Asking Chas about the Aurignacian Dog

There was quite a long pause after I asked him and then he began in that portentous way he has. Since we are entering the last days, he said, I shall go back to the beginning. The beginning of what? The beginning. He went to the computer, he has thousands of images stored there. This was found in a cave in Africa. It is called the Makapansgat jasperite cobble and is estimated to be three million years old. Some australopithecine or early unknown hominid picked it up and carried it away. No, it is not altered by any hand, it is naturally that way. Nevertheless, it is the first mirror and the first self portrait:

A rock with a face in it. Manuports, they're called. Things of significance that people carried around with them. And this, he said. Look at this:

From Israel. Berekhat-Ram. Two, three hundred thousand years old. We didn't make this, Homo Erectus did. Adding unnecessarily: It's a woman. Do you know that the Acheulian hand axe industry lasted for more than a million years? All over the old world, the same technology, each item unique, every one the same? Look at this one, see, it has a fossil shell in it:

And the caves, he went on, the painted caves. They were used for twenty, twenty-five thousand years. No stylistic change. Just the painting and the re-painting, whatever it was for. If there are human images, and there are, they are either in the deepest darkness at the back or else near the entrance. That must mean something. But check this:

It almost makes me weep it is so pent up with reverential emotion. It's prayerful, it's the birth of the sacred. From a cave in Germany. Same age as the paintings. It might have been a staff that a clever man or woman held, they might have been wands. Here's another, it's from Germany too. Put together from a thousand bits:

Finally ... I don't even know how to talk about this one. I've looked at hundreds of photographs of it, looked at it a thousand ways: each time it wears a different expression and yet they're all the same girl. French. Found at Brassempouy in 1892. Old, like the lion-people. She can look a bit feline herself:

Who was she? She was someone, she wasn't just anyone. I've seen girls that look like that, in France and in other places. I think there's someone walking the earth now that looks just like this girl does. I want to find her.

He was definitely out of control now. Near to tears. It was pretty awkward. After a while I said: What about the dog? What dog? There isn't any dog. You were going to tell me about the Aurignacian dog. Remember?

I thought he might be going to hit me. Are you really that stupid, he said. Or do you have to work at it? There were no dogs in the Aurignacian, the dogs were all still wolves then. There's no such thing as an Aurignacian dog.

Rorschach tests for trees

Nothing could be like Ohakune.* Not the purple sky in the south against which the conifers resemble Rorschach tests for trees; not the fat cold spitting rain in my face; not the icy wind reaching inside my skin to clutch at the bones. The Body Corporate cannot fix the broken back window if they do not know about it; and who knows if they do? The air that seeps in through those starry cracks has been to the pole and back; it has been breathed by penguins and, soon as the thought comes, there's that fishy, feathery smell in the kitchen. As if the fridge door was open. Mould on the bread, the cheese melted then frozen into formlessness, I've been reading (seriously!) a review of an exhibition in which the paintings are made of butter. They look like ... butter. Now thinking about the Billy Apple show I saw many years ago in Wellington, he'd kept the thirty shitty bits of toilet paper he wiped his arse with that month. Seriously. It was unforgettable. Try as I might and do. Was standing outside the entrance to that gallery just a few days ago eating an apple. A sweet Pacific Rose. Already turned to shit. The cracks in the window look like an art work: a dog perhaps, an Aurignacian dog. Nothing like Ohakune. Could be. Remember one morning, May holidays probably, the grass upstanding frost-sheathed spears of white, the puddles all frozen over, going out into the porch to put my gumboots on and there was something in the toe of one of them. Took it off, put my hand inside, it was a mouse. Ran back into the warm kitchen where everyone was still sitting before plates of rapidly cooling porridge - Vi-Max, not that it matters - with the rodent held triumphant in my clenched fist: Look! Mouse upraised furry little head and sank little sharp teeth into the index finger of my left hand. Ow! Let it go, it ran away. Screams? Blood? Don't recall. Scar still there, was looking at it just the other day. Looking at it now. A raised semi-circle, proud flesh, with a curl at the nether end like a koru, beaut shape, could be an art work. What then? Like, nothing. These emblematic memories have no issue, narratives conclude without arriving anywhere. Except a scar. A little piece of me subtracted, a lack that has in it some incalculable advance towards adulthood. Meaning, I suppose, death. Could be. Nothing like. The farmer's ute without a back window, the headline in the newspaper on the seat beside him: Coldest winter in almost forty years. No, that's a Rod Stewart song: Maggie May. Cannot tell you the resonance those words have for me now. After the game was over she and her friend were in a bar on George Street. The bar was closed but a Kiwi girl came in anyway, wanting to use the loo. We're closed, said the bouncer. Find a tree, said my friend ... the Kiwi girl punched her out. Bruised nose cartilage, a split above her eye. As if you'd played the All Blacks, I said. It isn't funny but it is. Made me feel obscurely better about the deficit. And worse. Her too, Maggie I mean, Maggie maybe. Like Ohakune, nothing could. Be. Another memory, the dressing room at Ruapehu College, a Saturday before the game. Smell of liniment, Maori thighs, laughter, sprigs rattling on concrete, those blue and white jerseys, unstained shorts. Did they win or lose? Incalculable emotions, desire and fear, hope and its opposite, dread maybe. Penguins for dinner again, oh well. Ohakune. Nothing could be like.

