Issue 23: Dark Matter

Julieth Morales

Reading time: 8 minutes



Our Body

Undressing colonial heritage, unweaving the Misak body

Fitting into the “mestizo” category to “improve my quality of life” as a Misak “woman” was one of the sentiments present during my childhood in the construction of my feminine identity, since building ourselves culturally out of fear due to the dispossession of human rights since the Spanish colonization erased any intention of returning to ancestral knowledge. The first mingas[1] for the recognition of ethnic diversity and human rights, carried out by the Misak people as well as other sister communities, were struggles that since 1980 and even before allowed them to challenge the centuries of colonization they had suffered. Although resistance had begun, the impact of the conquest, as well as the imposition of Western thought, had inevitably affected the Misak worldview to a great extent, modifying the view of the individual and collective body within the territories, which meant endowing the body with other experiences and judgments. That is why the journey of the Misak female body in this environment of violence, oblivion, rejection, resistance, minga, transformation, deformation, weaving and unweaving, is the starting point of so much questioning. For our Misak community, the body has a fundamental relationship with the land and nature, a relationship that is experienced within the space of the intimate and is constant from before birth, because rituality, the exercise that maintains this link, occurs within ancestral practices from gestation until death.

C. Aranda, a teacher and community member of the Guambía reservation, tells us: “It is important to keep in mind that the body cannot be separated from the spirit and that, if one is not well, the relationship with nature becomes disharmonious. Our body is our first territory.”[2] So rituals around the body also take into account each stage of its transformation, as well as the distinction about femininity and masculinity. The meaning of the body and its care are transmitted through women from generation to generation, because from a very young age, thanks to the midwife mothers who preserve the knowledge of the body’s balance inherited from nature they protect the link between these two elements with plant baths and rituals. It should be emphasized that for girls the rigorousness of ritual is necessary throughout most of their lives, beginning, for example, with their first bleeding, where a traditional doctor explains to them that their body at this moment affects the environment in a negative way and that in response they can also receive a negative effect on their body. Therefore, ritual seeks to protect them and enhance their knowledge so that they can live in harmony with nature. Now, as we have said, there is a very marked differentiation regarding rituals of the male sex, because his knowledge is about balancing the woman, guiding the work of the home and the community, and facing the cold energies that make the woman sick, since he is the one who maintains a close dialogue and reciprocity with nature. For this reason, in these cases the traditional doctor accompanies the male with plants and flowers when his voice deepens, as a reference of the change from childhood to adulthood, protecting him and providing the physical and spiritual strength for him to balance the woman.

the body has a fundamental relationship with the land and nature, a relationship that is experienced within the space of the intimate and is constant from before birth

In this sense, what we can express is that evidently the body of the Misak woman is the one that requires perseverance and rigor, because she is the generator of life, the one who gives warmth to the home, the one who transmits, the one who protects knowledge, the one who resists and carries her community.

However, to recall our colonial antecedent once again  is to review the embodied inheritance of the discourse surrounding the “good Indigenous woman” of the present, taking away the value of the duality that has been mentioned so much, where now man, woman, and nature must be hierarchized. Therefore, to speak today from the experience of contemporary Indigenous women is to confront the civilizing, colonial, and evangelizing reading, which turns out to be a debate between knowledge of the body and the impossibility of its relationship with nature, since this, mediated by religion, has burdened the body with purisms as if, in its sensitivity, it were disconnected from the place it inhabits, without their respective transformations, and only allowed to speak through domination.
If our Misak origin began with the duality of the two lakes, female and male, we know that Misak thought was also woven with this principle, leaving behind the legacy of the persistent and collaborative struggle of man and woman in the times of colonization. But as a counterpart, speaking of the present, colonial heritage modified the identity and behavior of the bodies of Indigenous women, mainly cutting off their real dialogue between the spiritual and its influence on their social and political participation, because if we remember the words of the shuras,[3] the Misak rituals around women seek to enhance female sensitivity in every transformation and not limit it to a single scenario or delegate to her the burden of sustaining her community. It is fundamental then, to understand the bodies of grandmothers, mothers, and the bodies of us daughters submerged in colonial thought which, as Anzaldúa[4] would say, would lead us to the confrontation of our own beliefs. Now for this reason, we know the history of many of our grandmothers and mothers who had to erase any “Indigenous” trait to fit into the mestizo category, which was violently understood as the possibility of improving the “quality of life of Indigenous women”; this fact only shows how consumer society was gaining strength in Misak beliefs and disharmonizing an entire community.

Accordingly, we find that our ancestors, after fighting for Indigenous communities’ right to live, also achieved the possibility of having a “voice” within their own na chak,[5] since colonization was also evident in the male body with the hierarchization of the male over the female. However, continuing to grow as women with rights is a tireless struggle against violent acts within the same homes; for this reason, the first women who were forced to receive Western education were motivated by fear, and yet at that time represented the possibility of not allowing the continuity of machismo over the bodies of the following generations of women within the Misak territory—an option that became, many years later, a tool for women today to take action and question the patriarchy. Even so, this walk through contemporaneity has implied that our mothers’ form of protection, affection, and care has come from the denial of culture, language, traditions, rituals—everything that makes up a collective identity.

Today, finally, with the tools of self-recognition left to us by the struggles of 1980 and before, we can once again look at our bodies through our ancestral individuality and collectivity, also understanding the slogan passed on to us by our elders, “Recover the land to recover everything,” as our quest to recover our bodies that are irrevocably linked to the context and to each of the territories.

So stripping myself of the extensions of the body such as the various symbolisms that surround and/or protect it becomes one of the first sensitive experiences that allow me to see nakedness, to see myself after centuries of the legacy of prohibitions, to trace the physical changes, wounds, and transformations, where I see the need to erase the limitations within the rituals, confronting the traditional scenarios that separate us with the intention of extending the silence of women. Therefore, from the individuality of my body, I decide to re-signify the rituals, the daily scenarios, and our political participation, in order to weave my body once again with the collectivity, at the same time that I foster the unweaving and weaving of the current gaze of the Misak female body. And by walking in this sense I only just identify the feminine energetic charge that we have over nature, which allows me to think about the possibilities that we have for impacting or activating in other Western scenarios. Thus, I propose a new Indigenous woman who no longer weaves over something she did not understand in her childhood, but instead the invitation to ritual that should appeal to her now is unweaving to later think about the weaving of our body with nature, a weaving that should be critical in times of resistance to the homogenizing patriarchal system,

because the same land continues to claim us as part of it and recognizes us as bodies that are potentially influential on the territories we inhabit.

It is there that the demand to recognize the body as a means of transformation  and denunciation begins by approaching, little by little and one by one, the symbolic elements that compose our traditions, in order to review and understand them through their history and the sensitivities they carry through time, so that we can now understand them and grant the body autonomy, loaded with ancestral knowledge that is in dialogue with contemporary knowledge generating transformation, where we remember that to affect the body is to affect our territory. I join the words of Vilma Almendra, quoting the women of Kurdistan: “We must continue to fight to liberate the bodies of women and men” so that in our bodies we can break the stereotypes of women inside and outside the territory.


  1. Collaborative or collective work; the basis of Misak thinking about the development of coexistence.

  2. C. Aranda, personal communication May 23, 2022.

  3. Elders.

  4. Gloria Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza (Madrid: Capitán Swing Libros, 1987), Gloria_Anzaldua.pdf

  5. Hearth, the meeting place where Misak families talk and prepare food, and aplace for parents to educate children.


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