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.
“People are born without teeth, without hair and without dreams,
and they die the same: without teeth, without hair and without dreams ”.
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!
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.
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 writeLoneliness is also a tribute to the one who’s near(A.H.)One
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Alba Eiragi Duarte Portillo is an Indigenous leader, teacher, and cultural promoter born in Curuguaty, Paraguay, in 1960. She is an Aché descendant, raised in an Avá-Guaraní community in Colonia Fortuna, Canindeyú Department. She holds a BA in Social Work and Communication, and a diploma in Intercultural Education. Her books include the poetry collection Ñe’ẽ yvoty: Ñe’ẽ poty and the short story collection Ayvu tee avá guaraní. In 2017, she became the first Indigenous female member of the Society of Writers of Paraguay. In 2018, she presented her work at the 28th International Poetry Festival of Medellín, dedicated to the voices and visions of the native peoples of the Americas. Her poems and stories have been anthologized in several national and international publications.
Ayvu tee avá guaraní is a collection of Avá Guaraní sacred stories written in Avá Guaraní, self-translated into Jopara and Spanish, and illustrated by Alba Eiragi Duarte Portillo.
The pieces in this collection can be divided into sacred instructions and origin myths. What is ordinary is rendered mysterious and vice versa. The instructions explain how to make food and beverages, as well as artifacts, including jewelry, hammocks, and maracas. The ordinary is made sacred by the protocol for seemingly separate and superfluous acts. For example, the directions for preparing kaguyjy, chicha, detail the necessary—cereals, vegetables, and honey ferment for three days—and the “unnecessary”—a cedar bowl, a clean home, and songs of joy, blessing, and generosity. The myths describe the origin of the regional flora and fauna, as well as the three Tupí Guaraní classical elements: dew, fog, and water. The mysterious is made explainable by fiction. For example, the genesis of water becomes the story of how the sun and the moon created a river to drown the evil spirits that persecuted them.
The aforementioned sky bodies proceeded to name every being in the mythical Land Without Evil. Care with language is intrinsic to the Tupí-Guaraní family, as ñe’ẽ means both word and soul; thus, animating by naming. However, Doña Alba’s vocabulary is particular because she alternates between abstract and concrete terms, a duality that formally reflects the content. Her subject matter is split between rendering the material and the spiritual world. The simplicity with which she explains complex concepts is accomplished through colloquial word choice and succinct narratives. These sacred instructions and origin myths are best understood as teachings. She describes how the past molded the present and predicts how the present will affect the future. The way she writes posits the moral principle that one can tap into language’s potential for kindness, rather than cruelty. The author leaves the reader with a question: What is holy? Perhaps it is a life led in a way that fosters other beings’ existence in another space and time.
Pira pytã ñemongaru
Pira re mongarutarõ ype remoῖ vaʼerã irundy avati apesa ypy. Upea ouymarõ, koʼẽ ñavoma rera a vaʼerã emoguaetee aḡua era varaity avi avati kai tata peguare emombo mombo vaʼerã ypy avati rayi iichi.
Aa oguaeymarõ reeja jyyrae vaʼerã peteῖ ary.
Mokõi jyy oguae aapy katu eraa vaʼerã pinda aati yvyrare rejopia vaʼerã aaisa vaʼerã mbokaja ryvigui ỹro katu karaguata ryvigui oiporã ymarõ renoese aarima renoeta. Pira pytã jeʼu reko: ikangue eembiʼukue ndovivaʼerã jagua, tajasuai aa, ype. Uguia oourõ na ñarua moavei. Renoe ypype reʼupi vaʼerã ijarypy rema ata endy vaʼerã.
Pira pytã ñemongaru
Pira emongarútarõ ýpe emoῖvaʼerã irundy avati apesã ýpe. Upéva hoʼu rire rerahavaʼerã avati mbichy okáiva emoḡuahẽ porã haḡua emombo mombo vaʼerã ýpe avati ra’ỹi michῖva.
Oḡuahẽ rire ehejavaʼerã peteῖ ary oḡuahẽ jey haḡua pe pira ha upéi erahavaʼerã nde pinda isãvaʼerã mbokaja ryvipe térã katu karaguata ryvi vaʼerã.
Pira pytã jeʼu reko: ikangue ndoʼuivaʼerã jagua, kure, ype umía hoʼúrõ nerenohevéima, pira pytã renohẽ rire remyataindyvaʼerã.
Feed the fish below water, place husks on the surface daily, to draw and accustom them to this place.
Char the corn and drop in some kernels. When the fish arrive, wait a day or two. Once the water is tame, hook a ball of corn dough and lower your bait carefully. The nylon cord used to be made of pindo or caraguatáthread. Notice the quantity and varying sizes of the fish that firmly grasp your pinda.
Eat the pira pytã . . . it is skin and bones. The fish, dogs, pigs, ducks, and chickens have nothing to eat. The Golden Dorado will disappear from the water. Place what you caught on the altar and light a beeswax candle—it brings luck.
 Queen palm tree. Heart of flame bromeliad. Fishhook.
 Golden dorado fish.
Yguasu ae peteῖ y ijapyra yvae oiny. Peva rovaire oῖ avakuery ypyru. Upeare oῖ avá kuery rekoa ayuu kuerenda.
Upegui avá kuery oreko temimbota oikuaa agua mbaemo ko yvyre. Y ae peteῖ mbaʼe ypyru, yry juʼi, yvy y ae kuaray a jasy rembiapokue, tuvy kuery remimbota ae kuery omboery pavete oῖ vaguive ipype.
Ayvu ypyru y, yaka, ñu, kaʼaguy. Y ojapo okuapy ojeepy a agua añaykuery gui a opyta agua ae kuery ojovai yre vovore. A upeicha ojukapa añay kuerype, oitypa chupe kuery ypy, upegui osea oery noῖ ikuai, jaguarete a amboae mbaemo ñarovae mboi. Ojapopa rire tembiapo oo jyy tuvy renda py a upepy eichupe kuery Ñande Ru eete peepeota aguyjema peesape ñane rembiejakue etare. A ombo eko chupekuery guembiapora kuery.
Y guasu ha y ijapyra’ỹva hína. Upéva rováire oῖ Avakuéra, iñepyrũ oῖ avei hekohakuéra, iñe’ẽkuéra renda, upégui Avakuéra oguereko.
Ñemoarandu oikuaa haḡua mbaʼépa oiko yvýre. Y haʼe peteῖ mbaʼe ñepyrῦ, yryjúi, yvy, y haʼe kuarahy ha jasy rembiapokue, ituvakuéra rupive haʼekuéra omboherapaite oῖva guive ipype. Ñeʼẽ ñepyrũete ha y, yakã, ñu, kaʼaguy. Y ojapo hikuái, añete, hapete ohundipa haḡua añakuérape opyta yrembe’ýre ojovái hikuái.
Ha upéicha ojukapa añakuérape, upégui osẽ, ápe heñói hikuái, ombohéra jaguarete, umi mymba iñarõva, mboi avei.
The Great Body of Water
It is truly endless. The life of the Avá man began by the great body of water.
The first name was y, water. That is why riverside communities add this letter to several words: rice, fields, jungle.
Avá predictions—knowledge of how we will behave here, on earth—originate there. Water, like foam, is the source of the world. It is life, the commandments are part of life. Ñande Rueete created the sun and the moon, and commanded them to name every being in yvymaray.”
The planets created the great streams to save themselves from the aña kueragui. All the devils were caught between shores and drowned. The tiger, named in the forest, emerged from the great body of water; he is cruel. When their work was done, they felt hunger and went to Ñande Ru Tupa. Their father instructed: “Leave but forever illuminate those that remain on earth, there are many. Do what is necessary to guide them.”
 Our True Father.
 The Land Without Evil.
 Our Father, god of the rain, lightning, and thunder.
Tata endy ypegua voity jerokyatypy oῖ vaʼerãity kurusu imboeetepy jera kaeity ñane ramoi oñangareko katu koʼaa ejapyrere ñandevy ko yvypy.
Kurusu jary tee oiko kaʼaruare umi mamoraete.
Jaikua yaagotyo. Y ary gui oñembokatu Kurusu yvyra imboʼeetepy yary ae ñane ramoi rakaeity oiko ichugui yvyra yary. Iporivete sapyʼa rakaʼe ñane ramoi uguiriro guareity Ñande Ru oguerea mamoraity ichupe. Upeiry oaejy uguitene yvyraroity yary yvyra jary kueryro oae ko yvypy. Koay peve opoo epy agua ipirekue poʼatee oparingua mbaʼasypy guaraity.
Kagui ryrura yvyra ñae uusu yvyra ñeʼẽ miri avi tataendyy chugui oñembokatu avi ykarai ryrura avi. Pyrenda mitã mongaraia opy omoῖ guapya iichi aro yaryguigua vaʼerãity pyrenda.
Haʼe oῖva Avakuéra oñemboʼehápe, tuicha mbaʼe péva, ñande taita oñangareko hese. Koʼãva ojehejarakaʼe ñandéve ko yvy ári ḡuarã.
Kurusu: ijára oῖ kuarahy reikére mombyryeterei ndajaikuaái ñande umíva.
Ygarýgui ojejapo kurusu, ygary haʼe yvyrakuéra ruvicha.
Haʼe ñande taita oho rakaʼe peichaite yvágape, oraha chupe Ñande Rutee ha omboúje ichupe yvyraro ha ygary oiko ichugui. Ikangýje peteῖ koʼẽme ñande taita ha uperõguare Ñande Ru ogueraha ichupe ha upéi ombou chupe yvyraro ko yvy ári ḡuarã.
Koʼáḡa peve omeʼẽ tesãi, ipirekue haʼe pohã porã opa mbaʼépe.
Chícha ryrurã avei ojejapo ichugui, vatéa tuicháva ha michῖva, kurusu ykarai ryrurã, avei pyrenda mitã omongaraívape ḡuarã, koʼãva ojejapovaʼerã ygarýgui memete.
The Sacred Cross
The Avá pray to the cross above the altar. It is sacred. Our ancestors care for it in their spiritual home. Those from the beyond left this cultural artifact to us on earth.
There—far away, where the sun sets—is the owner. The cross is made of cedar, a holy wood, a leader among trees.
The cedar was a man that visited the beyond. He awoke feeling weak and was taken. Our Great Father guided him: he rose to the sky and descended to earth as a sacred tree.
He remains benevolent, of use to the sick—his bark is a powerful drug.
A big or small bowl of chicha, the cross, the baptismal font for mitã karai, and the kneeler grandparents rest on during prayer and communion are all made of yary. Rite of passage.
 Cedar wood.
About the translator
Elisa Taber is a PhD candidate at McGill University. Her writing and translations are troubled into being, even when that trouble is a kind of joy. An Archipelago in a Landlocked Country is her first book.
“Art for me is the capacity to transform fear into hope, it is the innate creativity that all beings have to express and share who we are. Movement, words, gestures, songs: what we create with our being is art. Art is what allows us to dream and build our world, it allows us to be bridges of memory and knowledge, sharing with others our way of being, thinking, and existing. For me, art is the expression of the spirit, it is that which saves us from fear and destruction, it is healing in times of darkness.”
In the following video that the artist Sayari Campo Burbano (Yanakuna Mitmak nation) has shared with Siwar Mayu, voice-over and scenography are crafted by Sayari, while the script is an adaptation of “Relatos y pensamiento yanakuna” (“Yanakuna Stories and Thought”) by poet Fredy Chikangana / Wiñay Malki. Following the video, we have included the translation of the original text.
The uterus ~ Yanakuna Story. By Fredy Chikangana / Wiñay Malki (2012)
The first beings that populated this land came in the form of steam and were called Tapukus because they arose from the bottom of the earth and when they came to the surface, some made the sound tapuk…tapuk…tapuk… and others responded ku…ku…ku…. So they kept jumping and trying to fly.
The Great Father Waira, who was the wind, took them by the hand and carried them to his realms, and soon they were brightening the earth.
However, some tapuk and other ku did not want to follow the Great Father Waira and they came together, forming a great shadow, from which arose a mass that formed the first body, who had the sounds and the traits of both Tapuk and ku.
Father Waira, feeling rejected, blew strongly over this mass which gradually caught the form of a big drop, and then took on the shape of a woman. Father Waira continued blowing and threw it through the air, but the mass already had the body of a woman.
With the force of the wind, the shadow was making both sounds of tapuk ku, tapuk ku.
So the Great Father, observing that it was a woman, decided to call her tapuku and accompany her in her flight to form with her body the bellybuttons of water: the lagoons, the rivers, and the streams.
She was singing, brushing her body against the darkness, with her sound and breath the warm and cold waters were forming, the Great Father Waira blew gently and thus the waters bursted and began to flow through the universe.
This is why the Yanakuna grandparents say that the first mother is a Tapuku, and her territory is the uterus, where life germinates to be watered by the universe.
Sayari Campo Burbano is a descendant of the Andean Yanakuna culture. She was born on September 4th, 1991 in the territory of the Colombian Massif. From an early age, she was interested in dance and movement, something that later led her towards being part of native dance and music groups. Art has always accompanied her, since her parents and relatives have instilled in her this knowledge from a very young age.
Sayari grew up in the indigenous community of Río blanco (Sotará, Cauca) and studied in the city of Bogotá. She has a degree in biology from the National Pedagogical University and today is a midwife apprentice, dancer, and pedagogical facilitator in her territory.
She is also a guardian of the Munayki –Uma House in San Agustín (Huila), a space dedicated to the investigation and the exchange of ancestral knowledge, where she has been developing work from art and ancestral medicine. Sayari collaborates in pedagogical processes aimed at strengthening the art and language of her community.
