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

Tuuch, óol, and poetry. Pedro Uc

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

Selection and translation from Spanish © Melissa Birkhofer and Paul Worley

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

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

The Maya Belly Button

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 Corn husk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 Poetry
22 White road-the Milky Way



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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

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


Who weeps in the  ts’uju’uy’s23

dry tears? 

A drop roll across a stone slab

where it will never take root.

It’s the hungry

obesity of a motherless child.

Snatched up by indifference,

a mother’s kindness,

hidden behind a lie

the thighs of a weakened father.

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


Why do your eyes never fill with tears?

How do you satisfy your hunger?

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

I hope that drop doesn’t take much longer,

that it at least arrives before the Maya wind.”

23 A thrush-like bird

Náay in lu’umil

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

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

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


You shaped me in a young hand, 

like yúuya brooding over her dreams. 

You loved my body

with the strength of a man bewitched

like hunger for a warm tortilla.

Now, as I’m taken over by sleep,

my feet regain their life, 

my hands work, 

I recover my senses,

my soul unleashes its words.

There are those who die every night

when their hammock whispers to them,

but I don’t suffer that shame, 

dreams are my territory,

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

J Kolnáal

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

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

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

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


In your eyes, Maya farmer,

the ja’abin’s fruit isn’t boring,

if it is abundant,

it sketches out your granary,

if its leaves are sad,

your milpa will not burn well, 

if its fruit is scarce, 

you won’t have a milpa at all.

During times of drought the fruit of the ja’abin

isn’t just a sign of its spirit, 

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

The cry of the ts’uju’uy isn’t boring

to the ears of a Maya farmer,

if it holds a lot of pain, 

the drought has wounded its eyes

if its cry is intermittent

it is preparing for rain, 

if you have not prepared your milpa

you need to light your torch. 

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

is not just the dryness of its tears,

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

Sujuy siip

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

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

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

Offering to the Lords of the Forest

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

if our corn is GMO?

Our atole is sweetened with glyphosate,

our iswaaj is of industrial plastic,

our honey bears the seal of a strange foundation,

our banana leaves are full of oil,

if the fireflies that guarded our cenotes

have been replaced by military drones,

if mother ceiba was worn out

by a metallic conquistador of wind,

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

that announce the first news of death. 

But we are left with your altar,

the metallic structure of a museum 

will bow before the thighs of the ja’abin,

and our offering will recover its Maya strength.

Maya kaaj

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maya Town

Your feet fly across the earth,

which is how the memory of your lineage is written. 

The sun’s eyes walk every day

to harvest your grandfather’s history.

Under the ceiba, you gather the words

of the red man born in the east.

The guardian of death protects

your grandmother’s epic song from waste. 

The sentinel of night weaves a petate

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

In the middle of your wisdom’s tall jungle

sits the corn of your tongue.


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

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

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

The Wind’s Voice

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

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

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

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

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

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

it’s the joma’ of your words’ seeds,

it’s the colorful sabucán of your pozole,

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

The wind’s voice isn’t a false echo: 

it’s the cord on your sandals

you use to make your path as you walk

it’s the prophetic word of good news, 

it’s the omen in the xtakaay’s call.


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

For more about Pedro Uc

About the translators

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

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

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

Selection and translation from Spanish © Melissa Birkhofer y Paul Worley

Plains of Forgetfulness: Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez

Xti Saquirisan Na Pe / Planicie de olvido / Plains of Forgetfulness © Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez. Cholsamaj, 2020