* Mark Young


The Transposed You

Araucania and Auracania are different places distinguished only by that transposed U - the fourth letter becomes the second and we, that is you and I, are in another place. One is a simple act of colonial appropriation, the clayey waters or the rebel indigenes become a sign of the land in which we live, which is then used to name a province of a modern state, Chile, a tree that grows there and even a fictional kingdom that continues its notional existence alongside its also partly real, partly notional adjoining territory of Patagonia, a word of disputed etymology that may mean Big Foot or Big Feet; while the Chankas of Peru, enemies of the Inca at the same time as the Mapuche, are said to have been seven feet tall and to have had red hair. (A curious rumour: that all red-haired people, wheresoever they may be found, preserve in their lineage genes of the Neanderthals.) The derivation of Auracania is equally uncertain: aura from the Greek for breeze or breath? Latin, auris, ear? Or should we be recalling aurum, gold? What to do with the phantom K? I'm an amateur here, without credentials, but a subtle emanation or aroma, a distinctive atmosphere diffused by or attending a person or place is persuasive. Auracania as a country of the breath, a visible light surrounding a living thing, unbounded by space or time ... that is what I saw or seemed to see that desolate evening in Allman Park when the one I expected did not come. And now I think of Los Desaparecidos, whose stories remain for the most part untold:

Fell evening as the wind / scythes at your skin / on this far away shore / and bare corner of the world // where you wait on the steps / tap-tapping through the streets / of your lover who walks / the liquid arc of your eye // like a shadow on a stone / like the wind over bones / or the hulked emptiness / given out as a cry // when the corner is turned / and the one who was awaited / disappears in the absence / of the one who has waited ...

Well, perhaps. More likely this country of the breath can come back, does return and will continue to do so. The eternal recurrence of all things. Even the Neanderthals with their flowery memorials, their prehistoric rage, their grand passion that survives as a relict wherever we, that is you and I, find ourselves haunted by a place beyond the actual place where we are or seem to be. Whenever that old world, bone of our bone, blood of our blood, wakes within us. And we see forgotten things, of which we - you and I - are certainly two. Then we go home and this home calls and can be called ... Auracania.


