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2010-07-17 | Cultura | Mapuche

Introduction to the Cultural and Political Contexts of Mapuche Hip-Hop

This essay makes the case for documenting and better understanding Mapuche rap music and hip-hop culture in southern Chile.[1] Ethnographic researchers Danko Mariman, Isabel Cañet and I have just finished a state funding proposal to assemble a documentary film on this topic during 2011. Here I summarize our argument about the need for such documentary material, in cultural and political terms.

Foremost, understanding Chile’s cultural landscape requires the examination of specific emerging forms of cultural production, and the content of rap music in Araukanía today offers a rich variety of expressions and sentiments. Furthermore, ethnographic analysis of the conditions of production and reception of music associated with rural-urban migration, and with a continually changing indigenous culture, offers a unique glance at the socioeconomic challenges facing a young Mapuche generation in the IX Región. Finally, in both an artistic and an historical sense, Mapuche rap also bears potentially fascinating connections to orally transmitted language and other oral Mapuche art forms, rendering rap music a contemporary manifestation of longstanding expressive traditions.
These research premises are backgrounded by the need to increase understanding of the so called cuestión Mapuche in Chile.Currently, the Mapuche situation complicates the grander narrative of Chile's success as a representative democracy and a regional economic power. The Concertación, Chile's center-left governing coalition between 1990 and 2010, pertained to what John Beverly has characterized as the neoconservative/neoliberal Latin American Left. [2]Despite orientation towards democratic and human rights reforms, and the local ratification (albeit delayed) of U.N. Convention 169, Chile's government and legal system has regularly failed to intervene when land disputes simultaneously threaten the environment and indigenous communities.
Danko Mariman’s 2009 documentary entitled En el nombre del progreso, accompanied by Wenu Mapu’s rap composition of the same title, details the following examples of such disputes under the watch of the Concertación: 1) the 1991 installation of a garbage dump in Boyeko; 2) the government’s legal and military backing since 1996 of the Celulosa Arauco y Constitución (CELCO) project for dumping contaminants in the ocean at Mewin; 3) the division of the Mapuche communities Likanko and Rofuwe for the construction of the Ruta Longitudinal Sur highway in 2004-5; 4) and the current threatening of waterways and agricultural assets in the communities Kepe and Pelal, by the impending construction of an airport.
Mapuche rap and hip-hop in local and global perspectives
The increasing force and popularity of rap and hip-hop globally, and of Mapuche rap specifically, indicate the need to document and analyze this phenomenon locally in southern Chile. Multiple discourses affirm this necessity. In the introduction to his 2001 edited volume about comparative geo-cultural perspectives on rap and hip-hop at the turn of the 21st century, Tony Mitchell notes the lack of adequate documentation and analysis of rap music around the world:
Models and idioms derived from the peak period of hip-hop in the USA in the mid-to late 1980s have been combined in [various] countries with local musical idioms and vernaculars to produce excitingly distinctive syncretic manifestations [with] local indigenous elements. But these foreign developments have rarely, if ever, been acknowledged in the growing body of academic commentary on hip-hop (2001: 3)
In a 2006 interview, rapper, poet and anthropologist Danko Mariman commented about indigenous rap in Araukanía:
When we talk about “Mapuchifying” hip-hop and poetry, we mean incorporating them into our culture. Through both these art forms we bring to light our personal and collective struggles . . . [O]ur culture isn't immobilised or fixed in books, quite the contrary, it's alive in those of us who are alive today . . . As we engage in cultural contact with other human communities, we acquire new tools that we can incorporate without losing our Mapuche identity. (Estrada 2006)
Responding, in a way, to Mitchell’s call for signals of rap’s significance around the world, Mariman’s words indicate that Mapuche culture, like any culture, grows, changes, moves, and offers different forms of expression with each generation. Moreover, it has the right to do so.[3] This plasticity of culture necessitates documentation, to valorize forms of expression, and to enable society more broadly to embrace its various subcultures.
Documenting and analyzing Mapuche rap and hip-hop presents several immediate challenges. Foremost, the conflicted politics of the cuestión Mapuche tend to stigmatize publicly stated political sentiments, or revisions of the historical record (particularly by non-mainstream voices), which favor Mapuche demands. Rap music, as improvised, intellectual verse, indeed serves the functions of revising the historical record and stating political positions and sentiments. However, as a verbal art form it is not uniformly radical, and thus merits close documentation and analysis. A basic survey of lyrics by Mapuche rap groups such as Wenu Mapu, Wechekeche ñi Trawün (of Santiago), and Weichafe Newen, or by individual artists such as Gran Massay, reveals a variety of content. At turns artists advocate for the recuperation of land, the valorization of their culture in the historical record, or collaboration toward a more positive future.

