What is a Landscape for the Mapuche?

Controversies around the representations of the landscapes of Southern Chile (19th-20th Centuries)*

“For them [the Mapuche], the dividing line between human, animal, tree and mountain is not clear-cut. They do not distinguish ‘at a glance’ between ‘animate’ and ‘inanimate’, ‘sentient’ and ‘non-sentient’, ‘thinking’ and ‘non-thinking,’ but first between strong and weak, big and small, fortifying and debilitating, useful and harmful. Pellü sets their scale of values. For a Mapuche the Villarica volcano is not first a high mass of basalt and lava, dead stone, but an ‘Am rich in pellü’, a being that has power, a Pillán before which he, with his meagre pellü, feels weak and small, exposed to its mercy and fury, as the powerless before the powerful.”

Ewald Böning, 1974: 122

*This essay is part of the results of the research project “Producing Landscape, Producing Identity”, based at the Geneva University of Art and Design and financed by the University of Applied Sciences and Arts, Western Switzerland. The author also received support from the General Directorate of Research and Postgraduate Studies of Temuco Catholic University, the Mecesup UCT 0804 project and the project “Expresión y presencia del otro en la frontera araucana: inscripciones mapuches e hispanas en lugares y en relatos de parlamentos de tres áreas de la Araucanía colonial, 1605-1803”, FONDECYT Regular N° 1120857.

The fire that ravaged the Torres del Paine national park in late 2011 and the approval, a few months earlier, of the HidroAysén project to construct five hydroelectric dams in Patagonia, are just two of the recent events that have provoked diverse reactions and debates in Chilean society on environmental questions.

The alarmist pronouncements heard and read at the time paint a picture of Nature permanently under threat from human actions and presence. These events were particularly emotive because the presumed culprits did not originate from the places whose idyllic landscapes they had blighted. In the first case, a foreign tourist was charged with having caused the fire that destroyed more than 15,000 hectares of forest in Torres del Paine1 while in the second case, opposition to the dam project soon took on a regionalist aspect, with denunciations of centralist political and economic interests, 2 and, behind them, the interests of foreign multinationals. Outsiders had proved incapable of valuing and preserving the local landscapes in the same way as the populations who lived there, or, worse, they contributed to their pillage and destruction. The question of points of view and their respective legitimacies arises in the context of such environmental conflicts and controversies: nature and its landscapes, as cultural productions (Durkheim, 1915), are perceived differently at different times and by different groups and individuals. The question of landscapes is therefore inherently political and cultural.

The case of the central-southern region of Chile is all the more emblematic because, since its “discovery”, its wildness has fascinated travellers, explorers (Vidal Gormaz, 1863), scientists (Domeyko, 1846) and missionaries (de Espiñeira, Havestadt & de Drena, 1990). As the work of Alexander Simon attests, the landscape images that emerged from their travel stories often came to take on a political value. Through the popularity of the clichés associated with them, the landscapes celebrated in 19th century travel literature thus became, in the 20th century, Chile’s main attraction for tourists, but have also generated controversies. These are particularly related to the presence of indigenous communities on these same territories, at the mercy of tourist activities and the unbridled exploitation of natural resources. These populations, mainly identifying themselves as Mapuche, “people of the land”, but now finding themselves in a minority on their own territory, are in the front line of the defence of the environment against a model for the economic development of the country that disregards all ecological concerns. The Mapuche communities and organizations have therefore had to highlight their particularities, their own conception of nature and how it should be treated, reaffirming the idea that there are different ways of perceiving, conceiving and experiencing the environment. This being so, one can ask what perception the Mapuche have of their environment, the meaning and content they give to “landscapes”, if indeed this concept, strongly embedded in a European epistemological tradition, is transposable into the Mapuche linguistic and cultural context. In the current situation, marked by the emergence of a Mapuche autonomist movement, to what extent is this European landscape aesthetic, used to describe and conquer the Mapuche territory, now being subjected to a symbolic reappropriation for political purposes?