She is the creator of the Warmi Samay project (spirit of woman), a pedagogical initiative around issues that involve the feminine body, the cycles of life, and caring for the territory.
More about the Warmi Samay project and theYanakuna Territory
Bilingual Cristian Cayupán is recognized as the poet with the most potential in the area of Mapuche and Indo-american Literature Studies. He lives in Southern Chile, in the city of Temuco, in the José Cayupán community of the Mequewe area. Cayupán has published several collections which include Poemas Prohibidos (prohibited poems) (2007), Reprimida Ausencia (repressed absence) (2009), Usuarios del silencio (users of the silence) (2012), Tratado de Piedras (treaty of rocks) (2014),Terruño (homeland) (2014), El hombre y su piedra (the man and his rock) (2016), Apología del barro. Fotra ñi llellipun (clay’s apology) (2017). In collaboration with Ana Ñanculef, Cayupán has also co-authored a book of ethnographic research entitled KuifikeZugu. Discursos, relatos y oraciones rituales en mapuzugun (discourses, stories and ritual prayers in Mapuzugun)(2016).
He is the manager and editor of the Magazine Comarcas. Literatura sin Fronteras. (borderlines, literature without borders)which has been in continuous publication since 2011. Above, Cayupán brings together the unedited poem Piedra Humana, an ontological project that continues the path of the poet’s previous works and is immersed in an “aesthetic of the sacred” that brings traditional Mapuche knowledge and types of speech into the present. He includes epew (mythical tales) and other ancestral canonical forms in which beings are one with the cosmos dissolving and fusing in the energies which they inhabit. This perspective is part of the art and literature of present day Mapuche, whether as a challenge to preserve and represent this mode of inhabiting the cosmos as a vital experience, or as cultural revitalization and/or political stand of cultural resistance.
Throughout his texts, Cayupán achieves a challenging and complex project, that writes into its core a cosmogenic narrative from the rakizuam Mapuche –ancestral traditional thinking– which creates a transformative reality that expands from the rüme fütra kuifi, the time of origins, until it returns to itself in the events of the fantepu mew- the present. Between these axes, Cayupán maintains a constant movement without end. In this cosmic happening the poetic voice seeks to express how life transforms and how humankind goes through the world, establishing the immeasurable as a measure and border of all beings.
It first dwelt in caves
where the myth emerged
it was the fire of every foundation
chasing away darkness
It was a pillar of every fire pit
rite of all mortals
It deserted from silence
It stripped its old garments off
It paraphrased within a breath
the first thing it said:
– here is water
flour and yeast
(In other words: The Word)
Then the stone spoke harshly
Filtered voices through wind
strained its design
Presage of becoming
Was the word perhaps
continuation of fire
and mediator of stones?
Wherever you go
you will find the word within you
We are fire and earth still
Word – People
pilgrim of empty fields
the earth our room
The night finally became day
transparency of all words
light of future
Path of humanity.
Things… Its meanings
A person was just a single handful of rocks thrown to the ground
that mystery of always being in the world
searching for a meaning in things
as if things give meaning to people
The four seasons of life
give a specific use for objects
which become part of people with time
expanding their way of conceiving the universe
The newly made figures
always look like the first light
described by a prophet
They began to name objects in a different way
languages were born and thus crafts
All things originated in the shadows
The saddlemaker, for example, learned to write knife with his blood
thus the craftsman sculpted the sad heart of the forest
the blacksmith crushed his noble fists in the forge
because shadow is the soul of things, ones own marrow
I withdraw from time
and I start a new one
with my own way of interpreting things
If destiny was to go back to the beginning
naming things with the forefinger
Then, people take
what a life on earth takes
in sprouting their seeds.
People are garments of ancient gods
Shadows that are pushed to the ground
with that bestiality that we do not comprehend
they are not a premonition of another creation
but auspice of our own existence
Who do we stop being when we are born
lighting up that mysterious hand?
The gods, on their behalf, hid their shadows
on immovable rocks
The one who manages to move the mother rock
also find the secrets of that species
But gods extinguished when people emerged
their deities were deposited in clay tombs
Then the written word came
next to the text of the forbidden fruit
The fear of snakes were developed in remote memory
in the first letter of the family tree
that is why today people seek something that they have never lost
but have been led to believe that they’ve misplaced it.
The Tree of Life
The first path was a handful of rocks
emerging from the earth
where Man depended upon himself
to give direction to his steps
seeking the valley of life
Upon discovering language
he traced a map in the soil
and in the same clay he wrote his history
The tree of life
is a path carved in the memory of Man
where its wood shavings celebrate
as they reunite with the early memory
A tree founded upon the root of the Word
where its trunk rises to the height of being
A strappy well-built tree rising up to the universe
Man is a path with no way out
seeking his days without end
On that same crossing
the way grows longer and burns out within
like a dull hand seeking the origin of the paternal light
The tree that we seek each day is within us
in the most intimate realm of our being.
The ceremony of each day
The boy swallows his father as usual
and it seems that every day
the father comes out from the depths of that child
to help knead the bread that the mother leaves in the oven
because she wants to see that someone eats that ancient food
placed on the recently set table
That is the purest rite of passage from child to man
Be swallowed from the guts
and allow the father live inside his own son
so that the past that remains in his memory is alleviated
which is the origin of all family communion
When one makes a pact blood trembles
how the spell reenacts
because in the end each ceremony has its own time
where people last as long as their family tree endures on Earth.
I Am Not Here Yet
I am a wounded word
lacking in language and space
An unspeakable word
that did not find a human group
to be spoken by
A word unsuspected by any mouth
In which era did we cease to be plants
to incarnate the word
matter and spirit
naked, docile, humans?
The House in the Rock
If I made this rock my home
it was merely to discover the light that is born within her
for in every home there is a lamp made of words
that lights up with the beginning of each season
I stopped to observe the light that emerges from the stone
for in the eve of a man
things are valued in a different way
Upon speaking it, the light becomes more ancient
for there is something within her that makes us susceptible
upon seeing her through Man
I see myself in the stone when I see her foundations
because her light courses through the hands of the stonemason
and transcends the efforts of those who raised her up
with just one word written upon the earth
This rock is the shadow of a place that does not exist
a half closed door that illuminates the craggy knob
in a manner that precedes the light
When one looks at the beams with the eyes of another
it is to make his household sturdy
for from the roots of the rock is a roof sheltering clarity
I walk around its outskirts seeking an answer
that sign that we recognize from before birth
and one feels some footsteps within
such ancient tracks within himself
it was as though he knew them by heart
for those footsteps were made by his ancestors
Someone calls to me through a mirror
and this voice seems to approach
but as it moves, it moves away within me
When the mirror that was permanently in our house cracks
the mystery that lies within it breaks apart as well
for it is a cave of glass now living within the human genus
Who but time rebuilds its walls?
deepening it each time
The time that scarcely passes is nothing more than a delayed present
and the past that begins there is another layer of ash in the memory of Man
because the house goes back to the origins of being.
