Memory of the Skin-people, Hubert Matiúwàa

© Translated by Paul M Worley and Melissa D Birkhofer

The yopes: Mbo xtá rída/Skin-people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustration by Víctor Gally

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

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

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

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

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

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

Memory of the Skin-people

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Illustration by Víctor Gally

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

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

For more about Hubert Matiúwàa and the Skin-people

About the translators

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

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

El cómo del filosofar de la gente piel © Hubert Matiúwàa

Siwar Mayu, March 2024 ~

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

Sky Woman Story. Kahente Horn-Miller

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

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

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


Sky Woman’s Story

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I continued.

“I heard you were giving a feast.”

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

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

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

“How is it that I can help you?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For more about Kahente Horn-Miller

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

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

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

© Piam told by Cornelio Puelman in 1987 

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

© Pictures Violeta Percia

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PUELMAN CORNELIO ÑI NGÜTRAN ~ English version below

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

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

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

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

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

Felelay pues… felelay, felelay.  

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ka müna weshaley winka.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Should we climb up to the lookout?” 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

© Pictures by Violeta Percia

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

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