These questions are all the more pertinent since the concept of landscape has to be understood anthropologically, i.e. not only in aesthetic or ecological terms, but also in its political dimensions (Droz et al., 2009) and its social and symbolic dimensions (Hirsch & O’Hanlon, 1995). To answer such questions about the relationship of the Mapuche with their landscapes, one must start by abandoning all culturalist or essentialist conceptions of Mapuche culture, inasmuch as their perception of nature has been constructed against but also in interaction with hegemonic visions brought from Europe which have to be understood and relocated in their historical contexts. We shall first describe how, through travel literature and some pictorial representations, the landscapes of the Mapuche territories were socially and culturally constructed, not without provoking some tensions with the native inhabitants. Then we shall see how these Eurocentric hegemonic representations clash with the cosmogony of the Mapuche, while considering the meaning and significance of landscape for this people. We shall thus explore the relationship the Mapuche have with their environment and how it has changed over the last hundred years, before observing how Mapuche and non-Mapuche artists try to reappropriate representations of landscape inherited from the 19th century, “denaturalizing” them to set them in a discourse of emancipation demanding the political, social, cultural and economic rights of the Mapuche people.

Tensions around the landscapes of Araucania

Reading the testimonies and tales of the travellers who have passed through the lands of southern Chile in the last four centuries and more, one is struck by how often they describe vast, impenetrable virgin forests (Camus, 2006; Camus & Solari, 2008; Otero, 2006); and yet for a long time these Edenic landscapes were not represented pictorially. So it remarkable that so prolific an artist as Johann Moritz Rugendas, who had admirably depicted the virgin forests of Brazil, reproduced from his time in Araucania only the “customs” of the Araucanians, and nothing of the landscapes. So it was through the travel literature, produced by conquistadors, then missionaries, soldiers and scientists, that a whole imaginary vision was formed of these landscapes which seemed to have remained immutable through the centuries. It was only in the 19th century, with the mainly German colonization, that these landscapes began to be transformed and to be represented pictorially. The sketches by Alexander Simon are among the first that depict not only a minute part of this wild nature but above all the distantiation, common in European painting of the time (Descola, 2005), in which the humans, having succeeded in taming nature and its adversity, 3 stand out against natural landscapes that have become distant backgrounds. This type of pictural representation of the landscapes of southern Chile appears at the time when the distantiation between humans and nature was strongly marked in the mentality of the travellers but above all after a veritable “prospect” had been opened up, i.e. once the lands had been deforested.

The pictural representations of forests that had long been reduced to their impenetrability and hostility became generalized as the forests began to be exploited and controlled. These landscape representations not only mark a new attraction towards the landscapes of the south of the country, evidenced by the extension of the railway lines and the growing number of tourists in the early 20th century, but above all they are part of the material and spiritual integration of an until recently independent territory into that of the Chilean Nation. As shown by the cottages on the edge of clearings strewn with felled trees in the drawings of Simon 4 or the photograph of the “Troops of Cornelio Saavedra in Araucania” pausing in a clearing against a background of dense forest, 5 these representations tend to confirm the end of the “Araucanian independent territory” and its impenetrable, virgin forests, which give way, in imaginations, to a new register, that of “the Chilean Switzerland” and the “granary of Chile” (Booth, 2010). As for the populations of these recently conquered areas, which the chronicles and some pictural representations such as those of Rugendas 6 had depicted in their most violent aspects, they are called upon to join the “great Chilean family”. The strength of this “family” is symbolized by the fusion of the exuberant nature of the continent and its natives with the culture and refinement of the European colonists (Le Bonniec, 2012).

