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  • U nojil a ch'i'ibalBriceida Cuevas Cob's Poetic Empowerment of Yucatec Maya Women
  • Hannah Palmer (bio)


In her recent book Revealing Rebellion in Abiayala, Hannah Burdette proposes a unifying framework to understand the interactions between Indigenous literatures and social movements across the Western Hemisphere.1 Her analysis suggests that writing serves a dual function for Native political struggles: on one hand, Indigenous texts make visible (visibilizar) ways of knowing and being erased by colonial violence. On the other, these works envision (visualizar) Indigenous modernities outside of and alternative to the logic of coloniality/modernity (6). The interplay between recording and creating Indigenous realities transforms literature into a potent space for "critical revitalization," the remaking of tradition to meet contemporary demands (9). The emergence of "new and unexpected ways of being indigenous" in the writings of Native peoples prefigures transformations within their communities as well as outside of them (4).

This transformative power makes literature a dynamic tool to interrupt engrained practices of discrimination. As Bolivian Aymara activist Julieta Paredes asserts, Indigenous communities are not now, nor were they ever, free from systems of social violence, especially against women. Rather, she affirms that Indigenous women today suffer the effects of a compounded patriarchy, an entronque patriarcal (patriarchal link), formed when pre-existing forms of gender discrimination combined with those imported by colonial powers (71–73). To truly decolonize, therefore, Native communities must look critically at their own histories and root out patriarchal practices arising from them. In praxis, this process requires a radical re-envisioning of many revered traditions. As K'iche' Maya political leader Alma López describes in her interview [End Page 26] with Ángela Ixkic Duarte Bastian, "Me propongo reconstruir los discursos tradicionales, cuestionarlos, transformar los espacios tradicionales en espacios reales de poder para hombres y mujeres" ["I propose to reconstruct traditional discourses, question them, transform traditional spaces into real spaces of power for men and women"] (178).2

The following article explores how Indigenous women utilize the transformative space of literature to engage in just such a project of reimagining local tradition and identity. It reads the 1998 collection Je' bix k'in/Como el sol (Like the Sun) by Yucatec Maya poet Briceida Cuevas Cob as a defense of the Yucatec Maya Peoples framed around a feminist revision of their traditions. As the collection's poems trace the transmission of a spiritual heritage through women's domestic labor, Cuevas Cob rethinks a central concept of Yucatec Maya identity: ch'i'ibal, or lineage. Her work, embedding feminist praxis within the struggle for Indigenous rights, thus belongs to a global corpus of Indigenous feminist theory as well as to the canon of Yucatec Maya activist literature.

Because Cuevas Cob writes in a context distinct from that found in the United States and Canada, I begin my argument with a historical overview of Indigenous writing in Yucatán, Mexico. Linking the contemporary literary moment with a long trajectory of Yucatec Maya writing as resistance, I suggest that today's authors assert Native authority despite their utilization of state-sponsored programs and resources. Next, I examine how these writers summon the social category of ch'i'ibal—lineage—to unify Yucatán's Indigenous Peoples and defend their privileged position in the region's history. Considering the term's historical connection with male domination of political and spiritual power, I then argue the urgency of reimagining ch'i'bal to fully integrate women into the Yucatec Maya community. To illustrate such a revision, I analyze how a selection of poems from Cuevas Cob's Je' bix k'in reimagines ch'i'ibal to depict women engaging fully in its production. Validating women's claims to authority, the work reveals the importance of female communion to transmit sacred knowledge. I conclude by speculating on the potential for literary alliances between Cuevas Cob's poetry and that of Indigenous women across Abiayala.

Before beginning my analysis, I offer one brief note on language. Like many Indigenous works published in Spanish-speaking regions, Cuevas Cob's poems appear almost exclusively in bilingual formats. This duality creates a conundrum for scholars, who must decide how to engage [End Page...


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