Our second documentary film project is in the editing stage as we collaborate with cinematographers Daniel Pike and Jillian Smith to present a group of Yucatec Maya poets associated with the city of Mérida’s Academy of the Maya Language. Yum Cháak responds to the tenacious vision of Yucatec Maya communities and poets in guarding and sustaining Maya lands, culture, agency, language, and hopes for the future in the face of destructive forces. Our latest documentary film is an homage to this group of poets maintaining dialogue with Cháak — the life-sustaining power of sacred rain — as they work to nourish the strength and survival of Indigenous life in the Yucatan peninsula, in Mexico, and across the Americas.
Translations by Dolores Flores-Silva and Keith Cartwright published in Native South Vol. 12 2019
Pedro Uc Be
Born in Buctzotz, Yucatán (1963), he is the author of U k’aay Siipkuuts / El Canto del Siipkuuts (2019), and has won many awards for his poetry in Maya, including the 2016 FIC Prize (Festival de la Cultura Maya), two awards from the state of Yucatán (2015, 2016), and a Nation-wide University system contest in Literature (2019). He is a key leader of the group Múuch Xíinbal (Assembly for the Defense of Maya Territory), currently organizing resistance to invasive development projects across the Yucatan Peninsula, including the mega-project known as “the Maya Train.”
Yum Cháak / Sacred Rain
You stroll in lightning strikes,
the earth vibrates when you walk,
responding with its purest perfumes,
you sketch the face of God in each flash.
Just so, you lift the farmer’s heart,
so the little flowers smile their welcome,
and we feel the good heart of God.
Feliciano Sánchez Chan
Born in Xaya, Yucatan (1960), he has been awarded numerous poetry prizes. Among his book publications are Ukp’éel Wayak / Siete Sueños (1998 y 2008), Yaamaj Yáanal Cháak / Amor bajo la Lluvia (2014), and Le engañe a mi gato / Tin Tusaj in walak’ Jmiis (Mexico: Secretaria de Cultura, 2018). Jonathan Harrington’s translation of Seven Dreams (Cullowhee, NC: New Native Press, 2014) is the first single-author Maya poetry collection published in English. He has been a presenter at festivals across the world, most recently as a featured reader at the 3rd International Flor y Canto Literary Festival in San Francisco (2019).
Ma’ t’ambe’ en a k’aaba’i’ / Your Unpronounceable Name
Your name is unpronounceable
when the rain looms
my dreams slip through the shadows of your absence
can't you be this fresh rain
caressing my skin?
Pedro Pablo Chim Bacab
Born in Peto, Yucatán, he has studied Maya literature and language as well as ancient Maya writing at the State Center of Fine Arts as well as at UNAM. He won the prestigious Waldemar Noh Tzec International Prize for Poetry of the Maya World (2012) and published the poetry collection Lool K’ajlay / Flor de la Memoria(Campeche: Secretaria de Cultura del Gobierno del Estado de Campeche, 2014).
Lool K’ajlay / from Flower of Memory
When that time comes,
the false Maya prophets will proliferate,
charlatanry will reign and the usurpation of Maya culture,
the Maya energy vendors will fill the streets.
I’m a Maya shaman!
I turn into a jaguar during the night!
the charlatans will say to the clueless.
Non-Mayan people will want to be Maya
or they will believe they have been in another life.
It will happen in a time of deep spiritual anemia
and uncertainty in the world governed by the lizard.
Alejandra Sasil Sánchez Chan
Born in Xaya, Yucatán (1991), she is a poet, actress, digital media activist, and editor of K’iintsil, the Maya-language counterpart of La Jornada Maya published in Mérida. She is the author of U yóol t’aan (Mérida: SIDECULTA, 2019), one of the first two (Maya-language only) editions published in the collection Caracol de voces. Her work has appeared in the anthology U Túumben K’aayilo’ ob X-yáaxche’ (Mérida, 2015); and in Sakalbil Woojo’oh (Mérida, 2017).
U pak’ach in na’ / My Mother’s Tortilla
I will never forget
the day I saw my mother getting up
when the sun was hardly waking.
She bent down
to light the fire of my life,
got her comal ready to mold me with her hands,
she moistened me,
measured me out,
and turned me in her comal
so that in my walking around in the world
I won’t feel fear.
She caressed my soul with her hands,
warmed me with the fire of her heart.
And it was like this that she shaped a new tortilla,
like this that she made me
my beautiful mother.
Isaac Carrillo Can
Isaac Carrillo Can (1984-2017) was a Mayan writer born in Peto, Yucatán. He received the prestigious Nezahualcóyotl National Award of Literatures in Mexican Languages, 2010, and a grant by Mexico´s National Endowment for the Arts (FONCA) in 2016-2017, among many other awards. He held a bachelor´s degree in artistic education and an associate´s degree in creative writing and served as a professor in Merida´s Academy of the Maya Language. He was the author of U yóok' otilo'ob áal'ab / Danzas de la Noche (2011) and other celebrated works in Yucatec Maya.
Neek' / Seed
My voice, my speech
is a red seed I sow in the earth’s navel,
so that when my final night hugs the moon
it will be a big tree
in whose branches bluebirds sing my song.
Lizbeth Carrillo Can
Born in Peto, Yucatán, she has worked in Maya-language education and has served as an editor and translator of many publications in Maya. She has a degree in social science education and has worked with programs sponsored in Yucatán by the National Human Rights Commission. For our documentary film, she gives voice to her brother Isaac’s poetry. She is a strong poet herself, and her own poems are gaining a responsive audience in Mérida and beyond.
Mixba’al ti’ / It Doesn’t Matter
It doesn’t matter that you rejected me for being a person,
doesn’t matter that you trampled me for being a woman,
that you despised me for my language.
It doesn’t matter that you discriminated against me just for being who I am.
What you couldn’t trample down is my spirit,
the soul of my essence.
That’s what raised me up and strengthened me,
and I’m standing again,
and blossoming now in me this love for my origin,
my origin you could not wipe out.
Rosa Elide Vázquez Cauich
Born in Chapab, Yucatán (1993), she attended a bilingual (Maya-Spanish) school in her hometown, and then moved to the city of Mérida for her secondary education, after which she studied law at the Autonomous University of Yucatán. She is currently a private litigator, a student of literary creation in Maya at the State Center of Fine Arts, and a teacher of Maya language in the University Center of Mayab. She has participated in many Maya-language conservation workshops.
Láayli’ Leti’e’ / The Same One
She who opened up my tears
She who trimmed my soul
Goes with me
Walks hand in hand
Flies in my dreams
She’s in my life
But at once far away.
She got lost in my dreams
I know I’ll find her again
In another life
With another face
But still the same one.
Marga Beatriz Aguilar Montejo
Born in Sotuta, Yucatan (1976) she was among the first cohort of graduates from Mérida´s Academy of the Mayan Language (2009-2011). She won the Peninsular Prize for Maya Literature (2013), and her work has appeared in the anthology U Túumben K’aayilo’ ob X-yáaxche’ (Mérida: SEDECULTA, 2015) and Sakalbil Woojo’oh (Mérida, 2017). Her book Ta’aka’an ba’alche’ (2019) appeared recently in the Caracol de voces collection.
Aj ts’oono’ob / Hunters
Sad song the wind intones,
the souls of the hunters
dancing around the mountain,
the dance of death.
The conch-blast sounds its cry,
and beneath the barking of the dogs dying down,
the deer-stone holds it...
the one who must stay to grieve.