She is an academic at the Universidad de la Frontera (“the University of the Border”), located in the city Temuco, Mapuche territory, in Chile. She is a State professor of Spanish, with a masters in literature and a degree in applied political sciences. She has investigated, written, and edited books and numerous articles about Mapuche literature and art in mainstream magazines.
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.)
Visual modern art in the Mapuche cultures emerges strongly in the early 1990’s. Linked with the processes of cultural resistance and the recovery of identity, this art establishes a symbolic border with the cultural and political production that has been imposed by the Chilean State. Nevertheless, like all modern art from this community, it adopts materials, techniques and canons from outside cultures, particularly those which interweave with those from the ancestral symbolic realm. Within this process, Francisco Vargas Huaiquimilla (Calbuco 1989), under the pseudonym Kütral (fire), manifests himself as a multifaceted creator who, within a short career, has contributed a solid and disruptive project to the Mapuche artistic scene that problematizes the ethical, sociocultural, and political dimensions and neoliberal version of colonial culture.
Vargas’ proposal highlights a constant search to break canonized forms and settle on the borders of artistic genres, generating a bridge between literature, the visual, and performance. Operating from the insistence of complaint, Vargas aims to recreate multiple versions of feeling and meaning in his work.
In the literary field, Vargas has three books: the poetic “book object” Factory (2016), the collection of poems Troya es tu Nombre (“Troya is your Name” 2019), and the narrative text or “book-script-installation” LaEdad de los árboles (“The Age of the trees” 2017). In the field of the visual, his installations and photographic works expose the violence of a State that marginalizes and endangers the existence of the Mapuche peoples.Conscious of the process of the invisibilization of these events, Vargas constructs a viewer-oriented visual narrative, through a textual strategy that anchors details of the context in a composition of realistic images poetically stitched together.
The images we have selected here evidence the conflict between the Chilean State and Mapuche nation: original peoples whose territory has been invaded and stripped, later privatized, enclosed with wire, and, through an economistic logic of production and land depredation, has been seen for its market value alone. This perspective opposes the community vision of the Mapuche cultures, whose worth is found in subsistence and a sacred connection to and respect for the natural environment.
The aesthetic device of Francisco Vargas’ images emphasizes the neoliberal imprint of Chilean culture on Earth Mother (Ñuke Mapu) and the Mapuche. The artist accentuates this imprinting process with irony, through the resources of corporeality and advertising. He gives rise to a visual strategy that operates through inversion, by reiterating how superficial ethics proceed. The reinterpretation of the symbols of merchandise stands out in his work, for instance, when he transforms the logo of the multinational business Nike to Ñuke (Mother Earth), or of Puma to Pangui (puma, in Mapudungun, the Mapuche language); thereby alluding to the invasion of the radiata pine and eucalyptus monocultures that are carried out by the transnational forestry companies established in the territory, monocultures that progressively push back the native forest, dry the soils, and consequently strip wildlife and Mapuche communities from their native land.
In the words of Francisco Vargas Huaiquimilla:
“The performative exercise Cosecha(“Harvest”) is an investigative work about the Mapuche Huilliche body and movement in closed spaces, the structures of the trees, timber, forests, and systems of mass production: a study of the breaking of the body, memory, and their movements” (Dossier Notes 2020).
This provocative work impacts the public space through its stark realism, insofar as it seeks to affect the senses and through them shock spectators, making present the memory of an everyday violence which is quickly consumed in the news, but does not transform cultural relationships. The work opens with signs that mobilize the synesthetic associated with the physical and psychological pain of the victims and offers testimony to this particular historical relationship. An example of this artistic proposal is the work La edad de los árboles (“The Age of the Trees”), a video-script text that exposes repression on the part of the police. The work alludes to a Mapuche minor, who despite being subdued by the police, is shot with 180 pellets from a distance of fifty centimeters (one and a half feet). This event is one the artist prints as a tattoo on his own back, denouncing the territorial conflict that has been maintained since the founding of the Chilean State.
About Mabel García Barrera
Mabel García Barrera is an academic at the Universidad de la Frontera (“the University of the Border”), located in the city Temuco, Mapuche territory, in Chile. She is a State professor of Spanish, a master of literature, with a degree in applied political sciences. She has investigated, written, and edited books and numerous articles about Mapuche literature and art in mainstream magazines.
About the translator
From the Appalchian mountains, some of the most ancient in the world, 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.
Inin Niwe (Pedro Favaron) and Chonon Bensho (Astrith Gonzales) are spouses and enrolled members of the Native Community of Santa Clara of Yarinacocha, Shipibo-Konibo nation (Peruvian Amazon), where they founded the Nishi Nete Traditional Medicine Clinic, and an ethnobotanical garden. In recent years, through community work, Chonon and Pedro have shared their oraliture, documentaries, paintings, embroidery and conversations, with those who believe that creativity and clear words can heal the environmental and social imbalance in the Amazon and the world. As a response to the difficulty of making the Shipibo-Konibo ways-of-being intelligible, Chonon and Pedro have chosen a myth-poetic vocabulary to build an intercultural bridge: “the visionary doctors”, “the keepers of the medicines”, “the world of the Inka”, “the liquid wisdom”, “the kené designs”, “the perfumed people”. In constant learning with the Onanya –the community doctors/healers–, Chonon’s images and Pedro’s words/songs seem to be forged in a “vegetal time”.
Today, with the permission of the Ibo –the Keepers of the medicinal plants–, we present the poem “Chaikonibo”(translated into English by our dear Lorrie Jayne), where Chonon and Pedro translate into a “clear language” a complex experience of purging and reverie. In times of neo-shamanism, cultural appropriations, and migrations of the plants themselves, Pedro and Chonon remind us of traditional understandings of fasting and the link with the forest, as well as the responsibility of the legitimate doctors with the healing of the world. In this poem, the roots are not planted on ethnic, racial, national or religious identities, but on the Earth Mother and memory. Whoever forgets the territory, the river, the community, is at risk, because how can the forgetful-one use the visionary plants?
Thanks to Chonon Bensho and Inin Niwe (Pedro Favaron) for sharing this poem with Siwar Mayu. Inin Niwe (Pedro Favaron) has published Caminando sobre el abismo: vida y poesía en César Moro (Lima 2003); the novel Puka Allpa (Lima 2015); the poetry collections Movimiento (Buenos Aires 2005), Oeste oriental (Lima 2008) and Manantial Transparente (Mexico 2016); and the research Las visiones y los mundos: sendas visionarias de la Amazonía occidental (Amazon Center for Anthropology and Practical Application, 2017).
koshi shinayabo ikana iki,
Jatibi jaton koshi,
jaton onan shinan,
joa iki Nete Iboibakeax
jainoaxribi rao meranoax.
Jaboan onana iki yoyo iti
Jatona iká iki koshi joi.