Translations from Spanish © Paul Worley and Juan G. Sánchez M

Miguel Angel Oxlaj Cúmez is Maya kaqchikel, from Chi Xot (Comalapa, Guatemala). He holds a degree in Mass Media Communications from the University of San Carlos Guatemala, and a Specialization in Linguistic Revitalization from the Mondragon University of the Basque Country, Spain. He is a professor at the Maya Kaqchikel University –Chi Xot campus–, a union leader, and a social/digital activist for Indigenous languages. He is one of the organizers of the Virtual Latin American Festival of Indigenous Languages. Miguel is a representative for the Mayan, Garífuna and Xinka peoples (UMAX) before the University Reform Commission -CRU- of the University of San Carlos Guatemala, as well as a representative for the Fight against Racism, Xenophobia and other Forms of Discrimination Movement, of the Public Services International Organization -ISP- for Mexico, Central America and the Dominican Republic. He is a member of the collectives: Kaqchikela’ taq tz’ib’anela’, and Ajtz’ib’. In 2009 he was awarded with the National Prize for Indigenous Literatures B’atz, Guatemala. He has published: La misión del Sarima’ (“The Sarima’s Mission”, narrative), Mitad mujer (“Half woman”, narrative), and Planicie de olvido (“Plains of Forgetfulness”, poetry.) His poems have been published  in digital magazines and anthologies in both Kaqchikel and Spanish. He has written about one hundred stories for the Guatemalan Ministry of Education’s textbooks, which have been translated into Maya languages such as ​​Q’eqchi ‘, Mam, K’iche’, Tzutujil, Q’anjobal, Achi, Ixil. He writes poetry and narrative, both in Spanish and Kaqchikel –his native language.


Rïn chuqa’ xinaläx kik’in ri kaminaqi’

xinaläx chuxe’ ri ruk’isib’äl q’aqajob’q’aq’ ri ruk’wa’n wi ri kamïk

ri q’aq’ nib’ojloj toq nkamisan ja wi ri’ ri uxlak’u’x

ri nima oyowal yeruxe’qeq’ej wi konojel ri rurayb’el ri qak’u’x

ri q’aq’ nkamisan ruk’ojon wi ri taq qachi’

xa xe wi ri kib’is ri xe uk’we’x 

nuretz wi jub’a’ ri maq’ajan

rik’in ri ruk’isib’äl taq kich’ab’äl

rik’in ri ruk’isib’äl taq kitzij

rik’in ri ruk’isib’äl kitzij ri xkijosja’ kan

rik’in ri ruk’isib’el taq kib’ixab’änïk

rik’in ri ruchoq’omalil ri kisamaj kichapon

Rïn yenwak’axaj wi

ja ri’ wi ri lema’ ri yinkiwartisaj

[ronojel taq tokaq’a’]

ja ri’ wi ri achik’ ri yennataj toq nsaqär pe

ja ri’ wi ri itzel taq achik’ ri yik’asb’an

[rik’in xib’iri’il]

kik’in ri tzijonem ri’ xinwetamaj ri sik’inïk wuj

rik’in ri ronojel re’ xinwetamaj xinsik’ij ruwäch ri k’aslemal

rik’in ronojel re’ xinmestaj ri kikotem

Ja k’a ri’

toq ri e k’äs pa kik’u’x

majun wi yeq’ajan ta

juk’a’n wi yetzu’n apo

yetze’en wi rik’in janila b’isonem

nikijalwachij wi ki’

nkikusaj wi ri k’oj ri kikusan konojel

yeb’ixan wi chi re ri amaq’ ri ya’on chi kiwäch

chuqa’ yexuke’ wi chwäch ri ajaw ri man itzel ta tz’eton

Ja ri kojqan 

xa xe wi ri yek’ase’ 

Ja ri toq xinch’akulaj ri kamisarem

ri kamisanel q’aq’ chuqa’ ri ajch’ayi’, rije’ ri’ xe’ok wetz’anel

ri kamïk xok nuchajinel


jun peraj chi re ri nuwinaqil

k’a tal tajin nisk’in

ri jun chïk tanaj

nrajo’ ta nuyupij jun runaq’ ruwäch chi re rik’aslemal

pa runik’ajal re jun li’an re’ rulewal ri mestaxinïk


I graduated with the class of the dead

I was born under a hail of gunfire

rifles were peace

the war crushed our dreams

bullets sewed our mouths shut

and the silence was only broken by the cries

of the disappeared

by their fraying voices

their last words

their murmured goodbyes

their final advice

their reasons for fighting

I listened to them

they were my bedtime stories

[every night]

they were dreams I remembered in the morning

the nightmares that awakened me


the histories with which I learned to read

to understand life

to forget about happiness


those who thought they were alive

kept silent

averted their gaze

smiled sadly

disguised themselves as normal

put on whatever mask was fashionable

sang the anthem to a country that had been imposed on them

and prayed to an authorized god

The only plan

was to survive

That’s how butchery naturalized me

how I played at bombs and soldiers

how death became my main babysitter


part of me 

keeps screaming

while the other

tries to wink knowingly at life

on the plains of forgetfulness

Pachäj, Comalapa, Chimaltenango (Iximulew/Guatemala) © Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez


Man ajtz’ib chuqa man aj pach’un tzij ta

rik’in k’a jub’a’xa tzalq’omanel

ruma re samaj re’

man choj ta chi yanojin chuqa yatz’ukun

k’o ch’aqa b’ey nakamuluj ri xk’ulwachitaj yan

ja k’a ri yatzalq’omin jari’ ri b’ama jantape’ 

Naq’asaj pa jun chïk ch’ab’äl

ri ruju’il ruka’ ri ati’t toq njok’on

ri ruju’il ri rasaron ri mama’ toq nuchoy ri ruwach’ulew

ri mank’isel taq samaj pa akuchi’ tikil ri kape

ri janipe’ ralal ri juq’o’ wok’al juna’ ri e ejqan chi tapäl

ri ruq’axomal ri jantape’ yatiko’n po majun achike k’oltiko’n nak’ul

Man ajtz’ib chuqa man aj pach’un tzij ta

rik’in k’a jub’a’xa tzalq’omanel

naq’asaj pa jun chïk ch’ab’äl

ri kiq’axomal ri nimaläj taq che’ ri xechoyoyex

ri ruq’axomal ri raqän ya’ etzelan

ri ruk’ayewal ri ajxik’ ri majun rochöch ta

ri xtutzolij ri qate’ ruwach’ulew ruma ri ruq’axomal qamolon

Man ajtz’ib chuqa man aj pach’un tzij ta

rik’in k’a jub’a’xa tzalq’omanel


Neither writer nor poet

maybe a translator

Because this work

isn’t just the act of imagining or creating

sometimes it’s recreating

but it is more translating

Translating to another language

the compass of my grandmother’s grinding stone 

the rhythm of my grandfather’s hoe

the chores in the coffee grove

the weight of five centuries born on a mecapal *

the pain of sowing so much and reaping nothing

Neither writer nor poet

maybe a translator


the silent groan of the fallen tree

the funeral lament of the polluted river

the miseries of nestless birds

the immediate defensive reaction of our wounded mother

into another language

Neither writer nor poet

maybe a translator

* Mecapal: cord rested on the forehead, used to bear a load on the back

La milpa, la vida (“Cornfield, life”) © Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez

Ri wati’t ri nimalaxel

Ri q’ijul man xtikïr ta chi rij

xpapo’ chupam jun rub’olqo’t ri ruxoq’op

xsach ruk’u’x chuwäch ri ruwachib’äl ri rupo’t

xsach chupam ri rub’eyal ri jalajöj taqruyuchuj rutz’umal

Ri wati’t ri nimalaxel

Ri ruponib’äl

Xetal ruchapom rupub’axinïk ri pom

ruchapon runojsaxik ri kajulew

rik’in rujub’ulil 

juq’o’ taq oq’ej

juq’o’ ruwäch b’ixanïk ri man e tz’eqet ta

rik’in k’a jun sutz’aj rayb’äl ri e oyob’en

Ri cera ri jalajöj kib’onilal

kichapon ruk’atïk ri kib’isonem chuwäch ri Tyox

nikisaqirisaj ri rokib’äl ri kamïk

nikisaqirisaj rupaläj ri meb’el ri xe tal k’o 

ri man nib’e ta

kichapon rutijik ri tz’ilan rurayb’äl 

re jun amaq’ re’

[ri man choj ta nk’oje’]

Ri kaji’ jäl (saqijäl, q’anajäl, raxwach chuqa’ ri kaqajäl)

xetal e k’o chuwäch ri Tyox

tajin nkichajij ri ruq’ijul ri wa’ijal

richin manäq xketoqa ta chïk

richin manäq xkemestäx

richin xkexime’paki natab’äl ri winaqi’

ri xeti’ojir rik’in kisamaj ri qawinäq

Ruxara ri k’äy

ruk’u’x ri q’ijul

ruk’ulb’a’t ri q’axomal rik’in ri k’ayewal

akuchi’ [xa jub’a’ ma] xe tal nasäch awi’

(richin akosik, richin ab’ey, richin ab’is…)

ri xara ri’ xetal yakon chuxe ruch’atal ri Tyox

ruchapon ruch’amirsaxïk ri b’isonïk

yerukuxka’ ri 


taq animajinäq

[ri majun kitzolib’äl ta]

