Since its third issue, Latin American Literature Today has included a special dossier to disseminate the voices of dozens of indigenous women poets who since the 80s have forcefully burst onto the scene all over the American continent. This editorial move is a humanitarian as well as a political gesture, since these voices, besides giving new breath to our poetry, in many cases have become intercultural bridges for our societies and have allowed us to re-engage in new ways with our historical memory and with our natural and spiritual environments. That is at least the invitation that the four Mapuche women poets here anthologized reaffirm: María Lara Millapan, Daniela Catrileo, Roxana Miranda Rupailaf and Adriana Paredes Pinda.
In this context, Mapuche poetry, despite the successive processes of colonialism, has been and still is a means of survival for its culture due to its intimate bond with words, language, and indigenous wisdom. Poetry has served to compensate for alienation and has helped fill the functions of traditional nütram (conversation), epew (story), and ül (song) as forms of the reciprocity between nature, communities, and the sacred. Initially in orality and later in writing, the first great blossoming of Mapuche poetry in the modern and de-colonial era begins with the appearance of El invierno y su imagen [The winter and his image] (1977), by Elicura Chihuailaf, and Horas de lluvia [Hours of rain] (1977), by Sonia Caicheo, books which already profile the strength of the contact with nature and the recognition of the Mapuzungun language as means of de-colonization. To these are soon added, in 1989, Leonel Lienlaf and Graciela Huinao, with Se ha despertado el ave de mi corazón [The bird of my heart has awoken] and “La Loika” respectively, coinciding that year with a significant start of the process of indigenous autonomy in the whole continent. By the 90s a great quantity of Mapuche publications, especially poetic and anthological, burst forth. In the following decade, the poetic writing of Mapuche women emerges with great force, all mixing indigenous wisdom and traditional forms with the experience of feminine empowerment. Of special importance are the two editions of the anthology Hilando la memoria [Spinning memory] (2006 and 2009) and diverse studies about this emergence, among those that stand out are the rigorous studies by Maribel Mora Curriao, Mabel García, and Claudia Rodríguez.
What is there in these works? Despite the fact that not all the women poets were born in traditional Mapuche communities (some were born in Wallmapu communities or cities, or outside of the Mapuche territory in Santiago de Chile), all find in poetic writing ways of reintegrating themselves with their territorial identities (tuwün), families (küpalme), and indigenous wisdom (kimün), bequeathed to them by their communities, but denied to them by Chilean official culture. Almost all of them speak from their condition as exiles from their own language and territories. In these genealogies of partial recovery, Adriana Paredes Pinda connects herself with her Machi great-grandmother, and Daniela Catrileo re-encounters her herbalist grandmother and the traditional songs (ül) of her grandfather. For her part, Miranda Rupailaf recovers diverse mythical stories (epew). The same is true for Lara Millapan, who is born in a bilingual, traditional community of Chiumpilli, the place from where all her poetry flows. One of the most significant connections is with traditional song (ül), which has been preserved by their ancestors and which fulfills diverse social functions in the interior of the community: to heal, put a baby to sleep, accompany the harvest, love, pray, and express gratefulness to the gods and to nature. All of these poets manage to recover the sense and the imaginaries of their origins: the familial (Lara Millapan), territorial, spiritual (Pinda), mythic (Rupailaf), natural (Catrileo), always in search of consciousness, the Mapuche kimü, and good living (küme mogen).
All four of these poets, though always under stress, raise with great dignity their Mapuche condition and identity, which seems to gain strength through their own writings. In addition, they do this from their stressful situations because of their conditions as modern women, which in some cases is converted into empowerment and in trailblazing for a “feminism” of difference (Catrileo and Rupailaf, above all). We should remember that they are all teachers, and some have doctorates in their fields. All have travelled outside of Chile and they practice their professions, roles, and activism always between two cultures. Sometimes, the innovative work is bilingual, only in Spanish, or disglosic, or recurs to a translation of thirds. Sometimes it is Mapuzungun (mapa: land; zungun: tongue) that triumphs. These are esthetics packed with personal searches and uncertainties. Adriana Paredes Pinda tells us, “I’m just a schizophrenic who invents stories of lineages and talents to justify her pariah´s existance […]” (2009).
María Lara Millapán’s poetry is a sort of journey TOWARD the territorial and spiritual identity (tüwün), FROM her own interior strength, inherited from her ancestors and from Mother Earth. In an interview she said, “That is where the voice that I have dwells, the story of my grandparents and my homeland. The poetry that I write today is possible thanks to that mapu (land).” These three poems, from her latest book Trekan Antü (Road of the Sun, of Time) communicate great tenderness and gentleness since the poet speaks from her synchrony with birds, cycles, flowers, and all types of living things. Her poems are bilingual, but not all the words are translated into Spanish, as is the case with “Kecha tregülfe,” the person who directs the indigenous dancers in the ritual ceremony of the nguillatun and whose funeral is invoked and relived in this poem. That is why the names are so fundamental in Mapuzungun, because recovering them preserves the realities that they bear. That is what the last poem talks about: the great uncertainty and despair for the “names” that have been lost, but also a resolved attitude of empowerment and search for that “name that belongs to us.”