Tsoabi yoyo ibiresyamakatiai
Moatian ikatikanai yoyo iosmabo,
Nai iká iki
jonibo yoyo ikatikanai
Jatibi ikatikanai jaskara joiyabires.
ninkapaokatikanai noa yoyo ikai.
Jaboribi yoyo ipaonike.
jonibo axea iki
jakon akin shinanax,
jaton mai oroti,
jakon akin chopa saweti,
Jabo japaonike jaon rarokanai
Jakon akin shinayamakana iki.
Ikana iki yoitimabo,
jakonmai yoyo iki.
Jaskatax Inka pikota iki,
Kaa iki janbiribi jai
Kakin boa iki
jan jato axeakeskati jakanabo.
The ancient ones
had strong thoughts
The unfathomable strength
of their wise thoughts
came from the Great Spirit
and the influence of medicinal plants.
They knew how to speak
with the greatest of trees
with the forest,
with the birds and the river,
with the lakes and the sun.
For them, the word was strong.
No one spoke just to speak.
The ancient ones were silent
neither anxious nor restless.
told us of the time
when the world was new.
The sky was not
far from the earth,
mankind could speak
with the sun and the stars.
Everyone spoke the same language.
the beings that walk upon the land,
the beings that fly
and the trees
listened to our word.
They spoke too.
In a great lake
lived the Inka
near to human beings.
The kind-hearted Inka
taught the ancient ones
to live well,
tending the land,
without ever quarreling,
The ancient ones
with happy thoughts.
They lived with gratitude
toward Father Sun
and with the Inka as well.
But after some time
they began to behave
like bedevilled children.
They no longer thought well.
They were disobedient
and they spoke in an improper way.
So the Inka left,
and went to live
in a different world,
a good world,
a beautiful world.
He took with him
the humble and generous
men and women,
those who had lived well,
as he had taught them.
Eara bewai yakake
Inka mai masene
nete xaman paniax
nai neten paniax
nai nete xamanbi
jakon nete kepenkin
inka nete kepenkin.
Ea bewa bewai
mato non ninkakin
nato bewa bewai
nato metsá bewakan
nato jakon bewakan
koshi shinan bitaana
ani shinan bitaana
non Inka netenxon
non bari papaka
koshi Inka meraya
rao ibo meraya
jakon Inka meraya.
Ea riki Onanya
jakon xawen Onanya
Inka bake Meraya.
Nokon metsá maiti
inkan metsá maiti
Jaton neten yakaxon
I am seated and singing
in the perfect land of the Inka,
in the depths of the heavens,
suspended in the sky world,
hanging in the most high,
in the depths of the firmament,
opening with my words
the perfect world of the Inka
I am singing a song
To the health of the sensitive beings
Intoning a profound song,
a song of unfathomable beauty,
a compassionate song that heals
that carries the strength and spirit
and infinite thoughts
from the world of the Inka,
from the soul of our Father Sun,
and the great and wise Inka.
from the spiritual Keeper of the medicine
from the wise and generous Inka.
I am a great healer
as were the Inka
a wise and good man,
a son of the enlightened Inka.
I wear a beautiful crown,
a beautiful Inka crown,
that holds the whole world
in its lovely designs.
In that good world I am seated
while my soul journeys
with the force of my beautiful song,
with the depth of my song.
Banekana iki non papabo
jawen awinbo, jawen bakebo
kikini tetaibo ikatikanai.
Jabo oxas oxayamakatikanai
tsinkikatikanai karo jan yoa ati aki,
akatikanai nonti akin,
yomerakatikanai yoinabo, yapabo.
Ikatiai jainoa jawekiatibo
Ikatiai rao jaweki onanbo
chikish raonti onanbo.
Benakatikanai janin jiwi
Tsekakatikanai ja bichi
janra poró chokai,
ja iki nato jiwi ibo
nama meran noa axeai.
Jaskarakopi non yosibo
Nii raobo ikatia jan raomekanaibo.
Jawetianki ja bichi tsekakanai
yoyo ikatikanai ja jiwibetan,
jakon akin yoikin
“Ea mecha imawe,
ea rayá imawe,
jakon shinaya ea inon,
nokon kaibobo jawebi mashkatimakopi”
Ja jiwi ibon
jawen jointi oinxon;
jakon shinayarin ixon
jawen ani onan shinan.
jainoaxribi jene xamaori.
Jawen poyanbo aniai
bari papa neteorikeabo,
jainoaribi ochaoma Nete Ibora
joai jawen jakon raoboya
jawen onan shinani
Westiora yakatibo jakatiai
jatonbiri jakoni jaabo.
Jawin kaiboboiba merati
Paro ikatiai moatianbi
jaskatax jaton kaiboboiba merati.
wetsa kaibobo shinantaanan.
Yoikatikanai non yosibaon
Iikinbi westiora ainbaon
meraa iki parokexakea
metsashoko jene ainbo oxaa
iká iki jawen yora
Jainoax ainbo jawen xobon karibaa iki,
nokoxon tanaa iki ja oina kewebo.
Jainxon peokana iki
Parokeska iki kené
Ja iki ianki tekitabo
Jatiribibo iki mayakené,
Jatibi jawen metsabo,
jake jawen mestá kenebo.
Noa riki paromea jonibo.
noa jati atipanyamake
jake wetsa jonibo
ja paro jonibobetan
In this world
our parents remained
their wives and children,
building homes, planting gardens.
In order to live
were hard workers.
before the sun had risen.
Women of old
gathered kindling to cook,
tended the gardens,
swept the house ,
moulded the clay,
wove their clothes
and embroidered them with designs.
Men of old
hunted and fished.
The river and forests
gave them all that they needed,
they lacked nothing.
The old ones
knew the medicinal plants
that cured laziness.
The bark of the Tangarana kaspi
made them hard-workers anew.
They searched for a Tangarana tree
by its own ants.
Cut the bark
and soaked it
This is what they drank
and later they fasted
The youth drank as well
(the bark of the Tangarana)
so they could be hard workers.
They also knew
the Sarcha Garza tree
that grows on the edges of lakes.
A fragrant tree
that smells of cinnamon
and holds great knowledge.
A purgative is prepared
with it´s bark
that cleans the stomach
and wakes the body
and makes a good worker
and makes a good fisherman
like the heron,
who is the Keeper of that tree
who transmits his skills and knowledge to us
This is why the old ones
were good fishermen.
The trees cured them.
The old ones healed themselves with the land.
When they stripped the bark
of a medicinal tree
they talked with the tree,
they spoke with respect
and asked to be taught:
“Make me a good fisherman,
Make me a hard-working man,
a man of good thought,
so that my family may lack nothing.¨
The spiritual Keeper of the tree,
listened to them,
looked into their hearts:
if they had good thoughts
he transmitted his strength to them,
and his great wisdom.
The tree roots
bury themselves in the water
and beneath the water as well.
Their branches reach to the sky.