Ja ri rij rupo’t

Loq’oläj sik’iwuj

akuchi’ xutz’ib’aj ri runa’ojil

akuchi’ xupab’a’wi ri ruch’ob’oj

akuchi’ xuyäk kan ri rumanq’ajanil

akuchi’ xerupach’uj ri rutzij

K’a xetal rewan ri ruk’u’x ri aq’ab’äl

tunun k’a paruwi’ ri ruch’atal ri Tyox

royob’en toq rija’ xtiyakatäj chik pe

richin ruq’ejelonik ri nimaq’a’

[bisbissbisssbis, bisbissbisssbis

bisbissbisssbis, bisbissbisssbis]

Rub’ixanik pa bisis

xetal nq’ajan kik’in ri q’eqal taq jäb’

nroq’ej toq ye’ik’o ri al

nxik’an k’a kik’in

nib’e, nanimäj

ruma man tikirel ta nib’an ri tiko’n

chi rij ruq’ab’aj

ma x ata chi rij ruxikin

Ri wati’t, ri nimalaxel

Ja ri’ toq xluke’ qa ri rij

ja ri’ toq xsach rutzub’al

ja ri’ toq chajir ruwi’aj

ja ri’toq xetzaq el ri reyaj

Ronojel ri’ man ja ta rurijixik xub’ij

man ja ta ri raq’ab’äl xutzijoj kan

Xa jari’ wi rusipanik xuya’chi re ri k’aslem

Jari’ ri ruwinaqil xutzolij 

chwäch ri jalajöj kiwäch taq kamïkri xepe chi rij ri ruwinäq

Rusemetil ri ruq’ab’aj

ri pa’k xel pe chi rij ri ruxtuxil

ri chikopiwinäq ruch’ami’y

ri ruchajil rupo’t

man ja’ ta ri ruch’ojixinik ri meb’alil akuchi’ xya’ox wi

man ja’ ta chuqa’ ri retal ri ruq’axomal

Jari’ ri rija’tz ri xutik kan

ri rayb’äl xretaj ri chuwäch apo

Ri wati’t ri nimalaxel

Ri q’ijul man xtikïr ta chi rij

xpapo’ chupam jun b’olqo’t richin ri ruxoq’op

xsach ruk’u’x chuwäch ri ruwachib’äl ri rupo’t

xsach chupam ri rub’eyal ri jalajöj taq ruyuchuj rutz’umal

My grandmother the nimalaxel [1]

Time could not stand her

it stopped in the weaving of her xoq’op [2]

it was confused by the code of her huipil

it got lost in the labyrinths of her wrinkled skin

My grandmother, the nimalaxel…

Her incenser 

continues erupting copal

saturating the universe

with the aroma

of a million laments

of a thousand shapeless songs

of a cloud of hopes

The colored candles

continue burning their silence before the Tyox [3]

lighting death’s arrival

illuminating misery’s persistence

consuming the illusion


of a people


The four ears of corn (white, yellow, black, and red)

remain, intact, before the Tyox

watching over times of hunger

so they are not repeated

so they are not forgotten

so they remain tied

to the memories of men

who get fat with the sweat of our people

The jar of k’äy [4]

nectar of time

border between pain and misfortune

[almost] mandatory point of disconnection

(richinakosik, richinab’ey, richinab’is…) 

kept in reserve beneath the table of the Tiox

aging sorrows

dressing the



[without return]

Her huipil, the rijpo’t,

sacred book

where she wrote her memories

where she engraved her thoughts

where she expressed her silence

where she gave shape to her verses

It continues encrypting the afternoon’s code

And folded on the Tyox’s table

It waits for her to wake up

for the morning ceremony

[hmmhmmmhmmmhmm, hmmhmmmhmmmhmm

hmmhmmmhmmmhmm, hmmhmmmhmmmhmm]

