“We need an Anthropologist”
It was my first time white water rafting and probably the second or third time in my life zip-lining through a canopy; there are highlights, sure ––not hesitating when the rafting guide urged us to jump out of the boat mid-rapids, or perhaps narrowly avoiding trees that the zip-line was perhaps placed too close to–– but the memories all rest comfortably in the shade of something much larger, a presence greater than myself, the collection of my thoughts, and even the memories held collectively. In some respects it’s an interesting juxtaposition; I’ve skydived, I’ve now white-water rafted, I’ve done the normatively thrill-seeking things that I’m supposed to want to do ––the stuff of adventure stories, of vacations-not-travel, of uniquely western ideas like “bucket lists”. Rest easy family and friends, fellow students, others I may meet back home, I am now officially permitted to die happy and fulfilled.
Pucon is not a beautiful place, it’s masquerading as one, the settlement is dishonest. The area known as the lakes region is home to forests with a green and cold reminiscent of home, and several large volcanoes that do nothing short of captivate (though I doubt they intend to). Imposed on this landscape is town of all the amenities; restaurants with chiefly American food, nice hotels, gift shops, and all sport the faux-log cabin exterior that lets us really know we’re roughing it. Hot springs abound in the area and, after some long walking, they are admittedly nice(ish). Our journey ended here.
The first place we stayed was a small Mapuche village on lake Budi where we roomed in some Rukas. These straw huts are thatched well enough to stop the rain from seeping in, and sport a nice fire -pit in the center as a way to warm the entire structure. Here we slept, talked, and ate fresh bread with blackberry jam and cheese in the morning. However our first introduction to the Mapuche was a game played on long, narrow court with curved sticks used to bat a ball around. It is reminiscent of field hockey, and played be only men. Hearing this I was tempted to stop, but the rain forced that almost immediately after learning we could not let our female companions sub in (truth be told, the majority were not inspired to play anyway, favoring sideline chatting. Still, equality from both side would be nice). Although the rain was soothing the reality of the game had soured the otherwise beautiful countryside that surrounded us; it is never nice to be reminded that oppression exists, though equally depressing was the fact that this confrontation with ostentatious sexism caused the first semblance of feminism I had seen in anyone.
Over lunch the next morning the professors from the community school told me they very much needed an anthropologist in their community, an ally that they wanted to help articulate their stories more widely and perhaps even outside of Chile. There are several ideas that simply do not come to mind when Chileans think of this homologous monolith of indigenous people called “Mapuche”. Yes, they all want their land to be returned, but there is far more to the proverbial story. What one first notices when meeting many Mapuche is that they lack what some may think of as traditionally Mapuche names. In fact, almost every Mapuche for the last 30 years has received a catholic name at birth even if they no longer bear it today. The professors said the practice is an attempt to spare their children some of the pain involved with being a Mapuche in Chile, to not give them a mark that they believe immediately identifies an individual with some sort of shame in the mind of many Chileans. In their young adult years children are able to reclaim their Mapuche-ness in the form of acquiring a name based in the mapudungun language ––either self-selected or revealed as an alternative birth name conceived by their parents.
The Mapuche of lago Budi also reject the idea that the Aracaunía was ever pacified; to them the “land reform” fundamentally fractured the foundations of their cosmology. Luf, a sense of home and community based it the land but strengthened socially, is no longer alive to these professors. Although the mapuche (technically Huenche, or people of the mountain top) we met near Villarica believe that, although unfortunate, their luf shrank rather than disappeared, the Mapuche of lago Budi think their luf cannot exist until the traditional lands are restored. Although social relations didn’t appear more dire in one area than the other , a strong belief exists near lago Budi that something is missing and ruining the community.
Near Villarica we helped harvest piñones, a nut-fruit that makes up the bulk of the Huenche’s yearly diet but is only available for one to two months each year. The community may be small but the harvest is still grand. We walked around the base of the volcano to a chilly lake and searched for tree hearts (wood with crystalized minerals that leave translucent yellow lines in cross-sections) with our guide Pablo. Here too we heard a rejection of the idea that pacification ever took place; while the Huenche appear to have reigned themselves to the changes more than the Mapuche have they still think the state is acting unjustly and attempting to cover that up with euphemisms. However, most of our time with the Huenche was spent in the woods harvesting food or trekking around the base of Villarica so it’s hard to make any further conclusions about their beliefs.