From the earth,
from the rain,
from the light of Father Sun,
from the depth of the sky
and from the Great Spirit
come the good medicines
of the plants of the forest.
The old ones lived
close to the forest.
They knew it well.
Each family lived
a peaceful life
far-removed from the others.
They traveled in canoes
to visit relatives.
For the old ones, the rivers
were the paths
that united families.
In their thoughts,
in their hearts,
they felt happiness
contemplating the river,
remembering their relatives.
Our grandparents told
that in the beginning of the world
the ancient ones were not familiar
with the kené designs.
Until a woman
found a gorgeous siren sleeping,
on the river’s shore.
Her body embroidered
with designs of great beauty.
The woman returned to her home;
upon arrival she drew the designs.
From that time forward
the ancient ones began
to embroider their clothes with designs.
The kené designs are like rivers
that unite the lakes
to the people.
Some are circular,
turning and flowing
All that is beautiful,
all that is medicinal,
all that is good
is covered with kené designs.
We are people of the river.
The Shipibo konibo
we cannot live
far from the rivers.
The grandparents used to tell
that in the depths of the river
live other humans
great wise ones.
The ancient Meraya
sunk in the water
and they went to live
with the spirits of the river
so to learn from them.
Binding myself to the depths of the river
forming a deep connection
with the depths of the water,
with the deepest depths of the great river.
My song finds its way
toward the depths of the water.
Beautiful woman of the waters
with a body embroidered with designs
of indescribable beauty,
embroidered with lovely and deep designs.
We speak to her (the woman of the water)
that she might grant us
her infinite knowledges
her strong thoughts
that she might welcome us in the world of water,
open the wisdom of the liquid world
that we might receive its strength
and its beautiful medicinal songs.
Beside her we learn
the wisdom of the water world
of the world of embroidered designs,
the depths of the river world.
Over the spiritual boat
(of the woman of the world of water)
I am walking
from the hidden territory
in which she became a human being,
where the spirit of the water world was born,
the strong spirit of water,
who cares for the rivers and lakes,
the depths of the aquatic world.
The wise water woman
is an enlightened being,
with extraordinary gifts
who rules over the dragons,
Those colossal serpents
live in the world of designs,
in the lovely landscape,
in the depths of the river.
Jawetianki moatian jonibo
niimeran peotashoko akax.
Tsekakatikanai jiwi bichibo,
ani onanyati jiwibo,
Jakoni yoyo ikatikanai
ja rao ibobobetan:
“Ea ani shinan meniwe,
min panati ea meniwe,
maton bewá ea onanmawe,
isinaibo en jato benxoanon,
nokon kaibobo akinon,
Maton neterao ea kepenxonkanwe,
eara raomis ikasai
Rao jene xeakatikanai
jainoaxribi peibaon nashikatikanai.
koshi shinaya ikasi
“Eara ikai ani Onanya joni,
Kikin koshi Onanya,
Nete Ibon bake”.
Jawetianki jawen yoraxama
moa kerasma iketian,
jawen shinan jakon-ira
Jawen namameran axeai,
jaton koshi menii,
jaton onan shinan menii.
Jaweratoboki Onanya ikasai
iti atipanke jakon shinanya
jaton rao bewakan.
non kayara kai
mai xaman kai
onanti jawetio chichorin ixon
jawen jene neteoribi;
rao nete ibobo,
ja basi samata jonibo,
Ja joné jonibo
kenyamai non jakonma itsa.
Xeteti jake raopei inin
jakon shinaya jonibo,
jakoni jaa jonibo,
jakon joe Netemeran
jawen jointiabi .
Ja joné jonibo
Kikin raro shinayabo jakanke,
Rao inin poataibo
ani jema ochó
Akanai jatonribi ani xeatiakin
Jawetianki westiora Onanya
aribakanai jaton bake bimakin.
Jabaon jawetianbi potayamai,
isinaibo benxoatikopi .
Kikin metsashoko ainbobo
Joxo tena yorayabo.
Jawen rayos Onanya
meniai jawen koshi,
jawen onan shinan,
When the ancient ones
wanted to be healers and wise on
they would go live far away (from their families)
in small retreats in the forest.
They cut the bark from the trees
which had spiritual force
and from the trees with great knowledge
like the ayahuma and the catahua.
They spoke with them respectfully,
with the Keepers of the medicine
(to ask them to give them their strength,
“Give me a grand thought,
give me your protection,
teach me your songs
to cure the sick,
to help my family.
Open the medicinal world,
I want to be a healer
a wise one like the ancient ones.”
They drank the medicinal water
(in which the bark chips had been soaked)
or they bathed with the leaves.
They ate nothing
for many days
and then fasted
for some months
without sexual relations,
in this way they suffered
with the strong thought
“I am going to be a great healer,
a strong healer,
a good healer,
son of the Great Spirit.”
When the depths of his body
and his thoughts were peaceful
the medicinal spirits
In dreams they taught,
they gave him strength;
they gave him wisdom.
Those who wanted to be healers,
had to have a strong mind
and want to cure
with the medicinal songs.
During the fast
our spirit travels
through diverse worlds:
sinks below the earth
with the roots of the medicine;
knows the deepest depths
of the world of waters;
as well as the mountains
the world of rocks
and the depths of the sky.
The spirit of the faster
travels through spiritual territories
of the Keepers of the medicinal world,
and visits the village of the Chaikonibo.
Where only those
who have fasted a long time,
who have bathed
with perfumed leaves may arrive.
The hidden spirits
don’t like bad smells.
One must wear the scent of a perfumed plant
They welcome only
those who think well,
who live in harmony
with the light of the Great Spirit
in their heart’s thoughts.
The hidden beings (Chaikonibo)
never argue among themselves.
They live contentedly,
emanating their aroma of plants,
in the deep forest,
in the creeks
far from cities.
Their clothes are adorned.
They hold celebrations
and dance hand in hand.
When a healer
comes across the Chaikonibo
they give him their daughters to marry.
They will never abandon him
and will help him
to heal the sick.
They are beautiful women
with very white skin, that gleams.
His wise father-in-law
gives him his strength,
gives him his knowledge,
to cure with compassion
all who ask help.
With the depth of my song
with the deep connection of the song,
with the profound medicine
of the beautiful song
I open the path singing
I go forth twirling and twirling
forming a song with designs,
with deep and lovely designs.
I am a traditional healer
a good and healing man,
an Onanya of great wisdom,
with a beautiful crown.
I have a profound crown
that vibrates resplendently
perfumed and brilliant
with a design of indescribable beauty.
I have a tunic as well,
a beautiful tunic,
a white tunic,
with lovely embroidered designs.
It is my embroidered tunic
that the hummingbird gave to me.
My soul rises up
and hangs in the boundless sky
opening the deepest depths
of the medicinal world.
I open the limitless world,
the beautiful, inexpressible world.
the world without evil, the world of good,
the world of medicinal aroma.
