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This Is Northern New South Wales

Travels in Mapuche Lands

This morning I received a story from Paul Spooner General Manager of The Byron Community Centre, who has been spending a well deserved few weeks with his partner Mariana in her homeland Chile. A great read enjoy!

“I have just returned to the capital Santiago after spending the week in the south of Chile – home of the Mapuche people of South America. This is a truly awe inspiring landscape filled with high peaked mountains, snow capped volcanoes, thick forests, gushing streams and glistening fresh water lakes.

It has its edgy side in that volcanoes do occasionally erupt, earthquakes do sometimes happen and tsunamis have been known to invade the coastline. It reminds me nature is the true sculptor of our planet’s beautiful landscapes and we need to show deep respect and gratitude for her all inspiring creation.

The Mapuche people have occupied the southern regions of the South American continent since before recorded history. They were the warriors who successfully halted the southern expansion of the Spanish in South America until they were defeated by what the historians called the “Pacification of the Araucania” in the late 19th century.

In my trip south I was lucky enough, along with my Chilean born partner Mariana, to spend some time in the Llaguepulli Community, a traditional Mapuche village in the Lake Budi district.  Here we were welcomed by the Painefil family and shown one of the most amazingly warm experiences I have encountered anywhere in my travels around the world.

The people of the community are welcoming and friendly. They are especially open to sharing their culture, their activities and their beliefs. We learnt about the traditional Machi healers and the herbs they use for medicine, we were shown their amazing textile arts and the distinctive warrior like metal jewellery of the Mapuches, and we participated in a vigorous game of ‘palin’ that is played with wooden hockey-like sticks and a small leather ball in a long open field.

We stayed in a ‘ruca’ – a traditional Mapuche house made of wood and straw. A central part of a ruca is an open fire pit that not only provides warmth and a place to cook, it also creates a great space to just sit, soak it all in and chat away the long, lazy nights in the southern Chilean countryside.

Spending time in a ruca is like being held in a warm, smoky dream. In fact, in Mapuche culture a lot of significance is placed on dreams and their meanings. It is normal in everyday life for children and parents to share their dream experiences over breakfast before they start the day. A bit like wisdom sharing in the mornings rather than the Looney Tunes cartoons. However, dreams are also seen as signifiers of events that may happen in the future – like an approaching tsunami!

Music and celebration is also central to Mapuche culture. On our last night in the village we were lucky enough to partake in a traditional fiesta with music, dancing and lots of mate – the sweet herb drink of the region.

One of the hardest things about this journey turned out to be actually leaving the village. In fact, it took us over 5 hours to actually depart on the day we left. After a final meal, lots of warm exchanges and expressions of deep gratitude for the sharing that had occurred we hitched a ride with some locals who were heading north.Our short stay in a Mapuche village demonstrated to me that while language may separate us there is much more in our diverse cultures that brings us together as one human race on this planet earth.

Or, as the Mapuche may say: “The land of the people for the people of the earth.”

Words and photos by – Paul Spooner