With the Cross, the Bible and the sword,
the lands become usurped,
out of deception, and from assassination,
and the women and children taken from communities,
are forced to live on reservations.

-“Usurpación,” Wenu Mapu / Kolectivo We Newen[4]

Life of an Araukano, a concept designed to inspire . . .
We should incorporate Mapuzungun into our education,
Generating a bilingual education,
This will enable us to conserve our language,
This is the first step toward a new life for the younger generation,
Respect, tolerance, equality (a better future),

This is not only for the Mapuche,
But also for our Chilean brothers,
Those who live in Mapuche territory,
That is, the Araukanian Chileans,

This, in our generation of Mapuches and Araukanos,
To change how we live,
To live better, to live intelligently,
And to change for a better future.

-“Mari mari,” Gran Massay

As Tricia Rose points out, the plurality of political prerogatives in rap (Mapuche or otherwise) often blurs the lines between radicalism and community building. Rap and hip-hop culture have functioned in this way since their inception in the Bronx (New York City) during the 1970s and 80s, as creative work among marginalized, black youth. At its most altruistic, rap gives voice to the underserved, and liberates the oppressed through performance; at its most antisocial, rap offers a voice to delinquency and glorifies violence and misogyny (Rose 1994: 1-2).
In the 21st century, and particularly since international consensus concerning recognition and support of indigenous cultures (consider UN/OIT Conv. 169), rappers from among Latin and North American indigenous communities have made poignant use of their art form to draw attention to ongoing struggles for rights and equality. Yet, systematic study of indigenous rap in most regions of the Americas still lacks. As the second decade of the new century approaches, a detailed, documentary study of Mapuche rap could potentially serve Chilean society with an important tool for intercultural understanding. This is not to suggest that an ethnographic study of Mapuche rap would reveal uniformly peaceful content and lifeways. Rather, such an investigation would likely demonstrate diverse micro-social realities, and the heterogeneity of life circumstances and political prerogatives informing a burgeoning artistic practice.
Mapuche rap also potentially illuminates links to more traditional areas of orally transmitted culture, and to notions of cultural identity and resistance based on language and expression. Reflecting sentiments of cultural loss based on the deterioration of the Mapudungun language, Lonco Pascual Coña famously commented (originally in Mapudungun):

En nuestros días la vida ha cambiado; la generación nueva se ha chilenizado mucho; poco a poco ha ido olvidándose del designio y de la índole de nuestra raza; que pasen unos cuantos años y casi ni sabrán y hablar su lengua nativa.
Entonces, ¡que lean algunas veces siquiera este libro!
He dicho. (2006 [1930])[5]

For the purposes of this writing, these words of Pascual Coña highlight two important aspects of Mapuche language and culture: First, in a traditional sense, Mapudungun is transmitted orally. As such, the language is based on different constructs of knowledge and communication than Chilean castellano, and is imperiled by the predominance of castellano and western forms of knowledge production and transmission. Second, Mapuche culture and language involve processes of self-identification on the basis of difference, and resistance, before the Spanish-speaking majority of Chilean society (and prior, before Spanish colonial society). By examining its relationship with Mapudungun, and with other orally transmitted aspects of Mapuche culture, a detailed investigation of Mapuche rap stands to shed light on the roots of contemporary Mapuche notions of difference and resistance.
Mapuche poets, and those who study their work intensively, have already advanced these issues in their discussions, fostering an understanding of poetry as a mediator between Mapuche orality and occidental language. On this border, the potential for political and cultural growth, and resistance, is considerable (see García Barrera 2004: 14-15; Rojas 2009).
Mapuche rap in Temuco consists of musical and poetic practices among artists with a similar set of intercultural concerns. A number of rappers have expressed their inclination to write and perform in Mapudungun, suggesting a motive of linguistic and cultural revitalization in the music (Estrada 2006; M.M.L. 2009). Nonetheless, different perspectives, based on living situations and generational differences, potentially separate Mapuche rap from Mapuche poetry in more general terms. Mapuche rap typically (though not always) emerges from the urban areas of Padre las Casas and Temuco, and speaks more specifically to the struggles associated with migration and poverty for a younger generation. Documentation of Mapuche rap ought to flesh out the link between the music, Mapudungun, and orally transmitted aspects of Mapuche culture, to generate understanding of the cultural and linguistic value of rap music in this context.
In conclusion, studying the forms of music which address cultural change, such as popular musics learned from other parts of the world and adapted to local situations, fosters intercultural understanding within the broader society. As Chile approaches its bicentennial, it is imperative to document and analyze its shifting, internal cultural landscape. The Mapuche situation continues to attract attention as a national polemic, marked by a long history of violence and misunderstanding, and undoubtedly rap music’s variegated reputation exposes it to the potential stigma of political radicalism. On the other hand, the acknowledgement that Mapuche (or any) culture is dynamic and plural, both rural and urban, and characterized by multiple proposals for political and social advancement, is fundamental to the development of intercultural understanding (see Ansion, et al. 2007: 5).[6] Among the southern Chilean “indigenous elements” (following Mitchell’s quotation at the beginning of this essay) which combine with rap styles and sensibilities originally based in the United States, Mapuche rappers bring to their verbal art the contested politics with which they live and struggle. Without either directly supporting or rejecting any particular political position, ethnographic documentation stands to enrich the exchange of knowledge and ideas between young Mapuche rap artists and their surrounding society.

