I find the piece below incredibly insightful and healing and am grateful for it.  If my mother were alive I would sit and talk with her about it.  Her belief was that “doing is better than saying” and I wonder how many generations back we’d have to time travel in order to find the place where to say I love you encompassed the distilled yearning, desire, and passion of one’s entire history, memory, and  culture.
 

If What I Mean Is Hummingbird, If What I Mean Is Fall Into My Mouth

 

[by Natalie Diaz]

In Mojave, the words we use to describe our emotions are literally dragged through our hearts before we speak them—they begin with the prefix  wa- , a shortened form of  iiwa , our word for heart and chest. So we will never lightly ask,  How are you?  Instead, we ask very directly about your heart. We have one way to say that our hearts are good, and as you might imagine if you’ve ever read a history book or lived in this world, we have many ways to say our hearts are hurting.

 

The government came to us first in the form of the Cavalry, then the military fort (which is why we are called Fort Mojave), and finally the boarding school. The government didn’t simply “teach” us English in those boarding schools—they systematically and methodically took our Mojave language. They took all the words we had. They even took our names. Especially, they took our words for the ways we love—in silencing us, they silenced the ways we told each other about our hearts.

 

One result of this: generations of English-speaking natives have never heard  I love you  from their parents, which in their eyes, meant their parents didn’t  love  them. However, those parents never said , I love you , because it didn’t mean anything to them—it was an English word for English people. There is no equivalent to it in the Mojave language—the words we have to express our feelings, to show the things berserking in our chests for one another are much too strong to be contained by the English word  love .

 

But after boarding schools and work programs sent them to the cities for work, our children stopped speaking Mojave—they were beaten if they were caught talking or singing in their language. Maybe when they came home their parents spoke to them all about their hearts, but if they did, the children didn’t understand anymore.

 

It is true, the Mojave language does not say,  I love you —and it is equally true that the government was hoping we would quit expressing this toward one another, that we would never again give each other tenderness. While we don’t say,  I love you , we say so much more. We have ways to say that our heart is blooming, bursting, exploding, flashing, words to say that we will hold a person and never let them go, that we will be stingy with them, that we will never share them, that they are our actual heart. And even these are mere translations, as close as I can get in English.

 

Despite Cavalries and boarding schools, our language is still beautiful and passionate—it carries in it the ways we love and touch each other. In Mojave, to say,  Kiss me , is to say  fall into my mouth . If I say,  They are kissing , I am also saying,  They have fallen into each other’s mouths .

Alice Walker "Fall into the Mouth" Hummingbird

The word for  hummingbird  is  nyen nyen , and it doesn’t mean  bird —it is a description of what a hummingbird does, moving into and out of and into the flower. This is also our word for  sex Mat ‘anyenm  translated to English means  the body as a hummingbird,  or  to make a hummingbird of the body.  On a very basic level we have a word that means  body sex hummingbird  all at once.

 

I think of the many lame things people say when they want to have sex with someone–imagine how much more luck they would have if they came to you with that lightning look in their eyes and that glisten in their mouths and said just one word:  hummingbird . And you would think:  bloom, sweet, wings that rotate, heart beating at 1,260 beats per minute, flower, largest proportioned brain in the bird kingdom, syrup, iridescent, nectar, tongue shaped like a “w” —which means something close to  yes .

 

Recently, an adult learner who is teaching her children the language in her home asked our Elders if they could teach her to tell her son that she loves him. They told her that we have no word for that.  But , the learner insisted,  I need to know because I never heard my parents say that to me, and I will not let my son grow up without hearing me tell him that I love him . The Elders asked her,  What is it you really want to tell him?  The learner was emotional at this point, her words had caught in her throat. Instead of speaking, she made a gesture with her arms of pulling someone closer to her, and then she closed her eyes and hugged her arms against her chest.  Ohhh , one of the Elders exclaimed,  Now we have a word for that wakavar .

 

 

Maybe there is no great lesson to be learned here, but when I sit down to write a poem, I carry all of this language with me onto the page–I try to figure out what I really mean, what the words really mean to me. I don’t ever want to say,  love,  if what I mean is  wakavar , if what I mean is  hummingbird , if what I mean is  fall into my mouth.