Auracania III

Mapuche no longer wish to be called after the Spanish word Arauco, once derived from Mapudungun awqa—rebel or enemy—but nowadays thought more likely to have come from rag ko—clayey waters. Mapuche are obdurate and combative and fought the Inca empire incessantly until Tupac Yupanqui acknowledged the Maupe River as the northern border of their lands. For three hundred years they opposed the Spanish conquest while trading with the empire in the intervals between battles. When the Chilean people declared their independence Mapuche believed their existence as a separate nation was apparent to all and thus secure; but the new republican government did not agree. During the wars of the 1880s many thousands died of starvation and disease. Internment, destruction of economies, looting of property and the institution of a system of reserves called reducciones after the North American model followed; even personal ornaments and jewellery of superbly worked silver were stolen. Resistance by Mapuche never ended and activists continue to be prosecuted under legislation introduced by the Pinochet regime. These laws allow the withholding of evidence and concealment of witnesses. Resistance fighters attack Swiss and Japanese multinational forestry corporations that are planting Monterey pines and Australian eucalpyts instead of the conifers native to the region. Mapuche living in the mountain forests are known as Pehuenche after their own name for the trees; their staple is the seeds of the pehuén tree. Each group gathers piñone in the autumn from their local area: some by hitting the pine with a long cane, some by climbing the spiny trunk of the tree wrapped in leathers. Others believe it is necessary to wait for the seeds to ripen and fall spontaneously so that the spirits of the pehuén do not become angry. Piñone are eaten raw, roasted or boiled. They can be ground into flour for bread. A drink called chavin is fermented from the nuts. Stored dry on long necklaces in underground silos large enough to hold 500 kilos, the seeds may keep for four years. Or else they are dehydrated by being dropped onto hot stones in pits and then covered over with canes and dirt. Pehuenche also hunt guanacos and other animals and catch fish in mountain streams and lakes. Since the Spanish arrived they have become expert cattle herders because the paths across the cordillera run through their territory.

When Mapuche, including Pehuenche, were reduced after the Chilean conquest they reverted to living in pole and hide tents such as existed at Monte Verde, the oldest known site of human occupation in the Americas. Twenty to thirty people built a long house on the banks of a creek; it was framed with logs and planks staked in the ground to make walls that were covered with animal hides and tied to poles by ropes made of local reeds. There were separate living quarters within the main structure. Each of these rooms had its own brazier pit lined with clay. Outside the tent-like structure two large hearths were built and used perhaps for tool making and craftwork as well as preparing food. Around those hearths many stone tools and remnants of spilled seeds, nuts and berries were found. Remains of forty-five different edible plant species were identified within the site; some of them came from 150 miles away, suggesting that the people of Monte Verde either traded or travelled regularly that far afield. Other finds from the site include human coprolites and a footprint made by a child. Nine species of seaweed and marine algae recovered from the ancient settlement have been dated between 14,220 to 13,980 years ago; that is more than 1,000 years earlier than any other known human settlement in the Americas. Whether these people were ancestors of Mapuche is not known but the possibility exists.

However it is certainly true that there has been contact between Mapuche and Polynesian. In 1910 two Rapanui obsidian spear points, mata'a, were found in a shell midden south of Valparaíso. Many other mata'a have appeared since in Mapuche collections, sometimes in association with other Rapanui artifacts like polished stone axes; indeed the word for these axes, toki-, is cognate with Polynesian and South East Asian usage. War leaders among Mapuche were themselves called Toki, meaning axe bearers, and the symbol of their rank was an adze-like stone pendant called tokikura. There is said to be a Maori chant used when cutting trees with toki preserved in a Mapuche tale. Other linguistic parallels between Mapuche and Polynesia are Mapuche piti and Rapanui iti (little); and Mapuche kuri and Rapanui uri (black). Another is a term for traditional cooperative work under rules of reciprocity—minga in Mapuche, umanga in Rapanui and mink’a in Quechua. On Chiloé Island in the south of the Mapuche area there is a type of potato called kumaka though the word is perhaps a Quechua borrowing. There are also similarities in fishing techniques, in the earth oven called curanto (umu in Polynesia) and in the use of a moon calendar celebrating New Year when the Pleiades rise after the winter solstice. A Polynesian type rocker-jaw skull was unearthed from a prehistoric shell midden on Mocha Island but no genetic evidence of Polynesian admixture has yet been found among Mapuche. The most celebrated Polynesian-like Mapuche artifact is the Clava Mere Okewa, a polished stone hand club shaped like a Maori wahaika. Wahaika means mouth of fish and the clubs are often decorated after the shape of some fish, for instance the hammerhead shark. Other club shapes are present among the Mapuche tool kits; they lack the elaborate ornaments carved on the edges of Maori wahaika because they were made from local slate not wood.