The economic, productive and environmental rationalities put to work in these new provinces of Chile were dominated by the vision of the European colonists, who would shape landscapes in their own way, introducing with varying success new practices and techniques of agriculture and exploitation of natural resources. The relationship the Mapuche have with their natural surroundings is different from the one that, a century ago, was abruptly imposed on their territory, as regards the division between nature and culture that generally governs modes of thought in the West. Among the sociocultural practices that can still be observed today in the indigenous communities is belief in the existence of gen mapu, a kind of spirit, a master and protector that characterizes each space and gives it a specificity. Each space corresponding to these supernatural entities is thus classified according to its landscape, its “territorial identity” (Caniupil, Huilcapan & Quinchao, 2011: 30-31). Plants, rivers, hills and woods are elements of the natural environment but they have a social existence. They are tutelary spirits, endowed with forces (newen) that are owed a certain respect, whose permission must be sought before one enters their spaces, and who are thanked in ceremonies. Thus certain illnesses, accidents, events or catastrophes are explained by transgression of ad-mapu, the “law of nature”, lack of respect for these forces. Some spaces characterized by the presence of certain plants or a specific topography are known to be inhabited by malign forces or spirits. A person who enters them risks an “encounter” (trafentun) jeopardizing his equilibrium and his vital energy and manifested in spiritual and physical pathologies. These different spirits and forces are complementary and contribute to the harmony of the Mapuche world.

Thus, nature, environment and landscape do not mean the same thing for the Mapuche and the non-Mapuche. As Sara McFall (2002: 311) has pointed out, the Mapuche’s use of the land never really had a visual impact for the non-Mapuche, who saw there only wilderness. As the art historian José Ancán, himself of Mapuche origin, writes: “these vast spaces, even if not used for dwellings, were not therefore without meaning…. These uninhabited areas with all their incalculable components… have always been an essential part of the collective imagination” (2000: 134). One of the principles of ad-mapu lies in the fact that that each natural space has its own gen mapu, and therefore its specificities, with which one has to coexist. The presence of these gen mapu presupposes the absence of human transcendence with respect to nature. The habitus of Western societies and their “naturalist” cosmology, which sees humanity as external and superior to a natural world to be dominated and exploited, prevent us from seeing anything other than nature and observing the continuities at the level of interiority between humans and non-humans (Descola, 2005). The Mapuche thus bring to bear a different gaze and have a different relationship with the various components of what is traditionally perceived, on the basis of the Western aesthetic, as landscape. In the eyes of the Mapuche, these landscapes can thus take other forms, other qualities, and belong to other forms of social life that are difficult to apprehend from a point of view that distinguishes between culture and nature and assumes the transcendence of one with respect to the other.

Landscape as “form of the land” 7

Given these various observations, which illustrate the epistemological gap that can exist between the Mapuche communities and the society that surrounds them and which help to explain the current conflicts, one is bound to ask what landscape means to the Mapuche. There is no consensus on how this polysemic notion, forged in a European cultural and political context, is to be translated into mapudungun (the Mapuche language). However, when one asks several Mapuche informants from different communities to talk about the landscape in their mother tongue, one phrase often recurs: “azy chi mapu”, meaning “the landscape is beautiful”, or literally “the land is beautiful”. Another, less common expression, “azwentulay mapu fantepu”, means “now the land is no longer beautiful” or literally that “at this stage, the land no longer has form”. In both expressions, one finds the central notion of az mapu, a polysemic concept in Mapuche culture8, which here refers to the visual impact of the environmental changes, i.e. the “forms of the land”. On the other hand, it can be observed that the first formula refers to an intemporal landscape, fixed in time, whereas the second contains an idea of human transformation of the landscape. In the logic of the second expression, mapu must here be understood as the totality of the elements of a land, its mountains, rivers, forests and plants and their respective spiritual entities (ngen). Az mapu is thus a way of looking at the landscape. This expression highlights the transformative dimension of the landscape, the changes observed are considered as “loss”, a term also characterizing the Mapuche perception of colonization and reducción 9: loss of territory, sovereignty, traditions, wealth and landscapes as “forms of the land”.

