Mapuche Songwriter Shares Her Art as a Tool for Native Resilience

Interview Carina Carriqueo, Mapuche singer from Argentina, by Awasqa, August 2019

Because there is something else which we do not consider and sometimes we forget, is that we are making history. Each one of us is making history, and behind us, on this path that we are marking, on this path, there are children, and there are people who are following us, and they are watching us.

Carina Carriqueo, how do the Mapuche people build their community resilience processes to grow, develop, as peoples and individuals?

First Mari Mari to all, our Mapuche way of saying hello, what a simple question to answer, in the sense that it contains everything in a single word, which is what they taught me and what I learned from a very young age, that which our grandmothers passed on to us. How do you get ahead despite of everything? Because those of us who are born on Native lands, we find that before we are born, there are already people who hate us; in this society, as soon as we open our eyes there are those who give us a hand and others who most of the time let us down.

That word is LOVE.

It is within that circle that the grandmothers taught me, my grandmother mainly, where I tell of love in my presentations, I share my life, I share my experience. She had a problem with her fingers, they were all crooked because of rheumatism. And I often returned from school sad, for some offense or because I had suffered blows, all because of my skin color and because I was indigenous. And once I asked her to draw me something, and she couldn’t write but she could grab a pencil. When I asked her if she was going to draw me something beautiful, and she made a circle as best as she could and said: “It’s life, this is life.”

Everything returns to the beginning. Therefore, with love, we have to become healthy and follow that circle because, at some point, we have to become strong. In my own way, I have been collecting thoughts and mainly paying close attention to the words of the elders. I always say, Don Máximo Coñaquir, a Lonko from Olascoaga, said that one must know how to speak intelligently. That knowledge has to do with Küme rakizuan, with right thinking. To have a good thought, you must also have a calm heart, says Grandma Cañukurá in Neuquén. And, to have a quiet soul, you have to have love. That love that comes unselfishly, in this way, where we come together, uniting in some way this circle, uniting cultures. I think this is the way you subsist, you live, daily by being native. Holding out a hand, like that, at a distance, without knowing each other, but knowing that together we form that circle of life.

How do people manifest being a community in the land of Ñuke Mapu, motherland Mapuche?

It is a permanent struggle. I always compare our cultures and peoples, with plants, with trees. When a root grows a lot, the firt thing the white man does is lift the broken asphalt, buy a larger pot because that root broke that pot, and cover it again, cutting so that it does not continue to break the asphalt, or the sidewalk, or the pot, and cover it again. And that is the permanent struggle because when  we want the roots to reappear, we have to be in a constant struggle, despite being the protectors of nature. We continue to live and keep the same ancient knowledge, with that care, in harmony, in balance, because we say that we are not the owners of the land, but that we are a part of it. And being a part means taking care of it.

Sometimes we have that other interpretation of the natural, to see the natural signs and to respect them. It is a different vision; it is as if sometimes we are living in another time. And despite everything, we have to continue. A few days ago I was talking with a Native brother, about this idea of the growing roots and how sometimes our wants and needs need to come out, and about all the ages we carry on our loaded backs, a lot of things. In my case, I dedicate myself to singing and spread our message with songs because it is what I learned from a very young age. But to see how national congresses of indigenous languages are organized by non-indigenous people, to see how the congress speakers are non-indigenous people, and when we appear… They say, “You have to sing in the interval, when everyone is going to drink coffee …” I answer, “In the huge theater they restored, I will sing there?” But, “You are not going to sing on the main stage, you have to sing in the basement.” So we commemorate and celebrate, and we thank those spaces equally because it is an ant job, tiny, but it is a very significant contribution. It is to become aware, for those who organize the extraordinary events, I always say, there should be nothing more comfortable than raising the flag Native people, or speaking on behalf of a Native people, whether on a stage or wherever.

But how many times people, like you, give us the floor? People like you are counted on the planet. That allows us to be protagonists. On the big stage other things are preferred, different music, other people. And they celebrate if someone raises a flag and speaks for Native people.

Or when they go to the communities, here in this part of America. When people want to have a kind gesture, or when they want to reassure their heart and get closer to the Native peoples, the first thing they do is clean out their house, take out all that they makes them sad to throw away and take it to the communities. In my presentations, I always say, “First approach the native people, know and ask them what they need. Do not bring things just to bring things and pile them up. The people of the countryside and the mountains, we are very respectful, but we also need you to hear us to pay attention.” It has happened to me countless times, that I arrive at the house of my grandmother who lives in the Cordillera, they say: “How much poverty! How do you live like this, so poor? ” And she with her only healthy eye looks up and says:

I am not poor, how can I be poor if I do not have a clock? Nobody hurries me here, like they hurry you. I have what I want; I have my Quinta, I have my animals, I have my yerba mate, and my flour to make my tortilla on the embers.

A few years ago, the government saw that “poverty” and went and made it a house, a house of hard materials with a floor. We always grew with a dirt floor, setting a fire inside. She now has her cement home made by the municipality, the government, that she only uses it to sleep, because when she gets up, she locks it up, so that nobody can enter that house that is not her. That house belongs to the government. And she goes 50 meters to her ranch, with a dirt floor, where she can smoke, and those walls don’t get dirty, and the geese and chickens come in and out, and that turtle wrapped in cabbage, to heal because the dogs bit her. Everything and everyone is inside and next to her, and no problem, she feels good, because she is in her ruca, she is in her house. No one asked if she want a cement house; they went and did it.

On the other hand, the struggle for land. The permanent fight over lands without papers that sometimes we do not know if the government sold to some Chinese family, and that the eviction is coming, and that our communities have to start to fight and find advise and hire a lawyer, find legal status to give their word more validity.

And so we stay in the middle, we the survivors, the ones we have to fight every day, in culture, on earth, with our hands in the mud, but without forgetting who we are or where we came from.

How is the Mapuche cultural resistance?

I always say, and I clarify in the presentations that, it is not necessary to pay attention to children’s books, which mostly talk about indigenous peoples in the past tense: “They lived, existed, ate, that’s all. Oh and we were in loincloths in the middle of the mountains and with snow to our knees. ” To speak in the present, we exist, we live, we have, and from time to time some child comes to my house and hits my hands and shouts at me: “Ma’am, I have a duty to do for school, what customs did you have before and that we currently maintain ?” I answer one word: All. You sing, write, talk, tell, do, eat, and work.

Just yesterday, talking about this in social networks and YouTube, seeing my work spreading to places that I did not even think of. People tell me: “We want to make a festival to collaborate with such a group, would you come to sing?” Yes, but I also need you to collaborate with me, because I don’t live on air. And one leaves everything, delivers everything in art, in singing, for example, which is what I do. And yes, it is always a filler or an opening with a theme, it’s fighting and standing firm. Do not loosen, do not let be yourself used. I have been in charge for many years of organizing and grouping Native artisans, of spreading the original art, by originating. That has double value because many people are not indigenous, who do it and do it very well. But the original artwork, made by Natives, should be worth double.

Many years ago I used to sing for free in schools, cultural centers, in different towns and cities. Until once in a private school, after I finished my presentation, they didn’t give me anything to eat. Because we indians don’t eat nor drink water, nothing… They told me: “We put something together to take your family, to your community.” They gave me a plastic bag, one of those to take out the trash, closed, and they left and left me in the middle of the field, in the middle of nowhere, they all left, leaving a dust cloud behind. When I opened the bag and saw the package of cornmeal and a can of tomatoes, I said to myself: “Is this what I’m worth? Is this what my song is worth? I came so many kilometers here, as I could; they didn’t give me a glass of water, they all left.” What’s more, they told me “Close the gate when you leave,” and they left me a bag with two foods, non perishables, a can and a package. Then I understood that I had to put an economic value on what I do because with me nobody makes charity, I need to eat. I pay gas, water, live in a town.

I think we have to stand firm in that position. What we do has a worth, if we put value on ourselves, it will have value for the rest. Whenever I have presentations, I dedicate much of that money to buy from my brothers Mapuche silverware and textiles. I do it even though I am making silverware and I knit, but I know that my brother needs a little more than me. And if he does not sell a Trarilonco, a Trapelacuche – which is the silverware used by the Mapuche woman-, to another Mapuche, white people do not understand that meaning, and they are not going to buy it. It is also expensive, and it is worth what it is worth! Because I know how to work the alpaca -alpaca silver-, I know what it’s like to cut my fingers with the little thin knife. I see the work that takes to polish, shine, design, be neat, is a tremendous job, and is well paid. The same with the weavers, it is not easy to first shear, go out to look for natural dyes, spin it in use, by hand, put it on the loom and if it is very large, to bend down at all times, then your back is a misery.

That is why I always say when they go to the communities, and they see that there are people with their handicrafts, do not fight the price, do not say, “I pay you… is only an indigenous work, I pay you few pesos.” Pay what that is worth, and if you can pay more, pay more, because if you had to do that job, you would inevitably be charged much more than what that weaver is asking by the costs. We give each other such a hand between us.

