Námaku and Siete Vientos
Johan Alexander's work has received support from Maine Writers & Publishers Alliance, and he was a Maine Lit Fest Fellow and a member the Periplus Collective cohort in 2022. His last three written pieces appear in Eunoia Review, the Periplus Anthology, and LatineLit Spring '23. Born in Medellin, Colombia, he currently lives in Portland, Maine.
Based on Colombian folklore
At the foot of a mountain near the green sea lived Námaku, a hermit with a copper-striped complexion and abundant hairs sprouting from his body which culminated in a long braid: some remember this to be a tail. According to those whisperers, Námaku had feline blood, wild feline eyes, and saw the savage world as felines saw the world: silent under the spell of the moon. He was remembered as a spiritual being, given to his wonderings and his wanderings, and his time on this earth would be noted as emphatic, sincere, and hopeful.
Námaku had crossed valleys, rivers, and the great humid southern fields to find this land, his whiskers growing as he walked, following an idea that tumbled around in his skull. He had the fixed proposition to obtain immortality, and he had to find the perfect cave by the sea to prepare himself for when the moment came. It was his obsession.
Sometimes Námaku danced with his jaguar mask in the shadows of his cave as an intense beam of moonlight bounced over the green sea. He was bewitched by the murmur of nocturnal animals sauntering through his solitary rite, creatures padding over spooning pools of light that dripped from their shifting golden eyes. He swiped through his cave with his claws, roared with a great din, and rapped a haunted rhythm upon the skin of his jaguar drum.
After dancing, to calm himself, he sat outside his cave and closed his eyes, lifting his feline spirit toward the sea breeze in offering, trying to catch the wing of immortality. But he never was able to feel that fleeting touch.
Nothing had ever happened until one night, after dancing, he stepped out of his cave and was discovered by the spirits of Siete Vientos, a collection of wistful souls who floated around a nearby subterranean labyrinth. The maze was a confusion of hollows, holes, bends, and rocky routes through which Siete Vientos had to twist and turn, causing an intriguing acoustic sound to emanate from the Sierra below to the stars above.
They met this way: as Námaku took off his jaguar mask and closed his eyes to concentrate, Siete Vientos wafted from their cave in a melancholy mood. Their winding sighs, the seven musical notes, lifted through the night and spread over the seven colors of the rainbow and flung themselves through the atmosphere in tumultuous murmurs that went back and forth, back and forth, up and around and down and up once again. Their voices meandered, fell apart, and came together, and then swung out into the heavens wrapping their stanzas around and between the sputtering stars.
Námaku was aghast with wonder. He visited Siete Vientos in their labyrinth and listened to them sing. They encouraged their neighbor to sharpen his ear: his explorer’s ear, his musician’s ear, his copper-striped, feline ear. Siete Vientos was a breath full of savage nature, always changing and writhing, alive with liberty, impulsive. They modulated their voices with the hills and valleys of Madre Tierra and all her creatures. They breathed the rhythms of Tierra Caliente: her fire, her humidity, her heat.
The voices of Siete Vientos fluttered in fragments of sounds, transforming the sharp horizon and the currents of the rivers into undulations beneath her melodies.
One night, Námaku did not visit. Siete Vientos did not hear his jaguar dance. They abandoned their nocturnal songs and flew from their labyrinth, calling his name:
Námaku, Námaku, why are you silent?
What is it that has taken your dream tonight, Námaku?
Siete Vientos found the dancer with the jaguar mask quietly sitting in the shadows of his mountain. Námaku opened his eyes and responded:
I am abashed to admit that I wish, I wish for the kiss of immortality.
I want to elevate my actions to the perfection of the stars,
to pinpoint the centers of my emotions,
to override my fears of death.
It is my obsession.
Siete Vientos sighed through their melancholy and then laughed, their voices golden particles which twinkled above the mountain and dripped into the green sea.
The idea of immortality is but a passionate illusion, Námaku.
To know that we are mortals is what makes us alive!
Námaku pondered. Siete Vientos continued to sing:
Life escapes us and Time pushes us to live in the present,
to discover a life with the music of the stars
and glittering constellations from every region of the world!
Námaku had to intervene, a little puzzled:
Do you mean Time with a capital T?
Siente Vientos gasped with an amorous yet sightly insane look prancing across all their faces:
The all-powerful Time which moves everything and changes everything!
It is good to live, but also good to die and to be reborn, lovingly, and carefully, with Time!
Suddenly Siete Vientos rose above the cave and the mountain in a whirring propeller of light. With the buzzing of millions of ecstatic, silver dragonflies flapping their wings, Siete Vientos let their voices ring, and as their song rippled the green sea below, the jaguar mask lifted. It moved upward, floating and fleeing, and Siete Vientos reached out their winding arms and pushed the mask up, up toward the billowing heavens.
The day is here, Námaku.
Leave your cave.
I, Siete Vientos, can only count on the present winds, which linger here no longer.
I give my songs to you, Námaku.
My songs are for you this morning.
Sometimes melancholy, tired, and quiet.
Sometimes happy, a hero, a hurricane!
With my parrot wings of fire, I swing and sing over this green sea,
transporting smells, spices, and seeds to any land or island I encounter.
And I find love in my travels,
and I know that you will find love as well,
in your travels.
And when that moment finds you
you will know.
And Námaku, once you know
then you will live forever.
These are the words that convinced Námaku to leave his cave. Námaku the Wanderer, Námaku the Poet, travelling to all the villages in the valleys webbing away from the green sea. These are the songs Námaku carried inside: the voices of Siete Vientos. These voices which burst and vanished above his cave right before the morning dawn and took his jaguar mask. These winds rushing, filling all the cracks and brief, empty instances of his world with a melody. Námaku sauntered the land, his braid trailing behind: some remember this to be a tail. He told of his jaguar dance and of Siete Vientos and recited the savage wind of their music. And as he laughed and twitched his copper-striped ears, Námaku felt the rhythmic flashes of love that his listeners sang through their eyes when he shared his story. And then he knew immortality.