Her hummed song 

still livening up the pouring rain

crying as the falcons pass

she flies with them

leaving, fleeing

because no one can plant the seed

on the back of her hands

or behind her ear

My grandmother, the nimalaxel…

Her curved back

her lost look

her grey hair

her deformed teeth

were not the symbol of her old age

nor the signs of her sunset

they were her offering to life

her [human] answer

to the bloodbath of pillage

The callus of her hands

her torn heels

her chewed up cane

her faded huipil

Were not a complaint about her impoverishment

nor a testament to her pain

They were a planted seed

the mathematical projection of every dream she harboured

My grandmother, the nimalaxel…

time could not stand her

it stopped in the weaving of her xoq’op

it was confused by the code of her huipil

it got lost in the labyrinths of her wrinkled skin

[1] Nimalaxel, literally means “sister or older sibling,” but can also be used to designate ones who “help” the Texel. The Texel is the female version of a town’s cofradía. In other words, Nimalaxel is a position of leadership and community service. 
[2] Hairbrand with a strip of fabric.
[3] Tyox is the Kaqchikel-ization of the Spanish “Dios” and this is how one refers to the “plurispiritual” altar where Chiristian images and elements of Maya spirituality are venerated.
[4] K’äy: liquor, literally “burning water.” 
Richinakosik, richinab’ey, richinab’is: reasons often said before having a drink. Literally "for your fatigue, for your path, for your sadness..." 

Volcanoes Agua, Acatenango and Fuego (Iximulew / Guatemala) © Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez

B’ix qaya’

Ri achi xuk’ol xuk’ol ri’

k’a xb’os na pe ri k’aqatläj ak’wa’l

ri nipuxlin rutzub’al

Xutukukej k’a ruxe’el ri ruch’ab’äq ri ruk’u’an pa ruk’u’x

xub’än utzil ri rupub’, xirukanoj, xiril, k’a ri’ xiruk’äq k’a pe wakami

kik’in re juläy etzelaneltaq tzij re’

Ri nuchi’ ruk’ojonwi ri’

choj ja’e wi yitikir ninb’ij a po chi re

Xaxe’ wi nink’utula’ qa chuwe

achike choq’oma

achike choq’oma chuwe rïn

Xinya’ k’a chinuwäch chi nintaluj

rik’in k’a jub’a’ k’o ri ntikïr nutzolij tzij chi re


-Majun niq’a’xta chuwe rub’anob’al ri kaxlan ajaw- xub’ij toq xqachop qa ri ruwaxulan

¿Achike rub’anik nub’än chi re toq ye’apon chwäch ri kik’aqatil ri ajawarem chuqa ri k’utunïk ri meb’a’?

¿Achike choq’oma junam rejqalem nuya’ chi ke wi retaman chi man e junam ta?

¿Achike k’o paruk’u’x toq xetal yeruto’ ri ajawarem ri yatkitij, ja k’a ri chi re ri meb’a’ xa choj utziläj taq rayb’äl yeruya’ pe chi ke?

¿Wi retaman chi janila’ tz’ilanem xtik’oje’ ruma man oj junan ta xub’än chi qe, achike choq’oma man qonojel ta säq, man qonojelta q’äq, man qonojel ta qawinäq o man qonojel ta aj b’i la akuchi’la xub’än ta chi qe?

¿Nrak’axaj ta k’a ri qachaq’ qanimal toq yek’utun chi re jub’a’ paqach’ab’äl jub’a’ pa kaxlan?

¿Achike choq’oma janila’ xyoke’ toq xpe wawe’ pa qaruwach’ulew?

¿Wi nub’ij chi rija’ ajowab’äl, achike ruma xa xe’ k’ayewal, xa xe’ meb’alil chuqa’xa xe’kamïk xuk’ämpe chi qe?


Pan anin xinpab’a’ ri rutzijonem

man ninrayij yitzijon chi rij ri na’oj re’

kana’ ta ri natzijoj ri kamik’ayewal chupam ri kamik’ayewal

ruma chuqa’janila’  wi ninrayij ninwak’axaj ri kurij k’un

ri rub’ixanik runojsanwi ri k’ichelaj


-Nib’ix chi ri Israelí xek’ayewatäj juq’o’ juna’

röj ojk’ayewatajnäq juq’o’ wok’al juna’

chupam k’a ri q’ijul re’ xetal sanin chi qe ri nib’ix chi kij ri Israeli’

pa ronojel ruwäch ri qak’aslemal

richin manäq niqanik’oj ri qameb’alil qa roj

richin juk’a’n yojtzu’un chuwäch ri qak’ayewal k’o chiqawäch

¿Akuchi’ ek’owi ri kaqchikela’ taq Moisesa’ 

ri xkejote’ el paruwi’ ri Junajpu’ richin nb’ekiponij ri Ajaw?

¿Akuchi’ ek’o wi?

