To Gloria Anzaldúa,
for inspiring mestiza consciousness in her border
for an altar with Coatlicue, Coyolxauhqui, Ixpoliuhqui and Nanã
The feel-think disability in Abya Yala invites us to recognize that we suffer from an ableist colonial wound (Pino Morán & Tiseyra, 2019; Rojas Campos, 2019; Ferrari, 2020; Yarza de los Ríos y Romualdo Pérez, 2021). Abya Yala is a toponymy that revitalizes an ancient wise word of the Kuna People, Elder Brothers from Colombia and Panama, whose meaning is land in full ripeness, blossoming, or land of vital blood. Abya Yala is an old word that replaces for us the concept of Latin America. In fact, the intellectual Arturo Escobar (2017) introduces the expression Abya Yala/Afro/Latino/America to make colonial languages stutter.
To all ancestral Indigenous territories, knowledge, languages, and worldviews, disability is an exogenous category. From the conquest and colonization of Abya Yala in the 15th century to the pandemic times of the 21st century, modern, mechanistic, Western, colonial, patriarchal, racist, capitalist, and ableist inventions have been brought and imposed. With their miserly aspirations for universality, neutrality, impartiality, and objectivity, they have looked down on and lessened the epistemic diversity about disability on Earth. 3
While dancing towards a horizon of civilizatory transitions, some of our activism and research projects have been insisting on the vital importance of cooperating to recover, revitalize, dignify and make more visible ancestral Indigenous knowledge about disability in Abya Yala. A radical defense of diverse planetary knowledge, rooted in Southern epistemologies guides the path. In this work, origin stories and concepts belonging to ancestral languages tense and expand, complicating Global North paradigms and understandings of Western modernity.
In Abya Yala, today, there are more than 800 sovereign Indigenous nations, whose members speak more than 500 Indigenous languages (CEPAL & FILAC, 2020). In Abya Yala we have suffered the epistemicide of hundreds of Indigenous wisdoms and languages during the last five centuries. All of them contained essential knowledge to harmoniously prolong life. For us, it is unquestionable that infinite diversity included knowledge that referred to what the West would end up calling "disability." Every language is a birth of the Earth; languages are ecological creations made to converse with all species and living beings of every world. They are not exclusive to human beings. From codices to body painting, secrets and keys have been kept to connect us to each other, to interact, understand, and blossom. Languages are woven with ancestral memories; they resonate from their first breath and find new codes, platforms, and modalities. They are breath, energy, vibration, networks, wave and particle, fractal, holon. 4
We want to invite disability—as a construct, category, character-energy, and as the invented daughter of the West—to sit and chew the sacred leaves of coca and willca, to lamear 5 and smoke tobacco, to be sowed in the entrails of a mountain, to converse with the snakes, the condor and the eagle, to celebrate all lives. In Mexico, disability converses in the dark with the hikuri (peyote 6), vibrates in the sweat lodge (temazcalli), and howls with the coyotes in the desert. In Colombia, disability sings and talks in signs at an Amazonian guadua ceremony (zikiɨ ráfue), vibrates with the nuio (boa), and harvests the sweet cassava (fareka). In Chile, disability is rocked by the machi's (curandera) songs, beats the kultrún (ancestral drum), and learns kimün (wisdom) from the pewma (dream). And thus, disability could keep being transmuted, hybridized, and refined in the mixing pot in all of Abya Yala's ancestral Indigenous peoples, nations, communities, organizations, and territories. 7
Ancestral languages are multidimensionally connected to the laws of origin; to abundant rituals; to Indigenous peoples' own upbringing and education practices; to ancestral medicinal processes; to political struggle; to defenses of and offers to territories; to coalitions and alliances with other social movements; and to the magic and mysteries of the deities of the Common House (Pacha Mama). All languages harbor—dynamically and holonically—a connection with oral origin stories, with oral literatures, and "oralitegraphies", 8 and we have not yet placed these stories beside the big Western colonial stories about disability (in all its heterogeneity). Placed beside, circularly, in a spiral, origin stories slither and flutter. All the origin stories are placed side-by-side, that is, together, so that there is no dominant language but many cosmic languages in an uninterrupted dance.
