“Dear Amazzonia, so beloved and suffering”

Ana Varela Tafur

03 September 2022

“In Timareo, we do not know the alphabet and its writings/and no one registers us in the pages of official books”.  Timareo is a Peruvian islet on the river Amazon. It was there that a young woman called Ana of the Uitoto ethnicity took refuge, fleeing from the “rubber trafficking barons”. This happened at the beginning of the 20th century, when the hunger for natural rubber devoured an incalculable number of indigenous men and women’s lives, who were enslaved, tortured and massacred. A tragedy of which History only preserves fragments; because the victims had not mastered the alphabet to narrate it. Redeeming Ana’s voice from oblivion and all those forgotten is a new Ana, the granddaughter of the first. This Ana is capable of liberating the oppressed word and making it an instrument of denunciation, catharsis, salvation.

Ana Varela Tafur, 59 years old, was born in Iquitos, the major centre of the Peruvian Amazon, the only city in the world without roads, immersed in a dense jungle and reachable only by plane or by navigating the Amazon river. Today, she lives in Berkeley, USA, where she teaches, and is one of the most interesting poets on the Amazonian scene. As she has recounted in the long interview with Diego Fares (published in La Civiltà Cattolica), she started writing at the age of 14, making her personal diary not an account of events but the transposition of the motions of her spirit. Since then, she has never stopped transforming Dear Amazonia, So Beloved and Suffering, into verse. This is not an empty space, as certain rhetoric wants to relegate it to the role of a raw materials larder for the North of the world. But rather a universe inhabited by human beings, plants, animals, noises, lights, silences, music. A place overflowing with life and saturated with the living, whose cosmic language remains, however, often relegated to the tangle of the jungle, because few outside know its codes.

Ana Varela Tafur, who is both indigenous and, at the same time, a descendant of Europeans, is recomposing the fracture, bridging the gap, and building a bridge of words. At the age of 20, together with her colleagues from the Peruvian Amazon National University, Carlos Reyes Ramírez and Percy Vilchea, she joined the “Urucutut group” founded by the artist Manuel Lula Mendoza. This is a cultural collective whose objective is the reaffirmation of Amazonian identity and the social denunciation of the problems suffered by the Amazon. “Poetry has a role to play in denouncing and proclaiming beauty and justice”, reads the movement’s manifesto.

Ana Varela Tafur’s verses are a denunciation of the present wounded by subjugation, while open to glimpses of utopia. They are Shots of a catastrophe consumed in the silence of global indifference; but also inky windows onto another possible world from which the reader is driven to look through, attracted by the charismatic charm of the ancestral sonorities with which each verse is imbued. Ana Varela Tafur is, therefore, an authentic social poet, to paraphrase Pope Francis, who has inserted a fragment of Timareo at the beginning of his love letter to the Querida Amazônia:

Many are the trees in which torture dwells/ and vast the woods/ bought with a thousand killings. (lucia capuzzi).


From the slopes

From the high glades of May Ushin
from the fierce slopes of the Marañón
from the incandescent plains of Huallaga
my voice summons the inhabitants of the water.
And ploughing crevasses from remote slopes
I reach vastnesses of young clays.
Thus I reunite with inhabitants of the mountain
and our endless voices flood
in tenuous vaults encrusted with night.
Because it is possible to grasp secrets in sacred geometries
because it is possible to tear codes from hallucinated ropes
and travel accompanied by stars or suns
caught in the fleetingness of intrepid rays.

Because we are one ancient voice,
a liana woven under fires
exiled or marked by the beauty of the stars
and its mantle of foreboding suckling us.
Since then we swirl with fire,
we fall in fire,
we burn the last ships of exile,
demons named in apocryphal books
or in abandoned archives where there is no oblivion.
But auroras approach arrivals
and our feet shorten paths of fear:
owl eyes destined for wisdom
on the path traced by grandfathers.
Similar to every river that greets its harbours,
we reach the moon’s pass
invaded by the respite
of an unfathomable wind.