Thesis: Modern Indigenous Mapuche Poetry

Publicado: 17 diciembre 2014 en English
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Summary.
The following text deals with the Mapuche culture, a group of indigenous inhabitants of present-day Chile and Argentina and their current poetic creation.
By: Katja Stanič

PDF FILE: Complete Thesis – Modern Indigenous Mapuche Poetry

Firstly, the history and cosmogony of the Mapuche is dealt with. It is assumed that the culture now called ˝Mapuche˝ existed already 600 years B.C. The basis of the administration of the Mapuche community was the extended family, which represented also the economic basis together with their house, the so called ˝ruka˝ and the corresponding territory. When the Spanish conquerors arrived in 1550 (Pedro de Valdivia) to the present-day Chile territory, a number of towns arose on the site of the Mapuche inhabitation. The constant warfare between the Spaniards and the locals along with typhus and chicken pox were the main causes of death among the Mapuche. In 1641, 91 years after the beginning of the clashes both sides gathered in the city of Quilín to negotiate a truce at the first session of the peace; the result was the river Bío-Bío assigned as the border and the Mapuche were given independence of their territory on condition that they allow propagation of the faith of Spanish missionaries. However, the conquerors violated the agreement by enslaving the locals. Still, the Mapuche managed to keep their independence from the invaders for the period of 260 years; the reason was in the administration of the Mapuche community which was never centralized or hierarchically organized; each single family had to be subdued separately and not only one ruler as in the case of the Incas. During The War of Independence between the pro-independence patriots and the anti-independence realists the Mapuche remained on the side of the invaders due to the agreement reached at the first session of the peace. After the declaration of independence the Creoles proclaimed the indigenous Mapuche as barbarians and savages as they had failed to support the plans for independence; they were assimilated as the second-class citizens into the newly created society and were forced to give up their own identity. In 1852 the province of Arauco came into existence which enabled the newly established country to smoothly enter the Mapuche territory. The country slowly destroyed the Mapuche society and crammed them into artificially created territories. In 1970, a socialist Salvador Allende came into power in Chile, who passed The Indigenous Law and started to give the Mapuche back their territories. That was the first time in history when the injustice caused to the indigenous Mapuche was recognized. The coup of 11. September, 1973 and the arrival of August Pinochet into power terminated with all the indigenous movements and violence towards the indigenous people erupted instead, causing a lot of killings and disappearances. The Mapuche answered to the aggression with establishing political organizations in the first half of the previous century to show their protest against the suppression and to revive their culture and tradition; this caused annoyance of the government who began with even stronger suppression and control over the Mapuche territory; the situation has still not improved.

The main genres of the Mapuche literary creation are singing and narration. The singing is religious (tayïl) and secular ülkantun or ül). Ül represents the basis of the modern Mapuche poetry. Professor Renato Cárdenas writes about the so called collags, which were five compositions transmitted orally. Collag is an expression that tries to describe the world through poetry and derives from the word koyaqtun, meaning »the speech that served to regulate common interests and businesses«. Also Adolfo Lenz with his work Araucanian studies determined that »Araucanians« (inhabitants of Chilean southern region Araucania; in the past this term was used to name the Mapuche, t/n) are excellent orators and that they take every visit, celebration or reception as an opportunity to give long, sublime and poetic speeches(Cárdenas, 2008). According to Ivan Carrasco, the Mapuche literature developed through different stages; from initial absolute orality, before the arrival of the invaders, the characteristic of which was shared authorship and diversity of versions of individual texts; to the next stage of written orality including records of original Mapuche texts and their translations into Spanish and other languages; the written Mapuche literature developed through frequent interaction of the Creole and the Mapuche cultures. This way new genres were born in the Mapuche language, Mapudungun; essays, personal narrative and last but not least written poem which brought the record of double linguistic register, the Spanish and the Mapuche. Ivan Carrasco denominated this kind of literature ethnoculture; this is poetry that emerges from interaction among indigenous, European and mixed population. This kind of literature addresses mostly interculturalism, ethnocentrism, marginalization, discrimination, genocide, the literary subject is heterogeneous.