 

 

The government came to us first in the form of the Cavalry, then the military fort (which is why we are called Fort Mojave), and finally the boarding school. The government didn’t simply “teach” us English in those boarding schools—they systematically and methodically took our Mojave language. They took all the words we had. They even took our names. Especially, they took our words for the ways we love—in silencing us, they silenced the ways we told each other about our hearts.

 

One result of this: generations of English-speaking natives have never heard  I love you  from their parents, which in their eyes, meant their parents didn’t  love  them. However, those parents never said , I love you , because it didn’t mean anything to them—it was an English word for English people. There is no equivalent to it in the Mojave language—the words we have to express our feelings, to show the things berserking in our chests for one another are much too strong to be contained by the English word  love .

 

But after boarding schools and work programs sent them to the cities for work, our children stopped speaking Mojave—they were beaten if they were caught talking or singing in their language. Maybe when they came home their parents spoke to them all about their hearts, but if they did, the children didn’t understand anymore.

 

It is true, the Mojave language does not say,  I love you —and it is equally true that the government was hoping we would quit expressing this toward one another, that we would never again give each other tenderness. While we don’t say,  I love you , we say so much more. We have ways to say that our heart is blooming, bursting, exploding, flashing, words to say that we will hold a person and never let them go, that we will be stingy with them, that we will never share them, that they are our actual heart. And even these are mere translations, as close as I can get in English.

 

Despite Cavalries and boarding schools, our language is still beautiful and passionate—it carries in it the ways we love and touch each other. In Mojave, to say,  Kiss me , is to say  fall into my mouth . If I say,  They are kissing , I am also saying,  They have fallen into each other’s mouths .

Alice Walker "Fall into the Mouth" Hummingbird

The word for  hummingbird  is  nyen nyen , and it doesn’t mean  bird —it is a description of what a hummingbird does, moving into and out of and into the flower. This is also our word for  sex .  Mat ‘anyenm  translated to English means  the body as a hummingbird,  or  to make a hummingbird of the body.  On a very basic level we have a word that means  body sex hummingbird  all at once.

 

I think of the many lame things people say when they want to have sex with someone–imagine how much more luck they would have if they came to you with that lightning look in their eyes and that glisten in their mouths and said just one word:  hummingbird . And you would think:  bloom, sweet, wings that rotate, heart beating at 1,260 beats per minute, flower, largest proportioned brain in the bird kingdom, syrup, iridescent, nectar, tongue shaped like a “w” —which means something close to  yes .

 

Recently, an adult learner who is teaching her children the language in her home asked our Elders if they could teach her to tell her son that she loves him. They told her that we have no word for that.  But , the learner insisted,  I need to know because I never heard my parents say that to me, and I will not let my son grow up without hearing me tell him that I love him . The Elders asked her,  What is it you really want to tell him?  The learner was emotional at this point, her words had caught in her throat. Instead of speaking, she made a gesture with her arms of pulling someone closer to her, and then she closed her eyes and hugged her arms against her chest.  Ohhh , one of the Elders exclaimed,  Now ,  we have a word for that — wakavar .

Maybe there is no great lesson to be learned here, but when I sit down to write a poem, I carry all of this language with me onto the page–I try to figure out what I really mean, what the words really mean to me. I don’t ever want to say,  love,  if what I mean is  wakavar , if what I mean is  hummingbird , if what I mean is  fall into my mouth .

 

 
SI LO QUE QUIERO DECIR ES COLIBRÍ, SI LO QUE QUIERO DECIR ES CAE EN MI BOCA. 
 
Por Natalie Diaz

 

En lengua mojave, las palabras que empleamos para describir nuestras emociones son literalmente arrastradas desde el corazón antes de que las enunciemos –empiezan con el prefijo wa–, una forma abreviada de iiwa, nuestra término para corazón y pecho. De modo que nunca preguntaremos a la ligera, ¿Cómo estás? En su lugar, preguntamos directamente sobre tu corazón. Tenemos una manera de decir que nuestros corazones son buenos y, como podrán imaginar si han leído alguna vez un libro de historia o han vivido en este mundo, tenemos muchas formas de decir que nuestros corazones duelen.

 

El gobierno vino hasta nosotros primero en forma de caballería, luego el fuerte militar (que es por lo cual nos llaman Fuerte Mojave) y finalmente los internados. El gobierno no nos “enseñó” simplemente inglés en esos internados. Ellos sistemática y metódicamente nos arrancaron nuestra lengua mojave. Nos quitaron todas las palabras que poseíamos. Incluso nos quitaron nuestros nombres. En especial, nos quitaron nuestras palabras para las formas en que amamos. Al silenciarnos, silenciaron las maneras en que nos hablábamos unos a otros de nuestros corazones.

 

Un resultado es este: generaciones de nativos angloparlantes nunca han escuchado decir “Te amo” de sus padres, lo que a sus ojos, significa que sus padres no los amaban. No obstante, esos padres jamás dijeron “Te amo” porque esto no significaba nada para ellos. Era una frase en inglés para gente de habla inglesa. No existe ningún equivalente de esta en la lengua mojave. Las palabras que tenemos para expresar nuestros sentimientos, para mostrar las cosas que hierven en nuestros pechos por los otros son mucho más fuertes para que quepan en la palabra inglesa “love” (amor).

 

Sin embargo después que los internados y los programas de trabajo los enviaran a las ciudades a trabajar, nuestros niños dejaron de hablar en mojave. Se les golpeaba si se les sorprendía hablando o cantando en su lengua. Tal vez cuando volvían a casa sus padres les hablaban de todo acerca de sus corazones, mas si lo hacían, los niños no podían comprenderlos ya.

 

Es cierto, la lengua mojave no dice “Te amo” y es también cierto que el gobierno tenía la esperanza que dejáramos de expresar esto unos a otros, que nunca más volveríamos a brindarnos ternura. Si bien no decimos “Te amo”, decimos mucho más. Tenemos formas de decir que nuestro corazón florece, rebosa, estalla, fulgura, palabras para decir que nos aferraremos a una persona y nunca la dejaremos ir, que seremos egoístas con ellos, que nunca los compartiremos, que son nuestro corazón de verdad. Incluso estas son meras traducciones, lo más cercanas que las puedo poner en inglés.

 

A pesar de la caballería y los internados, nuestra lengua es todavía bella y apasionada. Lleva en ella las formas en que nos amamos y nos tocamos. En lengua mojave, decir “Bésame”, es decir “Cae en mi boca”. Si digo,”Ellos se besan”, también estoy diciendo “Han caído el uno en la boca del otro”.

 

La palabra para “colibrí” es “nyen nyen” y no significa pájaro. Es una descripción de lo que hace un colibrí, moverse hacia dentro y afuera y adentro de una flor. Esta es también nuestra palabra para sexo. “Mat’anyenm” traducida al inglés quiere decir “el cuerpo como colibrí” o “hacer un colibrí del cuerpo”. En un nivel muy elemental tenemos una palabra que significa cuerpo sexo colibrí a la vez.

 

Pienso en las pobres cosas que la gente dice cuando quiere tener sexo con alguien. Imaginen cuánta de más suerte tendrían si vinieran a ti con esa mirada relampagueante en sus ojos y ese fulgor en su boca y pronunciaran una sola palabra: colibrí. Y tú pensarías: florescencia, dulzor, alas que baten, corazón que palpita a 1 260 latidos por minuto, flor, cerebro más grande del reino aviar, almíbar, iridiscencia, néctar, lengua en forma de w –lo que significa algo cercano a sí.

 

Recientemente una estudiante adulta que enseña a sus hijos la lengua en su casa le preguntó a nuestros ancianos si podrían enseñarle a decirle a su hijo que lo ama. Le contestaron que nosotros no tenemos palabras para eso. Sin embargo la estudiante insistió, “Necesito saber porque nunca oí a mis padres decírmelo y no permitiré que mi hijo crezca sin escucharme decirle que lo amo”. Los ancianos le preguntaron, “¿Qué es en realidad lo que quieres decirle?”La estudiante se puso sentimental en ese momento, sus palabras quedaron trabadas en su garganta. En vez de hablar hizo un gesto con sus brazos como si acercara alguien a ella y luego cerró sus ojos y apretó sus brazos en torno a su pecho. “Ohh”, uno de los ancianos exclamó, “Ahora sí tenemos una palabra para eso, wakavar.”

 

Quizás no haya una gran lección que aprender en esto, pero cuando me siento a escribir un poema, cargo con toda esa lengua conmigo hacia la página. Trato de imaginar lo que en realidad quiero decir. No quiero nunca más decir “amar”, si lo que quiero decir es “wakavar”, si lo que quiero decir es “colibrí”, si lo que quiero decir es “cae en mi boca.”

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