Ansion, Juan, et al. Educar en ciudadanía intercultural. Temuco: Universidad de la Frontera, 2007.
Coña, Pascual. Lonca Pascual Coña ñi tuculpazugun. Testimonio de un Cacique Mapuche. Santiago: Pehuén Ediores, 2006 [1930]).
Estrada, Daniela. “Mapuche Hip-Hop.” Inter Press Service News Agency. October 24, 2006. http://ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=35211 [April 13, 2010]
García Barrera, Mabel, ed. Crítica situada: el estado actual del arte y la poesía Mapuche. Rakizuam. Pu mapuce tañi kimvn ka tañi vl zugu fahtepu. Temuco: Universidad de la Frontera, 2004.
M.M.L. “Hip-hop mapuche viene a quitar la mufa del Galpón.” La nación. 30 julio 2009. http://www.lanacion.cl/prontus_noticias_v2/site/artic/20090729/pags/20090729233814.html [April 13, 2010]
Mitchell, Tony, ed. Global noise: rap and hip-hop outside the USA. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2001.
Rojas, Rodrigo. La lengua escorada: la traducción como estratefia de resistencia en cuatro poetas mapuche. Santiago: Pehuén Editores, 2009.
Rose, Tricia. Black noise: rap music and black culture in contemporary America. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 1994.
Gran Massay. Ayudando a fortalecer una fuerte identidad regional en territorio Mapuche. Kolectivo We Newen. 2006.
Kolectivo We Newen. “Usurpación.” http://www.nodo50.org/kolectivowenewen [November 26, 2008]
Mariman, Danko, dir. En el nombre del progreso. DVD. n.p. Pelon Producciones, con Kolectivo We Newen, 2010.
Meneses, Magaly, dir. Wichan—El Juicio. DVD. n.p.: Wein Producciones, 1995.

[1] The term rap music refers specifically to musical and verbal expression and performance. Hip-hop culture refers more broadly to a spectrum of visual art, dress, and every-day speech, which are culturally associated with rap music.
[2] Beverly gave a lecture focused on this issue at UC Riverside on March 13, 2008, entitled “Rethinking the Armed Struggle in Latin America.”
[3] Having ratified United Nations / International Labor Organization Convention 169 (regarding the rights of indigenous peoples) in 2008, Chile legally grants its indigenous communities cultural and political rights, and freedom from discrimination, at the level of international standards. In an anthropological sense, these criteria should also entail recognition of changing cultural and social circumstances, which necessarily produce new forms of expression and cultural identification.
[4] Author’s translations from Spanish into English.
[5] This opening passage to Lonco Pascual Coña’s testimony is also quoted at the end of the historical reenactment film entitled Wichan—El Juicio (1995).
[6] Namely, I am drawing here on the volume entitled Educar en ciudadanía intercultural (2007), employed as a theoretical guide book by Proyecto Rüpü (Programa de Apoyo Académico para Estudiantes Mapuche) at the Universidad de la Frontera in Temuco.

Jacob Rekedal
Temuco, Chile
Abril 18, 2010

Por Rekedal, J. - University of California, Riverside



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