To begin ...

As the twentieth century fades out
the nineteenth begins
it is as if nothing happened
though those who lived it thought
that everything was happening
enough to name a world for & a time
to hold it in your hand
unlimited.......the last delusion
like the perfect mask of death

Monday, December 6, 2010

Outsider Poems, A Mini-Anthology in Progress (21): Three Mapuche Poets, with a Brief Introduction

Translation and introduction by Rodrigo Rojas

The Mapuche are a native nation of South America that by their own reckoning has lived from the beginning of time in the central valley of Chile and in the grasslands across the Andes, in Argentina. Their language, Mapudungun, has been studied since the Spanish and other Catholic Missions were established in the region and admired only by a few dedicated scholars throughout the centuries. From their very first contact with the Spaniards in the 1540’s they have been fighting for the survival of their culture.

The politics of integration that were enforced by the newly formed Chilean State in the 1880’s were emphasized by a law under Pinochet’s rule a century later (1979). This law abolished communal ownership of the land and with it the definition of Mapuche culture as a way of life. This gave rise to a political movement that has opposed this law (by many considered genocidal) and that seeks to recover both land and cultural rights.

In the 1960’s, the Chilean poet Laureate, Humberto Díaz Casanueva, observed that no anthology of poetry in Chile included Mapuche oral poetry. To this day it is difficult to find this poetry outside of the world of ethno-studies, or anthropological research.

From the time of the Chiapas uprising in Mexico, the Mapuche poets gained more readers and political support from parties and associations. While the indigenous poets write about the destruction of forests, their language and their culture, the main goal of the political parties that support them is to capitalize on the discontent of people in order to show that the newly gained Chilean democracy and the liberalization of markets will not solve the problems of the third world.

The poets translated here use a wide array of poetic resources to refer to violence and discrimination and their search for roots that imply their whole history of struggle, not only against a dictator or the state, but against western civilization. They may use slang, mix Spanish and Mapudungun, use archaisms, or translate from languages other than Spanish into Mapudungun. They are mainly bilingual, and this has allowed them to enter more than one world at a time and not be fixed under one interpretation.

The work of three poets follows.

Born in 1969 in the town of Alepue. At the age of ten he began to write in Spanish and Mapudungun. He has lectured on Mapuche poetry in Sweden, Spain and Peru. His first book was published in 1989 and with it he earned the city of Santiago Literary Prize.


Trafuya pewman
ngüru wanküyawün
inche ruka
¿chumyawimi ngürü? –pifin
welu ad elulaenew
wankümu ta llumi.

¿chemew llumimi ngürü?
wac wac pienew
ina lef nepen
wekun lifmekerkefuy ta wün

kiñe ngürü trokifiñ

......The Dream

While dreaming last night
a fox
sang under our house
What are you doing there?
Asked my voice
the fox hid its face
behind the song

Why do you hide?
I yelled from my bed
wac wac
was the answer
I woke up startled
out side
the day began to be sketched
I heard from afar
a fox seemed to be
weeping in the mountains.

This poet, born in the city of Osorno (1968), belongs to the Huilliche community from south of the Mapuche territory. Their language, Tse-Dungun, (Tongue of the South) is related to Mapuche, but maintained by fewer speakers. Of the three poets presented here, Huenún is the one who bears most clearly the signs of the poeta-ulkantufe. Poeta is the Spanish word for poet, and ulkantufe is the carrier/keeper of the ÜL. The ÜL is the chant, the song; in other words, the ülkantufe is similar to a bard. He writes in Spanish, but in his poetry there is a texture, a mosaic of idioms, that bring under one text the use and deformation of Spanish through colonization, together with the sound and actual words or names of the Mapuche world and all its variants.

Huenún talked about this process while interviewed by the poet Cecilia Vicuña. “As a Spanish speaking Huilliche, born and raised in the confines of Chilean society, my racial and childhood innocence lost, I have had to seize the branch of Vallejo and Mistral (Gabriela Mistral, 1945 Nobel Laureate) in order to shelter my self beneath the tree of my origin. Poetry, that frenzied old forbearance, does not hesitate to push me toward the woods and rivers of Tse-Dungun.”