Recently three small stone busts like Rapanui Moai were found on Chiloé Island, Mocha Island and at San José de la Mariquina respectively. Then early in this century chicken bones were dug up in association with human remains at a place called El Arenal on the south coast of Chile. Until this discovery it was believed that the flamboyant local Araucana fowl was brought to the Americas by Spanish settlers around 1500. However DNA analysis of the El Arenal bones showed the birds carried a rare mutation otherwise found only in chickens from Mele Havea in Tonga and Fatu-ma-Futi in American Samoa. There was also a near identical match with DNA of chickens from Rapanui. The Mapuche hens with their blue eggs are pre-hispanic with relatives in Polynesia. The bones date to a period at least a hundred years before Columbus reached the Caribbean and suggest a possible trade off—chickens, usually called moa, for sweet potatoes, called kumara both in South America and in Polynesia; as noted above it is a Quechua word. Ancient Polynesians were far travelling explorers but tended to settle only on uninhabited islands; if they found other people already in occupation they would usually turn around and go somewhere else. This is precisely what is recorded in a Gilbert Island, that is, Kiribati tradition collected in the 1920s. The people with the navigator Te Raaka found the high land forbidding and cold, with tall black mountains reaching up to the sky like a great snow-topped wall; they turned and sailed back to their islands.

Mapuche culture is shamanistic. These days the shaman, called machi, are mostly women although formerly they were often homosexual men. The machi perform ceremonies for curing diseases, warding off evil, influencing weather and harvests, and dreamwork. Machi have extensive knowledge of medicinal herbs, sacred stones and the sacred animals. As recently as 1960 there was a report of a human sacrifice among Mapuche—a five year old boy had his arms and legs severed and his body planted upright in the sands of the shore in order to propitiate the gods after the dreadful tsunami of that year. The waters of the Pacific Ocean then carried the body out to sea. Human sacrifice to weather gods is attested elsewhere on that coast: the Moche culture of Peru sacrificed young men whose throats were cut then their flesh carefully peeled from their bones during the heavy rains that characterize the El Niño phase of the oscillation of the Southern Pacific Index. A judge ruled that those involved in the Mapuche event acted without free will, driven by an irresistible natural force of ancestral tradition. Mapuche believe in twin spirits, Ten Ten-Vilu, goddess of earth and of fertility, creator and protector of flora and fauna; and Coi Coi-Vilu, goddess of water, origin of all that inhabits it and enemy of terrestrial life, animal and vegetable. Long ago the island of Chiloé was joined to the mainland. One day Coi Coi-Vilu manifested as a monstrous serpent and flooded the lowlands, the valleys and the mountains, submerging everything. Then Ten Ten-Vilu came out to do battle with her enemy, raising up the land to protect it from inundation. The battle went for a long time. Ten Ten-Vilu won but was unable to restore the land to its former state—it was left riven and dismembered as it is today. Coi Coi-Vilu fled but left behind as her regent of the seas and all they contain the king Millalonco, conceived during the battle when a beautiful Mapuche woman fell in love with a sea lion. It is that country dismembered by Coi Coi-Vilu—both the island of Chiloé, the mainland and the cordillera where the Pehuenche climb in their trees to gather piñone and listen to the murmurings of red-haired beasts—that is properly called Auracania and is remembered by that name even in places far away from there: everywhere Araucaria araucana, the monkey puzzle tree, grows with its spines evolved to prevent the too easy grazing upon it of dinosaurs of the Tithonian Jurassic. Anywhere where the dreams of the children of Millalonco, and the children of Tane too, with their intimations of ice and fire, earthquake and flood, endure.