As in Western societies (Schama, 1995), the relationship between memory and landscape proves to be fundamental among the Mapuche, because it is part of the semioticization of spaces and therefore the phenomenon of territorialization inherent in all human society. The expression of this mode of territoriality could be observed until the early 20th century in the tradition of nampülkafe, horseback expeditions across the Andes undertaken for economic, social and political purposes (Bello, 2011). But this practice also had territorializing effects, assigning over time different cultural markers to the places passed through, “a complex, effective geographical network,” according to José Ancán (2000: 106), “which gave functionality and coherence to this immense land, naming it according to a particular spatial logic marked by a west-east sense of direction. Tracks (rüpü), vantage points (azkintuwe) and other places with strong cultural connotation are all components of a trans-Andean horizon, thekallfumapu (“the distant land in the azure”), testifying to the strong anthropomorphization of landscapes considered natural and deserted, but also to mobility as a sociocultural phenomenon characterizing traditional Mapuche society but curtailed by the establishment of nation-states and the reservation policy. This form of symbolic appropriation of space is brought about through everyday practices – work, ritual, even dreams. 10 It binds together the social and the territorial and is anchored in the memories handed on through oral narratives. These are still part of an “imaginary geography” specific to the Mapuche, giving materiality to a trans-Andean territory, the Wallmapu, arbitrarily bisected by the nation-states in the 19th century, when the Cordillera was not a barrier to the free movement of persons and goods, but only a natural georeferent used to situate the Other, either in puelmapu (“land of the east”), or in ngulumapu(“land of the west”). In this network of sites of sociocultural significance, the azkintuwe, literally “the place where one seeks form”, is now more a place for entertainment, observation and contemplation of the landscape, but it seems in the past to have been used for communication: the kull-kull, a traditional instrument made from a horn, was sounded there to send a signal over a distance of many miles.

The shaping of the landscape

For the Mapuche poet Leonel Lienlaf, the notion of landscape does not exist in his culture – “which does not mean that there is no aesthetic concept of the idea of inhabiting a territory, but it does not follow the canons relating to landscapes…. When people speak of az mogen, which is ‘way of life’, they generally mean the reality, the way you live as a person, but this immediately involves your relationship with the territory you inhabit, how you fit into the territory in order to live, not how you adapt the territory to your way of life, but how you adapt yourself to and work with this territorial identity. So ultimately landscape, the concept, as an aesthetic, is about living, how you ‘live with’ the territory, live together with it…. It’s how you order the Wallmapu.” Leonel Lienlaf’s remarks recall a saying often heard among the Mapuche, “the land does not belong to us, but we belong to the land”, referring back to the previous discussion of the relation between nature and culture, characterized by an osmosis, a non-differentiation between humans and non-human elements, between people and the nature that surrounds them. Similar conclusions were drawn by Ewald Böning, who noted, after a discussion with Mapuche from Pucura in the early 1970s, that when his informant greeted a stone, a tree or a bird, he did not reflect on whether there was an intellect, a person or a spirit within it, adding that “a European, who does not know this Mapuche thinking, or rather this feeling, would relate these greetings and prayers to spirits and belief in gods; but that would be a misinterpretation” (1974: 137). Böning, a German missionary, a member of the Society of the Divine Word, thus reasserts the idea of an ontological dichotomy between Western Judaeo-Christian societies founded on the exploitation of nature and Amerindian societies that “merge with nature”. However, the relationship that a human group may have with its environment is not given de facto, but is set in dynamics specific to certain power relations and contexts, and very often the representations that one may have of it, such as that of the “ecological Indian” differ from the practices of the actors.

Let us consider now from the standpoint of practices how the Mapuche establish this supposed privileged relationship with the environment. The traditional ceremony of ngillatún seems essential in this relationship, since in it people thank the forces of nature and invoke its generosity by making offerings to it. The space and organization of the ceremony are set in a certain order of the world, a logic, which according to Leonel Lienlaf derives from the landscape in the sense that they are not designated by the person but impose themselves as a “sense of the land”, az mapu. On the other hand, there are various “territorial identities” corresponding to different environments (plain, sea, cordillera, etc.) to which one has to adapt. The “order” mentioned by Leonel Lienlaf is upheld by the Mapuche: for example, in the past, when someone undertook a journey to nometu lafken (“the other side of the sea”) – i.e. died – their grave would be decorated with a tree. For each person buried there was a corresponding tree. It might even be that among the virgin forests described with such fervour by the explorers of past centuries, some were nothing other than cemeteries. One remembers that some thirty years ago, anthropologists and ethnobotanists working in the Amazonian forest were able to demonstrate that it contained many domesticated spaces, gardens, that the uninformed observer would not notice and would take for part of the primal forest (Balée 1989, Descola 1986).

But there is a more contemporary practice, of a more individual character, testifying to the way in which many Mapuche continue to contribute to the formation of the landscapes of their everyday habitat. There is a generalized practice, whether on the coastal plains of Toltén, in the rural areas near Temuco, on the “recovered” lands” of Malleco or in the Panguipulli region: the informants described how they sow the seeds of native plants and trees on their land, for various reasons – to beautify it, to give it certain qualities or to harvest medicinal plants. When Juan Salgado Caniulef, a peasant in a community at Huerquehue, near Panguipulli, was asked what he appreciates in the landscape that forms his daily surroundings, he explained: “You can look at the volcano, the landscape, the hill, the cliff, but here I have a special place where there are three, four or five hazel trees. I go there, I relax, I restore my strength, my energy…. For me as a Mapuche it’s important to be in contact with the land, the strength, the energy of the land, whether it’s trees or pastures, by looking at the wonder of nature…. It’s the way I am: since I arrived I have not cut down any trees, I have planted some, because that is what it is to be in touch with nature, as the Mapuche did in the past. They made use of the forest according to their needs, not for trade, and they did not cut everything down, because that makes a desert. That is what gives me strength and energy, that is the environment I live in – the birds that sing, the neighbours who may have understood me; I’ve managed to make them understand and take part in a genuine Mapuche renaissance”. In this testimony, a “sacred value” (Droz and al., 2009:25) is associated with the landscape: it is not aesthetic considerations that predominate, rather the natural environment is contemplated and valued in terms of the forces that reside in it and the strength it gives to those who live in it and help to shape it. Knowledge of plants and more generally of their environment and the associated symbolic universe is thus used in the shaping of natural spaces. The rüme for example is planted next to wells so that they will not run dry. It is a kind of daffodil often found in the mallin, damp areas characterized by their biodiversity, and known to help retain humidity. Intervention in the environment is thus subordinated to a knowledge of places and plants, kimün, a kind of “sacred knowledge” that is not known by everyone and which confers a symbolic and, in the context of territorial disputes, even political efficacy on the rituals, practices and beliefs attached to certain places.

Finally, when a Mapuche peasant from a community near Temuco was asked what he valued in the landscape that surrounds him, he explained that it was the land that he could work, could understand and was accustomed to. He said of the lands of the lafkenche (coastal area), whosewigkul mapu, the plains, cannot be well cultivated, “ka gey ta ti ad-mapu”, “the form/beauty of this land is strange”. We return here to the question, mentioned by Leonel Lienlaf, of “territorial identities”. Each territory has its own identity, defined by its ecological character (coast, plain, mountain, etc.) and its gnen mapu, which one adapts to, learns to live with. This question even has political implications, for the resurgence of the Mapuche autonomist movement in the late 1990s was marked in particular by the emergence of local demands based on the particularity of each territorial identity forming the Mapuche people (Cloud & Le Bonniec, 2012). Likewise, this question is at the heart of the current conflicts, since successive governments over the last twenty years have thought they could settle the demands of the Mapuche communities and organizations by buying up land. Often there has been a real uprooting of the communities targeted for these buying-out policies. They have been relocated at distances of a hundred kilometres or more, with the argument that the territory assigned to them is of better quality and less expensive. They are delocalized to ecological environments and territorial identities that they do not know and cannot readily adapt to. This policy exposes the inability of the Chilean state, its politicians and civil servants, to take account of other criteria than those based on economism and productivism. The failure of this policy, illustrated by the assignment of lands considered “commercially unproductive” (Gobierno de Chile, 2011), revived the stereotypes in Chilean society of the lazy Mapuche, incapable of making his lands productive – the same stereotypes that, more than a century earlier, were contained in the representations vehicled by the travellers’ chronicles and that motivated the invasion and colonization of Mapuche territory.

