Horacio Mancilla

In search of Akaruka



Horacio Mancilla is a Mexican voice over and writer. He's got a Masters degree in Creative Writing from Casa Lamm in Mexico City. He's the author of the short story book Slim Travels Second ClassHoracio is also a voice performer on commercials, video games, cartoons and audiobooks. He hosts and produces the online radio show Puzzled: my journey in search of the meaning of life


Akta tikih tsutsuk amó tetek!

         Who would think something so beautiful means you are a goddam piece of shit?

         The first time I read about you was in The New Yorker. In search of the lost word. A full three-page article about the 21-year old Chilean guy who claims to be a descendant of the Akaruka tribe and the last alive speaker of their language.

         Your people, the article explained, were a nomadic population that settled in the region of Tierra del Fuego more than a thousand years ago and were almost exterminated in the late 1800’s when an avalanche of gold seekers put bounties on their heads.  The tribe was reduced to roughly 300 individuals who were resettled on reservations run by missionaries. Your grandmother happened to be one of them.

         “I remember how the rugged voice of my grandmother turned into the whisper of a river when she named the objects around me. I was delighted by that music, but also obsessed about who I was and where I came from.”


         Who was that boy that described a voice as rugged? How can someone in his early twenties be the subject of interviews in The New Yorker and The Financial Times?

         “One precious thing to me about my language is the vocabulary of words for love. They change according to the age, sex, and kinship of the speakers and the nature of the emotion.”

         How many words did you know to define love?

         “On our map of the universe, we called the East ‘the space without time’ ”—the realm of the unknown. “We had a Paleolithic skill set yet a boundless imagination. Our mythology is rich. Everything in our world—plants and animals, the sun and stars—has a voice”.

         I just wanted to know how your voice sounded like.

         “Hi! I read the article in The New Yorker and I was fascinated by your story. I can’t believe you live in San Diego! Are you open to giving Akarukan classes to preserve the language and the culture of your people?”

         It took you a month to respond my email.

         Tak tak Matuke Ikti Ikti tokte

         I told you I would be honored to decipher the meaning of such beautiful words.  Your reply came two weeks later.

         Saturday 8:00 AM. See address below.

         I’ll be honest with you. The first encounter was disappointing. On the two-hour drive to the coffee shop in San Diego, I had pictured you as a young indigenous shaman in a tunic, but you were whiter than the Antarctic and wore jeans and a t-shirt.  Your black eyes looked strangely away from each other, as if they refuse to meet.

         “Iktik toko Yanuk or nice to meet you, I’m Yanuk.” Your English was impeccable but your accent was hard to pick up. You hit hard the t’s and k’s. I wondered if you learned Akarukan before Spanish.

         “Hi, I’m Olivia, nice to meet you. I just want you to know that I’m not a crazy New Age fanatic trying to impress everyone at a meditation class with fancy words in Akarukan. I’m a History graduate student. I’m passionate about ancient languages and cultures…”

         “ I know who you are,” you whispered as you touched my hand.  “I Googled you.”

         “ Oh, really? And what do you think?

         “I think you are different.”

         “What makes you think that?"

         “Well, your dad owns Mercedes-Benz dealerships but you drive an old Subaru, your mom sponsors charity auctions but you must buy your clothes at Goodwill, you made a 2-month trip to Peru and Bolivia all by yourself but you still live with your parents.”

         “You’ve done your research.” I said after a long pause.

         “ And you never smile in pictures.” You said, smiling.  “What exactly do you want to learn, Olivia?”

         “Everything. Your culture, your language.”

         “ This is not Berlitz. I’m the depositary of an ancient tradition that will die the day I die. It’s my duty to share our cosmology with the honest seeker.” You said in that monotone only stressed by the percussion in your mouth.

         “To understand our language, first you need to understand our minds and our hearts. You have to see the world through our eyes. To tear down the building you’ve built up in your head and make a new one from scratch. And only then, perhaps, you can learn our language.”

         “Have you taught that to anyone?” I asked you as I stopped nodding.

         “Our vision to many. Our tongue to none.”

         “And how can I know that you really speak Akarukan if no one else does?”

         “I guess I have the last word.”

         I still don’t know what made you so attractive. Maybe it was just the arrogance you exhaled.  The conceit of those who think they carry the weight of the world on their shoulders. Yet, you never mentioned the articles portraying you as a prodigy: Yanuk is fluent in Spanish, English, French, Mapudungun and Quechua but he never took a class.  He was granted a scholarship in Linguistic Studies at UC San Diego. He will be the main subject of a coming documentary about endangered tongues.

         You knew who you were: The last in the lineage of the few chosen; the ones with a message to convey. You were also the one who said my name like none else. But you never knew that.

         “My people lived in the southernmost corner of the world because those who know the truth don’t mix up with the ordinary man, yet the ordinary man can reach out to them for enlightenment .”

         “I’d like to know that truth.” I said emphatically.

         “What came first, Olivia, the language or the world?” You asked, grinning.

         “The world, of course.”

         “First, was the verb. And that’s the truth.”