Nik’atzin chi yetob’os qik’in

richin nkik’ut ri saqb’e chi qawäch

richin nkitzalq’omij runa’oj ri q’aq’ chi qe

richin yojkelesaj chupam re k’ayewal

richin yojkik’w’aj chi kojik’o chupam ri kik’ palow

richin yojkik’waj chi nb’eqa chapa’ 

ri qak’aslemal


ri qana’ojil

ri qach’akulal

ri qulew

ri jantape’ qichin wi

Etaman jeb’ël

chi eb’osnäq chïk chuwäch re jun ruwach’ulew re’

kikolon chïk kik’aslem chuwäch royowal ri k’ak’a’ ajpop

po wakami xa tajin yejiq’

yejiq’ chupam re jun raqän ya’ ri etzelanel

¡Kan kekol tib’ana’ utzil!

Ri kurij k’un xutanab’a’ rub’ix

xub’än jun ti maq’ajan

ri raxq’ab’

numalama’ rij ri ch’eqel ruwach’ulew

Jun na’oj xik’o pa nuwi’


– Nib’ix chi ri maq’ajanil k’o pa ruk’u’x ri raxq’ab’

Jeb’ël akuchi’ ri sutz’ niqa paruwi’ ri ruwach’ulew


– ¡Tawoyob’ej na! – xcha’ pa oyowal

Ri maq’ajan man chi ri’ ta k’o

man xa xe’ ta chi ri’ –xub’ij– 

ri maq’ajan k’o chupam ri ruk’u’x

ri xti xtän ri xetzeläx

ri xtala’ ri xetzeläx

ri ixöq chuqa’ achi ri majon ronojel chi ke richin xetok meb’a’

ri ajtiko’n ri xmaj ri rulew

ri ixöq ajtiko’n ri xq’ol 

ri raqän ya’ ri xtz’ilöx

ri k’echelaj ri xtililäx

ri ruwach’ulew ri xpororäx

ri kurij k’un ri majun chïk  ta rusok wakami

Xa jub’a’ ma wi yojapon qa chuchi’ ri raqän ya’

ruqul ri jun qupib’äl che’

man nuya’ ta q’ij chi nak’axäxkib’is ri loq’oläj taq che’

xanupimirisaj ri kaq’ïq’

yeruxib’ij ri tz’ikina’ 

– ¿Napon pan awi’ re ninb’ij chawe? – xuk’utuj paroyowal

– Ja ri rat wik’in rïn oj achi’el junmay – xcha’

kan oj achi’el ruk’u’x rijuyu’

ja ri rat wik’in rïn oj juqun k’äy

kan achi’el ruk’u’x ri q’ijul

ja ri rat wik’in rïn oj chajinela’

niqachajij jalajöj kiwäch taq k’aslemal

rat wik’in rïn xa oj moch’öch’il

ojaj q’equ’n

oj ruk’a’tz chi re ruq’ajarik ri saqil 

rat wik’in rïn oj achi’el ri q’aq’

ojb’anön richin yojaq’oman

rat wik’in rïn oj achi’el riq’ijul

xojb’an richin man nipeta ri mestaxinïk

rat wik’in rïn roj ri aj

xojb’an richin man nqaya’ ta qi’

rat wik’in rïn roj ri ruch’ujilal ri ramaj

xojb’an richin man niqat’zapij ta qachi’

¿niq’ax pan awi’?

Ri q’axomal chuqa’ ri k’utunïk

ri b’isonïk rik’in ri kikotemal

ri rayb’äl rik’in ri q’axomal k’u’x

kichin juq’o’ ruq’ijul k’aslem

ye’anin chikipam ri k’uxuchuq’a’ ri qach’akul

juq’o’ mama’aj

juq’o’ ati’t

yech’i’an chupam ruk’u’x ri qach’akul

ke re’ k’a yesik’in:

tawelesaj chupam ri ak’aslem

ronojel ri xuk’ämpe chiqe ri majon ulew

ruma’ rutz’apen ri qana’oj

ruma’ niqatz’ila’ qi’ koma ri kityoxi’

ruma’ nimayon ri qak’u’xaj chirij ri pwaq

ruma’ oj q’olotajnäq koma ri manqitzij taq tzijol

kaxutun chuwäch re jun ruwäch k’aslemal re’

tamestaj ronojel ri ruq’oloj rusanin pan ajolom

tawetamaj ri qach’ab’al

kan takusaj k’a

tawetamaj ri qana’oj ri qab’anob’al

kan tak’aslemaj k’a

katzolin chupam ruxe’el ri qak’aslem

qawinaqir junchin b’ey…

– Tatz’eta’ rat – xinxoch’ij apo – 

¡ri Pixcayá nimarnäq!

