Pulowi of Uuchimüin
I’m not in a process of opposition to the re-establishment of Abya Yala; nor is it my intention for you to interpret this essay in any way as a defense of colonialism. I want to start by telling you that I never believed my grandfather about his secret conversations with the devil, until I heard him talking to him; it was nighttime and I couldn’t get to sleep, which was evasive to me, mostly because it was many hours before dawn and the adventure of going to the cow corral made sleep irreconcilable with my anxiousness.
I tossed and turned in my hammock, everyone was asleep and the hanging ropes would creak at the least of my movements, disturbing my grandfather’s sleep. It was on one such occasion when I heard him say, “That’s the granddaughter I tell you about, the one who doesn’t sleep.” I had heard before that only he could whisper to the devil, and I knew he was talking about me when he said my name: “Tella.” The next day I knew what it means to have a stiff neck. Undeniably, I watched over that relationship with my grandfather with all my being, to later have that creative force, lifted up by narrative texts by authors like Juan Rulfo and Gabriel García Márquez, who showed me the way.
Which way? I never knew where I was going; what I now know for sure is that, as much as they cleaned my paths, I walked with bare feet, not caring if the spines stuck in me. But I never followed the path, only the signs, the prohibited, that which said “Not appropriate for minors,” or that which mama told me not to touch, like the book with old pages that smelled like grandmother’s trunk, only because in its title was the word “soulless.” But, at seven years old, what can you understand of the wind of misfortune, of Ulysses and naïveté.
Altogether, at that age I hadn’t reached Eréndira’s state when she was undressed with a single blow by a butcher who paid for young virgins. I rummaged secretly through the little trunk where papa stealthily kept an ANAPO* card and a book whose title said Qué hacer [What to do] and an old envelope with stamps from the Soviet Union. The most curious part for me was the books, since papa didn’t like to read. But he knew everything; he used to watch El mundo al instante* [The world right now], and that was enough to give me all the answers a girl could want.
I don’t follow the path, I follow the signs, that along the way are also “other paths,” like when they told me I was born 145 years after the writing of the final proclamation of the Liberator Simón Bolívar. I was baptized in the Cathedral of Santa Marta, the city where the Liberator died and I graduated as a lawyer on July 24–his birthday–from the Universidad Simón Bolívar in Barranquilla. These coincidences mean I have more in common with the Liberator than Hugo Chávez Frías himself, and even with all that they call socialist.
Another sign was December 31. That day means not the end of the year, but the birthday of all Wayuu, and it was a lie told so much that it became reality. I can state, I found myself one day in May at a Symposium of Indigenous Literature with all the Miguels of my good fortune (Rocha, López, and Cocom Pech) and I diverged from my path–the one my parents and grandparents cleaned so the spines wouldn’t stick in my feet–to follow another sign, as they were all poets except me. My characters, the ones I give my voice, keep up a fight against the State, while they meet again with the moon, the mother earth, the rain, and the sun.
My literature does not return to the mother earth transformed into rain, nor does it undertake that spiral journey toward the cosmos. My literature comes from the earth, from the rage of mother earth, from the chances of the Moon, the heat of the Sun, the blow of the breeze against the face of the vendor who carries eighty kilos of sea salt on her back thanks to the exploitation of the Wayuu by other Wayuu and of these Wayuu by the white man.
At twelve I discovered we all have an Úrsula Iguarán in the house and since then and forever I will see in my mother and in my grand mother, Mamá Victoria, the woman who fights so her lineage will not be extinguished, condemned to a hundred years of solitude and to never again have a second chance on the face of the earth. Seeing a José Arcadio Buendía in my father and Aurelianos Segundos and José Arcadios Segundos in my brothers, wanting to be the lovely Remedios myself, wanting to live in a world just for me, because the one I inhabit doesn’t understand me.
But I am immersed in a reality that does not amaze me while I live and walk in it, a reality I exit only to realize that it scourges, hurts, and injures and that its real elements, in no way magic or Macondian, have been the ones that gave me the creative force of Manifiesta no saber firmar: Nacido 31 de diciembre [Declares he/she cannot sign: born December 31], De dónde son las princesas [Where are princesses from], Daño emergente y lucro cesante [Emerging harm and dwindling profit], and El encierro de una pequeña doncella [The confinement of a little maiden].
The latter work represents me as the deer that walks today over the territory of the Dakota ancestors and tomorrow down any path of Abya Yala. If I had passed through the beautiful ritual of confinement, surely my voice and my words would be others. I would have learned to keep quiet when the time was right, because we do not know how to ask for forgiveness like the whites when we offend. We compensate (pay) for each offense we cause, and we charge for the ones we receive.
I was influenced by the songs and stories of my grandfather, the blessing of my great mother, Mamá Victoria, the prohibitions of my mother, the complacencies of my father, the path to Comala and seeing that everything was the Media Luna where a certain Pedro Páramo and Susana San Juan lived, so much like Remedios, the beauty. The dead of Sayula and Comala waiting for someone to remember them just like ours in Jepirra (Cabo de la Vela).
I am the Indian, the aboriginal, the mestiza with an origin, I am Wayuu. My literature is something else, my literature is Latin American. I am not seduced by the siren songs: once they sing and seduce you, you know that if you go in you can’t come back out. I am a Pulowi of Uuchimüin: I am not seduced by the songs of mythological beings, but by my own.
I feel that I diverted at the right time from that path called Abya Yala, because when I hear them speak of purity, of the mother tongue, of writers and speakers, I don’t only feel that they are cut off, but also that they take me with them, when I have conceived of my literature as for the world, not just for the Wayuu. It is the only path I must follow in order to conquer it, to colonize it with my literature, with my creations, such that the myth of the conquered conqueror should be a reality when they all speak and tell the story of “Manifiesta no saber firmar.” It’s about reversing the process, going from the written to the spoken. Then the world will be Latin America celebrating the birthday of all the Wayuu born on December 31.
Translated by Arthur Dixon
- Pulowi: Feminine enchantment (Wayuu myth). Uuchimüin: Paths of the South.
- ANAPO (Alianza Nacional Popular) was a Colombian political party founded in 1961 and disbanded in 1998.
- El mundo al instante was a German news show projected in cinemas an on TV in Latin America during the sixties and seventies.
Estercilia Simanca was born in Caicemapa, a Wayuu community on the Colombian side of the Guajira. She is a writer, an entrepreneur, and a lawyer. As a writer she has been widely recognized, both nationally, and internationally, and she was named one of the best Latin American woman writers of all time by the Spanish newspaper 20 minutos. She writes mostly short stories, and among them are “El Encierro de una Pequeña Doncella” and “Manifiesta no saber firmar.” “Manifiesta” inspired a documentary which won an Indigenous Contemporary Biennial Award in 2002.
Arthur Malcolm Dixon is co-founder, lead translator, and Managing Editor of Latin American Literature Today. He has translated the novels Immigration: The Contest by Carlos Gámez Pérez and There Are Not So Many Stars by Isaí Moreno (Katakana Editores), as well as the verse collection Intensive Care by Arturo Gutiérrez Plaza (Alliteratïon). He also works as a community interpreter in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a 2020-2021 Tulsa Artist Fellow.
The seventh issue of Latin American Literature Today highlights indigenous voices with dossiers dedicated to three Wayuu writers from Colombia and Zapotec poetry and prose. We also pay homage to renowned Venezuelan poet Eugenio Montejo with a special dossier, as well as returning to the strange worlds of Latin American science fiction and opening a new space for Brazilian literature in Portuguese and English.