By Miguel Villegas Ventura
Ñuu Savi = People of the rain
Tu’un Savi = Language of the rain
Ñani = Brother
Ku’va = Sister
Ve’e Tu’un Savi = The Academy of the Mixtec Language
I would like to present the history of Ve’e Tu’un Savi, Civil Association. In English, it is translated as the “The Academy of the Mixtec Language” with a great history as a collective association founded in 1997. Its roots and power date from 1972 when it was born in discussion forums, which sought to write the Tu’un Savi language. It is in this space where the Ñuu Savi, or People of the Rain from various communities in the states of Oaxaca, Guerrero and Puebla in Mexico, continue to participate. It is a space that was designed to bring together the speakers of Mixtec, or as we call it, Tu’un Savi.
Since the era of colonization, the colonizers have used Náhuatl to name most communities and identify their language. This was due to the fact that Náhuatl, which was spoken by the Mexicas, was the dominant language and had significant influence throughout the Mexican territory. The Spaniards based the names they placed on the territories of various peoples according to the named used by the Mexicas. One example would be the name of the Mixtecos, which derives from Mixtecalt meaning “People of the Land of the Clouds” in Náhuatl. That is how the Mexicas knew our ancestors and that is how they named us.
Nevertheless, the people of Ñuu Savi, we have our own identity in our language, including the very language we speak. There are communities that call themselves in their own dialectal variant Na Savi, Yivi Savi, Nivi Sau, which according to the book, Basis for Writing the Language of the Rain all mean Ñuu Savi. It is important to mention that this book was written by the collective work of Ve’e Tu’un Savi, A.C. It was in one of these same congresses where it was decided to have a common concept among all communities to call the territory where we live Ñuu Savi. As I mentioned earlier, the communities include the states of Guerrero, Oaxaca and Puebla, keeping in mind that there were no borders because we were one nation.
Ñuu Savi is a concept that those of us speaking the language understand well as a way of saving the identity of the original people and further enriching our vision of the world. In the same way, we refer to the language we speak, which is known today as the Mixtec language. Tu’un Savi is a concept that was created to unite the inhabitants of the speakers of this language, although each community has its own method of saying the name of their language, according to its dialectal variant.
One interesting point of the Tu’un Savi language is to know that it has approximately 81 official dialectal variants according to a report published in Mexico in 2008 by the National Institute of Indigenous Languages (INALI). Although we cannot be sure that all were identified, at least these were. Many of the original peoples, such as the Ñuu Savi, along with the Zapotec, Mexica and Purepecha brothers and sisters, to name a few, have been viciously colonized and their self-esteem abused. They have been made to think that the language we inherited from our ancestors is only a dialect, that it is not the equivalent to Spanish or English and that it is not useful in any way. It is only through the analysis of the written language that we can see the complexity of its expressions. In this case, Tu’un Savi is full of verbs, timings and a disciplined sequence when it is expressed in sentences. It is worth mentioning that the language contains metaphoric expressions as well as poetic and philosophical.
The concept and vision of the world of the Tu’un Savi is as deep as its roots, and we cannot translate, as we would like to in Spanish or English, although it does reach the soul. Tu’un Savi is a complete tongue and legally recognized along with all of the original tongues in Article 2 of the Constitution, 2005:5, in Mexico. A complete and complex language has a variety of dialects. Due to the distance between communities, many know this and call each variation a dialect. But that does not mean that Tu’un Savi is no longer a language or that it is less; Tu’un Savi is a rich treasure that has survived for thousands of years.
Ve’e Tu’un Savi, A.C. has already held 13 congresses, including the last one, which I attended. Upon arriving at the congress in the morning, I was happy to see so many ñani and ku’va all of Ñuu Savi. It was pleasing to see the participation of women, men, teachers, municipal authorities, youths and elders. I have never seen so many people from diverse communities but with the same roots together. We began the meeting making a circle, and together we raised our hands giving thanks to mother earth and our ancestors for the inheritance and knowledge they left us.
