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.

No comments: