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How to Be a Good Savage

Two poems translated in indigenous Zoque, Spanish, and English

THE FIRST WOMAN TO publish a book of poetry in her native Zoque language, Mikeas Sánchez is not only a trailblazer and a fierce advocate for preserving her Indigenous language but also a leader in protecting Zoque lands against oil fracking and hydroelectric dams in southern Mexico. Read this trilingual translation of two of her poems, translated from Zoque and Spanish by Wendy Call and Shook.


In Zoque

JUJTZYI’E NHTÄ WÄPÄ TZAMAPÄNH’AJÄ

Simón, äj’ atzyipä’jara sutu’ wäpä tzamapänh’ajä,

kyomujsu kastiya’ore

teserike mumupä nhtä’ nhkomis’ nyiäyiram.

Ejtzu’ masanh’nhtäjkis wynanh’omo

teserike’ mpyäkinh’tzyoku’ sijkpa’ te’ näyä’yäki’uy.

Äj› atzyipä’jara’is nyiä’ ijtayuna’ tzapas’Mää’is pyä’mi,

Nhkyo’jama kak’tena’.

Äj atzyipä’jara ketkäkätpapä’pänhtena

te’is muspana’ tyak’ tzoka tzyi’ame’jinhtam.

Te’ sutu’ wäpä’ tzamapänh’ajä,

myuspäjku jujtzyi’e yajk’ yosa’ te’ käjtz’täjkuy’,

teserike’ nhkyenh’tuyu’ te’ nhkyrawa’is’nyi’o’a’ram.

Äj› atzyipä’jara musopyapä’ pänh’tena,

te’is muspana’ nyiä’ tzapi’a’ä pyeka’nhkomi’ram.

Äj atzyipä’jara sutu’ wäpä tzamapänh’ajä,

tese’ja’ myujsä jujtzyi’e tzyiäkä.

 

In Spanish

CÓMO SER UN BUEN SALVAJE

Mi abuelo Simón quiso ser un buen salvaje,

aprendió castilla

y el nombre de todos los santos.

Danzó frente al templo

y recibió el bautismo con una sonrisa.

Mi abuelo tenía la fuerza del Rayo Rojo

y su nahual era un tigre.

Mi abuelo era un poeta

que curaba con las palabras.

Pero él quiso ser un buen salvaje,

aprendió a usar la cuchara,

y admiró la electricidad.

Mi abuelo era un chamán poderoso

que conocía el lenguaje de los dioses.

Pero él quiso ser un buen salvaje,

aunque nunca lo consiguió.

 

In English

HOW TO BE A GOOD SAVAGE

My grandfather Simón wanted to be a

good savage,

he learned Spanish,

and all the saints’ names.

He danced before the altar

and was baptized with a smile.

My grandfather had the force of Red

Thunder

and his nagual was a tiger.

My grandfather was a poet

who healed with words.

But he wanted to be a good savage,

learned to eat with a spoon,

and the Nhkirawa’s electric lamps

impressed him.

My grandfather was a powerful shaman

who spoke the gods’ language.

He wanted to be a good savage,

but he never quite learned how.

 

Order your copy of How to Be a Good Savage and Other Poems today.

In Zoque

TÄ’ MOKAYA’RAMTE

Tä’ näjmatyanh’täjpa tzamapänh’tam,

nhtä nhko’ontampa’ankä Nasakopajk

¿Tipä unes’ nhkyotzok’tyi’opa te’ yajka’oye,

makapä’is tyotzyiäjke’ jäsikam te’ myayi?

Äj’tamte Mokaya’ram,

Nijptampapä’is te’ mojk’.

Jinhte’ äjtam yatzyi’tzamapäntam,

Jinhte’ äjtam te’ ji’ myusoya’epä’.

Nhkomustampatzi’ jojpajkis yore’ram

teserike tzamas’tzyi’ameram.

Äj’tamte’ mij’ ya’e ji’ tzyi’okepä,

Äj’tamte te’ musoki’uy ne’ jokupä.

Mina’ atzi’ nhkirawa,

Maka’ mij’ isanh’tzirame’ te wane’ ji nhtä’ jampä’ipä.

Mina tzätzä nhkyrawa,

Mijtz’koroya te’ musoki’uy wäkä’ jana nhtyi’a’ä mij’ sasa’ajkuy.

 

In Spanish

SOMOS MOKAYAS

Nos llaman indios

por defender a Nasakopajk

¿acaso un hijo ayudaría al verdugo

en ofensa de su madre?

Somos mokayas,

sembradores de maíz.

No somos los salvajes,

no somos los incivilizados.

Comprendemos el lenguaje de los ríos

y de las montañas.

Somos la herida que te sangra,

somos la respuesta a tu vacío.

Ven, hermano blanco,

te enseñaremos el canto que jamás se

olvida.

Ven, hermana blanca,

te daremos el secreto de la belleza infinita.

 

In English

WE ARE MOKAYAS

They call us Indians

for defending Nasakopajk

but what child would help the executioner

rather than his mother?

We are Mokayas,

sowers of maize.

We aren’t savages,

we aren’t uncivilized.

We understand the language of rivers

and hills.

We are the wound that will not heal,

we are the answer to your emptiness.

Come, white brother,

we will teach you a song you must

remember.

Come, white sister,

we will give you the secret to the sublime.

From How to Be a Good Savage and Other Poems by Mikeas Sánchez (Milkweed Editions, 2024). Copyright © 2024 by Mikeas Sánchez. Reprinted with permission from Milkweed Editions.


Mikeas Sánchez is the author of How to Be a Good Savage and Other Poems. She is poet of the Indigenous Americas, working in Zoque, a language spoken in southern Mexico, and the only woman to have ever published a book of poetry in that language. Her six volumes of poetry—including Mokaya / Mojk’Jäyä and Mumure’ tä’ yäjktambä / Todos somos cimarrones—are all bilingual Spanish-Zoque. Sánchez’s work has been translated into Bangla, Catalan, English, German, Italian, Maya, Mixe, and Portuguese. In Chiapas, Mexico, she was awarded first place in the “Y el Bolóm dice …” Prize for Fiction as well as the Pat O’tan Prize for Indigenous Poetry. Sánchez is a radio producer, translator, community health promoter, and defender of Zoque lands. She lives in Ajway, Chiapas.