A political semanticization of landscape

As has been seen, the landscape controversies that are embodied not only in the everyday struggles over natural resources, their uses and transformations, but also at the symbolic level of representations, cover various dimensions that go beyond ecological and cultural questions. Political, economic and social stakes underlying these conflicts are also perceptible. Some researchers and artists consider the notion of landscape inadequate to account for these stakes and prefer to refer to territory, in the sense of a space defined firstly in political terms and characterized by sometimes violent disputes over the appropriation and use of its natural and cultural resources. The landscapes of southern Chile can no longer be depicted in the same ways as they have been up to now; the current territorial conflicts are not without incidence on the landscapes and on the artistic works that they inspire, as shown by the work of Gonzalo Cueto. This visual artist from Temuco has created an interactive map (http://www.desterritorio.net/) enabling anyone with a computer connected to the Internet to fly over the Mapuche territory and learn about the different territorial conflicts going on there. Based on reports from the Citizens’ Observatory 11 and information flowing directly from the social networks (Twitter, Flickr, Picasa, YouTube) each place where a clash or police brutality has taken place is indicated and specified. The use of the Google Earth API makes it easy to explore the militarized Mapuche territory. This collaborative work invites reflection on the modes of representation of the regional landscape, the way one assigns meaning and events to certain places, thereby mythifying them, reifying them or giving them another collective meaning.

Various contemporary artists, a large proportion of whom originate from the south of the country, are thus helping to make known the conflicts affecting the Mapuche communities, drawing inspiration from them in works which are diffused through the Internet. Art can thus help to bring to light the subtle forms of violence that the communities suffer. Francisco Huichaqueo evokes two types of landscapes in his audiovisual works. The first are more spiritual: “When I film water, an ancient, spiritual landscape enters into dialogue with the ancestors”; the second, which may be embodied by eucalyptus and pines, are “clearly political”.12 The “spiritual landscape” refers to the deep aspiration to “social change for the sake of calm and peace”. It is an “interior landscape” with an oniric dimension reflected in the images and aesthetic codes that Huichaqueo uses. The “political landscape” is directly related to “reduction”, that of the “body” as in the case of the Mapuche who have lost a large part of their “ancestral” territory confinement in reservations, forcing the younger generations to migrate to the cities in search of work and a better life; imposed “reduction” and migration are part of Francisco Huichaqueo’s personal history. Some artists, of whom he is one, proclaim their Mapuche origins, others their mixed race, but, above all, they all feel concerned by the spoliation and the physical or symbolic violence inflicted on this population and constituting an essential aspect of the landscape of the south of the country. Their works thus convey more than aesthetic values; they convey affects. Like the landscape figures of the 19th century, the representations transmitted by these artists are invested with values relating to identity and arouse collective emotions. These representations are thus part of a genuine “renaissance” of Mapuche culture and society (Boccara 2006).

