Friday Finds: Darwish’s ‘Red Indian’ Poem Across Eight Languages

The Babel Review of Translations, a publication that translates literary works into a branching series of echoing translations, has taken on the third section of Mahmoud Darwish’s “خطبة ‘الهندي الأحمر’ -ما قبل الأخيرة- أمام الرجل الأبيض,” or  “The Red Indian’s Penultimate Speech To The White Man,” publishing not only an English translation by Sargon Boulus, but also translations into six other languages:

While there have been at least two English translations, Babel has published fresh ones in Spanish (tr. Shadi Rohana), Mazatec (tr. Gloria Martínez Carrera), Chinantec (tr. Alicia Gregorio Velasco), Mixe (tr. Yasnaya Elena Aguilar), Yucatec (by César David Can Canul) and Zapotec (by Víctor Cata).

Babel has used Boulus’s English translation, although poet Fady Joudah has also translated the poem, and you can read his translation in the 2009 Harvard Review. His keener translation of the opening of the third section is “…Our names are trees of the deity’s speech, and birds that soar higher / than the rifle.”

The opening in the eight languages on Babel.


أَسْماؤُنا شَجَرٌ مِنْ كَلامِ الإِلهِ، وَ طَيْرٌ تُحَلِّقُ أُعَلْى
.مِنْ الْبُنْدُقِيَّةِ


Our names: branching leaves of divine speech,
birds that soar higher than a gun.


…Nuestros nombres, árboles hechos del habla divina, un ave volando más alto que un fusil.


…Njínajiṉ , jè yá ri kjondani ko̱ ’én xkón, jngo nise ri ísa̱ ng’a títjotjeṉ tiḵ ’o̱a̱jini jè tjo̱ ic̱ ha̱.


…I hmaan hnan’, mah malɨh hɇ chi konla hnean’ han tan ‘e latɨ iñe xku lkon mɇn tih.


… Ëëts nxëë, kipy xoj maxan kajpxyën yyont, jawaan këjxp ja joon kyaajkki’iky ni ka’t ja tujn.


…K k’aaba’ob, che’ob beeta’an yéetel kili’ich t’aan, juntúul ch’íich’ ka’anal u xik’nal máanal u ka’analil ti’ jump’éel ts’oon.


Ládu, sica ti yaga ni bia’ne xtiidxa’ bidó’, ti manihuiini’ zipapa ma’ nasoo que ti guiiba’guí.

Read more on The Babel Review of Translations.


  1. Certainly one of the greatest poems written in Arabic on occupations and genocides. Timeless in its vocabulary and sentiments, and absolutely humane. A poem for the ages. Thanks for posting the translations. In looking up the Arabic text and Fadi Jouada’s translation, I’ll vote for Jouada’s. In times like ours when genocide seems so persistent, every line of this poem is relevant, timely, and a reminder of the need to speak up against willful destruction of life and resources. Every line, but here’s my favorite: “Will you not memorize a bit of poetry to halt the slaughter?”

    1. As much as I greatly admire Sargon Boulus, I agree. And yes, yes, “Will you not memorize a bit of poetry to halt the slaughter?”

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