The Mapuche, are a people originally from the south of Latin America, whose name means “people or persons of the earth”, and whose worldview has been intimately connected to the natural environment. It is said that “Mapu Ñuke”, or Mother Nature, has given the Mapuche culture and society the knowledge they possess. This knowledge is transmitted through conversation in sacred places of the natural world linking Mapuche to the earth and to family.
Every part of the natural world, including human beings and the dead, possess a spirit. Amongst them there are caring and guiding spirits of nature. For example, stones and serpents have an important role in the Mapuche way of life. Even now, the Mapuche ask permission to pass through certain places that are considered sacred. On such occasions, the Mapuche people take time to appreciate these places and ask for the protection of the earth and their families, as part of their attempts to overcome the unfortunate realities for their people.
The sacred places, such as the paliwe and the nguillatuwe, are spaces where the Mapuche pray, give thanks, and share with the spirits their desire to see them respected and to see the Mapuche culture survive.
The history of the Mapuche people is a history full of battles in defense of the earth. These battles have continued for more than 500 years, since the attempted takeover of the area by the Inka and the Spanish, and later the battles against the genocide attempts of Chilean and Argentinean governments at the end of the 19th Century. These attempts have not ceased, and Mapuche FarmlandChile and Argentina have increased their efforts to transform their culture into spitting images of Western society. Big business has also appeared on the scene. These businesses have claimed – and continue to claim – to those same governments that Mapuche land would be better utilised through the development of economic projects such as single-crop forestation. Yet they do so without planning nor providing for the harmful effects on both human and environmental health.
Historically a system of private property did not exist on “Mapuche territory”. There weren’t any fences nor were there extensive plantations of single-crop forestation like that which exists today, but instead the people were free to roam. They could take freely whatever was needed for the continued sustenance of Mapu Ñuke.
The Chilean government has, throughout history, pushed through “social integration policies” which have attempted to destroy the unique customs of the Mapuche people, and in this way the Mapuche social organisation has been twisted and modified through the imposition of unknown and destructive social models. These politicians, who are not part of the Mapuche culture or way of life, do not understand or value the traditional lifestyles of the Mapuche people, instead imposing new lifestyles upon them.
This is but a brief snapshot of the relationship the Mapuche people have with the state and big business.
There currently exists a situation which is worrying. Seven Mapuche political prisoners are on a hunger strike that has recently reached 42 days. The strikers are our Mapuche peñi (brothers) and lamgnen (sister). They are striking for: the freedom of all Mapuche political prisoners throughout various Chilean jails; demilitarisation and an end to the oppression of various roaming Mapuche communities so that they can exercise their political and territorial rights; and an end to the political-judicial conspiracies against Mapuche organisers and leaders.
To speak of Mapuche political prisoners, and to speak of their ethnic, political, and territorial demands, has been criminalised by the Chilean government, placing the interests of big business over and above those of the Mapuche communities involved. Because of these events, Chile has received international condemnation and many recommendations to end the criminalization of the Mapuche people. One such recommendation came from the UN’s Rodolfo Stavenhagen.
Mapuche men and women are not the violent people they are made out to be by the government through their utilisation of the media. The continued struggle of our Mapuche brothers and sisters tells us that they are not ready to renounce that which is most precious and beautiful to them: the earth, la mapu.
By Gonzalo Garcés
Translated by AJ McDougall