One of the emblematic figures in this artistic and political current is Eduardo Rapiman, one of the most prolific Mapuche visual artists. His work has been exhibited in Wallmapu, in Chile, in Europe, the United States and Asia. The son of a carabinero, he was born in Santiago, but has lived a large part of his life in Pitrufquén, near Temuco and the community from which his family originates. In the 1990s, he gained a degree of recognition with some very stereotyped pictures representing typical symbols assigned to Mapuche culture such as the kultrun (sacred drums) or the mythic serpents. Over the years, through his encounters and periods abroad, he has developed a critical and cynical vision of the representations of the indigenous people conveyed by art. He has called into question “Kultrunism”, a neologism used to describe an artistic tendency to reproduce the four cardinal points traditionally drawn on the kultrun. He explains that “a Mapuche artist is expected to provide ancestral mystique and symbolism; I played along with it, they wanted Mapuche art and I drew them kultrunes”. 13 He sees this tendency as a Western mode of representation of the Indian and a new colonization of imaginations aimed at taking control of the body and spirit of the native. In recent years he has developed art projects with Mapuche organizations and communities. He has integrated into his work the theme of territory as ritual production (in the ngillatún) and oral production (memory).

In some of his recent works, Eduardo Rapiman mingles silhouettes and forests: the latter are represented by lines that recall the rows of eucalyptus forming a landscape that has become inescapable in the south of the country. Just as in the case of Francisco Huichaqueo, the landscape depicted by Eduardo Rapiman refers to the division and reduction of the Mapuche territory, each work being a fragment of it, a narrative of a cycle of nature. Through his most recent works, Rapiman thus describes the condition of many Mapuche, including himself, who live in a city but in are in constant quest of a “natural landscape” that could be understood as the “spiritual landscape” described by Huichaqueo. The creations of these artists are revelatory of the way the Mapuche cope with the discourse of “naturalization” of the Chilean nation. The put forward their own imaginary geography, but often based on the aesthetic of the “landscapes of others”, which are imposed but constitute genuine intercultural spaces, as illustrated by Rapiman’s silhouettes against a background of lines of trees. The transformative and performative powers of landscapes are affirmed in the connection to the Mapuche territory claimed in these artistic creations. The works and discourses of these artists introduce novelties into the Mapuche artistic field, whose constitution and recognition are relatively recent. They run counter to the traditional representations of landscapes while at the same time drawing on their registers. In this sense they define themselves as counter-hegemonic practices, which have become increasingly common in the context of the Mapuche cultural and political renaissance observed in the last two decades. This renaissance is characterized not only by the irruption of a protest movement onto the public stage, but also by public policies favourable to the recognition of the Mapuche culture and the emergence of actors such as politicians, intellectuals and artists of Mapuche origin (Le Bonniec, 2011).

Counter-hegemonic landscapes in Mapuche territory

It is such a context that the Mapuche can make other uses of landscape representations for counter-hegemonic purposes. And so we are seeing in various areas a revaluing and a demand for landscapes on the part of communities and organizations, especially for economic purposes within “ethnotouristim” projects supported by public and international funds. Their promoters emphasize the beauty and pristine character of the natural setting in which these projects find their place, thus referring back to the now classic representation of the Indian in the middle of a virgin forest. However, these landscapes and their stereotyped representation are often the link between the inhabitants of these territories, the primary actors in these initiatives, and their users, the “tourists”. They constitute a platform of understanding, a genuine intercultural space (Pilquiman & Skewes, 2009). Ethnotourism projects generally aim to highlight not only nature but also the symbolic and historical elements that constitute it, such as knowledge of plants, dwellings (ruka), traditional sculptures (chemamul) and sacred rocks (Abuelito Huenteao) or the ancient tracks used to cross the Cordillera of the Andes.