I have been asked to say a little more about Auracania. First, some disambiguation is necessary. I do not refer to the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia founded in 1860 by Mapuche Indians in territory now occupied by the Republics of Chile and Argentina, curious though that place and its history is. Orelie-Antoine de Tounens, a French lawyer, was elected by the Mapuche as first King of Araucania and Patagonia but, in 1862, was kidnapped by Chilean soldiers and deported to France. He mounted three expeditions to try to reclaim his throne, without success. In 1878 King Orelie-Antoine died in Tourtoirac and the royal house has remained in exile in France ever since, although it has never relinquished its rights under international law. The current head is Prince Philippe of Araucania, who maintains close contacts with Mapuche groups both in South America and in Europe and has spoken before the United Nations Working Group on Indigenous People as a representative of Mapuche people living in Argentina. While the Kingdom of Araucania and Patagonia is only an historical memory, the Mapuche nation has preserved its cultural identity in spite of the concerted efforts of colonial and republican governments either to exterminate it, as the Argentinians attempted, or to incorporate it into a western, European culture, as the Chileans continue to do through laws designed to erase Mapuche traditions, land tenure and language. The Auracania I speak of is a different entity entirely, as the variation in the spelling suggests. It is a geographical rather than an historical memory and so cannot be accessed with resort to documents or indeed human recollection. It has however a kind of remanence that can at times contribute images of its shadowy provenance to the present and as such project its own fragile existence towards a possible future. It may sound arrogant, and perhaps it is, but I am one of the conduits of this projection, I can sometimes detect the shadow lines of remanence which carry with them an obligation - I nearly said sacred - to transmit the glimpses so gained, howsoever fragmentary, howsoever I can. Lately I have seen among the massed conifers ranked along the endless cloudy ridges of Auracania the shapes of large hairy beasts swinging slowly from branch to branch. They are a reddish colour, with strong pelts and a propensity to hang upside down from the branches for long periods. Cone eaters, leaf-eaters, omnivores, as we are. These beasts are said to possess a kind of prospective intelligence. The humans of Auracania, who are men and women of grand stature, if not quite the Patagonian giants of legend, cut steps into the trunks of living trees and use them to ascend into the tops, where they spend hours observing, indeed listening to, the conversation of these animals, which are known to them by the name Paramylodon after the sound of their ruminative cries. The wisdom of these beasts, it is believed, comes from the fact that they have absorbed into themselves all that the trees they feed upon know. Of what use this knowledge is to the giants I cannot tell. Perhaps just the kind of knowing that the wind has, or the sea; perhaps just a cloud of unknowing. Like anything once understood, it can never be lost. Sometimes in the quiet of night, even here, among millions of sleepers, I hear a whisper of leaves in a cold dark wind and know that, just for a moment, Auracania has returned with its ice, its calamity, and its unutterable adamant that will outlast glaciers; then too I see the shadows of rough beasts in the forks of the branches of the eucalypts that grow along my street, tranced, like Paramylodon were, by the alkaloids in the leaves they eat; murmuring wyldewords.


Da Shealladh

It means the two sights. Both this and the otherworld. The steeple and the darkness against which steeple stands in all its delusive certainty. Today and tomorrow, shimmering one upon the other, ghosting across the retina. When the otherworld comes it compels attention and so the quotidian recedes; yet without quotidian how would we know the otherness of other world? One takes on the lineaments of other, other predicts or informs upon one. The old seers would see their visions in a stone. A literal stone, held to the eye. That adamant. Stone is stone yet sometimes becomes lens. Stone seeing. Doom approaching from far away, doom of a future imagined in the now to which it will come. Otherwise how would we know it? Second sight is really first. Rarely first. First anyway, not second, second is what comes to pass. Can remember knowing things that did indeed happen. Came to pass. Others did not but might yet. New moon will bring an de shealladh - that is certain. What those two sights may be is still within the whirling of futurity. The imagination of time, at once infinite and confined to what is, was, will be. The (in)finite possibilities of the copula. It means two sights.


Magic Point

Yesterday I went out to Magic Point, just to the south of Maroubra Beach, to look for whales. It was a pretty casual thing - a friend who lives out there had the day off work and we were thinking of doing something together. Maybe visit the Biennale, maybe go for a walk along the clifftops. Maybe both. We ended up choosing nature over art and walked off into the afternoon about four pm. I didn't have very high expectations; I've never seen a live whale in the wild. On the other hand, this is the migratory season in our part of the world. Almost as soon as we walked out of the scrub of the headland and onto the low cliffs, I saw the spout of a whale not far away to the north. So casual and unexpected I wasn't even sure that's what it was. We kept on walking all the way out to the point and stood there for about half an hour, during which time maybe half a dozen, maybe more, whales went through. There was a large container boat moored a fair way out to sea and, just below us, a small tinny with a couple of blokes in it fishing. The whales passed along the sea road in the rather large space between these two vessels - some way out by the ship, other so so close in that the blokes in the tinny might have had something to worry about. They are beautiful to see. Calm and majestic as they dive and surface, dive and surface. Most of them seemed to take three or four breaths, if that's what they were, directly off the point and then dive and stay down until their next breath, too distant to see properly. The photos below, taken off Magic Point but not by us, give a fair rendition of what we saw:

Images from here and here