Last weekend I went to the VIII Region of Chile with work. Specifically, we went to the Provincia de Arauco, which is known for being home to the Lafquenches, or the Mapuches from the coast. I learned A TON on this trip, some of which I had learned and then forgotten from my Mapuche Art and Culture class that I took while I studied abroad here almost four years ago, and some which I never even knew. The landscape is SO GREEN, and because you can’t see the volcanoes like you can in the areas around Osorno or Pucón, it really truly reminded me of Vermont (except for the odd palm tree or araucaria thrown in there)
First up on the agenda, we visited Lota, a town known for its undersea carbon mines and the setting for the book and movie Subterra. We visited the mines and the park that used to be home to Luis Cousiño and Isidora Goyenechea, owners of the Lota mines.
We also went to the beach near Lota and that’s where my camera got sand in the lens and is patiently awaiting repair. Therefore, the rest of this pictures are courtesy my travel companions.
Photo Courtesy HS
We visited Contulmo, a German town whose wooden houses are a patrimony to humanity, and went to the cementary on October 31st, not in honor of Halloween, but in honor of The Day of the Dead, where people clean the tombs in preparation for All Saints Day on November 1st.
And we spent time with Lafquenches from the area, both at the Mapuche Museum outside Cañete and at Ruka Lelbun in Elicura. It was so interesting to get a first hand perspective on the Mapuche struggle to maintain their identity. The vast majority of Mapuche children nowadays are growing up without learning Mapundugun, the indigenous language. The majority of Mapuches who grow up and go to the university don’t ever go back to their native villages. It was also interesting to learn that Mapuche “communities” are very disperse and organized by family clans (even today), so for that reason a lot of Mapuches don’t agree with the more radical Mapuche resistance movement, including the hunger strike and violent acts. Some accept the fact that they live in the Chilean state, and want to do so as peacefully as possible without losing their heritage, while others are extremely bitter and want to recuperate their ancestral lands from the Bio Bio River down to Chiloé, through whatever means possible.
Another interesting thing we learned throughout the trip were the medicinal and practical properties of many plants of the region. Here I’m pictured holding hinojo which smells like licorice and is used in a tea that aids in digestion (I think, it was something about the stomach).
It was an eye opening trip, and I’m glad that I’ll be able to go back next year to learn even more.