Dictionary for my ancestors

Lost in Colonialisation: Charrúa

Literal translation: closed hand

a. Ten in Charrúa.

b. Place both hands up, you come in peace, empty-handed. Say, ‘Yú’ (pronounced shoo)—‘One’, and as you do, lower your left pinkie, go on. Now work your way through each finger from left to right, remember not to linger: sam, detí, betúm, betúm yu, betúm sam, betúm detí, betúm artasam, baquiu, until you reach guaroj. Now close your hands tight. Position them ready to fight. Feel the fury of your knuckles. Feel the pain of our struggles. For what you hold is worth tenfold. How many Charrúa words are left? Only 68. In your palms lie ten. Not many Whites convicted for its theft … Feel the weight? There’s value in a closed hand.

Lost in Assimilation: Kimbundo

Masculine noun
Literal translation: encampment

(Kilombo in Kimbundo language from Angola)

a. A brothel, a place of noise and disorder under colonial gaze.

b. A fortified political home that houses and protects revolutionaries who freed themselves from colonial law. With drums that call out ancestors, sticks pulsing stretched leather, candombe beats echoing. With bodies that dance off evils, feet shuffling parched earth, goddesses’ hips swinging. Rising billows of dust. Scaling songs to sky. Creating a spiritual and sound barrier. Signalling an embodied language of trust. Pounding pained memories to fly. Kilombo is Mother Earth’s safe womb.

Found in Integration: Portuñol

Feminine noun
Literal translation: yes ah!

a. A chair that can only be found in Rivera, Uruguay and its bordering towns in Brazil.

b. In Uruguay the Spanish word for chair is silla. In Brazil the Portuguese word for chair is cadeira. But when these two countries touched, it was love at first sight, a merging of identities through flirtations of land, serenading languages, marrying sounds to birth words like sía, a comfortable place, yes ah!

Found in Immigration: Spanglish

Transitive verb
Literal translation: parking

a. To park in Spanglish.

b. Estacionar in Spanish, to park in English.

c. There are garages that try to lock up our migrating tongues, box them and shut our rolling r’s in. But little did these Garage Keepers know, that our r’s are too rebellious to ever stay stationary at the back of our mouths, the lever of our red leafed muscles is always in drive, vrr-rr-vrooming. Our tongues ride into the new with swing. Our trunks filled with adobo, candombe and mate gourds. Tongues dancing and twirling with two languages, round and round the parking lot. Tongues that click our high heels hard over cemented floors, screeching sla[n]g, rr-rr-reverberating off concreted walls. Skidding, dragging, u-turning, until our vocabularies rr-rr-ram into linguistic hybridity.

Lost in Translation: Spanish

Feminine noun
Literal translation: overtable

a. After meal conversations.

b. The moment where you all sit around the dining table, bellies full. Yet, remain seated because you all still crave letters which you stir and batter into phonemes, you knead and mould into words, you salt and pepper into sentences, you bake and watch rise into paragraphs. Until, finally you serve stories, jokes and recollections, to feed your hungry souls. This is where families are nourished by lexicon.

Lost and Found in Latinxation: Guaraní

Literal translation: wild hen psittacism water

(Uruguaí in Guaraní language from Charrúa Nation and its borders)

a. A republic in South America; 72172 m2. Capital: Montevideo.

b. We carry three continents in our veins: Abya Yala, Europe, and Africa. We bleed currents of pain, knowledge and stamina. We are the Charrúa Nation. Always have been, always will be.

c. River of wild birds, river of painted birds, only heard in Guaraní, not seen by White men and their binoculars. Five per cent of the world’s avifauna lives here,  in Uruguay, always here. They’re not counted but felt like birds’ pinions, flying without thought, just does, just be. Exist. Flow like water, spill like paint, chirp like song. Our song. Always ours.

Natalia Figueroa Barroso is a Uruguayan-Australian poet and storyteller who was raised between the unceded lands of Charrúa Nation and Dharug Country. Natalia’s a member of Sweatshop Literacy Movement and has degrees in Communication, Screenwriting and Media Production from the University of Technology, Sydney. She has appeared in Sweatshop Women: Volume One, Racism: Stories on Fear, Hate & Bigotry, SBS Voices, Story Casters, Any Saturday, 2021. Running Westward, Kindling and Sage, Between Two Worlds, The Big Issue, Puentes Review, Meanjin and Overland. She’s currently a content coordinator for ABC’s children’s commissioning department and an editorial assistant for Aster(ix) Journal.

By Natalia Figueroa Barroso

Issue 2 | Spring 2022

Share in:


To whom if not to you? | Beatriz Copello

Fable | Julia Santibañez