What we were talking about early today, of building this circle, of lending each other a hand, although we always know that we will have obstacles, stones, and hills to climb, it is worth following. Because there is something else which we do not consider and sometimes we forget, is that we are making history. Each one of us is making history, and behind us, on this path that we are marking, on this path, there are children, and there are people who are following us, and they are watching us. There are going to be people who will want to step on the same place that we step on, so we have to be safe and observe, where we step.

How do we make the ideas of progress and development compatible? So different among white people and indigenous peoples.

I always say that, many times, what is called poor, has unity, has spirituality, has all the knowledge of how to survive in an environment, in a forest, on a mountain, in a city. When we come to a little town, a small city, we don’t stop being who we are. Many times the rich man, the only thing he has is loneliness, and he stays in that solitude surrounded by luxuries, surrounded by his greed and prejudices. What the grandmothers emphasize is evolution, growth, which is not the same as the technological advance. It is technological advance that is obscuring us, it is distracting us from the natural, as you say, the soil that become impervious, the forests that continue to be cut down. Growth occurs in the job of plowing the land that we have to do, of being able to enter the schools, in the subsoil as it touches me many times, even in the interval when everyone goes to drink coffee, but the person listens and becomes aware.

I think it is the only tool we have today. The other day on the radio, when they announced that I was going to be singing, a single person put on Facebook of that radio an angry face. After I was there, he wrote to the owner of the station, saying: “I was the person who put that angry face, because of prejudice that I haveagainst the Indians, and my economic situation, but after listening singing to Carina, this woman changed my mind. ” In the 500 messages that the radio received that night, that one was enough to make me happy. Because that one person changed his mind, and that is wonderful because the most beautiful thing is that we do not get tired, we renew, we still have that strength.

They taught us to always be in the present, not to speak from resentment, but from growth. That is the key. Growing from wounds, not from irritation, growing from wounds allows us to move on.

Audio of the full interview in Spanish

The Mapuche people have a great tradition of spiritual songs to the earth, animals, trees, the wind. Do you remember any of the old songs that you could sing for us?

When we are children, mom sends us to gather pine nuts, which are the fruits of a large tree that grows in the mountain range, which is called araucaria. When the wind moves them–it is all onomatopoeic, our song, the song of nature–then, when we go to the forest, and a stream passes and we hear that the water hits the stone, and clicks, we sing:

And the children say, “But how does everything has a song? Everything that sounds, that makes noise.” No, what does not make noise also has a song, for example, the filú, the little snake. And how will the viper sing if he doesn’t speak? And, it is easy to observe its movement, close your eyes and see it:

When the song is acapella, it is called “tail [tah-eel]”. It is a sacred song of a natural element. We just talked about the araucarias, that when the Kürüf, the wind moves them, and those pinecones make sound, it can be sung. We can sing to say something beautiful to that tree, give thanks for that food, and the wind hits and does kai kai kai, and sings:

It begins with that onomatopoeic sound, something is sung, and then it closes again, and it is as I say, a small song, a simple, but a natural song, which is what makes it great.

Because even if they do not understand the Mapuzungun, the Mapuche language, if I tell you that, there is a lament of that man who had to participate in the conquest of the desert. Had to go through the campfires, had to go singing to this town that was left behind and those houses that were left behind and that family, because he was already captive to the land of the whites, back in the 1700… he sang, Don Pancho Carriqueo:

Tani Ruca means oh! [woe me]. That regret, “Oh my house, oh my Ruca, I’m leaving to the country of the groves.”

This is the song, called ulkantún, because it is accompanied with a small rhythm, with a drum called Kultrun, and the other is there, an very few people make them, that’s why it costs so much too. On big stages people are afraid and worried that people will not applaud, will not clap, and I always say the same thing, “Do not worry, that when I appear and start to speak a little in our language, children and some adults will laugh, but it doesn’t matter. It happens because they are not used to hearing the language. But when I begin to sing and tell them stories, weave them as in a fabric, as in a loom, all my stories, and my songs, an hour will have passed. They will realize that I did not let them applaud at any time, because I bring to mind the words of Mapuches from the province of Buenos Aires.” Doña Herminda when she said to me,

You know Carina, I wake up every morning and I am afraid to forget my tongue, I am afraid that the children do not learn, I am afraid to forget how it is pronounced. You sing and sing a lot, so we can remember a lot about who we are.

All together we have to be, says this ulkantún, whereever you are, far away or here close by, but united by the hand. As we are now dear friend, you and I here, and all the people who hear this message, and a Chaltumay, thank you very much, but a powerful and embraced Chaltumay, with our hands with the Mari Mari, with our ten fingers tight, in this union of people, in this union of brothers and Peukallal, farewell!