth was under the responsibility of Our Mother Life of Centre, and Our Grandfather Creator, upset that his creation had gone astray, tried to end the World of the Beginning, crushing it against this planet. But She impeded this, She didn’t let it be crushed.

For that reason, both the World of the Beginning and this Earth stayed under her stewardship for a long time.

A long time later, through Her and using Her power, Our Creator generated insects and birds. There, He separated the cycles of the day and of the night and fixed the cardinal points, producing in this way temporality and spatiality in this world.

Then, He created, purified and consecrated the Woman of the Centre’s Cradle of Birth, using the medicinal plants He had sown: basil, sweet yuca and all the good and cold herbs (symbol of Our Mother).

Later on, Our Creator made the Son Life of the Centre descend in order to “humanize his word.” From then on, this planet stayed under the stewardship of the knowledge and wisdom of the Son Life of the Centre. Then, the myths and the stories came to an end.

In this step, the Son Life of the Centre created the True Plant of Tobacco (symbol of his thoughts) and that of the Coca (symbol of his word) to reorder the world. Through this creation, the Son Life of the Centre reformed, rejuvenated and reorganized the Man of the Centre.

For us, those who belong to the Muinane ethnic group, from the Coco (Cumare) Clan and the Shade of the Cumare lineage, our knowledge about the learning and teaching of the Myth of Origin and Creation of the Universe comes from this. This wisdom is shared so that it will be applied practically on good thoughts, the true word, the true action and the good life, in order to be in harmony with nature, with ourselves and with the Being that created us, according to the learnings transmitted by the Son Life of the Centre to the Orphan Grandson of the Centre. The People of the Cumare Clan, of the Shade of Cumare lineage received the knowledge from their ancestors, descendants of the Orphan Grandson of the Centre. The True Word of Life came to be known only in this way, and he gave it to us, who are his descendants, through our ancestors and grandfathers.

The ancestors of the People of Cumare and the elders that know of each other (and that I listened to) were:

Neje daagui: Perico de Cumare (Parakeet of Cumare), who gave birth to

Tifai-iji: Boca Roja (Red Mouth), who then gave birth to

Atiiba-yi: Pepa Verde (Green Potato), who gave birth to

Neje-deeka: Flor de la Palma de Cumare (Flower of Cumare Palm), and he gave birth to

Nume-yi: Pepa Pequeña (Small Seed), that is who I am and I bear this name and I am presently alive and my name in Spanish is Aniceto Ramón Nejedeka. I gave birth to, well, various children. After my first born died, the one that follows and is here, bears the name

Imi Jooi: “Pájaro Bonito,” (Beautiful Bird) whose name in Spanish is Célimo Ramón Nejedeka Jifichíu “Imi Jooi”.

We are the ones who are here right now!

About Camilo A. Vargas Pardo

Poet, researcher of literatures and oraliteratures of the Amazon. PhD in Spanish Romance Studies (CRIMIC, Sorbonne University) and Amazon Studies (National University of Colombia, Amazonia Campus), through international co-supervision.

About Hernan Gomez De castro (chona)

As part of an exchange of cultural practices facilitated by the Andrés Bello Institute, I arrived at the “Usko Ayar” School of Amazonian Painting, directed by the Ayahuasca visions painter Pablo Amaringo, in Pucallpa, Peru. In the two years that I spent in the school, I realized, not without a certain degree of uncertainty, the mess of being faced to the blank page. Empty space is an aesthetic challenge and, in many cases, a spiritual adventure. I used to teach theater, but when I started to illustrate… a story, a myth, a landscape; I turned illustration into one of those art forms that allows me to capture in an image that skein of fluctuations that arise from language. Célimo, the author of the book Nurturing the Science of the Tree of Health, and I have talked for hours, or rather, I have listened and asked. This exercise that comes from thinking the word is an exciting and visionary creative act. The same thing happened with Amaringo, and the mess of facing a blank page ... disappears.

About the translator

Sophie M. Lavoie is a professor in the University of New Brunswick (Canada). She conducts research in the areas of women’s writing and social change in Central America and the Caribbean. Her studies focus on women in contemporary Nicaragua during the first Sandinista era (1970-1990), but she is also interested in other revolutionary movements in the area, such as Cuba and El Salvador and in women’s writing in Latin America. Her current research project focuses on the link between women’s writing, empowerment, and revolutionary action during the Sandinista era in Nicaragua. Dr. Lavoie is also an associate faculty member in the International Development Studies program, the Women's Studies program, and the Film Studies Program at UNB.

 More about People of the Centre

Cultivating the science of the tree of health: traditional knowledge for good living. Nejedeka Jifichíu, Célimo Ramón
“The Murui people fight for their recognition as an ethnic group of the Colombian Amazon, they have survived through time marked with the scars of the rubber plants and the imposition of the Catholic mission at the beginning of the century. This documentary is not the pristine and exotic vision of the Amazonian indigenous peoples, nor of the Amazon rainforest as the exotic place by definition, it is about the vision of themselves and the reality of an indigenous community, in a country where oblivion predominates. ” -Murui Jafaiki
Juan Alvaro Echeverri
Universidad Nacional de Colombia