Very close to her, although more tense and pained, because she does not thoroughly accede to the language or the traditional community, we find the poet Adriana Paredes Pinda, who self-constructs like a two-hearted person, a divided woman, who does not manage to reconcile her sense of double belonging: to two languages, to many identities that were taken from her, and to the many others that were imposed on her. Adriana was born in the city of Osorno, identifies as huilliche (people of the south) even though she feels alienated from the traditional communities and from the language. Thanks to words, she has been able to restore herself in part to her true origin and has repaired the invisible bond with her machis (healers) great-grandmothers, and she herself has become a machi in order to heal her own wounds and to help others do the same (now in the Kallfullanka community in Riñinahue), in the same way as Violeta Parra does in “La jardinera” (The Gardener). Her poetry is written in a Spanish that is “invaded” by an enormous quantity of Mapuche lexicon and expressions, but in her case, it is the dominant language that triumphs. She tells us, “I think that I think from Spanish and that is the reason for my contradictions; I believe that we in communities whose language was stolen live that tragedy” (2005). Nevertheless, in the unpublished poem that she offers us for this edition, there is a wish for redemption through a (maternal) milk that will give her back her Mapuzungun language and will restore her to her totality–a desire that everything become “Mapunzugun,” not only the language, but also her body, time, dreams, memory, and even desire itself.
The two young poets anthologized here (Daniela and Roxana) seem to have triumphed in their poems over up-rootedness and loss, over their language “sliced in two halves” (Mistral). Despite that both were born in places where Mapuche traits are only a nebulous memory for the parents, their tones recover much of their sense, specially freedom of the body. Roxana Miranda Rupailaf, born also in the city of Osorno, and Daniela Catrileo, born in Santiago, assume the search of their Mapuche origins not so much as an insurmountable loss, but rather as an itinerary in which pain and fragmentation have ceded their place to empowerment and freedom. Miranda Rupailaf says, “I do not have the views, nor the premonitions, nor the experience to pronounce a language that belongs to those who have grown under a culture that is distinctly Mapuche” (2017). However, she does move with fluidity and great domination amidst the archetypical myths of the feminine and the masculine, making “what is Mapuche” enter progressively into her works and demystifying all the mythic stories, including the Shumpall (a Lafkenche myth in which a type of sea spirit (Ngen) kidnaps a maiden, which gives rise to sexual initiation rituals (kidnapping, reward, relations between clans). If in Tentaciones de Eva Miranda Rupailaf supplied diverse figures in the Judeo-Christian pantheon with plenty of bodies and eroticism, and in Seducción de los venenos, she combined archetypal figures from the art of seduction (salt serpents, the earth and water), then in Shumpall the game has been liberated and the traditional myth acquires a new sense: empowered women who challenge, play and interact dynamically and sensually with the sea and the masculine forces. The myth has been transgressed, but also revitalized. Todo en Roxana, which includes her unpublished poem, refers to strong women who investigate, sink, and survive: Eve-like women, serpent women and women seduced by the sea, in explicit sisterhood with other Latin American women poets: Mistral, Storni, or Belli.
One of the symbolic images of this new “pact” is the rainbow, a figure that is also found in Daniela Catrileo, the youngest of the poets anthologized here, and at the same time the one that seems to fulfill her plan more fully since what she presents is her own Mapuche body, liberated and decolonized, in the midst of the metropolis, the wariache (people of the city). Her voice seems to be most empowered and liberating in the midst of the conflict between cultures (Mapuche, Aztec, and modern) and in the poems that she offers us, which are part of her most recent book, (Guerra Florida), and in which she reclaims and transgresses the death dance and sacrificial rituals. Thus dance and sacrificial ritual (from the Flower Wars of the Mexicas) transmute into a celebration: the women prisoners are freed, or are transmuted, by means of hallucinogens, into “Maiden” guardians, the yanaconas (indigenous individuals considered traitors during the conquest wars) are killed, and everything is alive before “horror.” The greatest triumph occurs in the final poem, in which the body of the celebrant is offered to “Mother Volcano” since the Mapuche are the chosen people to guard her and render her tribute.
Here are these four Mapuche women, in search of that “name that belongs to us.”
Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile
Translated by Rosario Drucker Davis