We also extend this careful, empathetic, and solidary invitation to people and communities with disabilities, allies and activists, scholars and academics, politicians, organizations, peoples, states, and other living beings. In this minga, which is a collaborative work encounter, disability is unfolded, disfigured, transformed. We will not find linear equivalences, and they will sometimes be slippery. And there, we are also helped by the mystery, the enigma, the unknown. It is a call that at some point gets us closer to origin stories and endogenous concepts, as totalities of other cosmologies and worldviews on Earth. Although it is not the only invitation to be lived in Abya Yala, I choose to thread our epistemic fabric with the thread and breath of ancestors. Let yourself be basted; be the thread of another weave that transmutes our energies.
Origin stories, own words: Braiding other visions
"Historias de antigua" (stories of old) or origin stories are orally transmitted narrations that contain lessons and keys for the interaction between species, energies, worlds, and living beings. These stories are networks that sustain foundational links to the origin of the cosmos, and they are connected to the ancestors' wisdom before Conquest and colonialisms. Watching over and sustaining life with those breath threads becomes an essential contribution to the planetary terrestrial community, thus joining us at the navel with Mother Earth.
I want to share some origin stories from three ancestral wisdoms: Mesoamerican, Amazonian, and Andean. No generalization or universality is intended. The codices and oral stories, as well as archeological vestiges, petroglyphs, body painting, symbologies and fabrics, are threads that link us to the breath of ancestors; they are jágagɨaɨ-ancient story. 9 Here, instead of myth or legend, like some scientific traditions like to reiterate, we recover this ancestral Amazonian concept to braid other visions of disability. Jágagɨaɨ carry a primeval pedagogic intention: learn by healing while they are narrated. They aspire to the totality of a pluralized world. "Totality references ventrality: the womb that is one yet the same for everyone. The planetary sphere is the large scale calabash of the pregnant mother's womb". (Vivas Hurtado, 2016, p. 20) (Own translation).
Jágagɨaɨ lay the foundation for a cultural ethic, for the laws of origin of clans while other genres put them into practice or reaffirm them. Likewise, they name for the first time the worlds and the beings that inhabit them, give them a territory, functions, actions, feelings and powers—always in mutual need and mutual complementarity. Nothing exists on its own; everything is interwoven. "It is in the jagagɨ where clans, rivers, wells, waterfalls, sacred plants, and food are born; where moral, intellectual laws, and ecosystemic orders are tested. Social virtues are fixed, restricted or modified, according to the behavior of the characters, singers and hearers of the jagagɨ", as Vivas Hurtado explains (Vivas Hurtado, 2016, p. 21). (The author's translation). They are a pedagogic community social practice, which is communicated and shared in sacred spaces and ceremonies. And, in this manner, jágagɨaɨ also reveal other transformations that can be associated to the social construction of disability on Earth.
Tezcatlipoca, Nanahuatzin, Xólotl, Tlazoltéotl: Náhuatl world 10
In the Mesoamerican worldview, defect and deficiency form part of the dynamics of life; they are expressed in the order of creation, in deities, and in all beings. Tezcatlipoca has only one foot; he limps. The smoking mirror (tezcatl, black; poctli, smoke), Tezcatlipoca is the god of heaven, earth, and hell, of memory, of justice. He moves beyond dualities. In the story of suns, he beheaded two human beings who had lit a fire and cooked fish in the Water Sun –and then put the heads on their buttocks. He also created giants, who moved slowly and with difficulty, inhabiting one of his worlds.
Nanahuatzin has sores in his corporeality. He is the god covered with buboes, pustules, sores (nanahuatl, buboes, cysts; tzintli, diminutive). He is the one who sacrifices himself in the fire to be transfigured into the Fifth Sun and the only one capable of dekerneling corn. Xólotl is the god of monsters, of deformities, of deforming illnesses (xólotl, twin, page, animal). He has a crooked, folded foot; he becomes corn, agave, fish. He is represented as a hairless dog with crooked legs. He protects the Sun in the underworld during the night. He is the twin of Quetzalcóatl (feathered snake). Tlazoltéotl has crooked hands (tla, prefix; zolli, filth; téotl, divine), goddess eater of dirt, transmuter of transgressions.
The huehuetlatolli 11, word of the ancients, which are jágagɨaɨ, allow us to travel on the quetzal's wings and plunge into the sunrise river, monaiya namani, the Amazon river.
