(First published in Upside Down World)
The culture of Mapuche poetry has evolved into three distinctive forms: traditional, intellectual and urban. David Aniñir Guilitraro, an urban Mapuche poet from Santiago, has created a literary realm which connects the history of the Mapuche struggle to the social problems which the people face today.
Guilitraro describes his book, Mapurbe, as ‘a poetic concept of identity’ which harbors ‘revenge against everything’. It is a response towards the culture of denial which has assailed the Mapuche people’s history. Each ‘democratic’ government since the fall of Pinochet’s dictatorship has contributed towards the oppression of the Mapuche, resulting in the people being marginalized and discriminated against. From the anti-terror law – a vestige of Pinochet’s dictatorship, to inadequate education in rural areas, to a repression of Mapuche culture, governments seem to be relying on distortion and manipulation to obliterate a history which has been mired in ethnocide and displacement of people for the sake of land acquisition. Mapurbe is a revolt against the treason of discrimination committed by governments and a reaffirmation of pride in Mapuche culture.
Ramona Wadi: What are the dynamics of your poetry and which language dominates your poems?
David Aniñir Guilitraro: In developing my poetic language, I have made use of literary expressions which include colloquial language in order to give more significance to everyday speech. The influence of anti-poetry, as in the poems of Nicanor Parra, supports and installs communication between the poet and the audience. My poetry utilizes a hybrid language – it includes a babble of both Mapudungun and popular English words seeking to impart the aesthetics of language. But this aim is not always achieved – writing may corrupt the image, since it takes place at an independent pace within its own rhythm.
RW: What is Mapurbe about?
DAG: It is a half-open view to a world of identity reconstruction in urban Mapuche. The political and social context which has occurred in Latin American, indigenous people go hand in hand with artistic expression. Mapurbe poetics is an aesthetic concept in tune with the artistic movement in Chile. The revival of a culture that modifies to survive, adapting new forms of expression which are proposing a cultural and political reflection. A vanguard expression of art which has questioned its origin and now identifies itself as Mapuche. This state of culture should not propose a contemporary form of identification before a culture of domination. Therefore, it is a culture which is in constant motion. That’s Mapurbe – a poetic concept of identity and part of the people’s contemporary heritage.
RW: How is the Mapuche identity constructed in your poetry?
DAG: I have not constructed anything, except for my poetry. My poetry exists within a combination of influences affecting the indigenous youth. It is attuned to the complexity of cultural fusion. I have had people telling me that my poetry encompasses many experiences of the new generations: the disappointment, the search for identity, a sense of belonging to the people…the community. Everything was included, only Mapurbe visualizes these experiences with a poetic language, giving a new but equivalent meaning.
RW: What is your role as a Mapuche poet in the current political context?
DAG: As a poet I am a good worker! My work is a creative subject which contributes to the cultural development of our people, both in discussion and action. Being a cultural manager of several actions we can be attuned within our culture and society at large – our expressions are rendered valid across.
RW: In what context does the ‘revenge’ in your poetry take place?
DAG: It is a revenge on the historical and systematic way in which the rights of the Mapuche people have been violated. My construction of the subject should be read within the context of discrimination and deprivation. We are the children of dispossession, of the exile suffered by our parents. This is Mapurbe – the response to such racism and denial today. Mapuche people have suffered as political prisoners, been subjected to murder, flawed trials and judicial assembly, militarization of communities – all these things are undeniable in our history. That’s my poetic art – corrosive, foul, crude. It is a poetic revenge on everything.
RW: Is there a repression of Mapuche culture and language, and does your poetry strive to promote unity between the Mapuche people and their heritage?
DAG: I told you – my poetry is attuned to the whole Mapuche movement. Even though in the city our native language Mapudungun is not promoted, it has changed the significance of culture. This is a phenomenon which has been going on for approximately twenty years.
RW: Explain the motivation in your poetry and how your perception regenerated a new form of poetry.