The prospectuses promoting these tourism projects, whose illustrations derive their aesthetics from 19th-century landscape representations, emphasize the wealth of the natural resources available to the indigenous communities. For the members of these community associations, these experiences help to territorialize, claim and “collectively” control these natural resources which are subject to strong pressures from the logging multinationals and energy projects. They often make it possible to revalorize and rediscover the natural environments of the communities and the knowledge associated with them. Mapuche ethnotourism thus forms part of the overall policies of local governance, valorization and reappropriation of territories and their cultural and natural resources which claim to seek a “fair” balance between economic development, ecology and the well-being of the populations. The community character of these initiatives is stressed by the international funding agencies, which, through “project culture”, encourage the communities to integrate themselves into the market economy and exercise a form of “governmentality by the community”. The “community organization” resulting from these ethnotourism projects aims to be “functional” rather than “traditional”, since it consists in a management team made up of a chairperson, a secretary and an accountant, all elected from within the community. Although such a mode of organization is not without problems and tensions (Pilquiman & Skewes, 2009: 183), it is also a vector of subjectivation, partaking of subtle forms of consensus and consent, and leading to a process of reification of the Mapuche identity. These transformations take place around various symbols, for example the landscapes, which prove to be a federating element of the mode of collective identification of many Mapuche. Not only do the landscapes serve as an emblem for the Mapuche and their projects, but they also affect how they see themselves and therefore interact with others.

At the political level, the contemporary Mapuche movement, aware of the importance of producing and mastering a discourse on landscape and environmental representations, has developed discursive devices bearing on the landscapes and the nature of the Mapuche territory. It is remarkable to observe that the means and representations used are in many ways similar to those that predominated in the social imagination of the 19th century. Within the framework of autonomist demands, the iconography and some discourses thus vehicle landscape representations rather familiar to us. The references to landscapes in the public, political and scientific discourses produced by the Mapuche, while drawing on the dominant representations, are clearly opposed to them, by virtue of the contexts in which they are produced. They seek to resignify the classic affirmations describing virgin forests and great uninhabited spaces by putting forward another point of view. They introduce other statements of a cosmological and political nature helping to shape differentiated identities and running counter to the great narratives of the formation of the nation-states. These discourses and their practices are constructed in close connection with the transnational. In this respect they are akin to the techniques for the production of locality described by Appadurai (2001: 260-263). Appadurai, however, stresses the imaginary, deterritorializing dimension of these devices, whereas in the Mapuche case it can be observed that the landscape representations and the different “imaginary geographies” produced are active in particular local contexts. Such an observation thus reminds us that it is people, and the power relations among them in a given social and territorial space, that make territories and the “identity-giving” content assigned to them possible.


Is other people’s taste different from ours? An age-old question, to which different answers have been given by sociology and anthropology: social determinants, cultural schemes and historical contexts are among the explanations given of variations and similarities in tastes. While one might think that in the context of colonization and globalization cultural boundaries would disappear, in fact they tend to reassert themselves in a logic of opposition to cultural hegemony. The Western concept of landscape has been imposed in all societies as a mode of memorization, of shaping and symbolization of an environment, separable from any notion of aesthetic judgement. Landscape is subject to different forms of interpretation, translation and appropriation which express the particular relationship each human group has with its environment. Thus, while the term does not exist in the Mapuche language, “landscape” can be translated and interpreted in different ways, for example by referring to the form of the land, az mapu, or the ecological and spiritual characteristics of the place. These different components have been reasserted in the context of the strong pressures exerted on the remaining natural resources in Mapuche territory by private interests guided by other socio-environmental logics.

The Mapuche have been forced to undertake a physical and symbolic reconquest not only of their supposed “ancestral” territory, but also of its landscapes. This aspiration is accompanied by the growing concern of NGOs and national and international agencies, which promote the patrimonialization and preservation of natural spaces, while the sustainable forest management certification programmes of the PEFC are concerned with the landscape quality of the world’s forests. Indigenous peoples are often seen by these agencies as the best “guardians of nature”. This conception of “the ecological Indian” is inherited from old and somewhat obsolete representations but ones that the Mapuche have been able to reappropriate. They have taken over for their own purposes the landscape representations that were used to legitimate their extermination, the plundering of their territory and their economic and political marginalization, so as to transform them into an instrument of autonomist demands. The stereotypes around the privileged relationship of the Mapuche with nature, their reappropriations and their social uses, nonetheless mask processes of subjectivation, reconfiguration of Mapuche identity, taking place within the power relations of a Chilean society still marked by economic and racial inequalities.

Translation from French: Richard Nice


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