         Our meetings continued for weeks at the coffee shop. You would always wear the same black pants and white t-shirt but your hair grew longer and curlier overtime. You don’t know this but the class became my weekend ritual. I would leave Newport Beach every Saturday at 6:00 AM, wondering what would you teach me this time. How your ancestors braved the frigid climate by coating their bodies with whale fat?  How Akayimú created the world like a potter, shaping it first on the Ecuador, and the poles at the end, placing there the ones who can keep his deepest secrets? How time and space are nothing but a dream and how man will finally wake up before the eternal ice melts forever? There I was, turning the 5 freeway into the path to understanding, tearing down my world of tennis classes and Swedish massage, my afternoons watching movies alone at the Lido Theater, looking at the world through your eyes.

         At the beginning the class was enough for me. I couldn’t ask for more to the Chilean wonder; always busy. This week writing an article for the University’s magazine, the next one reviewing the last draft of his documentary’s script.

         One day you started teaching me words in Akarukan.  At first it was like if you had dropped a coin. I picked it up and put it in my pocket.  You continued dropping more and more carelessly, and I collected them all.  You were sharing your treasure with me and I would follow you anywhere.

         I loved your studio in Downtown San Diego. A small bed, a wooden table with two chairs and a bookshelf were the only pieces of furniture. The walls were stippled with numerous objects that made the place feel like yours:  A psychedelic Huichol blanket, a leather drum, a small collection of Navajo tools and weapons. The bookshelf was full of volumes like The Historical Linguistics of Native America or History of indigenous groups in South America. And the thick yellow notebook with your handwriting on the cover: Akarukan Lexicon.

         Do you remember how you liked to interrupt the class to show me an Indian tool or a picture from a book? Or the day you closed the yellow notebook and slapped the table as you asked me:

         “Would you like to learn the different words for love in the Akarukan language?”

         You grabbed my hand and walked me slowly to the center of the room. Placed your hands on my hips and kissed me softly, almost tenderly, as you whispered:

                  “Totoktsé…I love you as a friend.”

                   A sentence later, you had taken my shirt off.

                  “Totoktsó…I love you as my sister.”

         Then you dragged me into the bed and landed on top of me. Your body was light and bony. 

                  “Totoktsá…I love you as myself.”

                  Your tongue began drumming in my mouth, my ears, my thighs.  And I saw the Huichol blanket twirled in scarlet, green and aquamarine tones. You went on throwing words that hammered my skin like arrows. When you were inside me, an expansive wave of heat shook me, and I felt the eternal ice melting forever. There I was, in the core of your universe, closer than anyone else, smiling in very picture, throwing away those used clothes, living in a world dotted with T’s and K’s. When did we stop sitting at the table at all? When did the happiness end, Yanuk?

         It wasn’t the time that I asked you the Akarukan word for hate and you said Tolobak. A couple of months later I asked you the same question and you said there was no word for hate in your language. Then I asked you what Tolobak meant and you said that was not Akarukan. 

         It wasn’t the day that I got to the studio and before knocking at the door I heard you speaking in your tongue. First, I thought you were studying but I realized you were on the phone. Your mouth played a syncopated rhythm, soft and sensual, that I had never heard before.

         It wasn’t even when you sent me that email:

         “Olivia, it’s been an honor to be your teacher and friend all these months, but it’s time for you to continue the search on your own. You have a precious seed now, go ahead and share it with the world.”

         The happiness ended the next day, when I followed you at the University. I saw you leaping from classroom to classroom, smiling at everyone with the green Peruvian bag on your shoulder.  I patiently waited for you on a bench.  Then you walked in the cafeteria, pulled out your books and laptop.  A few minutes later she arrived. Blond and skinny, just like me. She sat at your table. You opened the yellow notebook as you touched her hand. I was a few tables away, Yanuk; close enough to see your mouth playing the syncopated rhythm for hours and my whole building slowly falling apart.  I could’ve yelled at you that you’re a liar. I could’ve snatched the yellow notebook and destroyed forever all those ridiculous words you made up to be loved by everyone. But you were right, Yanuk. I’m different.

         The next Saturday I left Newport Beach at 6:00 AM. It was raining and my car floated in a purple cloud. I arrived at your studio at 8:00 AM.  When you opened the door I wrapped my arms around your neck and kissed you. I could smell your sweat, aged and rancid. I sent you an email, Olivia, you said. Before you could say more, I grabbed your hand and walked you slowly to the center of the room. In a single motion, I took your t-shirt and pants off and then I took off mine.  I dragged you into the bed. The sheets were still warm. I landed slowly on top of you and clutched your penis, splendid like a totem.  We swayed as fast as we could, as if we were in a voodoo ritual. I heard you whining words in Akarukan that I didn’t know but I pretended they were ten more ways to say I love you. I turned your body upside down and slid my tongue along your back.  I pictured your home, small and rustic, lost on the edge of the Antarctic. I stretched out my arm, seized the Navajo turquoise knife pinned on the wall next to the bed, and continued the path up to the back of your neck. You turned around and before you could gasp I ripped your skin, right where the treasure is hidden.  You became a source of life and fury; the sounds would come out of your throat like volcanic lava:  Akta tikih tsutsuk amó tetek! Akta tikih tsutsuk amó tetek!

         When the silence wrapped us your distant eyes were looking east. We were hugging each other in the space without time.  After a while, I got up and saw my naked body coated with your blood. I walked to the bookshelf and grasped the yellow notebook. A frenetic handwriting; pages and pages of words that you never shared with me. There were no expressions to define love. But I wasn’t sad, Yanuk. I had just witnessed the death of a language. And that certainly, makes me special too.







© The Acentos Review 2015