Yótauai gogodɨno, moneiyeikono: Murui muina world 12
Ero káɨmakɨ. Listen, my people! From Komɨmafo, the origin hole, the first people started to come out, and Jitóma, the sun, and Kécha, his brother, would cut off their tails. At sunrise, they bathed in úigoji, a lake, and observed that something slithered. Everyone asked: ¿mɨka? (what is it?), mɨnɨka (what is it?), nɨpóde (what is it?), and búe (what is it?). Thus, the languages that wonder about life were born; they are births of the Earth. Later, they created tools and hunted the slithering animal (ágaro núiyo), cooked it, and ate it in leaves. Everyone there ate, but one who got there later discovered that the food had already run out. He would lick the leaves. Unékɨ iya metade: And he licked the one leaf that had a wasp. Ie íɨfena máiga: She stung him on his tongue. Dɨnori jɨáe úai komuide: Thus, another language was born. Yótauai, gogodɨno komuiya jiyákɨ: A difficult language, the origin of stuttering.
In another time, fɨedamona, the founder of the fɨereieɨ people, was a good hunter who healed with plants. When he killed his first wife by mistake, his brothers-in-law put a medicine in chili juice that he would apply through his nose, which drove him to madness. He would lick ambil or yera (a tobacco and vegetable salt jam) while they wandered with his son through the jungle until they got through a savannah to the origin hole. There they found the tree peoples. With his powers and skills, he saved them from a destructive being that was devouring them—the lord of icy winds. Jitɨruni, the clan chief, healed him as a thank you. Later, while hunting for food, jitɨruni ended up killing fɨedamona's son. When he came back, he broke down into tears and turned his son into a tufted capuchin so that the new generations could see him in the forest. To comfort him, jitɨruni proposed that he marry his sister, the one that limped when she walked and was ugly: ñuite yofikeide yɨɨde jeareide. She invited him to bathe in the river, but fɨedamona's protective spirit told him to do it later. The woman submerged in the water and disappeared. The water boiled, and suddenly something appeared floating; it was the woman's body transformed into a sloth, and then into moneiyeikono, sunrise woman. She named that river the moneiyei (sunrise river). Then they went together to their new home.
Once again, the ancient breath submerges us into the learning of transformation: with the wasp and the plants, and in the water, always within an ecosystemic dialogue. And as we are woven into the Earth, we move through the great mountain range towards the south of the wall mapu: the surrounding land.
Canillo: Mapuche huiliche world 13
Canillo means a person who cannot be satisfied. He was a child who did not grow; he only dragged himself; he didn't do anything; he was naughty. His parents worried because he ate everything they had at home. One night, they hid the food, and Canillo grew until he reached it and then shrank back into a child. Filled with incomprehension and fear, his parents threw him into a lake, where he became a goose and then an oak that grew above the waters. The machis (wise women) got Canillo out with machitunes (ceremonies) and turned him into a rock. Canillo is associated with volcanic territories; he manifests as thunder and fire, sometimes causing hunger, draught, and unstoppable heat. He is overwhelming, uncontrolled strength.
And thus, being people of the land, we keep sailing by caleuche, that ancient traveling vessel of the Mapuche world, which in Mapudungun language comes from kalewtun (transforming) and from che (people). And when we sail, we remember that jágagɨaɨ are alive when we activate them as threads of our limited, elusive mestizo collectivity. Every thread submerges us in other worlds, in other dimensions of feedback and exchange of energies.
And the same happens to us with the threads that are braided to Native words or endogenous concepts, in their dimension of deep meanings of life. 14 In Abya Yala we have pioneering work that can feed the common fabric in the Global South. This threading of transformations revitalizes the tein ki pia kokolisme in náhuatl (Brogna, 2018), or the määt jääyëjjy jääy and pääm jääy, in Mexican ayüük jääy (Romualdo Pérez, 2019); the aɨdaɨza, murui muina-mɨnɨka, in the Amazon, the baa wa wa/jai wa wa in eyabida êbêra, in Antioquia (Yarza de los Ríos, 2020) or the sat´we wesh/usha´we wesh in the nasayuwe of the nasa people, in Cauca, Colombia (Medina, Monsalve y Osorio, 2015); or pörämbá in tapiete, or the ikavia oá in guaraní, in Salta, Argentina (Fontes, 2014). I invite you to know the intercultural translations and the meanings of life in each of these and others works. In every Native world of Abya yala there are ancient words and also experiences, practices and wisdoms that it is now time to listen again with the heart, in altars of care and guard.