This text also deals with the fate of the indigenous soul. Has it got lost or has dissolved in the mixture of biological and cultural impact? Or are just cultural changes taking place being revealed to us through the language of poetry? In spite of the fact that the word race should be used only to determine inherited physical characteristics, this is not the case in everyday life where this word is widely used to determine person’s character on the basis of physical characteristics; therefore the word »white person« still marks the meaning of »the knight«, whereas terms »black person« or »yellow-skinned person« still allude to the meaning of »barbarian, monkey, Indian«. This is the reality of the Mapuche in Chile. José Carlos Mariátegui draws back from the socio-cultural view of the race and prefers the socio-economic one, which believes the so called Indian race is not poor and humiliated because of the lack of white colour nor for the lack of cultural creativity, but because it had been deprived of what appreciates and loves the most: the soil. The so called QuechuaSpanish duality, described by Mariátegui in the case of Peru, perceives the race more as the biological than as the cultural phenomena; its product being the so called cultural Mestizo with specific habits, feelings, speech and beliefs which can develop into characteristics that will determine a new human and mostly social type of an individual. The researcher Rolf Foerster also writes about possibilities of the formation of a new language that would be capable to recreate the atmosphere and happenings which the official history tries to conceal. That would be the so called memory language, with which the poet would embrace everything that had embraced him before. In my work I extensively discuss the identity and I reach the conclusion that there is no single Mapuche id entity, but numerous variations of it appear as well as various modern ethnic identities, and their redefinitions in current social context.

What has been said is reflected in the poetry of the discussed poets, whose identity is shaped and built up within various contradictory beliefs. The position taken by the Mapuche poet is the position between two worlds, two cultures, therefore his position in the world is not acultural, but bicultural, bilingual; which does not mean that the poet should necessarily speak two languages. Bilingualism is a type of perception of the world when a person lives under a constant impact of two cultures and the corresponding languages. This is the position »inbetween«, »a third place«, which goes beyond the sound, the sintax, and the vocabulary and is based in the field of sexuality, ethnicity, gender and human relations. My work discusses poetry of six poets, two masculine and two feminine. I also track the already mentioned third place born in poetry which is the result of experience and everyday life, coexistence of various cosmogonies, behaviours, values that the poets are exposed to.

Elicura Chihuailaf recognizes the huge value of wisdom and thinking of Mapuche ancestors. The author originates from this tradition and relates to it in his poetic creativity, which is intracultural. However, the majority of the verses in his poetry are interculturally oriented. In Chihuailaf’s poetry a lot Mapuche words are translated to Spanish language. This is the so called cultural translation where not only the signifier, i.e. the word is translated but also the signified, i.e. the whole surrounding determining the word, the concept. In my opinion a translated word always loses a part of its original meaning, as a Spanish word can never authentically replace, translate a word in Mapudungun. Also Leonel Lienlaf, a poet, musician and filmmaker uses the mentioned technique in his poetry and operates with even greater number of the Mapuche terms (inside the text in Spanish language) as Chihuailaf but the majority of the terms are not translated into Spanish. In his case the language symbol in Mapudungun is a completely cultural symbol, it acts as covert presence of the domestic, indigenous culture; the meaning of such discourse is to give the word predominance; not to translate a word means that the signifier and the signified remain the same and in this way enable the local term free of changes and maybe even the language which in the future might free the culture. The Mapuche words found in the text that are translated into Spanish are metaphors of the Mapuche language, culture and identity. The mentioned language symbols create silence, even abyss between the languages, the cultures, as a reader can understand Mapundungun only through translation, which alter the original meaning. This kind of translation generally creates a space of silence, unspoken words, which is prerequisite for the development of a new language and culture; in the case of the poets E. Chihuailaf and L. Lienlaf the abyss is deepened and the bridges between the cultures are not built, as they fail to create a new language.