Some of the themes that we covered during the three days were communication and transmission of the knowledge of Tu’un Savi, the educational process at all levels, biological and linguistic diversity, knowledge of traditional healing and the role of the native language, the relation between the nature and reproduction of the culture, the role of the woman and community initiatives. The first exercise was to separate us into five groups to begin a discussion of these themes.
I took part in the group that discussed the theme of how the Tu’un Savi language is used to communicate and transmit knowledge. Something important that was brought up by a ku’va is that it takes a long time to raise the consciousness of the youth and children regarding the importance of preserving our language. Being conscious of this, we should not be discouraged if they do not give importance to its use. We must continue reminding them why we should maintain alive this millenary language.
Something that I shared with all the ñani and ku’va was that in order to reach the soul and consciousness of the communities, we have to start with decolonization. Doing workshops on decolonization, we can tell our version of history and explain how it was negatively affected by the European invasion of our original peoples. Here we can realize that our ancestors have always been knowledgeable, with understanding of the crops, astronomy, art and crafts, architecture and much more. We are not just Indians who came down from the mountains lacking institutional education or money, as they like to describe us.
As Dr. Gaspar Rivera-Salgado, professor at the UCLA, stated in one of the workshops on decolonization I attended, “As you can observe, they say our temples and pyramids are marvelous, while calling us useless Indians.” There is a contradiction here and we should not allow them to continue offending our communities. As the authors state in the book, Basis for Writing the Language of the Rain, the objectives of the political system in Mexico included the permanent disappearance of the original tongues in order to impose Spanish. This “severely damaged the self-esteem and consciousness of the native[s] of Ñuu Savi. As a result and with reason, many do not want to know anything about the language or culture of their ancestors, in order to end the suffering caused by the social inequalities that still exist until today.”
At the end of the last congress, each group presented their points of view in order to strengthen our efforts to continue recovering the language through writing. Some key points that arose are that we must be united in the struggle and we cannot allow political parties, religions or linguistic variants to divide us. It was also mentioned that we must create more textbooks in order to teach the Tu’un Savi language. One ñani reminded us that part of the collective work is the preparation of a document for the government and Chamber of Deputies stating our posture and that we are aware of our linguistic and cultural rights. These are referred to in Convention 107, which affirms the protection and rights of indigenous peoples to maintain their customs and continue their social development without being the objects of discrimination.
The task of each individual who attended this congress is to return to his or her community and become innovative when it concerns the preservation of our native tongue. There were many suggestions, such as teaching to write and express stories, jokes and theater. We must also seek more time on the radio, television and social networks to spread our work. In the next congress, we should return with the results of our work and share it with everyone else. Lastly, something that inspired me was the comment by one ñani who emphasized that we are not indigenous, we are not Indians; we are one of the original peoples whose roots will not die. We are each responsible for maintaining our language and culture, beginning in the home. In that way, we can continue struggling so that the memory and wisdom of our ancestors does not die.
Knowing the richness of our culture and the world vision of our ancestors, we realize that we must struggle to preserve them. We should not allow our original tongue to die because through it we can understand a world of millenary. Writing is one way of keeping the language alive; we must adapt to whatever crosses our path, without losing this concept that we have of life, mother earth and our community. It is not easy to understand this because we continue to struggle against a capitalist world and a society that is not designed to preserve our roots. It is our responsibility to carry forward the use of our language at home and in any space we find ourselves in without shame.
Kunii ndakwa’i, iin xindavini ka’nu nuu ndyi’i na yivi naa ichindee miindyi, na ixa’a ndee tana kuvi ku’ndyi Ñuu Tyixin Nuu, Nuun Duva, nuú intututu naa Ve’e Tu’un Savi.
I want give a big thanks to all of those individuals who supported us to be able to make the trip to the 13th Congress of the Academy of the Language of the Rain, in Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca.
Miguel Villegas Ventura is an instructor of Mixtec writing with the Binational Center for the Development of Oaxacan Indigenous Communities in Fresno.