Coatlicue, Coyolxauhqui, Ixpoliuhqui and Nanã: Altars that caress and guard
In this ancestral interweaving we do not suggest a theory for every ancestral concept, nor do we assimilate them to external theorizing. Neither are we concerned with a lineal contrast with the history of disability in the West. As a question and mystery, it is prudent to know that we are facing a chaotic, turbulent, uncertain, and unknown immensity. We must leave aside some –or a lot– of our "supposed" certainties and allow ourselves to experience the magic of ancestral knowledge that has been subjugated, that has been snatched away from us and buried. We know other visions have emerged, and, within their singularity, complexity, and depth, we believe it is time for other plural historicities in Abya Yala, in an intercultural translation; and here we have learned that we begin by returning to the ancestors. Therefore, in this jágagɨaɨ we perceive a guiding common thread of life: They all narrate an ecology of transformation. Each of these origin stories invites you to remember other ecosystemic paradigms. And hopefully, the more than 500 Indigenous languages will expand to infinity—that breath and fabric of the ancestors in disability.
From Abya Yala, in the midst of collaborative dialogues and creative tensions with other global souths, we are extending and complementing the paradigms and visions of disability in the great Mother Earth. Our contemporary understandings urgently require ancestral worldviews. Whether it is from Mesoamerican, Amazonian, Andean, Maori, Hopi, Yaqui, Apache, or Creek worlds—among many others—mystery, magic and reenchantment can expand our views and allow us to interculturally and decolonially converse in these challenging times in which we find ourselves between an irreversible catastrophe (on the verge of a sixth massive extinction) and new planetary hopes (that come into being as multiple guides and possibilities).
The huehuetlatolli, jágagɨaɨ, nütram, as threads and breaths of the ancestor, open up other practices in critical disability studies and in planetary fights for epistemic, social, and ecological justice. Everyone is caressed and guarded by Coatlicue, the Aztec divine mother, next to Coyolxauhqui, goddess of the moon, Ixpoliuhqui and Nanã. 15 Meanwhile, with Gloria Anzaldúa, we build altars so that a new cosmic consciousness emerges, along with the celebration of the transformations of life, with all living beings.
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- Yarza de los Ríos, A.; Romualdo Pérez, Z. (2021). "Discapacidad" desde y en los pueblos indígenas en Abya Yala/Afro/Latino/América: aproximaciones desde Colombia (mundo Êbêra Eyábida) y México (mundo Ayüük Jääy). En P. Danel; B. Pérez Ramírez; y A. Yarza de los Ríos (Comp.). ¿Quién es el sujeto de la discapacidad?: exploraciones, configuraciones y potencialidades. (pp. 155-181). CLACSO-Universidad Nacional de La Plata.
- Yarza de los Ríos, A; Sosa, L. M., y Pérez Ramírez, B. (Coord.). (2019). Estudios críticos en discapacidad. Una polifonía desde América Latina. CLACSO-UNAM. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctv1gm00ws
This article draws on results from the ongoing research project, "Caminos hacia una desmecanización de la 'discapacidad' desde los saberes indígenas ancestrales en Colombia: tejidos hacia un canasto pluriversal con los nichos vitales Murui Muina y Êbêra en el Sur Global," Doctorate in Education thesis, University of La Salle (Costa Rica), 2018-2021. In this text no ancestral word will be in quotation marks, highlighted, or italicized. This is because none is more important than the others, even though English and Spanish are the ones that name disability the most. A total of eighteen languages are present: Nahuatl, Mɨnɨka, Yoruba, Mapudungún, Guna dule, Quechua, Huichol, Mɨka, Nɨpóde, Búe, Ayüük Jääy, Êbêra eyábida, Nasayuwe, Tapiete, Guaraní, Spanish, Portuguese and English.
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Alexander Yarza de los Ríos is a professor and researcher at the Faculty of Education of the University of Antioquia, Medellin (Colombia), where he also co-directs the research group Unipluriversidad and is an associate researcher in the research group Grupo Historia de la Práctica Pedagógica en Colombia. He is one of the coordinators of the Grupo de Trabajo Estudios Críticos en Discapacidad del Consejo Latinoamericano de Ciencias Sociales (Clacso). He earned his doctorate in Education at the University of La Salle (Costa Rica), a Masters degree in Education from the University of Antioquia (Colombia) and a Bachelor's degree in Special Education. Email: email@example.com
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Likewise, my collaborators and I have taken other models that aim at emancipation, liberation, or social, political and cultural transformation, especially at the end of the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st. In Abya Yala we have been working on the construction of critical, intercultural, feminist, and decolonial our-American (nuestroamericanas) perspectives (Vg. Almeida & Angelino, 2012; Yarza de los Ríos, Pérez Ramírez & Sosa, 2019; Lay Arellano, 2019; Brogna, 2019; Rojas Campos, Schewe & Yarza de los Ríos, 2020; Gesser, Kempfer Böck & Lopes, 2020; Danel, Pérez Ramírez & Yarza de los Ríos, 2021). In an initial genealogy (Yarza de los Ríos, Angelino, Ferrante, Almeida & Míguez, 2019), we found critical traces in Latin America since the 1930s. However, more research and historical studies are still needed.
