Enough of the abuse of this village.
Who listens to a voice from the boundless jungle mountains?
I walk; with only my own echoes reverberating.
How far does my voice carry?
How to oppose the silence?
From the jungle to the city,
there’s no way out, say the Ch’ols, the Tseltals,
the Tsotsils, the Tojolabals.
Could the poets’ words reach those who rule the earth?
No, the poets raise their songs into air, into darkness,
into pouring rains, to life and to death.
How can we make the dishonorable understand?
The blood of our veins flows on the wind,
powerful as song.
We’ll raise our voices as one,
the music of our jungles soothing hate,
our canyons’ silence razing walls,
our languages unifying,
melting the greed that wants us dead
Notes on this poem
Juana Karen Peñate writes poems in the Tumbalá variant of Ch’ol, a Mayan language spoken in Chiapas, and self-translates them into Spanish. The poem ‘Opposing Silence’ is from her 2002 collection, Mi nombre ya no es silencio (Silence is No Longer My Name). ‘I Belong to the Night’ and ‘Chajk’ are from Ipusik’al matye’lum | Corazón de selva (Forest Heart) published in 2013.
Chajk is the name of Ch’ol diety who manifests as lightning – the power of the lightning bolts demonstrating his mood. Sometimes he’s young and rash, and other times older and more measured in his power.
Of ‘I Belong to the Night’, Peñate says, ‘When I am caught up in my obligations as a daughter, as a mother, as a woman, I go out at night to walk’. This time with ‘the universe of the night’ brings her peace.
‘Opposing Silence’ was inspired by a time when Peñate was living away from her hometown and received alarming news of violent conflict between the Ch’ol and another indigenous community – exacerbated by relentless military and corporate activity in the region.
These are the first poems that we have co-translated. We passed drafts back and forth, working from the Spanish versions of the poems. We compiled a list of questions for Peñate and then enjoyed a long Zoom discussion with her, in which she explained some elements of the Ch’ol poems, as well as the poems’ contexts. These are the first English translations of Peñate’s poetry to be published.