– Man Pixcayá ta rub’i’ ¿man awetaman ta? – xub’ij pe

B’ix qaya’ keri’ rub’i’ paqach’ab’äl

“rub’ixanem ri qaya’

rub’ixanem ri qaya’

jeb’ël b’i’aj richi jun raqän ya’

 mank’o ta ruk’exel rub’ixanem

jun utziläj aq’om richin ri q’axomal …

K’a jari’ toq tikirel xqajäl ri qatzinonem

B’ixqa ya’

The man backed away

the rebellious child emerged

sparkling gaze

He shook the bottom up from the depths of his being

he charged, aimed and bombarded me

with these poisoned darts

My mouth was sewn shut

I could barely answer him in monosyllables

I just wondered


why me

Now I am sharing

maybe someone can answer him


“I don’t understand God’s role — he said while we began descending the slope

How does he manage to process in his office the whims of masters and the cries of slaves?

How can he give them the same amount of importance without flinching?

How can he support the aggressions of the impoverishing and sustain the impoverished with promises?

Why, I say, if he knew there would be so much inequity when he made us different, why didn’t he make us all white, all black, all indigenous, or all aliens?

Will he understand our Kaqchikel siblings when they pray in Kaqchiñol?

Why did he take so many centuries to come to our lands?

Why, if he claims to be love, did he only bring us death, misery and pain?


I interrupted him straight-out

I didn’t want to talk about it

it was like talking about war

in times of war

I also wanted to enjoy the song of the kurij k’un *

his trills filled the forest

* Kurij k’un: local pigeon. 


“They say that Israel was captive for 400 years

Well, so far we’ve been captive for 500

and such is the time in which they have imposed on us the same as Israel

in every space of our daily slavery

and so we downplay our condition

and thus we alienate ourselves from our own circumstance

Where are the Kaqchikel Moses-men and Moses-women who

will ascend to Junajpú and burn pom for the Ajaw? *

Where are they?

It’s imperative they appear

to guide us through the saqb’e **

to interpret the foretelling of fire

to get us out of this daily horror

to make us cross this sea of blood

and lead us to the conquest

of our lives




of this land

that was always ours


they already arose in this land of confusion

they survived the sword of modern pharaohs

but they are drowning

drowning in the river of repression

Somebody save them from the river!”

The kurij k’un had stopped singing

a small silence was made

morning mist

caressing wet earth

An idea crossed my mind

I tried:

“They say that silence is at the heart of mist

right where the fog sits upon the earth…”

* Junajpú:  Kaqchikel name for Volcano Agua (Antigua, Guatemala.) 
Pom: ancient Maya word for copal and incense.
Ajaw: expression to name the Creator. 
** Saqb’e: literally “white path.” Expression for the Maya “good living.” 


“Wait a minute! — he rebuked annoyed 

silence is not there

it’s not only there — he emphasized

silence is in the heart

of the girl who has been raped

of the child who has been abused

of women and men who have been impoverished

of the farmer who has been displaced

of the peasant who has been deceived

of the river who has been polluted

of the forest who has been riddled

of the land who has been looted

of the kurij k’un who has been left without a nest”

We were approaching the river

the scream of a chainsaw

silenced the sadness of trees

strained the wind

disturbed the birds

“Do you understand what I’m talking about? — he asked almost disappointed

You and I are a cigar — he continued

the pure essence of the woods

you and I are a shot of moonshine

the pure essence of time

you and I are guardians

guardians of different forms of life

you and I are shadows


imperative for the meaning of light

you and I are fire

we were made to heal

you and I are time

we were made not to forget

you and I are the pillars

we were made to fight

you and I are the madness of time

we were made not to shut up

Do you follow?

Pain and sorrow

sadness and joy

dreams and frustrations

of four hundred generations

they all ride on our atoms

four hundred grandmothers

four hundred grandparents

cry from our chest

and yell:

decolonize yourself

dereligionize yourself

dedocument yourself 

desinform yourself

rebel against this egotistical system

unlearn so much banality

relearn our language and use it

relearn our thinking and live it

return to your roots

humanize yourself…”

“Do you see it? — I interrupted

The Pixcayá river has grown!”

