My feature article on Chile’s 2017 presidential elections is published at TRT World. Featuring exclusive comments by historian Alberto Harambour, investigative journalist and author Nancy Guzman, torture survivor Pedro Alejandro Matta and activist Jorge Hostt.
(First published in Instituto Manquehue)
Mapuche poetry has been a consistent trajectory expressing resistance against the oblivion and discrimination enforced upon the indigenous population through colonisation and subsequent governments targeting the community with oppressive laws. The literary realm attempts to connect the historical struggle against colonisation to the social problems constituting the enforced oblivion faced by the Mapuche people.
It is difficult to speak of ‘vestiges’ of oppression in the allegedly democratic era following the fall of Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship, as subsequent governments have embarked upon a more refined replication of the ethnocide and displacement characterising Mapuche history.
The Mapuche resistance against Spanish colonisation creates a backdrop against which the population has been able to reconstruct the dynamics of resilience against governments who have marginalised the indigenous population. Following the declared independence of the Chilean State, the colonisation of Mapuche territory through land purchase and expropriation led to the alleged pacification, which in reality accelerated defeat through military conquest. Restricting Mapuche communities was a step towards attempting assimilation of the indigenous population within the state, thus eliminating any references to territorial reclamation. In 1979 during Pinochet’s dictatorship, laws decreed that “the divided lands will no longer be considered indigenous lands, and the people living on those lands will no longer be considered indigenous.” The Mapuche people remain incarcerated within practices of oblivion, including the repression of history and culture in education and other forms of social exclusion leading to poverty and restriction of basic services including health and education, to prevent any possible reclamation of rights.
Oblivion, therefore, has been managed by the Chilean state through repressive laws capitulating to the proven violence of neoliberalism – a relic of Pinochet’s dictatorship which has been endorsed by the Concertación governments. This is particularly evident in the manipulation of anti-terror laws enacted during the dictatorship – now utilised to target Mapuche communities in order to annihilate resistance. The official divestment of identity required the rethinking of Mapuche resistance with regard to territory – the preservation of the indigenous subaltern memory of a community whose ancestral ties to land have been severed by colonialism, the emergence of the Chilean state and the application of Pinochet’s anti-terror laws. Despite the tenacious collective memory, the Mapuche struggle is marginalised through the dominant narrative which continuously strives to obscure the dynamics of resistance embedded within a community which has not relinquished its definition of nationhood.
It is pertinent, therefore, to assert that Chilean governments are committed to obliterating indigenous identity in order to deconstruct the struggle for recognition into terrorism which is erroneously justified by the application of the anti-terror legislation, upholding historical injustice while displacing the atrocities and violence committed by the state upon Mapuche activists. As is evidenced in past struggles, the state attempts to foment further division by differentiating between Mapuche activists and the rest of the community in political rhetoric; a tactic to dissolve unity which, authorities hope, will ultimately lead to a permanent dissolution of identity.
Recognition of the Mapuche demands remains fragmented, with post-dictatorship governments embarking upon deliberate compromises to enforce oblivion. Political participation remained marginalised and the New Indigenous Peoples Act (1993) did not recognise ancestral claims to land, thus the Mapuche remained estranged from the geophysical dimensions of their struggle. The ambiguity enforced by colonisation and subjugation is entrenched with legislation that seeks to create alienation from the ramifications of historical and contemporary memory. Thus, political autonomy, the recognition of the Mapuche as a nation, land reclamation and control over natural resources remain confined to a struggle which governments have sought to oppress, through eradication of the socioeconomic framework. This led to a rise in Mapuche social and political activism that has been criminalised under the anti-terror legislation. In pledging allegiance to the neoliberal framework endorsed by Pinochet, subsequent governments have modified discourse to depict the plunder of natural resources and destruction of landscape as progress and improving infrastructure. Governments, therefore, have opted for neutralisation policies that would further oppress the struggle for recognition and rights – a strategy that backfired in a renewed struggle for autonomous indigenous identity.
Mapuche poetry encompasses the collective struggle in a manner which displays the connection between language and land. For the Mapuche, language serves as a medium of expression in which historical memory is amalgamated with the ongoing social struggle, always in relation to land. Hence, through language and metaphor, the recuperation of culture occurs through countering the marginalisation enforced upon the population; a marginalisation occurring through the authorities’ tenacity to adhere to and manipulate the oppression inflicted by colonisation and legislation pertaining to the dictatorship.
Mapuche poet Jaime Luis Huenún describes literature as “creating a more visible culture” and marked by the anti-colonial struggle. Since the anti-colonial struggle is part of the Mapuche collective memory framework, Huenún insists that the idea of individuality that is cherished in the West with regard to creative work does not apply to Mapuche literature. Literature becomes the medium of articulating the community’s struggle. The same collective expression was expressed by Mapuche poet Leonel Lienlaf: “More than a representative of my culture, I come from it. I am an expression of it.” Collective memory, therefore, transcends the confines of individual expression to encompass a unified struggle against the neoliberal economic reforms that attempt to instigate assimilation in order to neutralise the reclamation of land, cultural and historical expression.
Mapuche poetry is a fluid expression of the contradiction between the restrictions placed upon the indigenous population through colonialism and the dynamics which have enabled a constant struggle against the dominating neoliberal political framework prevailing in Chile. While colonialism and neoliberalism have desecrated the Mapuche conservation of land, the indigenous struggle and its portrayal through literature has promulgated both the ancestral legacy and the affirmation of history – elements that override the external and hostile definition of what constitutes the indigenous. The political and socio-cultural aspects remain central to land reclamation and Mapuche identity, challenging continuous policies which elaborate upon allegedly inclusive rhetoric while increasing marginalisation through the criminalisation of Mapuche resistance.
The challenge within collective memory is best portrayed in the incisive poetry of David Aniñir Guilitraro, an urban Mapuche whose work challenges the imposed obliteration of history. In an interview which I carried out with Aniñir, it is explained that the poetic concept of identity incorporated within the book harbours “revenge against everything”. Aniñir explains, “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 … 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 against everything.” Fragmentation and retention of identity are exacerbated through the dynamics of nostalgia, experiences which accumulate and remain in constant conflict between fluidity due to the evolution of culture within the urban landscape and the imagined nostalgia which, nonetheless, retains significance within the collective experience of forced eviction.
Poetry exists as a collective expression despite the individual artistic articulation. For Aniñir, poetic expression is synonymous with experiences of the indigenous population and the importance of identity reconstruction within the urban framework. Expressing the collective identity is also important in the rewriting of history; the necessity to challenge official historical discourses which fabricate the memory of the oppressed in order to retain the hegemonic narrative. The trend is not solely confined to academia; it infiltrates official policy in order to discover the means of diminishing atrocities committed against the Mapuche people by distorting the dynamics of force to portray a conflict as opposed to systematic oppression.
The fragmentation expressed in Mapuche poetry incorporates a passion incumbent upon reflection wrought by distance and a lack of documented memory which is indicative of the turbulence associated with a permanent homecoming. In the absence of inscribed history, Mapuche poetry reveals the magnitude of nostalgia as a political testimony of forced displacement, a documentation of silence as collective memory in its various dimensions continues to assert its relevance within the wider context of the social and political struggle.
(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.