Graciela Huinao’s poetry is permeated with Ethno-Cultural elements and reflects her personal history and the history of her community; moreover, it reflects the pain of a subjugated nation that the poet skilfully modifies with the so called technique of rereading; this technique represents opposition to the European (Western) logocentrism. The verses of her poetry do not portray the culture in its idyll and remoteness as is the case with the above mentioned poets, especially E. Chihuailaf, but she uses the historical facts to give importance to the happenings in Mapuche history that are undermined and forgotten by the official history of Chile. The way she does that is moving the historical events into the present time, she blurs the borders between the past and the present, and unites two separate timelines, the timeline of memories and the timeline of the present. The technique she uses is called a method of transmission into the past, which is described as if it was happening at the present moment. The poet Rayen Kvyeh also revives happenings of the Mapuche past and the corresponding atmosphere. To achieve this atmosphere, she uses important characters of the Mapuche community, who resisted the Spanish-Chilean invaders. The poet’s method consists of resemantization, a revival of importance of the Mapuche, Spanish and Chilean past. Both poets unveil the specialties and remoteness and actualize the past instead. The only thing that could be criticized is that the poets divide the history into ˝our˝ the Mapuche history and ˝yours˝ the Western, in vader’s history. Although the poets do not create silence and abyss with words in Mapudungun, they fail to narrow the abyss as they elevate and mysticize the Mapuche culture and history.

Jaime Luis Huenún’s poetry refers to the community, to personal history and culture and also the poetic forms are taken from the Mapuche culture (ül and nütram). Huenún’s poetry opens up possibilities of creating the so called third space, new language and culture, first in the poetry and later possibly in the real, everyday life as well. The author writes poetry in Spanish language and does not translate it into Mapudungun, but he addresses the readers from the position on the border between the two cultures. The poet uses numerous poetic schemes in order to recall memories and history, but does not ridicule or humiliate the opposite side (in his case Spanish-Chilean side) as the feminine authors do, instead he offers a version that is different from the ˝official˝ one. The poet introduces the reader to the voices of anonymous, ordinary Mapuche people in order to fill the void and to combine intellect (historical happenings) with feelings (tiny, everyday events and people). Huenún’s language is neither Spanish nor Mapuche; it is a set of historical facts and present events together with inserts of modern, world literary tradition. The poet criticizes the modern Mapuche community which neglects cultural values, language, beliefs and revives the silenced voices of the past in order to fill the void that has been created through time. The reader is a witness to creative reformulation of the present, which in the real world might not be possible, but it is accessible through the text which creates a space one can return to. It is the so called inter-space, a possible community whose identity is not unique but diverse. David Aniñir writes poems about Mapuche’s descendants living in cities who never stepped on the Mapuche territory. This is poetry that is linked to the space in which the poet lives with the inhabitants of a city which is like an anthill. The name of the city is the first David’s neologism, Mapurbe (it consists of the words mapu, the Mapuche territory and urbe, the city); it is literary- political utopia that combines cultures, nations and civilizations. The language of this poetry is a hybrid, a combination of Mapudungun, colloquial English, Chilean Spanish, slang, the language of prisoners, etc. The poet represents the heroes of everyday life, the Mapuche- citizens who do not live in rukas, do not work in the fields, but live among the trees of concrete; they live in the space that is outside of the ordinary space, the already mentioned inter-space, permeated with discrimination and limited opportunities to which the descendants of the indigenous inhabitants are exposed daily. The language used by the poet is the language of re-reading and formation of the past, but with the usage of the language (Spanish) which helped to form that past; only in this way the latter can be transformed, because it is a part of an individual’s, in this case of poet’s past. A big step made by Aniñir is that he does not aestheticize, metaphorize and elevate the Mapuche history, culture and people, but he problematizes and reflects about them instead; he does the same with the acute political situation in the country. As he builds his poetry on the non-existence, t.i. on words that still don not exist at this moment, he announces a powerful language along with the culture and identity.

All the poets mentioned in the text try each in their own special way to approach and find again the lost or hidden identity and to open the way to a new language. Just like indigenous Peruvians do not speak Spanish, also modern Mapuche (particularly those living in the city) do not speak Mapudungun, but also not the standard Spanish. What do they speak then? They speak a language that goes beyond the colonial (Spanish) and the indigenous (Mapuche) language; it is the language of a place which already exists, it is somewhere outside, it is located at the junction of a city and the Mapuche community, at the junction of the modern and the ancient. This is a place, a language that connects and is a link to ancient wisdom, knowledge and behaviours and is also a language that wants to connect and not to split. The victory is in the dialogue and not in the absence of it.

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