Academic journal article Liminalities

Literary Acts of Decolonisation: Contemporary Mapuche Poetry in Santiago De Chile

Academic journal article Liminalities

Literary Acts of Decolonisation: Contemporary Mapuche Poetry in Santiago De Chile

Article excerpt

Introduction

The Mapuche achieved legendary status in the Americas for being one of the only indigenous peoples to defeat the Spanish conquistadors militarily and to secure formal recognition of their political and territorial independence during the colonial period: over the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Mapuche and Spanish authorities signed more than twenty treaties acknowledging the Bío-Bío River as the official boundary between the Kingdom of Chile and autonomous indigenous territory.1 This frontier was also accepted by the Chilean republican state, which signed similar treaties with the Mapuche in the early independence era. The precarious peace did not last for long, however: no formal treaties were signed after 1825; in 1852 the state created the province of Arauco; and colonisation of Mapuche territory began in earnest in 1862, with the Chilean army's occupation of Angol. It was concluded when General Cornelio Saavedra marched on Villarica in 1883. Following these euphemistically named "pacification campaigns," the Mapuche were reduced to approximately 5% of their territory, which was divided up into 3,078 state-demarcated reservations during a protracted process (1884-1929) known as "radicación" (Informe de la Comisión 350-351). The shortage of land (each Mapuche family was given just over 6 hectares and even this was subject to encroachment by colonist farmers who seemed to be immune to state laws) and increasing impoverishment, which resulted from the "radicación" process, led to mass migration of Mapuche from the rural communities to urban centres across the country. This started in the 1930s; by 2002-according to the National Institute of Statistics-62.4% of Chile's Mapuche population (604,349 in total) lived in towns and cities, and almost half of these (30.37%) lived in Santiago.2 The urbanisation of Mapuche society is therefore intimately connected to colonial structures of power in Chile. As Enrique Antileo (Mapuche anthropologist and member of the urban organisation Meli Wixan Mapu) insists, it was not a voluntary decision to move to Santiago or any other city; instead, he argues, the Mapuche diaspora needs to be understood as a process of "forced exile and territorial dislocation" (201).

Since the census of 1992, which was the first to acknowledge that a large proportion of Mapuche society lived in Santiago, a growing number of Mapuche and non-Mapuche scholars have become interested in the phenomenon of urbanisation-what it means for the Mapuche autonomist project (which itself was becoming increasingly prominent during the early 1990s, in the context of re-democratisation, after almost two decades of military rule, and continent-wide indigenous protests against the official celebrations of Columbus's so-called "discovery" of the Americas) and for Mapuche cultural identity. To Antileo's mind, the distinction between rural and urban is less important than "being situated or not in historic Mapuche territory" (196). Several Mapuche academics have elaborated the concept of (and asserted the need for "exiled" Mapuche to) "return" to that territory (Ancán and Calfío; Víctor Naguil cited in Antileo 199). The authors of Escucha winka! developed this one step further with the notion of "repatriation" (Marimán et al. 261). For José Ancán and Margarita Calfío, the experience of living, or just trying to survive, in Santiago has entailed the "successive and subtle masking or disguising" of Mapuche identity (for example, the changing of surnames); indigenous presence and agency, they argue, has been rendered invisible in the capital city (cited in Antileo 202).

I would argue that Mapuche presence in present-day Santiago is visible and that it is becoming increasingly more visible, although this is not to say that there are no limitations to such visibility, particularly when we consider which Mapuche people or what aspects of Mapuche culture can be seen. The noble Araucanian warriors of old (eulogised by the Spanish soldier-cum-poet Alonso de Ercilla in the sixteenth century) have, for a long time, had a place in the metropolitan urban landscape-Nicanor Plaza's bronze statue of Caupolicán, sculpted in the 1860s, has stood out against the Santiago skyline on the top of Cerro San ta Lucía since the centenary of Chilean independence in 1910;3 more recently, Mario Toral made the impaling of Caupolicán a central feature of his monumental collection of murals that occupy the walls of the University of Chile metro station. …

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