I link myself with the perfumed people,
with the soul of the Chaikonibo,
with the profoundness of this village
with its beautiful houses;
happy and fragrant women
twirl and twirl, dancing the mashá.
In that beautiful world
I have my wife
she is a lovely bird
everything in this world shimmers.
And my dear grandparents
sing with great happiness.
The spirit Keepers of the medicine
turn round and round from the deepest depths
with the soul of our beautiful songs.
I have the knowledge of the Meraya
just as the ancient ones had
and I am curing this man
and I am curing this woman
with the depth of my song,
and the depth of the medicinal world,
and the good word of the Great Spirit,
the medicinal word of God.
ikatikanai koshibo onan jonibo.
Jakatikanai Inkan jato axeakeska.
Rama Inka jake
Noa riki bakebo
Noa iti atipanke jatokeskaribi.
jake non jointiainko;
Non rao onanketian,
non jakon akin samaketian,
yosibaon noa namameran noa benai.
non onanyamaa parobaon;
noa onanmakanai icha jawekibo
Noa koshi menikanai,
jaton onan shinanbo,
jaton ani shinanbo,
tsonbi noa paketimakopi.
Ramara noa jake “moderno” netenko
ikaxbi noa shinabenoti atipayamake
jemabotiibi nato ani paron,
jatibitian koshi itikopi,
noa jati iki non rao ochoma,
ani nete namati.
non atipanke yoshinbo ishtomakin
Non jakon akin samaketian
Chaikonibaon noa axeati atipanke,
jaton koshi menikin,
jaton jakon shinanbo,
noa jakon jatikopi,
ikonshaman jonibokeska itikopi.
The ancient ones
were strong and wise.
They lived as the Inka had taught them.
The Inka now live
in another world,
in another river,
in a world that is different from ours,
in a good world
He never dies,
He is the Inka eternal.
We are children
of the ancient healers
and we can be as they have been.
live in our hearts;
and continue to sing
along with the enlightened Inka.
If we know our plants,
if we fast well,
the grandparents will visit us in dreams.
They journey with us
to unknown rivers
and they teach us many things
about medicinal plants.
They give us their strength,
their wise thoughts,
their infinite thoughts,
a good word
so no one can defeat us.
Now we live in the modern world
but we can never forget
In order to survive
as a nation of this great river
we must remain strong,
close to our medicines,
dreaming of the boundless worlds.
With the smoke of tobacco
We must dispel the demons
that would destroy us.
If we fast well
the Chaikonibo can teach us,
give us their strength,
their good thoughts,
that we may live well
as true human beings.
About the translator
Lorrie Jayne, a collaborator in Siwar Mayu, teaches Spanish, Portuguese, and Personal Narrative in the Languages and Literatures Department at University of North Carolina Asheville (USA). She lives with her husband and daughters in the Appalachian Mountains where she enjoys plants, people, and poetry.
For more about Chonon Bensho, Pedro Favaron and the Shipibo-Konibo nation
Manuel Tzoc Bucup is a poet, visual, and performance artist from Iximulew (Guatemala). His work is intersectional, using poetic language and visual art to explore social realities, focusing on gender, identity, the body, origins, memory, language, image, object, sexual dissidence, and all possible combinations of these. He is self-taught, having learned through workshops, certificate programs, and readings of contemporary art and literature. In addition to self-published poetic objects, he has published a number of books in alternative presses, and his texts have appeared in literary magazines and anthologies throughout Abya Yala. Further, he has presented his visual art in galleries and contemporary art shows locally and internationally.
He is one of the founders of Maleta Ilegal, a cartonera editorial, that is a small, independent and handmade publishing outfit that carries out limited print runs. He is well-known for his queer, erotic poetry and his poetic book objects, and recently he spearheaded the publication of one of the first queer poetry collections in Central America, Antología LGBTIQ+ Guatemala (e/X 2018). Tzoc’s overall approach to the edition and publication of his verses is informed by both the practical need to forego censorship and to ensure that his work is also experienced in a sensory manner. This also means that he shortens the distance between creator and public, lending his verses a physicality that they would otherwise lack as mere printed words. For the poet, the feel of the paper, the impact of the images, and the experience of handling the poetic object are all a part of the experience, and the reader is prompted to reflect on the fetishization of the book, and, ultimately, the word.
His latest collection, Wuj (December 2019), recreates an epistolary experience of sorts. The poet-maker crafts a mere fifty copies of a loose-leaf poetic object, made out of richly textured paper, with font resembling typewritten text, all enclosed in an envelope that has been sealed. To obtain a copy, one must contact Tzoc directly, and its delivery is done by an international courier (Guatemala has no national postal system) or in-person (it should be noted that getting hold of a copy of Wuj has been impacted by the current global pandemic). The verses therein reflect on our relationship to social media (“Adiós Facebook! Cierro mi cuenta contigo ☹️” Goodbye Facebook! I’m closing my account with you ☹️) and the internet (“San Google cómo se encuentra tu espíritu cyborg en este momento?” Saint Google how is your cyborg spirit at this moment?); to writing and being read (“Ejercicios de escritura” Writing exercises, “A los lectores” To the readers, and “Wuj”); to Maya dress (“Kat Waj” I love you); and to urban life (“Memoriales urbanos” Urban memorials), to name a few. For this edition of Siwar Mayu, Tzoc presents us with unpublished verses that reflect on the current global pandemic: what it means to be alone, to face fear, illness, and death.
A selection of 5 poems from an unpublished collection tentatively entitled, “Strawberries and Failure” by Manuel Tzoc. Written during the COVID-19 global pandemic for the electronic magazine Siwar Mayu, Guatemala 2020.
Please follow this link, and enjoy four more of Tzoc’s poems. They cover a wide range of topics, written over many years. They speak to the complexity of the human existence, touching on everything from the inner child to medicinal plants and queerness.
For eight more moving poems by Tzoc, each steeped in emotion, please visit Vagabond City, a digital space which features “poetry, art, nonfiction, interviews, and reviews by marginalized creators.” (Vagabond City 2020)
Explore the galleries of Maleta Ilegal, learn about the philsophies behind “texts without borders,” and get to know the authors and artists. They support creators through their alternative publishing style, allowing for unedited and uncensored content. You can find more of Tzoc’s work there, including De Textos Insanos (From Insane Texts).
A few weeks ago, we shared words with Edinson Quiñones, an artist of Nasa ancestry, from Cauca Colombia. Edinson spoke with us from his Nasa territory, where he is currently “unlearning” at the Universidad Autónoma Indígena Intercultural (UAIIN) and leading the trans-indigenous project, “Popayork.” Through the earpiece of my cell phone in Tokiyasdi/Asheville (Cherokee territory, the United States), I can hear the clucking of chickens and the hustle and bustle of the Andean countryside. Edinson holds a degree in Visual Arts from the University of Cauca and a Master’s degree in Integrated Arts with the Environment from the same institution. He has held twelve individual exhibits and participated in more than fifty collective exhibitions. He is a member of the Collective 83 with whom he has curated and maintained the Salón Internacional Indígena Manuel Quintín Lame (2014-2020). Currently, Edinson is studying the series, “The Rehabilitation of Mother Earth,” where his first objective is to unlearn the colonial notions that isolate art from the community and create the false idea of a “select public.”
