In the immensity of the Amazon rainforest, amid the babbling water and the birdsong, there is a river called Igara Paraná, a branch of the Putumayo, which expands into a lake. This place is known as the Chorrera, cradle of knowledge and witness to massacres. This was where, in the early twentieth century, Casa Arana settled in: a rubber producer that used death as hard currency. In their thirst to bleed the trees of their sap, Casa Arana also bled a vast tradition to the point of disappearance, with all its many voices. In this place, some years later, Anastasia Candre grew up: Fátiku, wise woman, voice of the earth, voice of the chagra1, of the great womb that is life.
Candre’s life took place between earth and word, action and thought. Her voice is song that passes down the steps taken, the comings-together, the comings-apart, and the knowledge gained along the way. In the earth, she sowed and learned about life in the great school that is the chagra; her first teachers were the grandmothers: cassava, pepper, yam. In the chagra she learned that all things sown with love bear good fruits, life to share; the lovely word, the wise word feed the soul when they are shared. That was when she started down her path, which would be captured in poems and paintings, when she was a little girl who learned from the earth by day and by night, hidden, learning from the men who sat around the mambeadero2 sharing knowledge.
Her mother Murui and her father Ocaina, Candre grew up with the knowledge of both these communities: sibling peoples, children of the Coca and the Tobacco. Always curious and eager to share her tradition, she studied linguistics, and with this understanding she dedicated several years to researching and exploring the songs of the Murui fruit dance. It was then that she ran into one of the many obstacles she would find in her path as a woman: there were pieces of knowledge she was not allowed to acquire, much less pass on. But she decided to bear this knowledge with pride and to share it with love, just as she bore the chagra and shared its fruits, because Candre always carried with her something nourishing.
The chagra, that ever-fertile womb, and the nourishment it offers were within Candre; they sprouted up from her in song, word, and painting. Her poems speak to the chagra and are at once the voice of the speaking earth. In the poem that bears its name, the chagra is abundance: it is the eternal cycle of death and rebirth, mother and teacher.
Uzungo, yuai buinaiño
Uzungo, yuai nango
Afego ria rite
Ñue uiñote naaga mona
Juzitofe, maikatofe, farekatofe,
«Uzungo» Mai kai juziemo
Kai riijizai, jakaizairi, ogoyi, beyaji, rozidoro
Diga amena tiia meino
Diga, raoniai jaitaja meino
Enie jobaiya meino
Kue nabai biya
Juziemo yetarafue yoga
Juziemo, uzungo ie jito, ie jiza
Ie, jito, ie jiza uruii yofuete.
Grandmother of bounty Grandmother mistress of the fruit dance
She sows the seeds
And cares for them with a mother’s love
Yuca stalk, wild yuca, sweet yuca, yuca for your drink
Grandmother! I want to go to the chagra
To sow tubers, yam, banana, corn, pineapple
In place of many trees, knocked down
Liana vines that cut it off and bled
The earth they burned
My brother comes
And bounty comes
In the chagra wise words are taught
In the chagra was where they taught me
In the chagra grandmother teaches her ways
To her sons and daughters, grandsons and granddaughters
Anastasia—or Fátiku, her traditional name—wrote her poems in two languages, but she spoke many more. She knew Murui, Bora, and Ocaina, but she also understood the voices of the forest, their whispers and songs. She was a dancing, singing woman: she sang of ancestors, grandparents, and stories, giving new life to ancestral voices. Her voice was the seed of the maloca4 in one auditorium after another, sprouting into experience within all those who listened.
Candre was a woman of strength and wisdom. In all those she met, she left teachings, love, and light. She was a joyous woman who knew when to speak and when to keep quiet, and her word was always true. A versatile word that drank from diverse knowledge and reinvented itself in poetry and song.
Along her path, Candre explored understandings of various traditions and built them into her experience, her vision, and her poems. She visited many places and met people who shared knowledge that she, with attentive ears and an open spirit, planted within herself. The legacy she left behind tells us of the path she walked, of the grandparents she met. One of them was the yagé5, which did not belong to her own tradition but was an important part of her path. Grandfather Yagé speaks in one of her poems: he comes before us an eternal spirit, speaks of his gift of healing and wisdom, shows his strength and grandeur.
