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Trilingual Visibility in Our Transpacific: Three Mapuche Poets

16 December 2012

The work of the three Mapuche poets included here – Jaime Huenún, Maribel Mora Curriao and Roxana Miranda Rupailaf – has been drawn from the Tri-lingual Mapuche Poetry Anthology, forthcoming with Interactive Press in later 2013. Poems are presented in Spanish, Mapudungun (the language of the Mapuches) and English. Huenún is also the anthologiser of this future collection. These four poems were originally written in Spanish … and are infused with a bi-cultural sensibility as they travel between the ‘traditional’ and the ‘mainstream’, drawing on Mapundugun terminology and cultural references. The poems have then been translated into Mapudungun by Víctor Cifuentes Palacios in Chile, and from Spanish into English by the team of Juan Garrido-Salgado, Steve Brock and Sergio Holas in Adelaide.

Presenting the poems in three languages is an important part of the anti-colonial nature of the project, which seeks to contribute to the maintenance and promotion of the Mapudungun language and promote awareness about the contemporary Mapuche struggle. We have found that, in translating these poems, there are parallels with themes in Australian Indigenous literature. In recognition of this, we have invited the first nation scholar, Professor Lester-Irabinna Rigney of University of Adelaide, to compose a foreword for the volume. Rigney makes the following observation:

The most important feature of the [work] is that [it raises] some extremely far-reaching questions about Mapuche injustice, death, life, love, compassion, struggle and reconciliation to a wider global audience. In this sense, Mapuche writers’ invisibility in the Pacific and elsewhere has been overcome. This is a refreshing change from the past where texts in Australia included Mapuche as: subjects without voice; distorted interpretations of Indigenous experiences; and Western deficit views masqueraded as reasoned argument.

The inclusion of these voices in Cordite Poetry Review‘s TRANSPACIFIC issue in three languages further contributes to the visibility of Mapuche writers in the Pacific, while promoting cross-cultural dialogue as a transformative and creative force that can re-negotiate the homogenous and hyper-real perversions of capitalism. Further, visibility in the Pacific as a theme is all the more poignant when considered in the historical context of the Mapuche struggle against ‘Pacification’ in Chile.

The Mapuche Nation comprises, according to official figures, four per-cent of Chile’s population. It was the only indigenous nation able to stop the advance of the Spanish Conquest in South America – where the Spaniards signed treaties and negotiated with the Mapuche in terms of their relationship and existence in a mutual space. Only after independence from Spain in 1810 did the Chilean State commence its war against the Mapuche Nation, a conflict which it named the ‘Pacification of the Araucanian’. This notable use of words that projects the nation-state’s demons onto other populations (it is not the state that is warlike, but the Mapuche) has been one of the main platforms of modern Chilean politics. In this case, these are the Mapuche people – ‘the people of the earth’ – the first nation living in the territories known today as the states of Chile and Argentina. Chile, like other colonial nation-states founded by the conquest of territories and souls, has its roots in such violence – a violence hidden under words like ‘pacify’ circa 1881–1883. Antonin Artaud, the French poet, has observed that all modern societies have their foundations based on a crime committed in common by its citizens.

Contemporary Mapuche poetry incorporates a literary culture that is in fluent dialogue with the Eurocentric aesthetics of contemporary Chilean poetry, drawing, as it does, on Mapuche oral traditions and histories. The poetry opens a new cultural territory that explores family histories, memories, relationships, ways of looking, modes of telling and angles of relating to the land. These revelations are particularly important if we want to be democratic and make our Transpacific societies intercultural. The poetry presented in the following pages is also part of a broader dialogue with many first nations of the greater ‘Transpacific’ map, as we have seen in the work of Lionel Fogarty and in works of the writers Oodgeroo Noonuccal, Mudrooroo and Charlie Perkins.1 Mapuche poetry can be read as an invitation of sorts for Chile and other countries with a colonial history to venture down the path of ‘democratising’ their democracy: the art of transforming our selves into a co-existence, becoming one and whole in the shared spaces we live in.

On to the poetry. The next four pages present an offering of this rich poetry in three languages, written by a new and politically engaged generation of Mapuche poets – many who draw upon a diverse range of traditional, literary and popular cultural references that shake the very foundations of the Transpacific aesthetic as we know it – and translated by those of us who can and care. This is not solely poetry; it’s an earthquake coming your way.

- Steve Brock, Juan Garrido-Salgado and Sergio Holas

  1. See also the anthology Espejo de Tierra/Earth Mirror, published by the Chilean Embassy in Canberra, 2008, which presents ten contemporary Chilean and Australian Indigenous poets in Spanish and English, including works from the poets published here.
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