I made a copy of two pages in Sherri Mitchell’s book. I wrote “Write like Man” at the top as a blog for another day. I had already considered many times over the cultural knowledge locked within indigenous language, except Mitchell added another layer, or really language. Gender.
“Many male scholars were trained to see the world through a rational, linear lens. Therefore, their translations were practical and efficient, stripping away everything except the most basic meaning.”
Not only the role of conqueror mattered here. Gender too shaped worldview. This is not unfamiliar to me. I recall the reading of Malinche, Pocahontas, and Sacagawea: Indian Women as Cultural Intermediaries and National Symbols by Rebecca Kay Jager.
Still, there the focus was on leadership in action, not word.
“Women tend to view language differently. When women break down the language, they do so intuitively, including in their definitions the deeper contextual meanings and relational aspects of the words. Their definitions are generally more descriptive and inclusive. When the women interpreting the language possess deep cultural knowledge, they see the language from an even broader perspective, interpreting it in a way that leaves all of the cultural and traditional teachings intact. Thus, their definitions are not only descriptive but associative and relational, incorporating interconnected aspects of the entire cultural reality into the meaning.”
Except today women have long lived within a patriarchal structure.
I folded the copy in half. I saved it for another day. I recalled the page in Sherri Mitchell’s book when my brother sent me a text of an online dictionary entry.
(for securing a prisoner)
Todos los policías tienen que llevar esposas.
“Nice,” he typed. I inserted the sarcasm myself. I didn’t need the definition that was cut off below to describe “wife” and use it in a sentence.
“I know,” I responded. This vocabulary wasn’t news to me.
At the bottom of Mitchell’s page, I read. "Our languages are meant to be relational. They teach us how to live in kinship with one another, how to engage the natural elements in our environment, and how to place ourselves with the larger creation.”
Unless someone else placed us in the relationship as they chose through words. Animals. Trees. Soil. These pieces of our environment are “it”. Less. Wives are handcuffed. Trapped. To other groups of people simply say “those” or “they” and humans are erased or swept to margins. Disappeared. Mitchell’s Passamaquoddy. My colleagues Kaqchikel and K’iche. Words attempt to remember where they’re from and fill in the gaps lost.
I remembered the day the Guatemalan child told me that in Kaqchikel the word for brown was the same as Spanish, café compared to all the words the women who taught me to weave could use to distinguish shades of blue.
My brother added, “It’s interesting. You know handcuffs. The old ball and chain. In Hebrew it translates to owner and woman. Ba’al ishah.”
Women do not own, much less run the wor(l)d.
Mitchell, Sherri. (2018). Sacred Instructions: Indigenous Wisdom for Living Spirit-Based
Change. North Atlantic Books: Berkeley.
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