THE ROOTS WITH NO LAND
The Mapuches (People of the Earth)
During the month of December of 1870, Hudson, attracted by his interest in ornithology, came to visit Patagonia. Among the living beings related with the flora, fauna and the landscape, men could not fail to be present, to whom he referred since his first look upon the Valley of the Río Negro River. From his first contact with the primitive settlements of the zone resulted the finding of stone, bone and ceramic objects, which concluded on a reflection about the inevitable disappearance of ancient cultures due to the "contact with a superior race".
A similar concept as that brought him to a vision of the "war to death [...] between the white men and the indians", understood as a fight of Civilization "against Nature". In "one of the six cemeteries" nearby his lodging, Hudson recalled having "step cautiously in order to avoid damaging the skulls" and if he did pick them up to examine one of them, "I would put them back carefully on the ground".
Far from the common predating attitude of the ethnographers of those times, the human remains were not appropriated, not taken to museums, nor catalogued, thus isolating them from their origins. Instead they where viewed as a starting point by means to explain the relevance of the Río Negro River for human survival.
In his book "Days of Leisure in the Patagonia", he describes the finding of human remains in this way:
"Lets go back again to those sad places I frequently visited in the Valley, not as a collector or an archaeologist, not even compelled by any scientific errand, but only to get lost among my own lugubrious thoughts"
"Each person dwells in a little world of his own, and those things that for others are just a part of the darkness that overshadows it; he will see with a surprising clarity that helps him to understand its mysteries…".
In his description, Hudson foresees the consequences of the historical policies of the States of Chile and Argentina against the Mapuche people throughout the 19th Century by applying the "Campaña del Desierto" or "Campaign of the Desert", and from there on, the resulting exclusion and control of the survivors.
Some 700 aboriginal communities are strewn around all the Country. A report from the Equipo Nacional de Pastoral Aborigen (Endepa), reveals -although only in a provisional way and awaiting confirmation- that of 478 communities researched in nine Provinces, only a mere 32 per cent have title to their land, while 66 per cent do not posses one leaving the remaining 2 per cent with the denomination of with and without title, which means that only some of the members of a community hold a land title, but as individuals, but not every one of them. Moreover, this study also concluded that in the Province of Santa Fé in Argentina, only 12 per cent of its existing nearly 7000 Mocovíes aborigines, do not actually own land.
The collected data reveals that almost 94 % of the Patagonia Communities of Neuquén, Río Negro and Chubut do not have title to their land.
During the last three years the Mapuche People has recovered some 30000 hectares of lands located in the territories of the Andean and South Regions, thus favouring more than a hundred families.
In addition, between the Zona Central and the Precordillera in the Provinces of Neuquén, Río Negro and Chubut live the greatest number of the Mapuche population, but they can also be found in the Buenos Aires and La Pampa Provinces, thus comprising an approximate number of 100 communities, comprising some 200,000 individuals.
Their life standard is below the level observed in other Patagonian areas, because the ecological characteristics and scarce natural resources make it a marginal area.
The state of the social infrastructure remains underdeveloped, and this reflects in the small number of schools and hospitals -although at the present an effort to revert this problem is beginning to show- available in these areas. Some calculations sustain that 38 per cent of the adult population cannot read or write, apart from the fact that a full 70% do not finish their basic schooling.
Nevertheless, the Mapuche Community stands out for being the one that shows the highest rate of development in its own organisation. The Confederación Mapuche Neuquina appears as the most advanced in that respect, and the one with a vigorous attitude regarding the recovery of those lands which they have always owned, but whose real right to, has seldom been acknowledged.
The incomes of this people basically depend upon the selling of goats and the making of handicrafts. The name Mapuche means "People of the Earth" in a very ample way, because the word "Earth" is employed to describe their entire environment.
In the cultural, there is a conciliation or syncretism of different doctrines, because several distinct cultures have been incorporated and assimilated during the passing of the centuries, way before the 16th Century when the Spaniards arrived.
In the Province of Neuquén, the Mapuches are united in a Confederation, and take no part within any political party. Nevertheless, they recognise the importance of internal elections and are not willing to wait sitting down, to gain any respect for their traditions by the "Huinkas" as they call the white men. That is the main reason that encourages them to form their own political party, one that will reunite all the Frentes Indígenas - Indigenous Fronts of Argentina.
Inside their organisation, they consider themselves to be part of a big family. Within their territories there are no wire fences nor any private propriety. They live in groups, forming communities called "Loft" each under the leadership of its "Longo" or chieftain.
The authorities of these Communities are elected by their own members every three or four years in a "Pichi Tabún" (small encounter or gathering), where their previous work and accomplishments are thoroughly evaluated.
In the midst of the Cordillera de los Andes Ridge, where the Province of Neuquén is located, the Mapuches have recently created their own Skiing Centre. This tourist attraction has been Parque de Nieve (Snow Park) "Batea Mahuida", extending over an area of 12 thousand hectares, on a mountain that is snow covered even during the driest years.
It was inaugurated and successfully managed last season by the Puel Community, comprising more than three hundred people. This reality shows a deep contrast when compared to the present situation which the Vera and Curruhinca Communities, located at the skirts of the Cerro Chapelco Mountain in San Martín de los Andes are confronted with. They are claiming as their own some 550 hectares, which include several buildings constructed at the base of the Chapelco Mountain.
In the present times and for the last almost 15 years, several "legal recognitions" regarding the Derechos de los Pueblos Originarios (Rights of the Original People) have been attained, which as a matter of fact, are still completely ignored in real everyday life. In spite of which, at present there is under debate the creation of a new law for provincial lands that will undoubtedly affect the five million hectares presently occupied by the Mapuches, ignoring the existing legislation in which those lands are considered as Mapuche Territories, instead of fiscal lands as now pretended.
We are so eager to compare ourselves with other cultures and creeds, mostly in the search of attaining an understandable pride of being or seeming better than the others, thus disregarding with this attitude the fact that there is something that shadows our memories and stagnates the impulse of learning how deep our ancestral roots go backwards. There are those that label this attitude as ignorance, others call it contempt, and there are also those that deny our true condition as Amerindians, as if our past has only really existed from 1810 on.
Doctor Alberto Rex Gonzalez, a renowned anthropologist and archaeologist from Argentina, as well as a former teacher of Harvard University, once wrote: "Regarding the specific matter of the indigenous, it is not about indulging on some entitlement for the past, neither about getting a theoretical profound knowledge of it. It is a matter that requires facing the present problems caused by the careless oblivion of which these people have been subject for centuries. The demands of these indigenous peoples are rising against the continuous injustice inflicted on them for years, questioning the unfair laws and challenging the economical and social indifference that have prevailed for so long. These righteous demands have already been heard throughout the continent: it is the voice of the original owners of these lands, struggling to have their rights acknowledged, tired of a paternalism that has only resulted in the destruction of their identity and culture, as well as being on the lowest level of economical submission".
In a work concerning the life of the Original Peoples of the Territory
of Argentina, the researcher from Cordoba and descendant from an indigenous
line as well, Mercedes Gonzalez -about whom we will hear more about
later on- states that "What is not acknowledged cannot be
loved, what is not loved cannot be protected and what remains unprotected
cannot be rescued"
Edgardo Ricardo Di Santi
The sources for the information in the making of this document were:
- "Leisure Days in the Patagonia". (Hudson 1893)
- Reports from the Equipo Nacional de Pastoral Aborigen (Endepa).
- Reports from the Red Eco. Río Negro.
- Report "Mapuches: Gente de la Tierra" by Celina Chatruc and Jorge Palomar.