Kue unaodikue, buuñedike
Nuiona abi mamedikue
Janayari izoi jirayiña raidikue
Kuena jakiruiñeno zigioitioza
Fia o janaidikue
Digaa duiko duiñode funotimiedikue
Kuemo jiyua, baitara uai ite
Yagueroide komena jaka faidodikue
Kueri, kaiyia duekaidikue
Jae itikue ie iadi buu kueri jifanoñede
Komini finoriya raodikue
Kuemona diga nairai abina onode
I, I am the yagé, you cannot tell me who you are
I am, your grandfather
Boa, it is so I come before you
My presence is frightful
I, I am the yagé
I am like the jaguar, so I sit, with my painted skin
Do not be afraid of my presence, embrace me!
It is only your imagination
Do not say to me, who are you? I am the grandfather yagé
I am the spirit who stays on his feet
I am healing
The god who gets you drunk on wondrous dreams
How many illnesses have I blown away with my breath!
My word is of life and of knowledge
I damn those who mock
If they ask me for forgiveness, I forgive
I have existed since the start and no one mocks me
I am the liana vine of the way of knowledge
My people knew me well
I am the god, yagé
Candre’s poetry is a constant dialogue between ways of knowledge: a dialogue mediated by her own lived and felt experiences. It represents a diversity of traditions made manifest, reinvented and re-dynamized in the word. These are not songs to an inert, distant nature; rather, they express life itself, with Candre’s voice reinterpreting the voices it embodies. The yagé is not only spirit, grandfather of knowledge, but also experience. It is in interaction with the sacred spirit, in dialogue and respect, that experience, union, and transformation emerge.
Candre’s spirit knew no borders, and she built a bridge over every chasm she came across. She learned and understood many ancestral traditions as a researcher; she shared them as a singer; and she reinvented them as an artist and poet. She aimed always to save the ancestral from being forgotten, and to let it be reborn in different spaces: even spaces that were not its own. She learned the ritual word, the healing word, the word of advice, the lovely word, and she bore and used them to shed life and wellbeing upon whomever was willing to listen.
Being a woman was decisive in her path, due not only to the obstacles it represented but also to how it marked her way of taking in the world: a woman is life, love, and healing, but also strength and beauty. Learning from the chagra meant learning to relate to others from a place of love and care, and understanding that from this exchange comes life. This is why, in her best known poem, “Picante como el ají” [Hot like the pepper], the woman is described as being like the pepper: strong, spicy, and beautiful.
Izirede jifiji izoi
Ziore jayede jifiji
Afe izoi muruirigó komeki
Ikirifirede fucna boored
Muruiño rigó abi ziore jayede
Daigo uai riirede jifirite
Daigo fiaikana ie komeki mananaite
Ie mei daigo zadaide; ji, ji, ji
Jifiji, rigo komeki
Jifiji, rigo mairiki
Jifiji, rigo manue
Ua reiki duiñede ie komeki
Kaimare ite ie jofomo
Hot like the Pepper
Flavorful and hot
Her delicious aroma
Like the heart of the Witoto woman
Furious, her lips on fire
Witoto woman her body fragrant
Like the perfume of the pepper flower
Her voice strong and spicy
Alone, she calms her anger, but her heart on fire
And starts to laugh, ji, ji, ji
The pepper, woman’s heart
The pepper, feminine strength
The pepper, medicinal plant of the Witoto woman
It true teaching and knowledge
The true fire of love that never goes out
And lives happily in her sweet home
Her body of work is small, but at the same time it is giant and full of riches. In seven published poems, and an invocation of the mother that will be published soon, Candre developed a great many themes, dancing between the spiritual and the physical, between man and his surroundings, between action and word. Hers is one of many indigenous voices, present and absent, that pass down invaluable knowledge and are only just beginning to be heard.