Huenún has published two collections of poetry: Ceremonias (1999) and Puerto Trakl (2001), and he has recently published an anthology of 20 contemporary Mapuche poets in a bilingual edition. He has earned many literature prizes and recognitions, among them the Pablo Neruda Poetry Prize.

.......Ceremony of Love

Last night trees loved each other like Indians: mañio and ulmo, pellin
and hualle, tineo and lingue, node to node they loved
as great lovers, peumos
bronced barks, coigües
much kissed their roots, tufts and sprouts, until love was aroused
in birds already lulled
by feathers of their very own
twittering love.

The same way, filthy huincas
like lovers buried themselves, and the negro waters
opened their springs to bring light, sip by sip,
alone, naming, calling out: gentle and beautiful
waters, but oh, we were raped, Rahue river waters,
Pillmaiquén River moaning, bloomed, in labor and yet joyous
lady streams that cross the hills
and mountains like hares.

And doves of the same love, soon gathered under one yoke
the green wellspring Inallao,
the wild honey Huaiquipán,
swift-eye Llanaquilef,
thrush breasts Requeleo,
the quillay Huilitraro blackbird-hair,
the young beech trees Pailamanque.

Huilliche love, last night they made love again
in a plain negro thicket under threshed
perpetually Indian skies,
like mountains they made love,
like stallion waters, like flaming anchimallén flowers,
in a fragrant dawn they loved,
sweetening their yeast,
like overflowing vessels of muday liquor.

The oldest of the three poets, born in 1955 in the town of Quechurewe, he is perhaps the most translated poet of Mapudungun. In a sense he prepared the ground for the younger generation of poets such as Lienlaf and Huenún. His first published works presented only a Spanish version; later books offered a translation into Mapudungun. His third book De Sueños Azules y Contrasueños is published in both languages, but there is no mention as to who did the translations. This is a relevant question, because in previous collections, the versions in Mapudungun were versions of someone other than the poet. Maybe the reader should assume that Chihuailaf is the author or perhaps there is no need of individual authorship in Mapudungun texts. If so, it raises another question over which text is the original. Even though the Spanish text was written first, it still corresponds to a version of the oral memory of a Nation. In that case, text will only have an author in Spanish, for when it returns to Mapudungun in a written form, its authorship dissolves into the community, and the collective memory becomes the original once again.

.......Ars Poetica

“The blue house in which I was born and raised, sits upon a hill surrounded by hualle trees, a willow, walnut-trees, chestnut-trees, myrrh that blooms like it found spring in the fall--a sun with the fragrance of ulmo honey--chilco flowers surrounded by humming birds that we did not know whether they were real or a vision. So ephemeral! (…) At night we’d hear the chants, stories and riddles at the fireside, breathing the fragrance of bread baked by my grandmother, my mother, or aunt María, while my father and grandfather, lonko of the community, observed with respect. I speak of the memory of my childhood and not of a utopian society. There, I think, I learned what was poetry. The greatness of everyday life, and above all its details, the sparkle of flames, eyes, hands. (…) Sitting on the knees of my grandmother I heard the first stories of trees and stones in dialogue with each other, with animals, and people. All you have to do – she’d say -- is to learn to interpret their signs and to perceive their sounds that often hide in the wind.”

.......The key that no one has lost

Poetry serves no purpose, I am told
and trees caress one another in the forest
with blue roots and twigs ruffling to the wind,
greeting with birds the Southern Cross
Poetry is the deep murmur of the murdered
the rumor of leaves in the fall, the sorrow
for the boy who preserves the tongue
but has lost the soul
Poetry, poetry, is a gesture, a landscape,
your eyes and my eyes, girl; ears, heart,
the same music. And I say no more, because
no one will find the key that no one has lost
And poetry is the chant of my ancestors
a winter day that burns and withers
this melancholy so personal.

Rodrigo Rojas, Chilean poet (Lima, 1971), is one of the editors of Rattapallax Magazine and teaches at the Undergraduate Program in Creative Writing at Diego Portales University, Chile. He is the author of two poetry books Desembocadura del Cielo (1996) and Sol de Acero (1999) both published by Editorial Cuarto Propio in Santiago de Chile. He has been awarded a Fulbright Scholarship for graduate Studies in the U.S. (2001), the Pablo Neruda Creative Writing Fellowship (1995), and the Gabriela Mistral Poetry Prize for his collection of poems Corazón de Langosta (1995).

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