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Unleashing the Might of Poetry to Defend Indigenous Culture

August 21st, 2012

Written by Jennifer Betcher
A new poet is on the rise. Maria Clara Sharupi Jua, from the Amazonian jungles of Ecuador, composes verse not only in Spanish, but in Shuar. Currently spoken by over 40,000 Ecuadorians, Shuar is the language of an ancient Amazonian culture whose civilization flourished even before that of the Incas.
Maria Clara incorporates the customs, beliefs, and beauty of her Amazonian homeland into her works, weaving the physical attributes of her birthplace—its waterfalls, mountains, flora, and fauna—into the fabric of her poetry. Her verse—a beautiful tapestry of lush images infused with the traditions and textures of her homeland—explores themes of nature, love, language, and cosmic unity with the earth.
In the 16th century, the Shuar people were the only indigenous civilization to oust Spanish conquistadors from their lands. For centuries they have successfully adapted and strategized to retain their native lands. Most notoriously known for their ancient practice of head shrinking, a reputation for brutality and fierce independence developed around Shuar society over the years, fomenting a cultural stigma of savagery that, according to Sharupi, has distorted the essence of Shuar civilization.
Conveying the beauty of her language and culture to soften that image of savagery has become the backbone of Sharupi’s poetry. She portrays the Shuar culture as a great civilization deserving less attention as an anthropological study, and more as an intellectual source. Our biological similarity as humans unites us, she believes, but our languages make us unique—a difference that must be celebrated, not ignored or shunned.
Sharupi currently lives and works in the Ecuadorian capitol of Quito. She holds a full-time job with the government while attending university classes in pursuit of a degree. You can find her work published in several journals, books, and anthologies, including Amanece en nuestras vidas, and Collar de historias y lunas. Several of her poems, such as Dreams and Like Red-Hot Lava are translated into English; you can read them online at www.poetrytranslation.org. In addition to her poetry, Sharupi helped to edit the official translation of the Ecuadorian constitution from Spanish into Shuar Chicham.
Maria Clara’s current project is a tri-lingual (Spanish, English, and Shuar) collection of poetry, stories, and songs written to honor the true essence of Shuar culture.
Works Referenced:
http://www.culturalsurvival.org/publications/cultural-survival-quarterly/when-pen-mightier-sword-shuar-poet-redefines-her-culture
http://www.poetrytranslation.org/poets/Maria_Clara_Sharupi_Jua

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