Anyone who has attended his performances and workshops, knows that, since 2003, Edinson has been recovering the steps of his elders through a visceral creative process that includes not only identity, but also the faces of the war. “I was a spirit without a guide, Brother”, he says to me, “carrying out rebellious projects to heal myself.” In 2012, after multiple trips and exhibitions, Edinson’s grandmother, a midwife and traditional Nasa medicine woman, died. While he and his mother processed this loss, Edinson began to approach, in a deeper way, the coca leaf, and the wounds from narcotraffic in the territory of his own ancestors. His umbilicus and placenta, as is the custom of many of the ancestral peoples of Abya-Yala, were buried by his grandmother, healer and pulse reader in the community. Edison’s art blossoms at the crossroads of coca, death and territory.
For Edinson, using the wood and pigment of coca looks into the poetics of nature. But to do so also means confronting global misinformation regarding the plant, the twisted reality that surrounds the consumption of cocaine (0.5 gm of alkaloid from 100 gm of the leaf), as well as the trafficking, and violence that radiates from this imbalance. Those who have visited the Gold Museum in Bakata/ Bogota (Colombia) or theCasa del Alabado Museum in Quito, are aware that many of the ancient pieces, from more than 2000 years ago, represent the poporo and the zocalo (instruments still used today for the ingestion of coca among the peoples of the Sierra Nevada of Santa Marta), and the faces and bodies of the elders seated, cheeks stuffed with coca.
For Edison, as for millions of native people from the south of Abya- Yala, coca (ayu, mambe, kintu) has been and continues to be the key to composing themselves, in order to find and share the right word, to analyze and weave communally, and to show gratitude for the abundance of the Earth Mother. To call coca, “a drug” is a form of disorienting, uprooting, and distancing ourselves from ourselves. The responsibility of the European pharmaceutical industry in the decontextualization of the ancestral sense of the sacred leaf is revealed in the installation, If it’s Bayer, it’s good. This art teaches the importance of returning to ourselves.
When I asked Edinson which project he would like for us to highlight in Siwar Mayu, he responded that, curiously, he always returns to the year 2006 at the VI Festival de Performance de Cali (Colombia), where, after tattooing the image of a god jaguar/Spirit Lord of coca on his right shoulder blade, he performed the removal of the image by scarification. It seems that what remains of the performance is a photograph of an event. But what happens to the artist’s body? And what happens in the collective body? Talking with Edison, I learn what happened next: nine months healing and dialoguing with his mother, a painful process through which he had to re-learn every aspect of daily life (how to sleep, how to bathe himself), and later, the constant remembering in his own body of the primary intention. A memory to last a lifetime. Those works around the God of Coca forcefully break into the physical body to destabilize the Western epistemology. “You have to uproot the past from behind in order to see it in front of you,” he tells me, and I think about the Andean nayrapacha, “My mother, also a healer, didn’t understand why I harmed myself.”
This is what’s hard for a public that lacks care and respect to process. How to do a performance with bullets? Quitexa is the name of this work of Edinson’s. It means, “to bloom” in the Nasa Yuwe language. How to do a performance with a “coca” (the word carries a double meaning: it names the leaf, but also a wooden toy) made with the bones of victims of the war? This work is called, Violent Games. Not Everything Is a Game. “The community calls me crazy,” Edinson says laughing. “Mine is an autobiographical work that goes through distinct phases: trauma, healing, and positive transformation.”
Edison believes that this is a strategy for persisting in a society as conservative as Popayán. After centuries of internalized racism in Cauca and throughout Colombia, when words such as ‘Indian’ or ‘paez’ were used to shame those who were native to the place, today is a new day, when Edison can say, laughing, “I was searching in the air and not in the earth.” Now is the time to build from the collective, with the permission of the elders, making offerings before beginning projects, chewing coca and taking the yajé medicine, in order to inquire into the deep questions that arise from the ceremony itself. “From the law of origins there are secrets that should not be taken out of the community; it is the struggle of the artist to understand how they should share,” he explains.
This is why, in this bridge between spirituality, art, and academia, there are pieces that are not for exhibit, and words that are to be shared only at the exact moment, since “the intention begins in the seed,” as he tells me. The richness of the Cauca territory is now in the eye of extractive and private industries. Manuel Quintin Lame was one of the Nasa leaders who put up a fight against the wealthy sugarcane landowners. “Freeing the land”, Edison explains, “is to free her from the monoculture of sugar-to recover sovereignty over our food.”
“That’s why Popayork is my dream,” says Edinson, “Five years ago I began this vision and today the fruit trees are flowering, we have 30 chickens, and the bunnies have been born!” Popawork is more than a space for artist’s residencies- it is a life project that became clear to Edinson while taking yajé medicine. The way Edinson tells it, he intended to take a long trip outside of Colombia, but during the yajé ceremony he saw the place where he is now as if it were already his, that is to say, he saw the need to concentrate upon his own territory and to continue the spiritual processes that he had already been taking. Edinson invites me to reflect upon the figures that underpin the Colombian reality: out of 104.2 million hectares of territory, 48% is currently devoted to the extensive cattle ranching. That is only one clear example of the socio-economic imbalances brought about by the large landowners and the absence of an agrarian policy that would provide incentives for the farmworkers and Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities.
Today, after five years weaving Popayork together, Edinson is in the process of raising the maloca (ceremonial house) and seeding the sacred tulpa (fire pit). “And we must stoke the fire and never let it burn out,” he tells me. The elders come to Popayork and offer their medicines- Yanakuna, Misak, and Nasa communities pass through, and nothing leaves Popayork without permission and guidance. The materials that Edinson has used in the past, such as those in his work, Violent Games have been through a purging process, since bullets and bones need to be cleansed also. Before closing our conversation, he from the Andes (my territory as well), and I from the Appalachian Mountains, I ask Edison about the project he is currently working on. He answers: “seeing a garden in bloom is pure collective magic, Brother. That’s how it goes these days…” At the publication of this text, the indigenous guard of Cauca is leading the national Minga (community work) in Colombia, demanding that the government of Ivan Duque assumes the responsibilities of the state and protect the lives of social leaders besieged by armed outlaw groups.
For more about the Manuel Quintín Lame Exhibition / Collective 83
Curators, mingadores (collaborative workers), philosophers, and elders like Taita Lorenzo, are all welcome in this living, portable exhibition, which includes video, audio, poetry, copy, photography, and conversation. The objective of this effort is not only to make indigenous art visible, but to create a trans-indigenous dialogue that addresses the territory. In 2019, sixty-seven artists from twelve indigenous communities participated in the Salon which was held at the Universidad de los Andes (Bogotá, Colombia).
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