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In our epistemic fabric, ancestral knowledge and emerging scientific paradigms are close to each other (Hathaway & Boff, 2014; Gutiérrez & Prado, 2015).
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Ancestral practice of licking ambil or yera, a tobacco preparation.
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This is an entheogenic plant used ceremonially in rarámuri singing and dancing in Mexico.
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One can also dream of a possible trip through Améfrica Ladina, the cultural geopolitical category created by the Afro-Brazilian feminist Lelia Gonzalez (Gonzalez, 1988; Gómez Correal, 2019).
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According to Miguel Rocha Vivas (2018, p. 12-13), "we are talking about a polysynthetic notion that expresses relationships of meaning, as well as textual links between oral, phonetic-literary and ideosymbolic graphic proposals […] they are textual overlappings between various systems of oral, literary and graphic visual communication […] creative materializations of a wide range of communication systems in exchange, and sometimes in conflict […]". (The author's translation).
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Their literal translation would be "ancient story." We share a deeper translation taken from its ancestral etimology shared with jagaɨaɨ: "ja comes from jae (in ancient times) and is related to jagɨyɨ (life breath) and jáfaikɨte (slowly exhaling to create); gaɨ comes from ígaɨ (thread or rope); and the aɨ suffix indicates a plural. Thus, by uniting the meanings, we can say that they are formative ancestral threads and wisdom roads, that from ancient times transmit teachings for community life […]" (Martínez Pérez, 2019, p. 215). (The author's translation).
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Their ancestral territory is in Mesoamerica. In this section I closely follow the interpretations of Carlos Viesca and Mariblanca Ramos R. de Viesca (2017) and Andrea Moctezuma Balderas (2020).
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"The education of everyone, contained in elders' talks, the huehuetlatolli, insists that one must not mock the injured, the deformed, that one must even give them preferential treatment, and attempt to ensure that they are fed and do not feel hunger or cold" [Sahagún 2002, vol. ii, lib. vi; Bautista, 1988]. In other words, the cultures of prehispanic Mexico are an example of care and social protection of disabled individuals." (Viesca y Ramos R. de Viesca, 2017, p. 189). (Own translation).
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Their ancestral territory is in the Colombian Amazon. I follow Juan Kuiru Naforo's (2017) version for the kaɨ komuiya úaiyaɨ jiyakɨ jágaɨ, jágaɨ of the origin of our languages, and Konrad Theodor Preuss' (1994) for the fɨedamona ígai, fɨedamona's odyssey. It is important to notice that while the jágaɨ is a fragmented ancient story, the ígai focuses on a character.
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Their ancestral territory is in Chile and Argentina. It is also written as kanillu or canillu. Finally, my collaborators and I chose to draw on the versions recovered by Nicolás Gissi Barbieri (1997). Special thanks to Michelle Lapierre for letting me get close to the nütram (story).
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The meanings of life are understood to be "the deep etymology that tells us about the worldview of a people's culture […] they become a path to find the origin of words, to keep the trace of a people's memory" (Green, 2011, p. 64, 67). (The author's translation).
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Coatlicue and Coyolxauhqui are invoked in two of Gloria Anzaldúa's works: Borderlands/La frontera. La nueva mestiza, published in the 1980s, and Light in the Dark/Luz en lo Oscuro: Rewriting Identity, Spirituality, Reality (2015, 2016). Ixpoliuhqui would correspond to an ancient generic Náhuatl concept for cripple, which is better translated as an intricate and confusing thing (Viesca y Ramos R. de Viesca, 2017, p. 187). I also invoke Nanã, orixá or Afro-Brazilian goddess of candomblé, to entwine us with Améfrica Ladina. Between these four energies, we connect the jágagɨaɨ to other angles of radical transformative vision of disability on Earth. We recover for our altar Gloria's prayer, example, and wish to decolonize all realities.
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