“It’s not called Pixcayá, did you know that? — he said

his Kaqchikel name is B’ix qaya’

the song of our water

the song of our water

a beautiful name for a river

a marvelous song

a balm for deep wounds…”

And right there we finally could change the subject

Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez



¿Jampe’ xqachäp ruk’oqpixik pa taq qak’u’x?

¿Jampe’ xqachäp ruk’ojoxik ruchi’ richin manäq chïk nich’o’n ta pe chiqe?

¿Jampe’ xqatz’apij qaxikin richin manäq niqak’axaj ta rutzij?

¿Jampe’ xqamestaj rutzuquxik?

¿Achi’el toq xqamestaj chi ri qati’t qamama’ xekäm ruma rukolik?

¿Achi’el toq xqamestaj chi toq ri juläy xkisok, xkipaxij

ri qate’ qatata’, ri qati’t qamama’

xkimöl ruchi’



chuqa’  xkiya’ kan kik’aslemal pa ruk’u’x?

¿Kan chanin xqamestaj chi ri nab’ey t’uj ri xuya’ riqak’u’x xk’oxoman paqach’ab’äl?

¿Kan chanin xqamestaj chi ri qach’ab’äl ja ri’ ri xojk’asb’an?

¿Kan chanin xqamestaj chi xqatz’umaj chi paq’ij chi chaq’a’?

Ri qach’ab’äl janila’ yawa’

ruchapon kamïk

nikäm pa qak’u’x

ruchapon kamïk 

chuchi’ taq qaq’aq’

pa ruk’u’x taq qochoch

Our Tongue


Since when did we start tearing it out of our hearts?

When did we sew her mouth up so she would stop talking to us?

Since when did we start covering our ears to stop listening to her?

When did we forget to feed her?

How did we end up forgetting that grandmothers and grandfathers died for her?

How did we forget that when she was hurt

our mothers and fathers, our grandmothers and grandfathers

took care of her

healed her

captured their own life in her words?

Are we going to forget so easily that our first heartbeat resonated in Maya Kaqchikel?

Will we forget so quickly that it was our language who gave us life?

Are we going to forget so easily that we sucked from her for days and nights?

Our tongue is sick

very sick

she agonizes within our hearts

she agonizes in front of the kitchen fire

in the heart of our homes

Sunset at B’oko’ ©Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez

More about Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez:

“I urge you, if I die, to live as happily as you can. I want you to be a good person, who works hard, who has joy in her heart, who is grateful, whose heart sings, whose lips whistle, and who has a smiling face. This is life, my child, this is how life is.”

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Digital activism

Other Mayan artists featured on Siwar Mayu

About the translators

Paul M. Worley is Associate Professor of Global Literature at Western Carolina University. He is the author of Telling and Being Told: Storytelling and Cultural Control in Contemporary Yucatec Maya Literatures (2013; oral performances recorded as part of this book project are available at, and with Rita M Palacios is co-author of Unwriting Maya Literature: Ts’íib as Recorded Knowledge (2019). He is a Fulbright Scholar, and 2018 winner of the Sturgis Leavitt Award from the Southeastern Council on Latin American Studies. In addition to his academic work, he has translated selected works by Indigenous authors such as Hubert Malina, Adriana López, and Ruperta Bautista, serves as editor-at-large for México for the journal of world literature in English translation, Asymptote, and as poetry editor for the North Dakota Quarterly.
Juan G. Sánchez Martínez, grew up in Bakatá, Colombian Andes. He dedicates both his creative and scholarly writing to Indigenous cultural expressions from Abiayala (the Americas.) His book of poetry, Altamar, was awarded in 2016 with the National Prize Universidad de Antioquia, Colombia. He collaborates and translates for Siwar Mayu, A River of Hummingbirds. Recent works: Muyurina y el presente profundo (Pakarina/Hawansuyo, 2019); and Cinema, Literature and Art Against Extractivism in Latin America. Dialogo 22.1 (DePaul University, 2019.) He is currently Assistant Professor of Languages and Literatures at UNC Asheville. 

Xti Saquirisan Na Pe / Planicie de olvido © Miguel Ángel Oxlaj Cúmez

Translations from Spanish © Paul Worley and Juan G. Sánchez M. ~ Siwar Mayu ~ May 2021

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