DAG: Being able to promote my work is not vanity, to invent genres or something like that. It’s just poetry and, if it is clear, this is a success. What motivate me are aspects of life – the personal tendency towards the edge, the limit. Love, disillusion and essential feelings. My childhood experiences were replete with a burden of social discrimination; I lived through poverty, hunger and violence. This is why I have an affinity for rock, or the punk counterculture attitude.
RW: Would you describe your poetry as an anthropological discourse? And which is the deeper involvement in your poetry – the poet or the Mapuche as a collective memory and experience?
It is an ethnographic poetic testimony, based on experience transmitted through stories, music and visuals – many young Mapuche are indentifying with this. To quote one of my own poems, “I am not the writer / it is poetry that writes for me / it comes to shake me with dreams / in the night I wake up / with Mapuche voices / they want to cry and laugh at me through verse. I have never pretended to understand a poet. The bond with my Mapuche ancestors is something which until now I cannot understand, but through the ancestral legacy I sense the manifestation of strength and endurance.
RW: Is Mapuche history manipulated by politics?
DAG: Official policy recounts its own version of the story – it happens with all oppressed people and with our history it is no exception. The victors tell their story with an ideological difference. In the academic arena there is a story based on fabrication, but many are concerned with investigating the circumstances that led the nascent state to invade an autonomous territory at the expense of massacring people. This genocide is known as the Pacification of Araucanía – Chile and Argentina in the Desert Campaign. Ethnocide was committed on both sides of the Andes Mountain which led to territorial dispossession. Lurking beneath the official version, which excludes the version of the defeated, is the framework within which to develop indigenous policies. The phrase “History is written by the people” is completely coherent in accordance to how we repair to make our historical narrative objective.
RW: To what extent are the Mapuche visible participants in Chile?
DAG: Within the framework of institutional policies needs are attended to, seeking to diminish the sources of conflict. Deep demands are met with political repression, imprisonment and harassment.
The standard dual role of the various ‘democratic’ governments since the end of the Pinochet dictatorship is based on neoliberal economic policies, to the detriment of the rights of communities in Southern Chile.
In a clear socialization of the Mapuche people’s demands, public sympathy has been towards the Mapuche. Long strikes in Chile have made the Mapuche political prisoners. In the context of the struggles which have occurred in different episodes, society has become aware that the Mapuche conflict has a solid basis in history that transforms into the cultural, becoming a display of enchantment for the Mapuche.
RW: How does your poetry combat discrimination and violence against Mapuche? By taking an offensive or defensive role?
DAG: Defensive. The offensive deserves a more cosmetic treatment against the status quo of the established paradigms in power – that’s my revenge poetry. The offensive has been reversed; a racist society that negates the different, intolerant, homophobic. I have nothing, but the defensive is a reflection – an observation from the small universe of how I perceive the world.
RW: Do you perceive your poetry to be solely relevant to the Mapuche, or it has the capacity to transcend borders?
DAG: What happened with my poetry was beyond, of course. A short circuit that incurs more of a political than artistic dimension – that’s my feeling. Poetry bears the burden in my case. I was fortunate to travel to Europe with a group of Latin Americans involved in alternative art. Some of my poems were translated in Berlin, even in France. I could see that the poetic language connects with human sensibilities. Both misery and beauty are repeated in all corners of the planet. Poetry always had the ability to transcend human boundaries, verifying the humanity in us – that’s the quality inherent in art in general. In Argentina, Mapuche identity is installed in the young through punk rock, metal and hip hop; they become attuned to the culture and vindication of identity.
RW: Do you have any forthcoming projects?
DAG: I intend to write a book that narrates my experiences through prose. A brother scholar suggested I should create a narration in the voices of characters of Mapurbe, related in prose. It is an exercise in narrative, which will cost me more than poetry. But through further observation it makes sense to delve into another literary genre. It is an exploration where the poems are the end through which a new form of literature emerges. I call it prose poetry.
In addition I am also creating audio visual poems – an experiment in visual poetic imagery.
My time is dedicated to the creation of expression, given the conditions. Many other artists should make an effort to form part of the creative dynamics since wage labour and survival are gruelling challenges. We can impart an attitude of resistance – the spirit to break the status quo.