Her life, like her work, was short. She left us when she was still very young, but she left behind seeds scattered in our world. Her strong voice still echoes, and brings with it healing. Although I was not lucky enough to know her in life, Anastasia took it upon herself to find me and teach me to carry my roots with pride. She showed me stories and knowledge that enriched my path. She found me, and since then she has been with me, with her healing word. Those who knew her tell me that, although her parting was unexpected, Candre said goodbye and left her body behind in the knowledge that she would remain in the word, and within every heart she had touched. The last of her published poems leaves a sensation of bidding farewell, of closure. In it, Candre speaks of her life, of her work, of her word, and of her dream that became a reality. This is the legacy she leaves, such that it might grow and nourish others.
Nɨkaɨriya izoi komuidɨkue
Eiño nɨkaɨdɨkue, rɨngodɨkue
Kue duenia, ñuera uaina nɨkaɨritɨkue
Kue kakana uai monaiya
ja jitaɨngodɨkue, kaɨmare ɨnɨdɨkue
Kue nɨkaɨriya uafuena jaaide, fia nɨkaɨñede
Kaziya rɨngodɨkue ua rɨngodɨkue
Naɨmekɨ rɨngodɨkue fareka rɨngodɨkue
Kue komekɨ farekabina ite
Fɨenide uai naɨmedɨkue
Kue uai manaɨde, jiyua uai
Manuena nɨkaɨritɨkue, i kue manoriya
Manoritɨkue, kaɨmare ɨnɨdɨkue
Monaide, kaɨmare kazidɨkue
Jiyodɨkue taɨjɨemo komekɨ uide
Kue nɨkaɨriya dai monaiya
Nɨkaɨriñede komena iñede
Naga kome nɨkaɨrite
Afe nɨkaɨ monifuena monaiya
Tajɨtate, rijitade, ɨnɨtañede
Ja nɨkaɨñede, ua raana ite
Ua rɨngo, urukɨ eina mameide
Ie izoide, rɨngodɨkue komekɨ ñuera
Kue buuna fɨeni fɨnoñedɨkue
Ñuera uaido monaitɨkue
Ñuera komekɨdo baɨ jaaidɨkue
Ñue meine bitɨkue
Nɨ mei kue uai, jaka fuiñede
Tɨinide, fia jagɨyɨna ite.
I Am a Dreamer
Like a dream, they conceived me;
I am my mother’s dream, I am a woman.
When I was little, I dreamt pretty words,
and the word I heard woke up.
When I was a young woman, I sweetly slept;
my dream became reality, it was not just a dream.
I am a woman of waking up, a true woman,
I am a sweet woman, a woman of sweet yuca;
My heart is like the yuca’s sweet juice,
I sweeten bad words,
like in a dream.
My word is serene, healing word.
I dreamt of cures and cured myself,
each day I cured myself and sweetly slept.
Dawn came and I awoke happy.
I healed myself and thought about my work,
it is my dream that is coming true.
There is no person who does not dream,
every person dreams;
these dreams transform into bounty.
The word of bounty
makes you work, makes you sow, does not let you sleep;
it is no longer dream, it is now reality.
True woman, mother of the little ones;
I am a woman and my heart is sweet,
I do no harm to anyone.
I wake up well,
with good words I awake,
I carry on with a good heart,
and come back, once again, well.
I was well planted,
I had a good sprout,
I grew well,
I bloomed well,
I bore good fruit,
they harvested me well,
I reached my end in bounty.
Such is my word, it will never end
it does not die, it will last like the wind.
Translated by Arthur Malcolm Dixon
Poems translated via the Spanish
1 A traditional agricultural system among Amazonian indigenous peoples.
2 Traditional men’s space for thought and conversation.
3 Candre wrote her poems in Murui and Spanish. The first three poems included in this article were published in both languages in Libro al viento Vol. 2, available in: Rocha, M. (2016). Pütchi Biyá Uai puntos aparte: antología multilingüe de la literatura indígena contemporánea en Colombia, p. 75.
4 Communal structure housing the mambeadero.
5 A traditional medicine used by some Amazonian indigenous peoples.
6 Available at the language portal of the Instituto Caro y Cuervo.
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.